by Patrick Redding
What I’m about to tell you may seem a matter of no importance, but it’s filled with great portents (and possibly some pretense). It happened one night not very long ago. Just happened. Past tense. In the past: gone but always with us. In all ways. I fell asleep under the stars – or in a tent, if you like, I could tell it that way but it wouldn’t be true. I wouldn’t mean it. Intent is a very important factor here. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen, you know. Portents, oh yes, there were lots of them. I suppose you might find it easier to understand if you’d ever found yourself living with a whore in a tent. Not that I have, but just suppose. Just suppose. Juxtapose my brain on drugs alongside my brain without drugs (yes, they call them meds, preferable to reds, they say, they say, these educated shite-coats, I mean white-coats). The two halves, the hemispheres (hymns-of-fears) make a whole where once there was but a hole, and now I may tell a story. (And about time, get on with it, you say.)
I say that night began with a lot of standing around in the parking lot after work, a most useless operation, the work, I mean, not the standing around afterward. I was watching the moths annihilate themselves in the streetlights and wondering if they had near-death experiences of being sucked into great white tunnels of light or whether they merely sizzled for a moment and passed through to the other side and immediately began looking for the next streetlight. I am not a streetwalker, you know. I merely walk the streets to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk, to prevent mothers around the world from breaking their backs. They have no appreciation, of course, of the service I perform for them. They don’t make it easy, either, with all that bending-over-backward-for-you talk and what-not.
I was joined by Hutchins. Hutchins was a musician, a keyboardist, in a local band who rented rehearsal space in an empty office building near where I worked, or pretended to work. Counting tokens was not my real work, you know, it was only what they paid me to do. I do not know what my real work was supposed to be, only that it was not this, and that it was probably not avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, but these I did and did them both passably well, which is really of no importance. Of no portent. Let us not pretend it was. He was reminiscing, Hutchins was, in that coolly brain-fried way people on unforced medications have of meandering between inconsequential topics. We were talking about the lake where several of us used to go and get stoned before the state had it fenced off and gated. We were speaking of a holy place where we took communion and learned of sacraments before the First Amendment got out of line and found itself no longer First but somewhere down there among the other ones such as the Fourth. There is no privacy in public baptism, you know. There is no privacy in having unconsecrated wafers placed upon one’s tongue by white-coats bearing paper-cup goblets and pine-scented incense in mop buckets of unholy water.
“The lake isn’t fenced anymore,” he said. “You can drive right down to the water. We should go.” It was late by now, and the moon was out. I wondered if any misguided moths ever saw the moon and thought that it must be the streetlight to end all streetlights and set off to fly into it only to become lost forever in the cold blackness of space. Then I wondered if that was much different from what happened to the ones that went to their deaths with a snap-crackle-pop in the streetlights; maybe they just experienced a fantastic flash of fire and then an infinite cold darkness. My doctor called this “excessive existential anxiety” and gave me more meds for having too many X’s. I should probably take one now but no, I will wait. We are going to the holy place and the moon is out and perhaps I might be healed of my afflictions and affections if I touch the hem of someone else’s garment. I touched my doctor’s coat and all I got was four-point restraints. Whose coat must I touch to rid myself of all these X’s?
When we got there we saw that someone had cut down a lot of the trees, leaving the shoreline open so that it could be easily seen from the road. Hutchins said they’d probably done that after the fence came down, so people wouldn’t be as likely to go there and hang out after dark. A park is a park, but not after dark. The water level was low and Hutchins drove onto the hard-packed sand, pulling the van around sideways. We got out and smoked a joint, and then walked down the beach, smoking some more and drinking. I meditated upon the names of musicians I knew, and reflected that Hutchins’ name was very fitting; something about the way his nose twitched when he lit a cigarette made me think of rabbits. Perhaps his ancestors kept rabbits many years ago and that’s where their family name came from, as well as the resemblance of mannerisms. People come to resemble the animals they live with, or so I’ve heard. I didn’t mention this aloud; they can’t say I didn’t learn anything at all in there. I learned not to say out loud when people remind me of animals, despite how many X’s and Y’s we have in common with other species.
I didn’t notice how far we’d walked or how drunk I was getting until I sat down after awhile. I must have passed out. I might have flown and cracked my head on the moon. It definitely felt like I might have. I wondered if that’s where all the craters came from, drunken fools trying to fly into the master streetlight and banging their heads on the surface, trying to get in, looking for the light that so mysteriously disappears when you get up close. I woke up lying in some weedy, sandy area by myself, not quite sure where I was. It seemed to be just before dawn; there was starting to be a little light in the sky.
I didn’t see the van anywhere. In fact, I didn’t recognize this part of the shoreline, and guessed I must have wandered off in the dark. You look for the light, you know, but you never really catch up to it; it’s always over there somewhere, and you wouldn’t even notice it was there if it wasn’t so dark where you are. I heard an animal-like noise I couldn’t place, and it alarmed me just a little, not knowing what it was, exactly, so I got up and walked toward a shed I saw, which I hoped might be some sort of information station with a phone or something.
Then I noticed the birds – many, many birds – ducks and hawks and such – lying scattered on the ground. Some of them were flapping a little, making feeble squawks. They were covered with black gunk – as was most of the ground near the water. Looking down, I saw that my shoes were caked with the stuff too, and now that I thought about it, I could feel that the back side of my clothes was wet. I’d probably been lying in the stuff. I looked at the low water level, saw the shiny iridescent stuff on the top, and realized that the black stuff was oil. Sometimes shedding a little light on something isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Iridescent rainbows aside – a sheen of erstwhile beauty may cover an ugly oilslick. I’d been perfectly content to wallow around in the blackened mud until the sun came up enough to let me see what it was. A bird croaked hoarsely as I looked at the nasty water, and I felt sick.
My stomach twisted and threatened to empty itself; I crouched on the ground for a moment, trying to let it pass while I racked my brain for ideas about what to do. Those damned doctors with all their nice, neat answers were never around when you could really use a little help. Maybe there were some rags or something in the shed, I thought hopefully; maybe I could clean up the birds, wash the gunk out of their feathers, and they’d recover. Maybe there’d be a phone in the information station, and I could call someone – an animal shelter or a vet or something… maybe… I felt my throat close up as one of the birds near me convulsed, flapping madly in the sandy dirt for a brief few seconds, and then was still. Maybe everything would end – the birds, the water, time, even my oil-soaked mind – dying a torturous and brutal death, while I stood around trying to think what to do.
I’d started toward the shed again when I heard another noise that seemed to be coming from up in the bushes; it sounded like someone groaning. Shoving my way through the underbrush, I found a man lying in the leaves, grimacing and clutching at his chest. He wasn’t exactly dressed for the lake; he was wearing a dark three-piece suit and tie, and an overcoat. A hat had fallen to the side of his head. He saw me and began trying to pull some papers out of his jacket. It was difficult for him to talk and I had trouble making out what he was trying to say. “Let me help you,” I said, grabbing his arm and trying to haul him to his feet. He gasped as I realized, too late, that moving him probably wasn’t a good idea.
“Leave me alone,” he moaned, sinking back into a heap on the ground. “You can’t help me.”
“I can call someone for you,” I offered. “I’m sure there must be a phone around here somewhere…”
“You fool,” he hacked, “there’s no phone service out here. This is sacred ground. You don’t put a hotline to civilization in a place like this. Do you want to ruin everything?”
I thought it wasn’t looking too good anyway, but I didn’t want to argue with a dying man.
“I wanted to stop it – what was happening to the lake and the birds,” he coughed, “but I couldn’t…” He rolled onto his back, choking, and I tried to help him sit up but it was useless, just useless. Still, he persisted with a good ten minutes’ worth of plot exposition, so I left off trying to get him up and instead hunkered down on the ground near enough to listen.
Through his wheezing, I managed to grasp that someone had bought the land from the state. They were using tanks buried underground to store oil; some of the tanks were leaking, sending oil and sludge into the lake and saturating the shoreline. Complaints had been lodged, and ignored; apparently they were within tolerance levels, and couldn’t be forced to remedy the situation. The man had even approached them with an offer to buy the land from them, intending to take care of the clean-up himself, but they were unwilling to sell. He suspected there were illegalities involved, bribes and trafficking and the sorts of things that make people want to hold onto property which has no ostensible value to them, but he’d gotten nowhere with trying to persuade anyone to investigate this. “They’re all in each other’s pockets,” he hissed in disgust. “A nest of vipers, and heaven help the one who steps in it and doesn’t kill them all. That’s the only thing to be done, you know.”
Since he’d exhausted every legal avenue to get something done, he’d contacted someone to take care of the situation by other means. However, en route to pay the man and make the necessary arrangements, he discovered he’d been found out. Someone had tried to kill him, and he’d barely managed to make it here, deciding to make one last desperate effort to call attention to the situation by leaving his corpse to be found on the beach. Beached whales made the news. Surely a beached environmentalist was entitled to the same lack of dignity.
“If the man gets the money by noon, then our deal is on and he’ll take care of things,” he told me, but he was obviously not going to make it. I offered to help, and he agreed; as long as I knew the code words he’d arranged with the man, it wouldn’t matter who brought the money – he’d never even seen the man himself. The words I needed to know, he said, were “Beethoven’s coat.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, he sank back to the ground. Was he dead? I shook him, patted his face, did all the things you think you should do if you find yourself with a possibly-dead person in the woods in the middle of nowhere. He was definitely dead. I was freaked out, but thought I’d better try to keep my head together and get out of there. I went through the papers he’d been trying to get out of his pocket and found a hand-sketched map with directions noted in the margin. I turned it one way and another until I thought I knew where he was going. Looking back at the shore, I saw another bird thrash the sand violently for a few seconds before dying. Sizing up the man on the ground, I took off his suit and tie and put it on myself, wrapped him up in his overcoat, and rolled him back under the bushes out of sight.
His car was parked beside the road with the keys still in it. Following the cryptic map on the seat beside me, I found the house.
It was nearly full daylight by now. There were a lot of cars outside, and several big nasty-looking guys standing by the door. I felt conspicuous suddenly because although I’d donned the man’s nice coat and tie, I was still carrying my old green army-surplus coat. To my surprise, though, the goons just nodded and let me pass. Apparently there’s no dress code for going to pay off someone to “fix things.” I wandered uncertainly down the hallway, wondering if someone was just going to approach me and strike up a conversation about classical music or how this sort of thing worked.
The place was a huge old mansion, well-tended, lavishly furnished with antiques and deep, deep carpet. A nice change, I thought, from institutional floorwax, cracked sidewalks, and black sand. I recalled that I was supposed to be back at my token-counting job sometime today, but it didn’t seem real. In light of waking up on a beach full of dying birds, miles from anywhere, tokens seemed no more real than any of my other hallucinations the white-coats had attempted to banish for me. Was this real? I stopped and looked down at my grimy shoes on the nice clean carpet. I turned and saw sandy footprints leading from the door to where I stood. OK, yeah, this was probably real. I continued down the hallway.
From the sound of it, a loud party was going on even at this early hour. I followed the noise until I found the gathering in a large sitting room – a “parlor,” I guessed it might have been called, when more genteel people lived here. The guys around this door looked at me more closely when I entered but let me pass. There were maybe ten or so people, all well-dressed, sitting around an oversized coffee table, drinking and laughing and such. One was younger – my age or maybe even less – and she seemed very out of place and ill at ease. A man who seemed to be the host turned to greet me and I knew that he was the one I was supposed to see. He made grandiose gestures over my entrance, introducing me briefly (using the dead man’s name), then murmured, “That’s an unusual coat, isn’t it?”
“It’s Beethoven’s coat,” I said quietly. He nodded and indicated that we’d make the exchange later and that I should act natural and join the party. I took a chair by the window, putting the coat on the floor behind me. I noticed him looking at it again. Suddenly I realized that the money must have been in the dead man’s overcoat – how could I have been so stupid? Now here I was in this psychopath’s parlor with no money for him. What could I do?
Fortunately for me, he was enjoying his party and in no hurry to do business. I tried to stay calm, hoping I’d get an opportunity to slip out. Passing for the dead man to gain entry to this guy’s house was one thing; I couldn’t very well carry on the dead man’s business without having some money in hand.
I noticed the girl watching me. She had cropped blond hair and looked decidedly uncomfortable. My uncle always said that women cut their hair short when they’re unhappy. She had a wistful look, as though she’d rather be almost anyplace else. She also appeared to be the host’s girlfriend. I avoided her gaze; I was in this too deep already without misunderstandings over an unhappy girlfriend. An older woman beside me leaned over and told me with whiskey-breath whispers that I’d arrived just in time – our host always had his girlfriend to entertain at his parties, she explained, giggling.
Just as she’d said, in a few minutes he stood up and clapped for attention and announced that we would now be entertained. He put on some different music and nodded at the blond girl, smiling but giving her a threatening look to make her comply. She stood up on the coffee table and began to gyrate to the music.
The host disappeared into another room with a couple of other guys. The whiskey woman leaned over and commented about our host’s habit – a very heavy addiction, she gossiped; there were those who thought it was beginning to affect his ability to take care of business, she added, although it had done nothing to take the edge off his temper. Frequently, I learned, this need resulted in his disappearing from the party for good; the girlfriend would latch onto some guest she found interesting, and the party would continue without him. This sounded promising – maybe I could slip out unnoticed. Well, I had to, didn’t I? If I had no money, there was no business to be done, and even if I had the money, from the sound of things, there was no guarantee that he’d do the job properly.
I looked up; our host was still gone and the blond girl was now stripping down to her slip, still dancing on the table. Shortly, she had undressed completely.
Someone laughed and threw her a man’s shirt. She put it on, leaving it unbuttoned, and began to touch herself, to applause and cheers. She seemed lost, in a daze, then embarrassed when she caught my eye. She looked away abruptly and got up, strutting around the tabletop, moving around the circle of guests, giving everyone a closer look. The music pounded at a deafening volume.
She kept working her way around the circle, eventually getting to me. Latching onto my sleeve, she pulled me up and began dancing with me in a very sexual way. People shrieked and howled over this, laughing and whistling. I realized that she didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be entertaining this godawful collection of degenerates, but she didn’t know how to get out of it. I began to kiss her; she was grinding against me, clutching my hips, then hanging onto my shoulders.
“You hate this, don’t you?” I remarked.
Her eyes rolled, they might have rolled back into her head for all the life left; she may as well have been dead, she was already dead inside. Dead eyes. She probably heard this at least once a night, this attempt at connection, protection – enticements to defect from men in love with her moral defects. I said it anyway.
“Why don’t you leave?”
“It’s complicated. Just dance with me.”
I tried. I don’t dance very well, even with a gifted partner who could do it in her sleep. Sleepwalking. Sleepdancing. Sleep…. I thought for a moment, the gears in my head groaning into motion above the grinding of the bodies. “I think I can get you out.”
“What – ‘save’ me?” She laughed. “You can’t even save yourself. If you could, you wouldn’t be here.”
I stopped. She grabbed my waist and pulled me into the motions again. No dance, no talk. There were rules. Heaven forbid the man should come out of his back room and find her conversing with someone; why, he might think she had a mind of her own. Couldn’t have that.
“People who can take matters into their own hands don’t come here,” she told me, her mouth close to my ear. “I can’t. Neither can you – or you wouldn’t be here… would you?”
We danced; no one was paying any attention anymore. More guests had arrived and the crowd filled the room now, the music blared and glasses were filled and drained, filled and drained. She was right. I could see right through all of them, now that she’d said it: no one here could help themselves. Not one person in the room knew how to take matters in hand and fix anything. Not one. They all just milled around, drinking themselves into a stupor, and waiting for the man to decide whose problem he might fix next – if he was up to it, if he wasn’t too wasted. She was right. She was absolutely right. And now she was pulling the jacket down around my waist, dancing hot and heavy, relieved that no one was watching her now.
Something hard pressed into the flesh between us and I looked down curiously as she pulled me closer. No one was watching, no one at all. I felt her hand slip under the jacket, and she leaned in tight. “Take care of your own problems,” she said, shoving my hand into the pocket of the jacket. “You’ve got everything you need. Do it yourself.” Confused, I pulled back slightly and looked to see what my hand had closed around. A gun. I stared at her, not quite believing, again, what seemed to be happening. Where were those guys in the white coats when things seemed to be happening that shouldn’t reasonably be happening?
She stepped back and gave me a shove. “Go on. Get out of here.”
I didn’t stop to think about it. I took her by the arm, pulled her off the table and got my coat. This would have created only a minor ripple in the crowd, but she started to raise a fuss, saying she couldn’t leave. What could I do? I pulled out the gun and pointed it at her. “Put this on,” I told her, tossing the coat in her direction. Now people were starting to take notice. Now it was going to get interesting. Now we’d really have some fun. Now was a good time to go. I gestured impatiently while she slipped on my coat to cover herself somewhat. “Does this window open?”
The whiskey woman, apparently delighted at the prospect of a departure from the usual “entertainment,” helpfully staggered over and unlatched the large floor-to-ceiling window, letting it swing open. By the time word filtered out to the heavies at the door, I had a firm hold on the young blond and the gun pointed squarely at her head as we stepped out the window.
She yelled at me all the way back to the lake, bawled me out all the way through the woods and down to the shoreline. I don’t know why I took her there, really, I just wanted her to see the mess I was trying to clean up. I’d explained it all to her, as much as I understood, and she got it but she couldn’t get past the idea that the guy was probably going to track her down and drag her back to the house. We were arguing like fiends when we emerged from the woods just above the shoreline. I stopped short, feeling a wave of disorientation.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, realizing something must be amiss. I waved her off, needing a moment to sort out things for myself.
There were no dead birds. No black sand. No oily rainbows on the water. I turned around and around, slowly examining the details and configuration, the shape of the shore, the thickness of the woods. Yes, this was the spot. This was where I’d woken up this morning. There was the shed. This was definitely the place.
“I didn’t imagine it,” I insisted. “I couldn’t have. Well, I could have, but I didn’t.”
“Do you think someone came and cleaned up?” she suggested.
“They could’ve cleaned up the birds – but there’s no way they could’ve cleaned up the water and the shoreline this quickly,” I pointed out. I retraced my thoughts, my mental deductions; yes, this was the spot, no, they couldn’t have cleaned up this quickly, I couldn’t have imagined it because I did use the man’s map to find the house, where I met the girl, who was clearly here, so that much was obviously not a hallucination – wait, what about the man’s body? I struck off through the underbrush, looking for it, looking for familiar twigs. The girl, still wrapped in my coat, followed me. Where was he? Sure, I’d hidden him, but not this well. I couldn’t have hidden him even from myself, could I? I stomped around through the brush, searching every square foot – nothing. I couldn’t have imagined that. I was wearing his clothes; I drove his car, I used his map. I pulled out a wallet from the inside of the jacket and showed it to the girl. “This is not me,” I said, waving his driver’s license at her.
“No,” she agreed. “This is some old guy.”
I looked around, bewildered. Could he have gotten to the shed, maybe? Surely not; he’d been dead when I left him. Still, I had no other ideas, so I wandered back down to the shed. As I did, it occurred to me that I’d meant to check it out several times when I was here earlier, but I’d never gotten around to it, what with the oil-soaked birds and the guy dying and all that. Where on earth could his body have gone? Dead guys didn’t just get up and wander away, and even if he had, I’d taken his car. He couldn’t have gotten far. If I’d known he was going to come to life and need his car, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it, or the map, for that matter, and that train of thought led me back to the girl and the gun. It always comes back to the girl and the gun, doesn’t it? Yes.
I saw her watching me from a safe distance. She’d taken off my coat and was carrying it, looking around at the deserted lakeshore and probably wondering if I was completely out of my mind or just using a story about dead birds as a poorly-thought-out excuse to get her alone in the middle of nowhere. Now that she wasn’t doing the bump-and-grind on a coffee table in front of a dozen drunken fools, she was rather attractive. “Are you going back to him?” I called.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. What do you think?”
“I think he’s a lunatic and dangerous as hell, but hey, I only just met him.” I do know about lunatics, however, I’ve a considerable amount of experience with that. I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I said, “It’s up to you. Your choice.”
“Yeah. It is,” she agreed. “So what about you? What are you going to do now?”
I was going to have a look in that shed, that’s what I was going to do. I didn’t need to find anything to clean up birds, or a phone to call an ambulance, but all the same, I wanted to check it out. It seemed like a good idea. It seemed like the right thing to do.
I expected it to be locked but the door swung open easily and I stepped inside. “Come in,” said a lilting voice from the depths. I walked in hesitantly, blinking to let my eyes adjust. The room spread out in front of me, filling my vision with bookshelves and comfortable furniture and fluorescent light.
The light’s always over there, you know; we keep it over there, keep our distance so we won’t bang our heads into it and annihilate our minds. You have to be ready to destroy yourself in order to go toward the light. You have to not mind the tearing apart and putting back together to make a better whole.
“How are we doing today?” Dr. Hawks inquired hopefully, tucking a stray blond hair behind her ear and straightening her nice white coat.
“Um… OK. Not bad, actually,” I said, settling into a chair as she reached to turn down the volume of the classical station playing on the radio. “You could leave that on,” I suggested.
“I thought you didn’t like music,” she smiled quizzically.
I shrugged. “It’s Beethoven. Number 9, I think.”
“That’s right,” she nodded, obviously pleased. She took up her pen and a folder of notes, and I took silent note of the ghostly pale band on her finger where her wedding ring had lately been and now was not. Past tense.
Intent is everything. It all comes back to the girl and the gun. I pulled my coat over my lap, to be less conspicuous, sat back and looked at the light, the brilliant white sunlight illuminating a halo around the edge of her hair. It was beginning to grow out since I’d seen her last, I noticed. She referred to her notes and reminded me where we’d left off from last time, and we began the dance.
Today, I decided, I might save myself.
© Copyright 2005 by Patrick Redding. Republished 2011, 2015.
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Edgar Heard the Bells, All Right
by Erin Abernethy,
with apologies to Mr. Longfellow and Mr. Poe
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play.
YA’LL HUSH FOR TWO MINUTES AND PLAY NICE!
AND QUIT MAKIN’ THE DOG PEE ON THE CHRISTMAS TREE!
Hear the loud alarum bells–
What a tale of terror, now their turbulency tells!
MAMA! MAMA! MAMA! HE TOOK MY FIRE TRUCK!
YOU PUT THAT DOWN RIGHT NOW!
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.
WAH! WAH! WAAAHH! WAAAAHHHHH! WWWAAAAAAAHHHHHH!
HUSH, OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHIN’ TO CRY ABOUT!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
DADDY, SHE HIT ME! MAKE HER QUIT!
I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along th’ unbroken song
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.
SOMEBODY TAKE THE DAMN BATTERY OUT OF THE SMOKE DETECTOR!
IT GOES OFF EVERY TIME I OPEN THE OVEN DOOR!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire
MAMA, THE CENTERPIECE IS BURNIN’!
SISSY KNOCKED THE CANDLE OVER!
And in despair, I bow’d my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
YA’LL BETTER SETTLE DOWN RIGHT NOW OR AIN’T NONE OF YA GOIN’ TO THE CANDLELIGHT SERVICE WITH ME AN’ MAMMAW!
Oh, the bells, the bells, the bells!
What a tale their terror tells
IF YOU DON’T GET TO GO TO THE CANDLELIGHT SERVICE, SANTY CLAUS WON’T COME AN’ BABY JESUS WON’T LOVE YOU AND YOU’LL GO TO HELL!
“For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.”
MAMA SAYS YOU’RE GOIN’ TO HELL, SO THERE!
OPEN THE KITCHEN WINDOW AND CLEAR SOME OF THIS SMOKE OUT!
How they clang, and crash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
GRAMPAW SMELLS FUNNY, AND HE AIN’T SNORIN’. IS HE DEAD?
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
WHAT’S A SEIZURE? CAN I HAVE ONE TOO?
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a Runic sort of rhyme
I AIN’T TAKIN’ NONE OF YA’LL ANYWHERE WITH ME EVER AGAIN–
NOWHERE, NO WAY, NO HOW!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With Peace on earth, good will to men.”
NOW HUSH AND SAY THE BLESSING!
HURRY UP BEFORE IT GETS COLD!
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
To the tolling of the bells
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
AMEN. YA’LL DIG IN.
© Copyright 2004 by Erin Abernethy. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.
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Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD)
by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax
Memo to staff psychologists: please insert the following sheet into your copies of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). At this time of year, it is likely that you may see an increase in complaints of depression. Be aware of the diagnostic criteria for the specifier Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) as well as this new category, Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (or WHAD).
Criteria for Winter Holiday Affective Disorder (WHAD):
At least five of the following symptoms have been present over the majority of a two-week period, and represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms is either (1) Winter holiday-related complaints or (2) general lack of jolliness.
NOTE: Do not include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition (for example, pregnancy) or delusions or hallucinations (for example, seeing dancing sugarplums during alcohol withdrawal).
1. Winter holiday-related complaints
2. Marked lack of jolliness and good will
3. Loss of interest in nearly all activities (do not include sitting in a stupor in front of the TV during football playoffs)
4. Significant weight gain or increase in appetite (especially cravings for “special” foods such as turkey, fudge, rum balls, etc.)
5. Insomnia (including sleeplessness due to carolers outside who just won’t shut up) or hypersomnia (including overdoses of tryptophan from excessive turkey consumption as well as repeated viewings of “Frosty the Snowman” reruns)
6. Psychomotor agitation (including twitching and “bite reflex” exhibited at the sight or sound of Salvation Army bell-ringers, but not including seizures due to those little chasing lights)
7. Repetitive vocalizations (such as “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” or “Ho ho ho!”)
8. Fatigue or loss of energy at the mention of weekend shopping at the mall
9. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt when unable to come up with “the perfect gift”
10. Discoloration of extremities (such as red nose – do not include redness due to excessive alcohol consumption from self-medication)
11. Paranoia, as evidenced by random vocalizations such as “He knows when you’re sleeping! He knows when you’re awake!”
12. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, particularly when changing lanes in downtown traffic
13. Recurrent homicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a homicide attempt (including attacking the mall Santa with a picket from the fence around the “Santaland” display) or a specific plan for committing homicide (do not include shooting at the neighbor’s plastic rooftop reindeer)
Statistics indicate that WHAD symptoms may be more apparent in individuals employed in retail occupations, but WHAD has been diagnosed over a widespread range of demographics.
In most cases, WHAD symptoms decrease significantly after 6-8 weeks, though flare-ups may continue until St. Patrick’s Day.
There is currently no treatment for WHAD, although symptoms may be alleviated by mild sedatives, antipsychotics, or a weekend in the Bahamas.
© Copyright 2003 by Patrick Redding & Rob Colfax. Republished 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015.
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The Narcissistic Parent’s 10-Point Guide for a Happy Thanksgiving
by Patrick Redding
[Author’s note: I trust our readers to be intelligent enough to know that this is satire and intended to be humorous. Although it’s not my intention to offend, it could happen. Sorry about that.]
1. Invite all the relatives you can possibly think of, no matter how long it’s been since you saw them. If you haven’t seen them since a funeral, be sure to mention that. Forget love and money; guilt’s what really makes the world go ’round!
2. Invite some other people too – church acquaintances, people you see occasionally at work, your mail carrier – whoever you can drag to the table. Thanksgiving is about sharing. If certain family members don’t seem keen on traditional clan gatherings anyway, having strangers there is sure to put everyone at ease!
3. When people offer to help cook, twist it around and ask them why they don’t like your cooking. If they offer to bring some fancy-pants special dish like cranberry-nut-almond-brussel-sprout stuffing, graciously accept their offer but again, make sure they know that you know they don’t like your cooking. Don’t worry if you sound offended. They’re family; they should understand!
4. If you know that certain individuals in your family have special dietary needs, such as diabetics or vegans, be sure to go out of your way to let them know how special you think they are. Take pains to assure them that you’re making dishes just for them; ask them for recipes if you have no idea what they can and can’t eat. If they feel self-conscious or think you’re being a condescending bitch, that’s really not your problem, is it?
5. Alcohol or no alcohol? It really doesn’t matter; the alcoholics are going to drink in their cars on the way over anyway. If you don’t drink, you can self-righteously criticize everyone who can’t get through a nice family meal without self-medicating. If you load up yourself, though, you have license to say and do pretty much whatever you want and not worry about apologizing later – not that you’d do that anyway, because you’re always right.
6. Before you eat, make everyone hold hands and say grace. You certainly don’t need to kowtow to the sensitivities of a couple of atheists or pagans in your family. After all, they embarrass you every year by not showing up for your church’s Easter programs or Christmas cantata. What would Jesus do? Jesus was a hippie! Don’t listen to that long-haired peace-and-love crackpot.
7. If you skip grace, you can still make people wish they were somewhere else by making everyone around the table take turns telling what they’re thankful for. You may want to skip this part if you have any children who have recently married someone you don’t like, as they’re likely to gush about how thankful they are for their loving spouse, and no one wants to hear that crap at the dinner table.
8. Even though other people’s lives aren’t nearly as interesting and fulfilling as your own, make certain you include everyone in dinner conversation, even if you don’t know much about what’s been going on with them. Surefire topics to start a spirited conversation might include the recent elections, your son’s “friend” and how much he reminds you of that Boy George fellow, your youngest daughter’s weight gain, your oldest daughter’s failure to produce grandchildren. After all, just because you’ve opened a can of cranberry sauce doesn’t mean you can’t open up a can of worms too!
9. After dinner, insist upon making up take-home plates of leftovers for each and every guest, especially the ones who didn’t seem to eat much. There are starving children in Ethiopia who’d be grateful for a good plate of food, and you shouldn’t be shy about pointing this out to the uncooperative little brats who are trying to slip out the door before you’re done with them!
10. Once everything’s done and your guests have managed to escape, take a moment for yourself to reflect on what a good person you are to provide such a loving family home for such undeserving little buggers. Take out pen and paper and dash off letters to let them know how disappointed you are that they seemed upset with you for no good reason. Don’t forget to mention how they embarrassed you in front of everyone by not helping out with dinner or laughing at your jokes. Make sure they know that attendance at Christmas is mandatory and you expect them to be on their best behavior!
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Curses and Clues
Compiled by Hunter MacKenzie
A collection of lesser-known but interesting quotes from Aleister Crowley, gleaned from various things he wrote…
“Life is a sacrament; in other words, all our acts are magickal acts.”
“We are the poets! We are the children of wood and stream, of mist and mountain, of sun and wind! and to us the rites of Eleusis should open the door of Heaven, and we shall enter and see God face to face.”
“Logic is responsible for most of the absurd and abominable deeds which have disgraced history.”
“Monogyny is nonsense for anyone with a grain of imagination. The more sides he has to his natures, the more women he needs to satisfy it. The same is, of course, true, mutates mutandis, of women.”
“Magick had fallen into desuetude chiefly because people would follow the prescribed course of action and get no results. If one does not understand anything about electricity, one cannot construct a dynamo; and having so failed, one cannot get oneself electrocuted.”
“Shallow critics argue that because the average untrained man cannot evoke a spirit, the ritual which purports to enable him to do so must be at fault. He does not reflect that an electroscope would be useless in the hands of a savage.”
“The mind is a mechanism for dealing symbolically with impressions; its construction is such that one is tempted to take these symbols for reality. Conscious thought, therefore, prevents one from perceiving reality.”
“Almost all religious tyranny springs from intellectual narrowness. The spiritual energy derived from the high trances makes the seer a formidable force, and unless he be aware that his interpretation is due only to the exaggeration of his own tendencies of thought, he will seek to impose it on others, and so delude his disciples, pervert their minds and prevent their development. He can do good only in one way, that is, by publishing the methods by which he attained illumination: in other words, by adding his experience to the sum of scientific knowledge.”
“I had not realized that Magick was the practical side of spiritual progress.”
“The essential identity of all religions… is the same mountain seen from different sides and named by different people.”
“What we call ultimate truth is in reality no more than a statement of the internal relations of the universe which we perceive.”
“It is one of the most frightful consequences of increasing age that one finds fewer and fewer of one’s contemporaries worth talking to.”
“A poem is a series of words so arranged that the combination of meaning, rhythm and rime produces the definitely magical effect of exalting the soul to divine ecstasy.”
“We already know that certain spiritual or mental conditions may be induced by acting on physico- and chemico-physiological conditions. Morphine makes men holy and happy in a negative way; why should there not be some drug which will produce the positive equivalent?”
“When one is working in the eye of God, when one cares nothing for the opinion of men… when one has surrendered forever one’s personal interests and become lost in one’s work, it is merely waste of time and derogatory to one’s dignity to pay attention to irrelevant interruptions about one’s individual affairs. One keeps one’s powder and shot for people who attack one’s work itself.”
“When Freud says, quite correctly, that dreams are phantasms of suppressed sexual desire, the question remains, of what is sexual desire the phantasm?”
“I have myself constructed numerous ceremonies where it is frankly admitted that religious enthusiasm is primarily sexual in character. I have merely refused to stop there. I have insisted that sexual excitement is merely a degraded form of divine ecstasy.”
“There is, of course, extreme danger in coming into contact with a demon of malignant or unintelligent nature. It should, however, be said that such demons exist only for imperfectly initiated Magicians.”
“Facts are judged by their fertility. When a discovery remains sterile, the evidence of its truth is weakened. The indication is that it is not a stone in the temple of truth.”
“Disappointment arises from the fear that every joy is transient.”
“The Abyss being crossed… I understood that sorrow had no substance; that only my ignorance and lack of intelligence had made me imagine the existence of evil.”
“Intolerance is evidence of impotence.”
“Just as extreme hunger makes a man shovel down anything that looks like food, so the ache of the soul for truth makes it swallow whatever promises.”
“Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the standpoint from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.”
“The only love worth having or indeed worthy of the name is the spontaneous sympathy of a free soul.”
“Whatever is not ultimately useful is a source of distraction and anxiety. It gets in one’s way.”
“I fail to understand why it should be considered excusable to seduce a woman and leave her to shift for herself, while if one receives her as a permanent friend and cares for her well-being long after the liaison had lapsed, one should be considered a scoundrel.”
“We all do so many stupid things, for bad reason or no reason at all. ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do’ applies to nine-tenths of our actions.”
“A very strange theory, that about death… I wonder if there’s anything in it. It would really be too easy if we could get out of our troubles in so simple a fashion.”
“Just as soon as you start seriously to prepare a place for magickal Work, the world goes more cockeyed than it is already.”
“Fear is the source of all false perception.”
© Copyright 2004 by Hunter MacKenzie. Republished 2011, 2015.
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“Pete Rose” artwork © Copyright 1986 by Zengael. Shown here by permission of the artist.
Fall is upon us, and believe it or not, there are a good number of us who couldn’t care less about football. For us, it’s all about the leaves changing color – and, of course, the Major League Baseball playoffs. This year is especially exciting for us here at Gatewood because several of us are long-time Mets fans, and they’ve made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Mind you, they haven’t won the World Series since 1986, so no one’s holding their breath or anything – but still, it makes the heart beat a little faster, puts a bit of bounce in the step, and makes some of us positively giddy. Baseball has a way of doing that to the people who love it.
We showed you Zengael’s fine rendering of Tom Seaver earlier this summer, and since the Mets clinched their division by winning in Cincinnati, we thought it might be a good time to share this one with you. No matter what your opinion on Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement, he was still an integral part of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” and one of the greatest players ever. Here’s Zengael’s chalk drawing of the man who once said he’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.
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10 Reasons You Should Watch Blindspot
by Johanna Rigby
While I swore I never wanted to write about TV again, or at least for a very long time, the Fall Season has come around with its grab-bag full of new shows. While most will be crap, I’m actually seeing a few that I think will be worth watching, so I may relent and share those with you when I find them. Blindspot is one such show.
I also feel the need to do this because most other people who write about TV seem to do so with an eye toward ratings and the entertainment industry, which is just not my thing. I don’t watch TV just to watch TV. I need something more from it (otherwise I’d be spending my time reading), and that’s why Gatewood runs these pieces. I believe that despite its most prevalent use as entertaining pap for the mindless masses, TV – like film – is capable of being artistic and thought-provoking.
The fact that networks will only give us high-quality shows if ratings are at a level they consider high enough shouldn’t make us despair; those levels vary greatly from one network to another, and networks’ requirements for “success” are arbitrary and capriciously subject to change. However, one thing remains constant: if no one watches it, they’ll replace it with something else. This is why I feel the need to let you know when something of quality turns up on my TV-radar.
Now, back to why you should watch Blindspot. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the show, here’s the concept: a naked woman with amnesia is found in Times Square with her body covered in intricate tattoos. (If the phrase “naked amnesiac tattooed woman” isn’t sufficient to pique your attention, let me add “incredibly hot” to that.) The most prominent tattoo on her back is the name of an FBI agent, which, of course, gets the ball rolling, as they begin to analyze her tattoos and Jane Doe begins to rediscover her identity. So we’re talking about complex psychological issues plus enough standard crime-show procedural drama to allow the less discerning audience to feel comfortable.
“But I’ve got crosswords to do, dogs to walk, New Yorkers to read!” I hear you saying. “Why should I take an hour of my evening to watch a woman with amnesia tag along while dour FBI agents crash around chasing bad guys?”
I’m glad you asked. Here’s why:
1. Contrary to what many TV reviewers seemed to feel, Jane Doe does not come across as flat or without personality. That would certainly be a possibility with a lesser actress, but Jaimie Alexander does a fantastic job with bringing a fascinating character to life. Think Trinity from The Matrix trilogy meets Charly Baltimore from The Long Kiss Goodnight.
2. Amnesia is fascinating to those of us who don’t have it. We tend to romanticize it somewhat: a chance to start over, a new beginning, etc. But for anyone who looks at things from a neurological or psychological perspective, this is like catnip to kittens.
3. We need to let the networks know when they’ve done something worthy of our appreciation. NBC gave us The Blacklist, and that went well enough for them to take a chance on something like Blindspot rather than more of the same old mind-numbing lackluster crap. The best way to encourage them to give us more quality programming is by watching the good stuff so it gets the highest possible ratings. (Remember what happened with poor Kyle Killen’s excellent Awake when people thought it was too complicated for their little brains to enjoy?)
4. Some of you may enjoy Sullivan Stapleton as the aforementioned dour FBI agent. I found his character flat, but possibly that’s just an artistic pilot-episode choice in order to give room for us to get to know Jane Doe first. I’m willing to cut some slack on this because character development in pilot episodes is extremely difficult. It really is hard to do much more than scratch the surface in the first episode of a show. (For a classic example, look back at the first episode of Big Bang Theory and compare Season 1 Leonard to the Leonard of any recent episode.)
5. The procedural framework is balanced well against the amnesia/tattoo-map concept. These are two intertwining threads, each story moving the other forward. Neither takes over the show.
6. Marianne Jean-Baptiste is always a treat to watch, and her character here is no exception. She’s capable of showing highly complex situations with minimal screen time, and does so beautifully in the pilot. I certainly hope we see more of her during the series. I also hope the writers will allow her to continue to be more than a stock character of harried-supervisor-trying-to-rein-in-her-loose-cannon-agent.
7. The doctor actually sounds like a real human-being doctor. It would be easy to make up credible-sounding-but-inherently-flawed theories for him to expound upon, just to further the plot. And there may be some fast-and-loose “facts” created for him to utilize in his explanations, but it comes across as reasonable, plausible, and not unlike things your own doctor might say if insurance company constraints weren’t a factor.
8. The supporting cast is unobtrusive and mostly believable. Again, character development in a pilot episode is difficult – supporting characters especially so. There may not be much more to them than we already have, and that’s OK. I do think their resident tech geek is questionable, but that may because she just doesn’t seem quirky enough (yet) to be a tech geek. Again, these are supporting characters. It’s not a big deal if they never develop much more than this, provided the main characters can continue to pull off the story as brilliantly as they are so far.
9. We need to give the networks a reason to show us something besides “reality” programming. You’re probably not reading Gatewood if you watch a lot of “reality” TV, but if you’ve somehow stumbled here and truly believe that what you’re seeing on those shows is real, then I need to fix you up with my Nigerian half-brother who’s a professional wrestler.
10. Somewhat related to #3 and #9, when a network steps out of their comfort zone and goes against their typical programming to give us something amazing (I’m looking at you, USA Network, with that fantastic gem of a show Mr. Robot), we need to do whatever we can to support it if we want to keep it. Watch it, tell your friends, tweet it, announce to anyone who’ll listen that you’ve found something worth watching that has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss, singing lessons, or people making big fools of themselves just to be famous for being famous.
So there you have it. I’m definitely watching the next episode. If you missed the pilot, you can catch it on the NBC website here, where you can also read more about the show, characters, cast, etc. Blindspot airs on NBC, Mondays at 10:00 p.m.
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