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Saturday, February 23, 2013

More old stuff

Sounds of a Bronze World Part I

first ran: 10/21/99

(Note: The first part of this two-part fiction series is not very good. The second part, however, was a much stronger offering, so if you're up for reading the entire story, it might be a good idea to skim part one and go on to part two.)
 
    There was a man who lived down the block from me when I was a kid. He might have been thirty or he might have been ninety--in childhood, anyone over ten seems ancient to you--but he stooped, he dressed in black, he sighed whenever I saw him.
    At night, in summer when I slept with my windows open, I could hear him weeping loudly and bitterly, and in the daytime he would sit on his front porch, staring blankly at the emptiness of our dull residential street. When he sobbed at night he sounded like wolves and like water draining from a bathtub; as he sat on his porch in the daytime he looked like a ghost. Actually--since Mom was during this time reading Victorian ghost stories to me--he looked "spectral." He looked like a spectre from Dickens.
    Occasionally, I would speak to him as I passed by on my bike. "Good morning, Mr. Mirton!" I chimed often. "How are you?" I would do a lazy loop in front of his house, waiting for a reply. He never gave me a reply. Just an unfocused stare.
    If I were in an obstinate mood I sometimes continued looping lazily around and around in order to carry on a one-sided conversation. "Nice day, isn't it, Mr. Mirton! Wow, look at that sky!... Days like these make you want to kick back with a beer and just sit by a pool!... You like beer?... pools...?" And so on, a perfect imitation of my father when he was trying to get someone new to like him.
    Jay Allison, one of the few boys anywhere near my age living on the same street, developed a more subtle tactic for getting Mr. Mirton's attention. Jay threw things at him. On an evening in July, while the sun lingered for hours on the brink of death, Jay and I stood at the curb of Mr. Mirton's yard and tossed--first softly and then firmly and then desperately--an assortment of items we had gathered for the purpose. Appendages of slaughtered action figures, Jay's sister's dolls and tea set, buttons, pins, pens, notebooks, ice cubes, stones, bits of wood, a package of frozen peas, and old game cartridges. We struck Mr. Mirton more than once and made a hell of a racket but nothing moved him. He remained inert, distant, detached, dead. Mr. Mirton got a black eye from an ice cube and a bloody nose from the frozen peas but he did not even wince.
    That night, however, as I lay in bed listening to the sobs like wolves and draining water, I noticed a new sound. Usually there were the crickets chirping, and our dog barking, and the odd car or truck engine, and the voices of teenagers walking from house to house in addition to the cries. Not much else. Some variation but always identifiable sounds. On the night after Jay Allison and I attacked him, though, mixed in with the sobbing I detected a more menacing sound I could not name. Unsteady creakings, metal against metal, the sounds of a bronze world being split by an earthquake. The sobs began, as they usually did, around ten or eleven, and, as always, lasted until daybreak, but the new sounds started an hour later and lasted until just after midnight.
    It scared me. I thought of the stories Mother read to me in the day time--about spectres seeking revenge, mostly, and a terrible possibility crossed my mind: Mr. Mirton looked like a ghost because he was a ghost, and now Jay and I had wounded him. What if he would now seek his revenge, and what if the terrible new sound had something to do with his vengeance? To my mind, seeking revenge was the only purpose of being a ghost. Quite possibly, Mr. Mirton had spent years sitting on his front porch waiting for someone to do something to him o he might have cause to get back at them. He wept all night because he had not exacted a wrathful vengeance on anyone, Until now, he had not found anyone to revenge himself upon.
    I did not sleep that night. As soon as my parents began getting dressed for work, I went downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal, then stepped outside to feed my dog, Bosch. Though still summer, the morning was cool, with a heavy dew on the ground. The grass stuck to my bare feet as I crossed the backyard toward the fat oak tree where we kept the dog chained. Bosch, a collie, began leaping and dancing as soon as he saw me bearing his breakfast in a metal dish.
    Because of my lack of sleep, my mind was not as alert as it needed to be. I placed the food in front of Bosch, who took no interest in it. He was not happy, it turned out, because of his breakfast but because I had come to see him so early in the day. I kneeled down to pet him, the dewy grass soaking my thin pajamas at the knees and Bosch's we tongue soaking my face. As he nuzzled into me, I giggled and pushed him back.
    It was then that I noticed the blood. His mouth was a crimson red, his paws stained even darker with blood and mud. My own hands, from where I had touched him, were smeared a deep maroon. At first I thought he had managed to coax a cat too close to him, or perhaps a squirrel. Then I saw, in the entrance to his doghouse beside the tree, the blank and detached stare of Jay Allison's head, lopsided, resting on one cheek.

Sounds of a Bronze World Part II

first ran: 10/28/99
 
    You are Jay Allison. Everything you do is intended to get a reaction out of others because you feel unloved and insignificant. You are a spoiled child and the only time you feel important is when you hurt or anger someone else. Which is why you threw things at Mirton, the man who passes days and years on a front porch. The man who does not pay attention to anyone, including you.
    You succeeded in injuring Mirton. You bruised him. You drew blood and yet he continued to ignore you. It will require a more desperate act to get Mirton's attention and you have a plan. Instead of going to bed, you climb out of your window, drop to the ground, and walk in the dense summer night toward Mirton's decaying house.
    Despite the street lamps and full moon, the house is more of a dark implication than a tangible structure--the house absorbs light, it does not reflect it. The house reminds you of a vampire.
    You are dressed like a diminutive cat burglar. Black clothes, black shoes, a black hat. Like the house, you too absorb light. You make no sound as you rush across Mirton's lawn. You press your back against the weathered wood of the house to catch your breath. You know it is nearing midnight because you can hear the weeping coming from the within the house. Sobs, muffled shrieks. Mirton cries every night. He sounds like a cat you once tortured by setting its tail on fire.
    On the side of the house, there are tangles of bushes and vines which nearly conceal the three windows. It requires a moderate effort to twist and claw your way to the first window but you manage. A twig scrapes across one cheek and you bleed. There are no lights inside but the weeping assures you Mirton is home. The weeping is loud. It echoes and swirls. Uneasiness turns to fear but your need for attention is stronger. You want Mirton to know you exist. You want him to acknowledge you. You will bang on his windows, ring his doorbell, shout and laugh until he tells you to go away. It is a childish plan, of course, but you are a child.
    Without thinking, instead of tapping on the window, you push against the panes and the window begins to creep open. It does not occur to you to wonder why someone like Mirton, a recluse, would leave a window unlocked but the opportunity to get inside Mirton's private space is too good to pass up. As the window rises, so does the volume of the sobs. So do your expectations.
    You lurch into the house, which smells like dust and mold. You remain still for a moment, waiting for your eyes to adjust but it soon becomes apparent that your eyes will never get used to this absolute darkness. You begin the precarious process of sliding your palms along the wall, shuffling your feet across the carpet. Somewhere, perhaps from the basement, the bitter weeping flies at you and you begin to wonder. What if it is not Mirton who cries at night? What if he does not live alone?
    Or perhaps you do not wonder this at all. Perhaps the quiet breathing beside you makes you realize Mirton is not the only inhabitant of the house.  The breath becomes hot against your neck. It mixes with the scent of dust and mold to produce a stench so overpowering you begin to gag. And then a hand as rough as broken glass reaches around to grab you by the throat. You are lifted from the floor and then dropped.
    The overhead light snaps on and Mirton stands over you, his vacant eyes regarding you with detachment. His head is haloed by the light. The weeping echoes and swirls from deep within the house. Something inside your head snaps and you cannot move. You cannot scream for help. All you can do it stare at Mirton's face that is as blank as his eyes. When he speaks, his voice creaks like rusted machinery.
    "You are that kid."
    You notice the blood drying on his upper lip from the things you hurled at him earlier in the day.
    "You were with that other kid who is nicer than you."
    You notice the black eye you gave him.
    "You talked him in to throwing things at me."
    Because of the stench you are having trouble inhaling.
    "Do you know what a m'guffin is, kid?"
    You are suffocating.
    "No, I guess you wouldn't.
    A smile curls across his expressionless face like smoke.
    Mirton bends down. His skin is pale and, you notice as you begin to black out, his skin is also opaque. Vaguely, you can see arteries and veins in his face and neck. You can see the dark mass of his writhing tongue through the skin of his bloodstained lips. He is toothless. His right eye is swollen shut but you can just make out the eyeball beneath the lids.
    "I'm a m'guffin, kid. You came here tonight because I needed you. Whatever reasons you think you had for coming here are just the attempts of your flimsy mind to rationalize irrationality. Anyone watching you sneak over here and crawl in the window would have tried to warn you. Everyone would know that coming into this house assures you a violent death." Mirton chuckles. "But. You are under the control of a m'guffin, kid. I eat once every few hundred years and tonight I'm hungry."
    And you lose consciousness, unable to draw in a breath. The last things you hear are Mirton's voice and the terrible sobs rolling beneath his words.
 
    I am a m'guffin. I do as I please.
    Here you are, suffocating, nearly dead, unconscious on my living room floor while the ghosts weep in the basement. I can devour you, kid, but I cannot destroy your twisted soul. The soul I shall keep for posterity, like a book. You hear the sobs, my boy, of a hundred different volumes from a hundred different centuries. The souls of dinners past. My own personal library.
    I will take you down to the basement. I will remove your soul. I will keep it in a special room constructed of precious metals mined from Lemuria--which sank with Atlantis. You will be deconstructed, decapitated, digested. The process will be loud, messy, and painful. The process will last an hour and you'll be alive for most of it because I think the hormones of human fear add flavor to the meat. They make the juices cook.
    But what to do with your head, which does not interest me? Human brains are a small meal at best, and are usually full of excrement and empty calories. Your head has no innate value yet I think I can give it some superficial purpose. It will serve as a warning to the nice kid across the street. Thus we'll have an old-fashioned cautionary tale, a good bang with a moral.
    You noticed my skin is almost transparent. I am a m'guffin, one of many. We're a transparent people. You are a human being who wants attention and love. I am a creature who wants nothing at all. You lack complexity. I am many things--a bronze world, a platinum blond, a knock at the door, a cannibal, a recluse, a bandersnatch, a means to an end and an excuse for a beginning. You set tails on fire. I burn worlds.
 
    You regain consciousness. It is too dark to see but you know you are now in a subterranean cavern because it is cold and damp and the ground beneath you is made of stone. There is movement near-by. The only sounds are the shrieks of the dead, echoing in a metal chamber somewhere in the dark.
    And then the sound of creaking. Of metal against metal. Mirton has changed, has grown, has mutated. The m'guffin is sharpening its claws, gnashing its teeth, making preparations for its meal. You remember the man who passed days and years sitting on a porch and you understand nothing of what is happening to you. You only know it is going to take time and it is going to hurt.
    Your soul begins to slip out of the pores of your skin. Your mind remains trapped by your body, which gradually begins to disappear.
    Your sharp screams are matched by the screams of the imprisoned souls. The outer walls of the metal cell reverberate, singing and screaming along with you, along with the ghosts. The noise makes you deaf. The pain makes you numb.
    Your screams die out until you fall silent. The next morning, as the sun slides upward, your best friend's dog touches his tongue to your frozen, contorted face, nips your ears with his pointed teeth. Mr. Mirton, the recluse, pats Bosch gently on the head. "Here you go, boy. You like table scraps? Huh?... Yeah..."
    As he crosses the backyard, returning home, Mr. Mirton stops long enough to cast an expressionless glance up to your only friend's bedroom window. You again notice the transparency of his skin. The rising sun gleams through the palm of his hand as he raises it to wave at the empty window.
 

An older piece

As the date says, I wrote this thing in 1999. Not a bad piece, really.


Marc's Digression for 9/16/99

Concession Stands and Concentration Camps: How Hollywood Sees the Holocaust

(with *bonus*  info on Henry Ford!)


Soon, Robin Williams will unleash his personal spin on the Holocaust. Williams will star in Jakob the Liar, a sort of Good Morning, Dead Jewish Society for the Americans who refused to sit through the subtitled Life is Beautiful. I am sure Williams' heart is in the right place but I do wish someone would score him a mountain of coke and a nanny to diddle, and make him be funny again.
    The script for Jakob the Liar was rewritten beneath the watchful eyes of both Williams and his wife/exec producer, Marcia Garces Williams and therefore must reflect Williams' thoughts on the Jewish plight during World War II.
    I am not in the least interested in what Williams thinks about the Holocaust. Or medical care. Or smart-but-troubled young people. Or divorce. Or life after death. Unless he is standing before a live audience, wearing a Viking hat and grabbing his crotch, I don't give a fuck what Williams thinks about anything.
    Since the end of WWII there have been many films striving to put the Holocaust into perspective. Most of the best have been from Europe--Europa, Europa, for example. Or the misleadingly-titled The Nasty Girl, which sounds like a porno but is really the contemporary story of a young woman in Germany who digs into her hometown's past and discovers the citizens were actively supportive of Nazi ideals during the reign of Hitler (it is a comedy, by the way). Holocaust films from America tend to be didactic (Judgement at Nuremberg), melodramatic (the miniseries Holocaust), or evasive (out of all the WWII films churned out by Hollywood over the years, only a handful actually allude to even marginal discomfort of Jewish Europeans during the war). There are a few good American films dealing with the Holocaust but they are usually based on novels written by Europeans (Sophie's Choice is once exception. William Styron, born in Virginia, wrote an enormously compelling novel which was later turned into a film with Meryl Streep and Kevin Klein and, yes, it was melodramatic but in a good way).
    And then there's Schindler's List, a film about the Holocaust based on a novel by an Austrailian, Thomas Keneally.
    I saw Schindler's List twice in theatres--once in Tuscaloosa, where it began showing the first week of distribution, and once in Florence, where Hickory Hills began screenings several months later. In Tuscaloosa, the film was shown straight through and not a soul stirred. In Florence, the film got an intermission, allowing famished Florentines time to run to the concession stand and purchase overpriced refreshments before returning to the horrors of the death camp experience. After all, who wants to watch a scene featuring a group of children cowering in a latrine to avoid being carted off to the ovens--unless you have the comfort of Goobers and a Diet Coke?
    When the closing credits began to roll after the first time I saw Steven Spielberg's take on the Holocaust, a friend leaned over to me and declared in a hyper, movie-commercial voice: "Finally! A feel-good film about genocide!" And I laughed. While the rest of the audience filed out of the theatre with Clinton "feel your pain" winces on their faces, silent except for sobs and weary sighs, I chuckled my happy ass up the aisle.
    Which is not to say I was not deeply disturbed by the events depicted in the film but I agreed with my friend. It seemed that, in the ending of Schindler's List, Spielberg was trying to put a rational, hopeful spin on an irrational, hopeless situation.
    Elie Wiesel, author of Night, which recounts his experience in Nazi concentration camps, once said he wrote the book not to help us understand the Holocaust, but to help us know we could never understand it. He is right. How can one comprehend the methodical slaughter of 6 million people--of Jews, homosexuals, sympathizers, gypsies, people of color? Can there be a satisfactory explanation for the soap made of human fat or the couches upholstered in human skin? In the 1986 Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters, a son asks his father why, if God is good, He allowed Nazis to exist. The exasperated father bellows back, "How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I can't figure out how the can opener works!"
    Perhaps that is as much as we should hope to learn from the Holocaust. Hollywood will continue to produce "important" films about it and American audiences will leave theatres with their Clintonian winces. Americans watch films about WWII with the knowledge that We Won. To our nation, WWII represents a triumphant period in our history, which is why I think American films about the Holocaust tend to end on up-notes and optimism and often try to give human faces to the madness of Hitler's Germany. Europe lost the war. The Jewish European popularion was almost wiped out. So European films about the Holocaust are usually more bleak in scope and vision, unconcerned with extending a humane context to the inhumanity.
    By the way, Elie Wiesel has repeatedly insisted he will never allow a film adaptation of Night to be made. At least not in his lifetime.
 
Digression on the Digression
In 1997, NBC broadcast Schindler's  List uncut and commercial-free. This unprecedented even not only afforded basic-cable subscribers with the rare chance to catch some network t-and-a, it also allowed the sponsor of the airing, Ford Motor Company, to collect favorable press coverage.
    Ford Motor Company, incidentally, was of course founded by Henry Ford. Aside from being an accomplished businessman, Ford also wrote a series of articles for a periodical he had purchased after the first world war. The name of the periodical was The Dearborn Independent. The articles, which ran once a week for 91 weeks, were eventually assembled into a 4-volume book set: The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem (published in 1920); Jewish Activities in the United States (1921); Jewish Influences in American Life (1921) and Aspects of Jewish Power in the United States (1922). Collectively, the 4 volumes came to be known as The International Jew.
    Were these tomes of erudite elucidation on Jewish contributions to world culture as laudable as they sound?
    Well, Adolf Hitler loved Ford's work so much that the Fuhrer awarded the carmaker The Grand Cross of The German Order of The Eagle in 1938, as a birthday present.
    Ford accepted the award.
    The International Jew has been in spotty circulation since publication--at one time copies were offered as a perk to anyone buying a Ford car. In 1927, following public pressure (and hints of finacial repurcussions) from such luminaries as Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, W.E. B. DuBois, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant, Ford retracted his anti-Semetic beliefs and attempted to destroy all copies of his work. He issued an apology denouncing The International Jew.
    Yet, as I said, in 1938 he accepted accolades and awards from Adolf Hitler. reports circulated the world in 1933 that Ford was bankrolling Hitler's rise to power. During WWII, a Cologne, Germany subsidiary of Ford became an efficient, profitable forced labor camp. In 1998, a woman named Elsa Iwanowa brought a class-action lawsuit against Ford Motor Company alleging that she was forced to make trucks for the Nazi War Machine, that she and her fellow prisoners were treated inhumanely, and that Ford USA reaped a healthy profit from the efforts of the prisioners in the Cologne plant.
    Ford Motor Company of course denies the charges.

Booby Hatch

So, I happened to have cause to stand in the middle of a psych unit today, and to debate with Greg the proper term of our location. "Loony bin," Greg said to me.

"No. Booby hatch," I countered.

The guy wandering past us, in green socks and no shoes, weighed in. "Hell," he said. "No damn hatch. No damn bin."

Fair enough.

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