November 19, 2014


Notes on psychoelection

October 12, 2008

This election is the most surreal thing imaginable.  I can’t believe it, have to pinch myself repeatedly day-in and day-out.  If Palin/McCain isn’t a signe of the Apocalypse, God knows what will be.  Mouthbreathers screaming “Kill him!” at Palin rallies.  It’s all good, so far as Palin is concerned.  If things progress at this rate McCain will be a puddle of shit by election day, a babbling, incoherent, bald, fat, babbling pile of warm human excreta.  Everything human about the guy would have been traded for another promise at the brass ring.  I, personally, think it’s high time someone went back and interviewed those Vietnamese guards.  Someone must have left something out.

Anyway, I remain optimistic, because Obama seems better day by day.  I know this is only illusion, but he comes across as a Nelson Mandella.  I like Biden too, and it’s such the opposite of the Republican ticket it’s – like I said – surreal.  Wild Man McCain and Alaska Moose Huntin’ Barbie.  You people in the future wouldn’t believe it.


Frank Rich: psychoelection update

October 12, 2008

Op-Ed Columnist
The Terrorist Barack Hussein Obama

Published: October 11, 2008

IF you think way back to the start of this marathon campaign, back when it seemed preposterous that any black man could be a serious presidential contender, then you remember the biggest fear about Barack Obama: a crazy person might take a shot at him.

Some voters told reporters that they didn’t want Obama to run, let alone win, should his very presence unleash the demons who have stalked America from Lincoln to King. After consultation with Congress, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, gave Obama a Secret Service detail earlier than any presidential candidate in our history — in May 2007, some eight months before the first Democratic primaries.

“I’ve got the best protection in the world, so stop worrying,” Obama reassured his supporters. Eventually the country got conditioned to his appearing in large arenas without incident (though I confess that the first loud burst of fireworks at the end of his convention stadium speech gave me a start). In America, nothing does succeed like success. The fear receded.

Until now. At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

All’s fair in politics. John McCain and Sarah Palin have every right to bring up William Ayers, even if his connection to Obama is minor, even if Ayers’s Weather Underground history dates back to Obama’s childhood, even if establishment Republicans and Democrats alike have collaborated with the present-day Ayers in educational reform. But it’s not just the old Joe McCarthyesque guilt-by-association game, however spurious, that’s going on here. Don’t for an instant believe the many mindlessly “even-handed” journalists who keep saying that the McCain campaign’s use of Ayers is the moral or political equivalent of the Obama campaign’s hammering on Charles Keating.

What makes them different, and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation in rhetoric, especially (though not exclusively) by Palin. Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist.” He is “palling around with terrorists” (note the plural noun). Obama is “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.” Wielding a wildly out-of-context Obama quote, Palin slurs him as an enemy of American troops.

By the time McCain asks the crowd “Who is the real Barack Obama?” it’s no surprise that someone cries out “Terrorist!” The rhetorical conflation of Obama with terrorism is complete. It is stoked further by the repeated invocation of Obama’s middle name by surrogates introducing McCain and Palin at these rallies. This sleight of hand at once synchronizes with the poisonous Obama-is-a-Muslim e-mail blasts and shifts the brand of terrorism from Ayers’s Vietnam-era variety to the radical Islamic threats of today.

That’s a far cry from simply accusing Obama of being a guilty-by-association radical leftist. Obama is being branded as a potential killer and an accessory to past attempts at murder. “Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family” was how a McCain press release last week packaged the remembrance of a Weather Underground incident from 1970 — when Obama was 8.

We all know what punishment fits the crime of murder, or even potential murder, if the security of post-9/11 America is at stake. We all know how self-appointed “patriotic” martyrs always justify taking the law into their own hands.

Obama can hardly be held accountable for Ayers’s behavior 40 years ago, but at least McCain and Palin can try to take some responsibility for the behavior of their own supporters in 2008. What’s troubling here is not only the candidates’ loose inflammatory talk but also their refusal to step in promptly and strongly when someone responds to it with bloodthirsty threats in a crowded arena. Joe Biden had it exactly right when he expressed concern last week that “a leading American politician who might be vice president of the United States would not just stop midsentence and turn and condemn that.” To stay silent is to pour gas on the fires.

It wasn’t always thus with McCain. In February he loudly disassociated himself from a speaker who brayed “Barack Hussein Obama” when introducing him at a rally in Ohio. Now McCain either backpedals with tardy, pro forma expressions of respect for his opponent or lets second-tier campaign underlings release boilerplate disavowals after ugly incidents like the chilling Jim Crow-era flashback last week when a Florida sheriff ranted about “Barack Hussein Obama” at a Palin rally while in full uniform.

From the start, there have always been two separate but equal questions about race in this election. Is there still enough racism in America to prevent a black man from being elected president no matter what? And, will Republicans play the race card? The jury is out on the first question until Nov. 4. But we now have the unambiguous answer to the second: Yes.

McCain, who is no racist, turned to this desperate strategy only as Obama started to pull ahead. The tone was set at the Republican convention, with Rudy Giuliani’s mocking dismissal of Obama as an “only in America” affirmative-action baby. We also learned then that the McCain campaign had recruited as a Palin handler none other than Tucker Eskew, the South Carolina consultant who had worked for George W. Bush in the notorious 2000 G.O.P. primary battle where the McCains and their adopted Bangladeshi daughter were slimed by vicious racist rumors.

No less disconcerting was a still-unexplained passage of Palin’s convention speech: Her use of an unattributed quote praising small-town America (as opposed to, say, Chicago and its community organizers) from Westbrook Pegler, the mid-century Hearst columnist famous for his anti-Semitism, racism and violent rhetorical excess. After an assassin tried to kill F.D.R. at a Florida rally and murdered Chicago’s mayor instead in 1933, Pegler wrote that it was “regrettable that Giuseppe Zangara shot the wrong man.” In the ’60s, Pegler had a wish for Bobby Kennedy: “Some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow falls.”

This is the writer who found his way into a speech by a potential vice president at a national political convention. It’s astonishing there’s been no demand for a public accounting from the McCain campaign. Imagine if Obama had quoted a Black Panther or Louis Farrakhan — or William Ayers — in Denver.

The operatives who would have Palin quote Pegler have been at it ever since. A key indicator came two weeks after the convention, when the McCain campaign ran its first ad tying Obama to the mortgage giant Fannie Mae. Rather than make its case by using a legitimate link between Fannie and Obama (or other Democratic leaders), the McCain forces chose a former Fannie executive who had no real tie to Obama or his campaign but did have a black face that could dominate the ad’s visuals.

There are no black faces high in the McCain hierarchy to object to these tactics. There hasn’t been a single black Republican governor, senator or House member in six years. This is a campaign where Palin can repeatedly declare that Alaska is “a microcosm of America” without anyone even wondering how that might be so for a state whose tiny black and Hispanic populations are each roughly one-third the national average. There are indeed so few people of color at McCain events that a black senior writer from The Tallahassee Democrat was mistakenly ejected by the Secret Service from a campaign rally in Panama City in August, even though he was standing with other reporters and showed his credentials. His only apparent infraction was to look glaringly out of place.

Could the old racial politics still be determinative? I’ve long been skeptical of the incessant press prognostications (and liberal panic) that this election will be decided by racist white men in the Rust Belt. Now even the dimmest bloviators have figured out that Americans are riveted by the color green, not black — as in money, not energy. Voters are looking for a leader who might help rescue them, not a reckless gambler whose lurching responses to the economic meltdown (a campaign “suspension,” a mortgage-buyout stunt that changes daily) are as unhinged as his wanderings around the debate stage.

To see how fast the tide is moving, just look at North Carolina. On July 4 this year — the day that the godfather of modern G.O.P. racial politics, Jesse Helms, died — The Charlotte Observer reported that strategists of both parties agreed Obama’s chances to win the state fell “between slim and none.” Today, as Charlotte reels from the implosion of Wachovia, the McCain-Obama race is a dead heat in North Carolina and Helms’s Republican successor in the Senate, Elizabeth Dole, is looking like a goner.

But we’re not at Election Day yet, and if voters are to have their final say, both America and Obama have to get there safely. The McCain campaign has crossed the line between tough negative campaigning and inciting vigilantism, and each day the mob howls louder. The onus is on the man who says he puts his country first to call off the dogs, pit bulls and otherwise.

It just gets better . . .

September 13, 2008

A part of me genuinely prays – note, I said prays – that the McCain/Barbie ticket will win.  That whole “You don’t have time to Blink, Charlie” about taking out the Iranian nukular facilities and invading, I don’t know, Pakistan, Georgia – well, why not? – North Korea, inspires thoughts of lacquered fingers upon red buttons.  Palin is every drama/horror/comedy writer’s dream, and along with the Real McCain (who might actually believe he’s the Straight Talk Express) is such a gold mine of possibilities that it’s impossible not to send that little wee wish Heavenward (I hope this is your will Lord!)  Bright Shining Lies, indeed.  Fecund with possibilities now that we’ve ditched the Nuclear Arms Proliferation Treaty and started placing those Star Wars Missile Launchers right up to Russia’s border.  And,  “We are all Georgians now!” (Did McShame think he was talking about the US Georgia?  And what great military victory did he oversee to justify his declamation:  “I know how to win wars!”?)
We may not be able to make cars anymore, but damn if we can’t build a better nuke, with or without the MERV warhead, than anyone else on the planet.  And damned if that can’t be a growth industry.
Better by far that Reagan, and I do wish for it to happen with that giddy, imp of the perverse little part of my brain what should know better, as in that just because we survived Reagan and Bush there were some narrow misses there and our days seemed to be numbered already, no need to rush the job.
Wish for it because it’s so beautiful it’s darned near impossible.  But the Lord will have to do it, because I’ll be damned if I vote for them.


August 31, 2008

Auteur’s Note:  This is a big read. I rewrote it a dozen or more times.  Might still not work so far as I can tell.   Bon chance, eh?


The little man in the raincoat was coming closer.  Andrev smiled.  He could tell that look.  From six months in this place he knew the people;  he knew how to read them and how to sell them. This was obviously one of the late lunch crowd who’d probably got held up in an office meeting or something, but certainly was starving.  Andrev knew that he was coming in for a meal the minute he first spotted him a block and a half away, and would have started getting a couple of hot dogs ready but he was feeling lazy.
Sitting on a stool beside him was a pretty blonde whom he was anxious to impress, but as of yet had had no real opportunities.  When he saw Braun stop twenty feet away, stare and fidget nervously he knew his waiting was over.  The man was definitely in the market, but undoubtedly considering the competition – a hamburger stand a block and a half down the street.  Still, Andrew knew he could sell him.  He had his technique down, and it always worked, a few dozen times a day.
He only had to stand in his booth in front of a bunch of reluctant customers and start making himself a hot dog.  It was the soft sell.  You let them think that you could care less if they bought one of the dogs or not, that the whole world was after this good stuff.  But give them a little show, work slowly, and carefully.  Make sure they could see the wiener steam, the way it split open along the edge and the hot juice ran out, the toasted, golden brown bun, the roast onions, mustard and tomato sauce.  Before he finished there would be a customer standing in front of him looking like he’d never heard of hamburger.
He motioned almost imperceptibly towards Braun with his head and told the girl to watch him sell a hot dog.

The mouth had swallowed two people.  Braun was vaguely aware of them looking at him but his thoughts shifted quickly to other things.  He had to pass under its thumb, that hole under its horrible steel arm.  Escape lay only in that direction, and the thought of passing through it caused his knees to go weak.
Somehow he forced himself to face it, looking along the sidewalk carefully until he saw the hole just as two people – laughing! – were coming through.  But otherwise the sidewalk was nearly deserted.  So his thought about mixing himself in a crowd of people and slipping through was quickly discarded.  He would have to go through alone.
Swallowing hard he crept softly, quietly toward it, and was nearly there, his head pounding and sweat trickling down his neck – when he saw out of the corner of a downcast eye, where the fin met the wall of an abandoned store, pasted inside the huge window and larger than life, something that stopped him again.  It was a poster of a soldier standing proudly at attention in his dress uniform:  Above his left shoulder a jet fighter raced through a blue sky;  above his right shoulder a modern tank rested camouflaged on a hillside;  beside his left foot an aircraft carrier steamed across a blue ocean;  and beside his right foot, poised beside a cloud, is the image of . . . .
It had three fins at one end and a point at the other.
It was long and cylindrical.
He wheeled suddenly and delivered the stand a hard stare.  A stream of ice crystallized up his spine while the hair on the back of his neck burned.

“Watch carefully,”  Andrev mumbled to the girl, who giggled back,  “How do you know he’s hungry Andrev?”
“I can read minds.  How do you think?”  She giggled some more and shook her head.  He added,  “Hey, they never get away from me.  That’s my job.”
“Really?”  She looked up at him again, big doleful eyes full of trust and admiration.  “You can really sell to anybody?”
And Andrev suddenly, more than anything on God’s earth, wanted to sell that man a hot dog.

The thing hadn’t seen him yet.  He could still escape if he was only careful and moved cautiously.  Sideways.  Creeping.  Under the nose.  Although now his thoughts were coming and going, between knowing and feeling and sensing and guessing.  Sometimes he knew that he was a mortician.  Sometimes he wasn’t so sure.  Hadn’t he been a teller in the bank of . . . ?  But the rooming house was down this street . . . But through the fin.  For a moment at least he was certain of that.  And that was the direction he moved.

Andrev pulled a wiener out of the pail, keeping a furtive eye on Braun, who was still shuffling nervously and staring oddly at the stand.  Then he proceeded slowly, making no herculean effort for what he knew would be an easy sale.  He wanted ot make it look almost as easy as he knew it would be – to make it look like magic.  But two minutes later, just as he was finishing, he looked up in time to see Bran wander off through the arch in the fin.
The girl laughed.  Andrew went red and managed to mumble that the man hadn’t stayed around long enough.  When she looked dubious and he had nothing else to offer he shrugged and offered her the hot dog.  When she declined he bit the end off himself.

Where was he going?  Braun’s mind was a mystery.  He had walked a block and a half down the street then stopped suddenly in mid-crawl in the middle of the sidewalk, nearly sending a man crashing over him.  He trembled as for a moment every direction seemed the wrong one, oblivious to the leers of people going past.  Had he seen something?  back there . . . back.  He turned around and looked in the direction he’d just come.

Andrev had just taken another bite of his hot dog when the girl laughed, nudged his arm and pointed.  Looking up he saw that the little man in the raincoat had returned, and just like before was standing there, looking at the store window, then down the sidewalk, then up in the sky, then at the stand like he was a refugee from the third world seeing food for the first time.
Obviously, he was having second thoughts about the hamburgers.  It did strike Andrev as odd that he wasn’t coming any closer than before, but it was alright: Andrev would get to show off a little more. And this time there would be no taking any chances.
He mumbled to the girl,  “Well, I guess I sold him after all.”  When she seemed doubtful he flipped the lid off the wiener bucket and explained his technique while he took his time reaching for a wiener leaving the door to hang open, the steam escape and hopefully catch whatever breeze there was over to his customer.  Explaining that he was used to the kids who got funny ideas about eating at the burger place or out of the little brown bags that their mothers packed for them – that they weren’t to keen on but would feel guilty about throwing away – and even worse if they saved it and had to eat it tomorrow.
Really, he explained, it was no different from fishing.  She rolled her eyes.  He assured her he was serious.  It was rule number one that you didn’t think of them as people but as fish.  And that’s what they are really, swimming all around you while you’re stuck here in this little boat.
“So what can you do?”  he asked.  “You reach into your bucket.”  He pulled out a wiener.”  And pull out a worm.”
He gave it a little wiggle back and forth and she barely concealed her laugh by throwing her hand over her mouth.  The noise still attracted the man which Andrev took as a good sign.  He began to speak with more authority.  You had to play them, he explained, as he picked a toasted bun and brought it up high where Braun was sure to see it this time, but not so high that it looked artificial.  Then he laid the wiener in it with the casual grace of an experienced nanny laying a baby to bed.

The picture in the window was exactly as he thought it was.  The nose was pointed, but not like the traditional rocket.  One side was nearly straight, like the belly of a jet, while the other side curved down to it.  The tube wasn’t so round as rectangular.  And of the fins at the back, two swept out like the wings of a plane while the third rose from between them like a plane’s tail.
He whirled again and stared at the stand.  How could it be possible?   There was a boy and a girl inside, smiling.  He looked up.  There was a large umbrella suspended over the top quarter with red and white vertical stripes and the words,  “HOT DOGGY’S” printed around the bottom edge in lime green.  Beneath it the tube tapered into shadow, more on one side than the other, like the picture.  The tube was rectangular.  And the fins, although rounded, were set at right angles.  Two were flat to one side and ran along the curb of the sidewalk.  They had holes cut in them, so he could see the traffic in the street.  The third an perpendicular to the wall of the far building, where it landed flat to the bricks.  It had a large oval sliced out of its centre that served as a passageway and like the others had little benches running along the bottom between cement planters carrying little trees and the counters beside the stand that held the mustard, relish and ketchup.

The girl was repressing a laugh, seeing the expression on Braun’s face and how it matched Andrev’s description of a fish transfixed before a worm.  “You have to play them,”  he was telling her again, more confident by the second.  “Let them get a sniff but without chasing them away by being too obvious, just the way you don’t let fish see the line and hooks.
She started giggling uncontrollably now at the poor man staring at the booth.  And what else could it be?  This booth only sold one thing and the architecture sure wasn’t that thrilling.
“See?  You wiggle it a bit.  It really works.  You make it look good to them.  Make sure they can see it and smell it.  Tease them.  Let them nibble it with their eyes.”
He wiggled the bun and whinnied under his breath,  “Here fishy, fishy, fishy,”  and the girl almost fell off her stool.

Is he mad?
How could he have been the only person to recognize it if it was so obvious?

Andrev knew that he had him.  It always worked.  It had to work.  And especially with this one.  This one was in prime condition, a lunker.  This one would come in and swallow his arm if he wasn’t careful.

The girl was laughing.  The boy was holding a hot dog and laughing too.  Braun could smell it and for a minute allowed his mind to drift into wondering when he’d eaten last and might he not interrupt this nightmare for a bit of nutrition?
The next instant the idea seemed so absurd he was nearly laughing himself.  Another instant and it was as sobering as a slap of insanity.

She was still giggling as he spooned on sauerkraut. When he thought he saw Braun stumble a bit he covered his grin by stooping for the grated cheese.  Then he felt something nudge his arm.  It was the girl.  He looked up, expecting to see a little man up close.  Instead he saw only empty sidewalk.
The girl laughed.  In shock Andrev bit off the end of that dog too and laid it beside the first.  As he chewed he shook his head.  As the girl continued to laugh he tried to smile.

He ran nearly a block though a crowd of smiling, cheerful pedestrians before he slowed.  A couple strolled past eating hamburgers;  a little girl wheeled by in a stroller with a drooling ice cream cone and chocolate smeared over her face, followed by a pair of ladies legs in black high heels.  A girl’s laughter causes Braun to look up in time to see a man wearing a plastic imitation nose and moustache, and a group of three nuns in black habits, crucifixes dangling around their necks.
He stopped suddenly and stared through the crowd of people to something rising out of their midst and towering over them – something with a point and three fins.
There was nothing to do but see it again and certain.  He turned so fast that he collided with a gang of teenagers, then said, “Excuse me,” while picking himself off the sidewalk.

Andrev nearly shuddered when he first saw him.  The girl said wryly,  “Well, you get to sell another hot dog.”  He feigned a smile without taking his eyes off of Braun, trying to actually read his mind.  Braun just looked at the booth the same as before, then the store window again, then he checked his watch.  Lunch break?  What else?  He could’ve had a cab twenty minutes ago and he didn’t have to come back here twice to do that.  And this wasn’t a place you met people.  This was a place you stopped for a meal or picked up food to go.
Still he hesitated, less because he was afraid that he couldn’t sell him as that he hadn’t counted on even having to.  Braun was a sure customer.  What else could it be?

It was.  Braun knew it now, looking at it it was unmistakably the thing in the picture. It was horrid, malevolent, the red lipped grin a scowl, a leer, the strips streaming off of the umbrella seemed to swim in the breezes like streams of blood.  And even more horrible, he knew that it knew that he was here, and that he knew what it was.  That was the real reason he’d come back.  It had called him back to it, twice.  And he couldn’t escape no matter how hard he tried or how far he ran.  The monster wouldn’t let him go.  It had known all the time.  It had only been having fun, playing with him.  And now, it was calling him.

But Andrev knew that look.  He knew it the way a shark knew the sound a struggling fish made on the surface of the ocean.  But as he flipped open the bucket again and heard Gretchen giggle again, he hesitated long enough to glance at the uneaten hot dogs below the counter.  Then to Gretchen’s incredulous look that told him that he had nothing to lose.
Gretchen asked,  “How come you’re already making a hot dog when you’ve already got two?”
Andrev pretended to be amused, managed a chuckle of his own as he followed the usual routine only with less reserve and more onions:  the smell would be stronger and different.  Round three you changed the bait, included everything you hadn’t before, including prayer.
He held it even higher than last time, let it dangle out beyond the counter in the sunlight, where the guy couldn’t miss it.  Then he grinned just like in the commercials on TV.  No pressure;  we’re just nice people.  Gretchen giggled.  But Andrev caught a glimmer of response in the man’s eyes he gave a little wave.
He knew the guy was hungry.  He had that look.  And when you sold maybe five hundred hot dogs a day you understood things.

The giant picture of the clown’s face looked so normal.  It’s puffy white fingers held the hot dog so innocuously.  Couldn’t he be after all wrong?  If he wasn’t mad they must be mad.  But they were everywhere.  It would mean that the whole world had gone mad!  And that was too incredible to believe.
So come to me Braun.  I am harmless and pretty.  Come and touch me and you will know how innocent I am.

Andrev ignored the girl’s laugh.  Maybe the guy had a sweet tooth.  He pulled a half frozen pop out of the cooler and set it in full view on the counter and left it to steam and collect dew – just like TV.
The girl moaned,  “Forget it Andrev.”  But Andrev feigning confidence, continued to explain his technique.  He needs colour he said.  Make it pretty.  And he brought the hot dog back and applied a trowel of tomato sauce and whinnied bravely,  “Here fishy!  Fishy!  Fishy!”  Only this time the girl didn’t laugh.
And when Braun looked away, he nearly said out loud,  “Come on!  Come on!  What’s the matter with you?”
Nothing made sense.  They came hungry and wanting to be fed.
He widened his grin, just like in ads on TV.  Gretchen thought it was funny.  Knees almost trembling.  Eyes almost in tears.  But he wasn’t moving.  His mind raced even as he told Gretchen how he was going to open his own shop someday, maybe franchise.  He didn’t really care what he said since none of it really mattered unless he could get that little man over here.  He felt as desperate as a man clutching at the edge of a cliff coming apart in his hands.
He could feel her watching him as he set the dog on the counter and reached to the bucket for another wiener.  Only now it was the look of a girl wondering if this guy was all there.  He wondered himself as he touched the switch that started the display.  The lips around their window blinked with red, blue and yellow teeth.  The bright red nose blinked, and the awning began to whirl and carrousel music to play.
But if the subtle, simple approach didn’t work you had to go all out.  And if a little food didn’t work you had to show them a feast.  He set the second dog beside the first and started on a third.  It was war now.  All or nothing.

It had come alive!  The top was whirling and the eyes blazing, the horrid savage fangs blinking in a rainbow of colours.
Come to me Braun.

He told Gretchen to smile.  How can I work with you frowning beside me like that?  Reluctantly she smiled, and even waved, while Andrev made yet another hot dog.
But Braun only turned back to look at the window again, the picture of the missile.  Andrev had never run across a guy like this before.  No matter.
He waited for Braun to turn back, then set the next dog in the row, then reached for the pop and flipped the tab, releasing an explosion of sweet spray.  Then he brought it to his mouth and took a long drink.  Braun seemed to waver.  His legs trembled and he took a half a step.  Andrev, encouraged, leaned forward, smiled again, hung the can casually over the edge of the counter, where the rivulets of crystal dew could trickle to dark pools on the parched earth.
Just like on TV.
“Give it up Andrev.”
But the guy’s legs were actually trembling.  He couldn’t believe he hadn’t come to the stand already.  He waited, feeling his luck change, the blackjack player knowing beforehand that his card is going to come up.  But it was a damned slow card.  He practically whispered,  “Come on you crazy bastard.  What’s your problem?”

Braun could scarcely breathe and his resistance was growing weaker.  He stumbled forward, forgetting even why he shouldn’t.

He had to be after a hot dog;  only by the same logic he should already have one.  He’d done it so many times in the past that he couldn’t imagine it not happening.  He was so sure that despite the girl’s waning faith he just kept on talking to hear something over the fear that he he really couldn’t read or sell anybody.
He even began to suspect that he’d been set up, that the little man knew him or somebody that knew him and his selling techniques and wanted to make him look like a fool.
As though from a daze he found himself going through the crazy motions of trying to sell a hot dog to some old guy.  He couldn’t remember why it was so important until he caught sight of this incredibly beautiful assistant beside him and the whole nightmare flooded back.  He’d been so sure.  And if only he hadn’t started this whole mess. . . .
Then Braun staggered a step ahead.

Were people real?  Were squalloring children real?  Any more real that ten thousand nuclear missiles or a hot dog stand that was calling out to him?  Or a gray fog that was now blanking everything with a new sound that at first was so faint and now growing louder and more horrible.  The people passed smiling as though they didn’t see, carrying children in their arms even as the sounds grew louder, yet as though they couldn’t hear them.  He felt a scream rise in his throat.
He stared at his watch, as though the answer to all his problems lay on the face of it.  But all it showed him were two little needles pointing around a circle.  No defense from the thing calling to him at once undeniably horrible as compelling.  Against his will it pulled him a step ahead.

It took a few seconds, and even then he’d been reluctant to even consider the possibility.  But there it was – the guy had just taken a step in the right direction.  At last.  Andrev began wavering back to believing he was going to sell after all.  The suddenly attentive look on his girl friend’s face helped. And if he could sell him now, after all this time . . .

The clown was grinning at him and calling while it played music and performed that magical dance, the kaleidoscope twirling and drawing him into a whirlpool of colour, around and around.
Come here Braun and I will tell you all you need to know.
“No.”  He said it out loud even as he took another step.  But just a step, when he was stopped by something horrible and malicious – now a murmur, a rumble that he’d thought was his stomach.  When had he eaten last?

Two steps.  Three steps.  He was coming!  He was really coming!  The girl was sitting up.  Andrev nearly laughed and just managed to remain calm and begain to explain to Gretchen.
“You leave them a lingering memory of it.  That’s called getting the hook in.  Then they can run anywhere.  No matter how far they go you’ll have them there to reel in anytime you want.”
Reeling was making another hot dog to match the four sitting on the counter.  Hearing the absence of laughter he tried not to let his trembling fingers show.

The gray fog was miring everything and a new sound, that at first was so faint, was now growing louder, and more horrible, even through the sounds of the carrousel.

He smiled more.  Another step and the little man stopped and checked his watch again before looking up – this time at the sun as though for a second opinion.  Only fifteen feet away now, so near that Andrev could call out to him while the girl held her breath.

There was a thundering in his ears, and the shapes of something ominous and horrid, something that was now exploding.  Bodies being blown apart.  Or were they really?  When he turned to look he saw a giant fin.  And like a mouse finding itself poised under the chin of a strangely inattentive cat, he froze, then moved cautiously until realizing that he’d walked nearer the grinning object.  He stepped back, looked up at the point over the clown’s face, then down to the gaping mouth, where two things wriggled inside.  Its breath was strangely, pleasant, had actually been attracting him like that of a pitcher plant, he realized with a shudder.
It was calling him with a new, strangely human, voice.  But as it grew louder, a face grew out of the fog, leering at him with wide eyes and a bloody gash of grin.
The horror was just sufficient to wrench him out of the thrall of that demon and allow him to scurry through the hole in the fin, completely unaware of the hot dog that graced the edge of his coat and landed with a splat against the metal surface.

Chapter 2

April 26, 2008

This is – I should’ve mentioned it already – the “uncut” version, or the author’s cut, everything that goes in that might be excessive but I can’t decide one way or the other and after frequent edits don’t care to dwell on any longer, and in this venue I don’t have to cut another comma. Reader is thus warned.

And, although the story has a definite plot and ending, the getting there is a little circuitous because of the nature of the story, and I’ve tried not to stifle this tendency, because it’s sort of the essence of the story. Cutting all the jazz riffs out of a piece of music might make the melody and chord structure more accessible and simple to follow, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Then again there is good jazz riffing and not so good. Please consider this a jazz riff on a theme, and be warned that that could qualify as an obsession in progress approaching authorial self-indulgence. If you are unable to resist, it’s recommended to keep all of the above in mind when reading all of the below. People read for all sorts of reasons other than entertainment or edification, although I’m not sure what they are. What’s below, I guess I’m hoping, constitutes at least one of them.


Braun Wilhelm is having a nightmare. He is dreaming that he is sitting on the ventilator shaft of a tenement building in the dark. He dreams that he is dressed in rags and battered boots and holds a half a bottle of Vino Rose in his right hand. Below him, fifteen stories to the street, he dreams that he sees it: the sixty foot tube shape, painted at one end, triple finned at the other, lying on its side behind the cab of a truck, gleaming faintly, like ice, but vague, as though it were seen through a fog in the night under a dim street lamp.

He takes a drink.

It isn’t the first nightmare, just the latest instalment in a serial. So far it isn’t as bad as some of the other parts – just colder. He flips the collar up on his raincoat and fastens the top button.

And he takes another drink.

It can’t see him. That’s what makes it better. It’s down there lying behind that truck, waiting for him. But this time he saw it first.

Before the nightmare – No. Not before. There had been no before, just an earlier part of the same dream – he thinks he had been a teller, long ago in . . . The past is hidden. The nightmare is all so vague. His past seems the history of another man: Braun Wilhelm, a man who woke up one morning, washed his face, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, got dressed, sat down to breakfast, glanced at the morning paper – and went mad.

There is another truck, a flatbed pickup, backing up to the first. It is carrying a load of steel frames. The truck stops and four men get out,go to the frames and unload them. Then they wait. And Braun waits.

And he takes another drink.

It hadn’t started out like a nightmare at all. It had just been another hot summer day. The sidewalks had been crowded: with ladies in bright, light summer dresses and bathing suits, cut off shorts and thin airy blouses with their sunglasses, straw hats, sandals and bright red smiles; with men in loud shorts and t-shirts, hats, running shoes, dark tans and beards. The air had been sultry. Everyone had moved slowly, sauntering between store fronts so as not to raise a sweat, but constantly moving, exploring and exchanging ideas – like a colony of ants set in slow motion. Here and there shop owners watched them like grinning barracuda preparing to cull the school of slow learners. The air had reeked of sun tan lotion and cheap perfume, it had hummed with the incessant drone of traffic on the pavement, chatter on the sidewalks and squalls of protest from infants riding strollers to the wrong places. But nothing was out of the ordinary. It was just typical Berlin in mid summer – the downtown, the business section, the money, the expensive shops, the main branches of the biggest banks; Berlin at its finest, most modern, glass and steel, skyscrapers.

Pigeons had watched from the rooftops, fluttering at the bustle below and cooing secrets among themselves. From somewhere a speaker added a Strauss waltz. Here and there a body swayed to its rhythm.

And into it all had walked Braun with a raincoat hung over one arm, a briefcase in one hand, his umbrella in the other.

He had just stopped to rest out of the burning sun beneath a canopy of a clothing shop. When he happened to glance up at a piece of canvas, curiously ruffling despite an absence of wind, he saw it. And then he isn’t sure what happened.

He recalls that there had been a stab of stark terror, a revelation, but primitive, dark and amorphous. The panic was so intense he suspected he was losing his mind. Later he would suspect that he’d been mad before that, although for how long he couldn’t say: What memories he had of a time before that instant were vague: a name, an address of a rooming house, faces, a job . . . . a job. Had he really been a teller? Or was there something else? Something with a suit and an umbrella? A mortician? . . . Yes. It seemed right. He buried people. He embalmed them, sold to them and then fitted them in coffins and burial plots. And he seemed to remember that he was very good. Or at least he had been until that day, until that madness.

From the moment of the madness he can remember clearly. The world had darkened, yet looking up he had seen that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The mobs of people moved slowly and were cold white against a black world, like ghosts on a photographic negative, moving without sound.

The darkness of the nightmare, that caught him, swept over him and then left him like an open wound cringing on the edge of the pavement. The ghosts wandering past took notice. Several stopped and asked him if he was alright, but he didn’t hear them. All he could do was stare straight along the sidewalk.

A fifth man comes out of the cab of the truck with a tool box. He sets it down on the end of the bed of the truck and opens the lid. Tools are passed around, the platform disassembled and the parts lowered to the ground, carried to the sidewalk and assembled into four legs of bolted steel frame that join in the middle to form a base higher than a man is tall. The men gather up their tools and return to the cab of the truck. The truck drives away. Braun waits impatiently to see what else his nightmare is going to produce. He waits a minute and then hears a roar and another object, something large and loud, creeps from the darkness until it stops, nearly visible.

It stops. But a long arm, a wide square tube, continues to creep ahead out of the gloom and mist. And he can smell it, the greasy haze of exhaust – and he strains to see better and widens his eyes as the end of it dangles a metal hook that stops dead over the tube. Then the machine ceases its roaring. Then the remaining men surround the tube. Then the hook begins to slowly lower itself.

Then Braun takes another drink.

It had stood boldly near the edge of the pavement, and rose sixty feet in the air before tapering suddenly to a point. It had been tubular, just wide enough at the base to enclose a small man and a collection of periodicals and newspapers behind a small door. The door had been a snug fit between massive fins that swept away from each other diagonally across the sidewalk, nearly touching the buildings on the other side. Huge arches had been cut from their bottoms to allow pedestrians room to pass, and a third fin on the other side had been shortened to a vertical edge where it met the road.

Braun hadn’t been able to believe that he’d never noticed it before. It was so incredible, so bizarre, and this was his regular route home; of that he was certain. He couldn’t remember having ever seen it.

Where the thing had met the ground it had aged. The paint was rusted off of the fins and the surface of the sidewalk was badly worn where the frame was cemented in. That, he was certain, could only happen with frost. But that would have meant that it would have had to have sat there for at least one year. He couldn’t believe it. But then he couldn’t believe that everyone was walking past it and under the fins as though it were a common, everyday sight. He looked at it again. Was it possible that he was mistaken? Why was he so certain? Everyone was walking past it, through the arch, and the man inside with the picture of a nude on the glossy cover of a magazine. He was saying something but Braun never heard him. He stumbled away in near blindness.

Somehow a block passed beneath him. Perhaps he was letting the crowd push in the right direction. Perhaps he was watching their feet while he tried to bury his brain in sidewalk. A block later he was startled back to reality when he bumped into a burly man who had been hurrying in the opposite direction. The bump nearly knocked Braun to the sidewalk and caused him to look up. The man was angry, and began to say something ugly but Braun wasn’t listening. Something beyond him had caught his eye, something tall and pointed. And the man was shouting because he hadn’t been paying attention where he’d been going either and the collision had caused him to drop a lamp.

The lamp had shattered on the sidewalk. People walking around them were looking at the mess and the angry face and little Braun, ignoring everything, his raincoat and briefcase drooping in his limp arms. He began to walk slowly away, past the man as though he were in a trance, as though the giant finned tube rising from the sidewalk were a snake and he a hypnotized frog. The man then realized that something was wrong, and that people were staring as they walked past. With a final hand gesture he waved Braun away and then motioned at the people what he thought of their idiotic stares, before stooping to pick up the remains of his lamp.

Except for the colour it was identical to the others. A small man was selling freezy pops from the top half of an identical Dutch door. People were walking around it, and through the fins the same. It conjured up the same vision, the same emotion and he stumbled past it with the same eagerness and sense of escape. Was everybody mad? A couple had stopped to buy some freezy pops. Everyone was smiling, laughing, and having a good time. Braun could hardly bear to look at it, and scurried away from it – again and again, on each block at the same distance from the intersection for five blocks. In the first the man sold pencils. The next time it was soft ice cream. Then it was a photo service. Then 37 flavours of soft drinks. And the last had offered information in five languages to lost tourists.

The sixth he’d come to was a hot dog stand, identical to all the others, only with bright cheerful green and red stripes down each side. Each time he had seen one the feeling inside him had grown stronger and he more certain of their true identity. At the sight of this one the emotion was stronger than ever and grew as he until it became near terror: the hydrophobe caught in a dingy in the middle of a storming ocean.

I’d Like to Thank . . .

April 20, 2008

Thanks go out to Charles Krauthammer, by the way, for writing a column in the Washington Post on the inevitability of nuclear proliferation. It’s not a new idea, it just jarred something in my memory, bore the hint of columns I’d read in the halcyon days of the Cold War when MAD actually made sense. Now, nutty as it was and remains, it’s not nutty enough. It won’t work. Which makes things vastly more interesting.

Of course I also have to thank Kim Jung Il, or L’il Kim, and President Ahmadinijad, and Osama bin Laden; G.W. Bush (may not be able to spell or pronounce nuclear but he knows how to incite it: Star Wars and nukes for field artillery in European Theatre, and purely defensive missiles in Poland, etc).  And a bunch of others – you know who you are. Thanks.

That’s a muted thanks. I don’t think any of you were all that critical. We’d have gotten around to proliferation eventually, though possibly not in my lifetime had, say Al Gore not conceded the Whitehouse. There might have been no invasion of Iraq and Iran wouldn’t have felt threatened, or – conversely – they would have felt too threatened with a huge, unoccupied US military to try playing around with nuclear weapons.

North Korea will eventually have a nuke (even if they don’t have one now; although would anyone buy a nuke labelled MADE IN DPRK? Alright, I guess one member of the bin Laden family, at least) and Iran. Pakistan already has a bunch, and India is going to get more and bigger ones from the U.S. even though it’s broken all the non-proliferation agreements, but no matter we must contain the Chinese, which guarantees that China will step up its nuke program, which will get the Japanese nervous and they could be rolling nukes out like Toyotas in about three months if they wanted

So on the one hand, things don’t look good. On the other hand – my novel, say – they couldn’t be looking better.

I guess the biggest thanks go out to the world for being so darned consistent after all. Of course the story still isn’t selling, which kind of mutes my ebullience, but the way things are going this could be some kind of swan song anyway. And I can’t imagine a better or more appropriate one. It won’t ever be out of date, until, like I said before, we are.

Next up, Chapter 2. Promise.

Hello world!

April 18, 2008

This is my novel one little piece at a time, an episode, if you will, a week or a day or whenever I get around to editing, rewriting, and uploading it. It’s loooooong is the big problem, long as WAR AND PEACE, comes in two parts, about 750 pages to a part, though possibly not so much once I edit it down. I’d started it before the Berlin Wall came down and then dropped it when the wall came down and it looked like all that foolishness was over. Since then the novel’s become relevant again, and with the N. Koreans and the Iranians, America seeding India with nuclear technology to deter the Chinese and the Chinese reacting as you’d expect, I’ve grown inclined to believe that that foolishness will likely never be over until we are.

chapter 1

The calender on the desk said July, 2024. A sign on the other side said General Wilhelm. B. Smuggins: Missile Command. And a face in the midst of it all said impatience – in bloodshot eyes staring desperately at the ceiling, twin lips of tight, white flesh; a tie spread apart and a collar opened to the navel. A phone was jammed under its chin. Its pallid skin flickered softly with the glow of thirty six lights blinking on a mini switchboard in front of it – three dozen lights screaming, “Me! Me! Me!” in twenty first century semaphore. It belonged to General Smuggins, called Smug by everyone including himself.

He rubbed a temple with a free hand, crushed the phone a little more with the other and whispered firmly, “That’s impossible Vlad. No one loses 30,000 missiles.” Then he listened a minute with his eyes shut, thinking of the tropics and Agnes and the kids and vacation just two months away.

“Look Vlad. I’ve got a switchboard here that’s full. The Air Force is flashing semaphore at me from across the street and my wife’s on my private unlisted line threatening divorce if I don’t give her ten minutes in the next ten minutes. This is a hell of a time for a joke General!”

Again he listened, glancing about the capacious office: a hall of dark wood and deep carpet, inhabited by a slight creature named Corporal Greubner, who flitted quietly between a pile of papers on his lord’s desk and his cubbyhole in the nearst thing to an insignificant corner in the room – complete with laptop computer and lap bench. Then his eyes fell back on the switchboard and he closed them and thought of retirement next year.

“Okay Vlad. Your computer broke down. All the data was erased and you lost the locations of your 30,000 missiles.” He listened for a minute more. “Your Corporal Witzenshaw thinks it was 35,000. Alright Vlad. I’m not sure I see what your problem is. I mean they’re not going anyplace and if they are . . . By the way Vlad, how long have you been in the business? . . . . Thirty years. That’s what I thought. Well, anyway, the situation is perfectly simple to . . . Uh, just for the record Vlad, what year were you made General? . . . . 1992? Retirement soon then I guess? . . Not for . . . That long? . . . Gee General Staff must look pretty good about now huh? Vlad?”

He listened while suppressing a frown and fiddling with a pile of papers on his desk, all marked, ‘URGENT, RUSH, TOP PRIORITY.’ He separated one from the pile and studied it for a moment while nodding. Finally he said, “Look, Vlad, I suppose I can call over to the General Staff building and get those locations for you without letting on why or for who. You understand what I’m getting at? . . . . Right. But Vlad, it’s going to cost you.”

He separated a sheet from the pile, studied it a moment then swiveled his chair around until he was facing the middle of a map of the world that covered the entire wall. The names and cities were hidden. There were no borders, no states, provinces or countries. There were just pins, a solid mass of black and red plastic pin heads. There were a dozen circles in the oceans off the coasts and covering the islands of the Caribbean and Philippines. On the floor a pile of pins was collecting the overflow. And a hundred miles north of Antarctica, cradled in pins, was the legend: ONE PIN = 100 MISSILES.

“They’re sending me 4000 more Wanderlusts . . . Yeah, the new fastback models . . . I don’t know, red or orange I think . . . Well I don’t suppose they can possibly move any faster than the old ones ever did. But look Vlad, I do the locates for you, and you’re going to have to take these off my hands. That’s the deal.

In the east pins formed the shape of a distended Europe and Asia. England appeared suspiciously large and there was another mass of pins half as large in the North Atlantic with an arrow pointing to the known location of the Thames River. The channel had practically disappeared. The Mediterranean was just a healthy trickle of blue through a solid mat of little black circles shimmering under the fluorescence with the odd flag and a pool of extras on the floor beneath them. Black pins, from Norway to South Africa and Portugal to European Russia where they formed a sharp line against a mass of red pins that ran solid to the corner.

Smug crumpled the paper and dropped it in the waste basket. Then he picked up a piece of chalk.

“Everyone’s getting more Vlad. The factories are working overtime.” He reached to the legend and added a zero. “What can I say? They’re working three shifts seven days a week . . . We have to keep up to the enemy Vlad.”

He laughed over a faint tinkle as half a dozen black pins slipped of the coast of Argentina for a small pile on the floor.

“I guess not. I hear they’re building three more factories . . . Well I guess it’s good for business, keeps unemployment down and makes a good export.” He laughed.

In the west the red horde began again, a carpet of red plastic to distended Kamchatka, reaching across the Bering Strait to the tip of a grossly obese-in-black Alaska. Australia was barely recognizable, had swallowed Tasmania, and New Zealand was threatening New Guinea and was threatened in turn by red bleeding from China down the coast of Indochina to what little remained of the China Sea. Hawaii had swollen to several times its size into tumorous growth. And beyond it was a travesty of the Americas looking, a burgeoned outline of two continents smothered beneath the black, plastic heads of pins. Hudson’s Bay had shrunk noticeably. Brazil was distended and huge. The Amazon had disappeared. The Caribbean had grown together to form a single Island in the mouth of the Inlet of Mexico.

Smug swiveled back again. “I don’t know. Use your imagination.” He leaned to the desk and rubbed his forehead. “I can’t believe you ran out of places Vlad . . . No, I can’t tell you what the other guys are doing . . . Because the phone might be bugged. Besides, I know you can do it on your own, in your own way. Anybody that could find a way to conceal a MERV warhead in a church steeple doesn’t need advice from anybody.”
He looked up and watched Greubner watch the wall. “Give them to who Vlad? . . . The Middle East is full and they get their shipment on Tuesday . . . The Caribbean looks like a pin cushion . . . Well you have to know what to look for . . . No need to be sarcastic. They don’t know where half of theirs are either. Maybe you’ve got some huh?”

He laughed weakly, leaned back and looked at the ceiling again. “You know the rules Vlad. Just hide them. They don’t exist. No one is to know about them. . . That’s right Vlad, just like the lost 30,000 . . . . 35,000 right. You’ve got the idea. And about those Vlad, just in case I can’t get the dope on them, what can you do from your end?”

He leaned back to the table and wore a worried smile. “You’ve got your men out looking for them. That’s good Vlad.” His face took on a wave of sudden hope. “Uh, just a thought Vlad. I don’t suppose you bothered to get anything on paper? . . . No. I didnt’ think so. . . Right, we do have to limit sources for potential leaks, and that goes double for hard copy. But you must have some records somewhere . . . You did before the computer malfunction . . . . Well, how many have you found?”

Again he listened with his eyes closed as though the flashing lights on his face were sunlight succoring his countenance. “35 in Warzen Field, and the silos behind the baracks. Ten around the airport, one hundred at the Shmitsbaard Tank Yard, three behind the Little Emperor Roadhouse outside of Der Schmaltz. One hidden in a sprice tree in . . . That’s a good on Vlad. The enemy will never suspect a spruce tree . . Four at the . . . Okay Vlad . . . Okay Vlad. That’s enough. You’ve found almost two hundred. That’s pretty good. And I’ll phone a friend of mine in General Staff and see what I can do from here . . . That’s right. Don’t worry about it. . . Well it’s only temporary Vlad. We’ve got people working on that as well . . . Sure Vlad. Keep in touch.”

He slammed the phone down and it immediately began to ring. A light on the switchboard went black for half a second before the caller was replaced by another. He ignored both, leaned back in his chair accidentally brushing the map with his back and fifty pins trickled to the floor.

He shook his head and said, “Greubner!”

A wimpish voice replied, “Yes General?”

“Make a note to get me a larger map.”

“But General, it already takes up the whole wall.”

“Then damn it Greubner, get me a bigger wall!”