illumination

Not in all my days of night, I never saw the like.
Not in whiskeymuddy rundowns
of misspent youth, not
stoopside shucking cans and chucking
smashbottles at unwanted dawn, no,
not even in the nihilist’s navel.
It was not there.

Never in the howling hollows
sonic ricochets, subterranean
madspace where the maenads
faun, where the satyrs stomp,
where the insiders come out and the outsiders come in
and there’s no use for a euphemism or a double entendre
for want of contrast.
The lights are red; it isn’t dark.

Deep in tombs, gray-faced,
scholars live on dead
but their grave company
is far from it.

No, it’s in those eyes looking only to Apollo;
a shadow deep as damnation:
it’s blindness.  It’s from the sun.

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boiling contempt

Ancient.  Posted for posterity.

Mystic Wizards of the Magical Amulet Talisman Ring

Episodes 1
When it was time for adventure, wizards! Hero is the protagonist (named Malffew). With the battle of so many evil forces the, Mina feels a crush for Boys Academy students such as Student Malffew, But always Wilson is too fat and eating! Then Headmistress Vicotira will hold a challenge to all students of Boys Academy and Mina. The challenge is on!

Episodes 2
onan took pictures of the camera with the secrets and almost had a victory, but his teamfriend is wilson who errs! Now Malffew had a victory and Mina’s acute fixation. But he runs from Mina’s acute fixation (so funny)! Jr Wizard Onan swears revenge for Boys Academy and Mina, Wilson, Malffew, Headmistress Victria &sic. The captured magic of the scrolls is in pictures and of course Archdemon Beeraar is awakened!

Episodes 3
Student Malffew knows it is the only one who can battle the secret Onan’s demon’s serfs. And this is epic sorcery. still he must eat in dormitory mess hall #1 every day and gives to Wilson his bad lunch. When he is in water sports class, shorts, Running away from Mina’s acute fixation! Onan’s seeds are in the pool and the Monster grows large! Mina makes the discovery it is a plant-like category 12 dirt terrain beast! It is defeated.

Episodes 4
All BoyS Academy students and Mina are punished for Headmistress Vitoia discovered the threat to mankind. Jr Wizard Onan (expelled) will be expelled for ignomity. He is more angry. Then, darkness. Headmistress Victim delivers the speech and Student Malffew, Wilson, Boys academy and Mina &sic can find the Magic Talisman amulet (ring). Wilson became fatter!

Episodes 5-11
More exasperatingly tedious tropes eroding the fabric of Western civilization.

Episodes 12
Zandbar, Gunter, Hochimin, and the monkey almost came to Succubus Onan-beeraar’s Palaces. But not in enough time! One of those two wings will push them off the bridge into the lava while Swordsmith Clark cannot forgive his daughter. Headmistress Vairotci is displeasured by love with Succubus Onan-beeraar, joins Zandbar, Gunter, Hochimin, and the monkey from the tall tower into the lava. The flame-retardant monkey can’t saved her, but where is the magic Talisman Amulet (ring) ?

Episodes 13
Well it is the other one of those two wings will push the Earth into the lava. Danger comes to Boys Academy and Mina! Superwizard Student Malffew wears the Magic Talisman Amulet ring upon his head and does battle with Succubus Onan-beeraar and is defeated. Quickly, everyone is dead. But it is Mina’s acute fixation which is able to make his heart beat. Swordsmith Clark forgives a daughter and all evil magic is returned. It is revealed that Headmistress is really always Queen Victoria! Laughing because Wilson is fat are Boys Academy and Mina, Queen Victoria, Superwizard Student malffew, Swordsmith Clark, Zandbar, Gunter, Hochimin, and the monkey &sic. Then it is all over for us.

 


i don’t sleep very much

People talk about dreams in hushed tones or don’t.  Some people buy dream dictionaries, hoping to learn the universal significance of things.  I have never spoken with an Australian aborigine, but I suspect it’d be awkward.  Really, I haven’t been able to participate in a conversation about dreams for a very long time.  I hear things from smart places that confuse me, like dreams lacking time of day.  It’s true that many of mine don’t, but many of them very much do, and have distinct light sources.  I have observed the thing about scrambled text, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s a consequence of suggestion.  I hear we assemble our dreams from noise upon waking, but I’ve so often watched dogs running or heard lovers practically narrate what’s going on.  That’s all tangental, though.  What I mean is, it’s hard to talk about dreams with people whom dreams interest.  When such people tell me their dreams, they may as well be handing me their private index.  I think it’s because they have an index.  When I was a teenager, I was like that.  I dreamt whole mythologies, narratives, visions, portents, all signs and revelations.  By my early twenties, this petered out into a few memorable nightmares.  I associate the shift with a process of doubting and finally losing hold of ideas like intrinsic meaning and universal anything.  I hold up last night as exemplary of what has typified my dreams for the past six or eight years:

There was a zoo, or maybe an ad for or news story about a zoo,  where a McDonald’s served only Belgian waffles topped with strawberries.  Then Pepsi brought a civil suit against the government after being banned from public schools.  Instead of contesting the facts, Pepsi’s whole argument was that because their products are unhealthy, they were dependent on the noncompetitive markets in which they’d been allowed to flourish and were owed damages if they were to be expelled.  Cicero’s rebuttal was to laugh.  Later, I had grown an eighteen inch penis fully erect.  For this reason, I could only fuck the silk tie from a bathrobe, which I was doing next to my ex on a sofa bed beside a decorated and lit Christmas tree.  In my mom’s living room.  Some other people were present.  All were impressed by my innovative solution.

This isn’t to say I never have powerful or evocative dreams.  To the contrary, in January 2011 I had one so bad that sunshine seemed pale for days.  The content was as subtle as a bomb.  In March of that same year, I dreamed of a cave in a snowy landscape and I rubbed noses with a girl inside, and I’ve never bothered to try to capture in prose the beauty or the awe I felt, because I know it can’t be done.

This afternoon, I took a nap and had the first really narrative dream I remember in I don’t know how long.  I think it’s because I’ve been thinking about right and wrong so much lately, but.  Well.  I’ll use the present-tense:

I see titanic machines for a fraction of a second before gliding into the tunnel.  I am disembodied.  Below me, a staggered and staggering armada of tank-like objects is spread across the road, no bigger than remote-controlled cars.  I emerge the far side of the tunnel and survey terrain leveled by bombs, incongruously marked by widely scattered buildings.  In middle-distance, part of a city remains standing along the banks of a river of gray sludge.  The buildings are too-tall and too-skinny, Hong Kong style, but are not so close together as to give that comforting impression of holding one another up.  This is not a place I recognize.  I see the toy tanks fanning out across the countryside.  I glide on.

I am real.  I am with several other people, all or mostly teenaged girls, making quiet but giddy progress up stairs to one of the higher floors of an apartment building.  I am holding a gift basket, maybe of oranges.  It has a bow.  The atmosphere is an obscure war-time cliche.  We do our best to avoid line-of-sight when passing windows.  I can see that this building stands a bit apart from the rest, and that we’re at least forty stories up.  We make our hushed way down a hall to our destination and don’t so much knock on the door as rub it.  We’re greeted by an aging couple and many guests.  It is a dinner party, albeit one where everyone must whisper.  I present them with my gift basket and they kiss my cheeks.  I think we’re speaking German.

Movement in the space is strange because of the need to avoid the windows.  The windows are large and uncovered, providing much light from the white sky.  They face away from the city.  I can see the tunnel, to the left, and a bend of the river.  Another building stands about a mile out.  I make conversation of the windows with the hosts.  Apparently it is safest to leave them uncovered if they face the sun.  All that’s important is never to use lights at night, never to cast a silhouette, and never to change whether a window is covered or not.

The attendees are diverse.  Some seem to have in common mild deformities.  They all seem familiar.  One woman is very pretty, but with widely spaced eyes.  I remember her.  Something about a circus.  Not a tent show, but events “backstage,” where the elephants stand chained and the performers walk by, fixing their makeup.  I curl the hem of her short lime-green skirt over her left buttock.  I don’t know where or when.  Her underwear are black.  Her skin is warm and feels really good in my hand.  A dredlocked animal trainer shows us the way to a muddy alley, where we escape(?) through hung laundry and smoke.

One of the girls almost screams, but stifles it.  I throw myself against the wall with the windows.  Others do the same or crawl to an adjacent room.  I peer over the sill with one eye.  In the air between this building and the next, a helicopter gunship has appeared.  It careens into the other building, causing a spray of smoke, dust, and debris.  I wonder if the building will fall.  Now, a shadow.  I don’t know what to call the monstrosity that comes into view, this behemoth of black metal, folding and unfolding, twisting, like God crumpled an aircraft carrier in His hand, only the aircraft carrier was alive.  A sortie of fighter jets streaks overhead, releasing a volley of rockets.  The world is shaking, from the explosive shocks, from the jet wakes, from everything.  The sound is like being under water.  More helicopter gunships come into view.  Now everyone is moving for the stairs.  I think of the tiny tanks.  I think of emerging on the ground floor, panicked and sweaty and adrenal and exultant and bang, shot in the gut by a toy.  I think of it and it happens.  I wake up.


It certainly must mean something.


what we do

Silus Calwyn dressed in bronze. His hair is plaited with laurels, his sandals with gold. He wears fragrance. Silus Calwyn went to distant lands with his spear and his shield and sword and brought back plunder: great tales and small riches. He showed courage in the telling of his exploits and they are retold. Toasted and feted and likened to the sun, Silus Calwyn is a hero of his people. Now he sets down his drink, excuses himself from the company of girls, exits the tavern’s rear to where the night river shrugs boats against the boardwalk. He is relieving himself, admiring the arc of piss between his penis and the water. And here we come.

There are two of us, in beach-print shorts and undershirts; we are similar. Our flip-flops have the cadence of hooves. Our expressions are light as boredom. I carry the duffle bag. We arrive at either side of Silus Calwyn. He puts a drunken arm around my partner’s shoulders. I play with the strap on the bag.

Gazing at the far shore, Silus Calwyn says something about the evening air. He is happy, a little distant. His posture is that of a man who has already relaxed into dispensing his attention without commitment. We are to be honored with his summary of the weather. No eye contact is made. My partner suggests Silus Calwyn swim in his armor. Their postures are the same. We push Silus Calwyn over the rail.

Now he is shocked. He flails to keep himself afloat. He’s demanding answers while I open the duffle. My partner withdraws the bow and arrows. He offers: “We kill heroes.”

Now Silus Calwyn tries to confess all that he’s inflated and all was false, but it’s too late, and he is sinking, and the bow is placed back in the bag. We walk away discussing what to eat. Maybe pizza.


in saecula saeculorum

This was a letter I wrote to my mother well over a year ago.  I post it to commemorate my thirtieth birthday, and to honor Dixon’s departure from here.

perfect days 11/04/20

I realize I was in contact a lot more at the depths of my misery than I have been since things hit the opposite extreme.  No hyperbole, so often this is better than anything my limited imagination could ever have produced.  Anyway, it’s wrong I shared the bad and got busy with the good and I’m sorry about it.  I kept thinking it would all just END, you know?  How many perfect days can you have in a row?  But then all of March was perfect, and while I went into a bit of a funk for most of April, having snapped out of it and gone back out, I immediately had another another perfect day.  I thought I’d catch this one for you so you have any idea what I’m talking about when I say “perfect day.”

One thing about the sad life was that it came slow, which was really manageable to relate on the phone.  I could profile the people who populated it easily.  One of the qualities that makes this perfect life perfect is the speed it happens at.  My social circle is vast and ever-expanding and packed with amazing, colorful personalities of astonishing variety.  It’s the people that make this phase what it’s been.  I made a friend better than anyone I’ve known before.  That’s a fact.  More interesting, more constructive, more supportive.  The ceiling’s just been totally blown off my experience of life up to being here, all my expectations have been shattered, and it’s still happening all the time.  I don’t know if I told you, but multiple times a day, I just involuntarily thank God.  I just hide my face behind my hat and do it.  I literally feel saved.  Like everything before was a lifetime of darkness punctuated by a few stubborn candles and I’ve come into the light.  It’s making me religious.  And think and care about the future, which I guess you know I haven’t for a long time.

Anyway, so most perfect days are hard to describe because of all their subtle nuance, but this one has easy stories in it.

So a couple of days ago, I decided that the thing with Katie’s gotta go.  Deciding that was like being sixteen and discovering girls all over again.  I snapped into the realization that I am surrounded by gorgeous, intelligent women who adore me.  I had to get arbitrary and decide I only date redheads (I didn’t know any) just to keep from going girl crazy.  The day after I decided that, I met Tangerine Fizz.  She teaches Shakespeare at a school here; I happen to have an awful lot of Shakespeare memorized and we played a game of picking up whenever the other couldn’t remember something, reciting sonnet 130:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.
Though, in all honesty, her lips are, in fact, redder than coral; snow would be what’s dun if she lay on it; and while her eyes aren’t much like the sun, they’re a fair bit like the ocean. She looks pretty much like what four year old Sarah would at 24.  We’ve been procrastinating at work by talking to one another on the internet sometimes.

So, today!
After work, Freckles organized an outing to a restaurant in a Buddhist temple for dinner.  I invited Tangerine Fizz by email as an afterthought, knowing it was too late for her to get it and actually come.  Just a gesture.

People!
I like Freckles a lot and you’d love her.  She works for pennies selling ethics to Chinese factories.  Adrian you might remember–Gallia’s ex, bodybuiliding punk photographer from South Africa.  You may not know Dixon, the friend I mentioned before, as he’s relatively new to me, but we hang out a lot and we’ve gotten really close really fast.  He dropped out of grad school for musicology and we got to be friends talking about obscure classical music on the Internet.  He’s my height, about twice my build, long curly hair, and permanent stubble.  Plays a bunch of weird instruments.  He brought Indie, half-Chinese San Franciscan linguist and MENSA member.  Bad skin, but really pretty to me.  Everybody’s attractive here, because even if they wouldn’t be back home, when somebody’s glowing with inner-life, you notice everything good about them.  We all clicked instantly, which seems to be another unique feature of the expat community.  Good travelers are so good at making friends that when you put them together, there isn’t even a “making” part.  They’re just already friends.

Dinner was crazy and awesome.  Most interesting thing was a “fish” made of deep fried purple sweet potato.  Conversation was great, everybody laughing.  At one point Adrian stood a toothpick up on the table and forgot about it.  He later emphasized a point by smacking his hand down.  His immediate reaction was to yell, “I set a trap for myself!”  Not “ow” or some profanity, but “I set a trap for myself!”

Coulda called it a pretty much perfect day and gone home right there.

When we finally left, we stopped in a giant square and watched a couple thousand people in groups getting belly dancing lessons, stand-up comedy lessons, and doing taiji.

Perfecter, right?

Freckles had to go for a Skype date with her sister and Adrian had to go grade papers, so we got on the metro, but I announced that I wanted ice cream.  Indie knew of a DAIRY QUEEN.  So she, Dixon, and I set out across the city in the direction we all live.  Good company, DAIRY QUEEN!, explored another underground shopping mall, and went overground to explore the area.  Then something weird happened.  We quit talking and just walked for a long time with no destination.  When we wound up in a familiar area, it was decided we’d go to Loft.  Across the canal near the secret alley that leads to the building Loft is in, there are some red lanterns in a tree.  I’ve always wondered what’s there and said so aloud.  We all instantly pivoted on our heels and walked hundreds of meters around the canal.  After wending through buildings, we found ourselves in a giant enchanted park, closed, with lanterns in the trees and lanterns under the stonework bridges.  We explored it for a long time.  It had pavilions and pagodas and at one point we saw white cranes.

Past perfect into magical at this point.

We thought we’d found a fast way back to Loft and crossed a small bridge.  Instead of taking us back to civilization, it led to the grounds of the most decadent mansion I have ever seen.  Neverland Ranch stuff.  Spanish style architecture with actual flame oil lanterns.  A lamborghini parked in front of the garage.  A “model train set” made from an actual locomotive.  A garden made to look like winter, with pine trees and artificial snow.  A huge meditation nook.  Exploring it was almost as scary as the motorcycle.  I half expected dobermans or private security or something.  When we finally found the gate, the guard was asleep under a newspaper, so we quietly opened the lock and slipped out.

Okay, so, right, that kind of thing?  That’s what I mean when I say this life I’m in blows my mind all the time.  Even my heavily enriched imagination isn’t equipped to anticipate that.  We’re at perfecter day number, what, four now?

We went to Loft and played pool and drank margaritas (I drank Sprite; I ordered a margarita, but after a couple of sips, I gave it away).  Indie wiped out Dixon in three games; I was too beat to play.  We ate several grilled cheese sandwiches and decided to call it a night.  The walk to the road was one of those nnghnnghdon’treallywannagohome deals.  We rockpaperscissorsed for the first cab and Indie got it.  Once she was gone, Dixon and I decided to sit outside his friend’s (closed) bar (“V-MAX”) and talk personal life shit for awhile.  You can imagine that after three years without any close friends around, that feels pretty fucking good to me.

So if I went home and went to sleep, I’d still have plenty to write home about.  But when I got home, I had an email waiting from Tangerine Fizz asking if I wanted to go with her to Disney Land in Hong Kong on Friday, probably leaving tomorrow night and coming back Saturday morning.

I mean, does that happen?  That happens?
This stuff happens?

Much love,
son

Safe travels, my friend, and goodbye to my young youth.
May posterity remember that these years were judiciously spent.

posted 12/06/15
dated to 12/04/30

philippic

Living in this cosmopolis, I’m in daily contact with folks from all over everywhere. This has the effect of rubbing America in my face. The simple fact is that the lives of our ordinary people have much more in common with those in Russia or China than they do with those in any of the similarly wealthy fairylands scattered across northern and western Europe, aka “real countries.” People from real countries believe the purpose of a government is to boringly provide useful services for its citizens. People from the aforementioned named countries and most others may or may not believe this as well, but the point is generally rendered moot by a powerful overclass controlling the machinery of government to keep their money and fuck everybody else.

And that’s where a unique feature of American politics comes into play. A unique feature. You know, like a giant melanoma on the tip of the nose. Our political narrative is that we could have ourselves a fairyland, but choose not to, because that would violate the sacred right of the overclass to fuck over whomever they wish. And, on the one hand, we talk in hushed superstitious awe of that being the natural order which cannot be transgressed, and, on the other hand, we’ll boldly proclaim that order is something we must uphold. Looks to be a paradox–upholding a natural order–but it is not. It’s an illustration of the belief that we’re God. The God we’ve come to worship anyway, crafted in our image, with a penchant for letting people live in poverty and get sick and die as a means of upholding His order. A lazy God who can stay home and watch TV, content in the knowledge that everything’s going according to plan.  You ask most Americans, God made the natural world, kicked back, and cracked a non-alcoholic beer.  I don’t know where they got that.  It’s not biblical.  It’s not even Genesis.  It’s some pagan caricature, maybe demonic possession. (My take on the bible is that the act of Creation was like opening Pandora’s jar, and God’s been just barely keeping pace with the fallout ever since; an artist who’s taken on a project that very well might be too much, but He’s still trying.  I mean, how many holy books have sequels?)

Anyway.

It is no longer Right wing pundits that get my blood up. It’s my friends. It’s the idea that there exists a “smart” conservative politics, opposed to the sensational rabble-rabbling of talk radio. It’s also the toothless heartless mutant bastard hybrid son of the granola fringe and Ayn Rand. It’s Ron Paul. It’s “small business.” It’s “grassroots.”

If there’s an American Left, a real American Left, devoid of lip-service to our carnivorous holy cows, I have not encountered it outside the person of my mother. My mother does not have the vocabulary to articulate her sensibilities. She’s well-educated, but she never learned the words because she’s impervious to bullshit. She won’t get in some debate involving lots of reified concepts and obscure proper noun ambushes and cliches and axioms at the mere mention of which one should kowtow. No, she smells the gas and holds her breath. She sees problems. She sees obvious solutions, i.e. not invoking magic. No trickle-down anything. No this-leads-to-that. The Babel noise of her peers flies past and her only response is “we’re being robbed.”

A friend recently said, “I’ve known you for a number of years and I still wonder if you have any convictions.” I replied, glibly, “Just outstanding warrants.” I felt guilty later, because he’s right. It’s about time. So here’s a conviction:

America’s sin is cowardice. We love football and action movies and military adventurism but we’re terrified of real fights. We’ll hang out with bullies and laugh and say “good one!” every time they slap us in the face, just to make it absolutely clear that, you know, we could have done something, had we minded, but we didn’t mind. We go ahead and hate each other for the same reason, all hanging out with the same bully, bully smacking our friends, us sticking up for the bully. And as our family members age and fall into pitiable conditions, we can direct our anger at them for not doing better, for putting us in the position of caring for them when we lack the means to care for ourselves. Our buddy comes by to smack us for not doing better. Hey, good one.

The secret of American politics, what makes all of it so pious, is that we don’t actually want to know if we can change anything. We don’t want to know what happens if we hit back. Better to live with the illusion of power than the reality of helplessness. I should say, the reality of violence. Real fights for real reasons.  That we can lose.

There will be no return to some former age of righteous prosperity. The old wages for labor departed with the times and nothing so artificial as to bring them back can have any tenure. It is the advance of technology which places both the means and the gains of production into fewer and fewer hands. The benefits of our system are still out there, we just lack access to them. Our standard of living has always been zero-sum. The current balance for most of us continues to plunge red, while a few live better than monarchs of old could have dreamed. It is in this light that I suggest the piety in your approach to providing for you and yours is misplaced. There’s no fruit left on the tree; somebody made a machine to pick it all.  Good on him!  Yes.  Now.  Will you be a monkey, clambering to higher and higher branches? You’re a hell of a burden, every time you fall. Will you fight over what little the other monkeys have managed to pick?

I think the first step from here is to go ask the guy with the machine to share. Politely. We should probably all go together and ask as a group. I know, I know, that looks threatening. But I think it’s a lot less threatening than what will happen when we’re starving. We will rip each other to pieces faster than that guy can throw us fruit.  Somewhere on the tail of all that, if anybody’s left alive, come the guillotines, and everybody loses, the end.  Maybe we could have a little losing and a little winning up front instead.

The counterargument to this invariably relies on sanctimony and metaphysics, is invariably reducible to “but that’s forbidden.”   I’m ready to respond in kind.


a. julliard gabrielli and the elixir of vanity

The volcano had been painted pink and two massive similarly-colored spheres had been placed at its base; this was my introduction to A. Juliard Gabrielli.  Throughout our helicopter’s approach I could sense antiaircraft turrets trained on us, the same that had just a few years prior wiped out the entire Gabrielli clan alongside the Gabrielli & Gephardt board of trustees.  We circled to the back of the volcano where a landing strip had been defoliated through the jungle, capped at one end by a black square of tarmac, and there we set down.  Gunmen in animal masks closed on us within seconds; a rabbit placed a black hood over my head.  I felt myself being led out, then hoisted onto a stretcher to which I was then strapped.  The stretcher glided away from the suck of the chopper blades into the screeching jungle, which was in turn muted when elevator doors slid shut.  When the sensation of descent ceased, I could hear a faint bass throbbing, growing ever louder with my approach.  Suddenly, the sound was overwhelming.  My body was freed from the stretcher and my head was freed from the hood.  I blinked as a powerful blacklight flashed my retinas.

I was in something akin to a nightclub.  A pair of poledancing robots occupied a central stage, gyrating.  They had pig lamps for heads and torsos molded from white plastic.  A cephalo-megaphone DJ feigned scratching between them.  Covering the walls to either side of the stage large screens displayed maps and graphs, giving the impression of a war room.  There was a dance floor and a number of C-shaped black velvet sofas.  All were empty but one, where A. Julliard Gabrielli sat, legs crossed, arms wide over the back of the couch.  I approached him.

He said: “Money is useless.”

I said: “I’ve come about chewing gum.”

He said: “I know why you’ve come.  Sit down.”

I sat.  We watched the robots dance.

He said: “I told my father I wanted nothing from him.  No assistance, no trust fund, no place in his will.  I told him I wanted no part of his fortune.  I told him I would always be worthless.  I swore I would squander whatever I was given, or use it in whatever way would vex him most.  He said, ‘as long as you’re happy.’  I swore I would not be happy.  I told him that the only way I would embrace happiness would be if he came to detest me, to wish me ill.  However, I told him that should he appear to do this, I would assume it was owed to an underlying wish for my well-being.  I would ignore it.”  Julliard snapped his fingers and ordered a rifle-toting turtle to bring him a cigar and a carafe of cinnabar.  When they were delivered, he decanted red quicksilver into a scotch glass and asked me: “Mercury?”

I declined.

He said: “It’s the elixir of life, but it doesn’t work.  So many pursued it to their graves.  When I inherited my fortune, at first I thought to have it discovered.  But money is useless.  It cannot be used to do useful things like discover the elixir of life.   So I had the Jiajing Emperor’s exact formula replicated instead.  The one that killed him.  This is the elixir of vanity.  Ku Fu was immortalized by dying in his quest for immortality.  I will not gain immortality by dying in ironic imitation of a man who was immortalized pursuing immortality.  You see?”

I nodded.

“I did not spite my father to spite my father,” he went on.  “I did this because my older brother had done everything to please him, to be a good heir.  He had no sense of the Oedipal basis of meaning, my brother, how to engage vanity.  And while my father was largely pleased, I knew he was secretly dissatisfied with such simple and absolute affection.  My family was very loving.  Very close and kind and devoted.  I was no exception to this.  I lived in impoverished obscurity, panhandling to subsist and making use of my spy network to determine the precise moment to strike.  I acquired my spy network by means of seduction alone: seducing, seducing into seducing, once even seducing into seducing into seducing. “

“In keeping with the Oedipal basis of meaning, did you seduce your mother?” I asked.

He winced.  “Don’t be crass.  I seduced my father’s mistress.  I misspoke before.  The Oedipal is no basis.  It is but another layer of onion skin above the core futility of the human condition.  We find meaning in that which explicates futility.”

“Ah,” I said.  “You mentioned a ‘moment to strike.’  Was that the opening of this facility?”

“Yes, the opening of this facility.  One accident and I skipped over a hundred people to inherit a sum of wealth scarcely imaginable.  But this was not my motivation.  You already know and understand my motivation.”

“To dutifully best your father and reveal the underlying futility of the human condition,” I said.

He nodded.  The bass thumped.  The robots gyrated.

I said: “I want to depart before the bombing commences.  Please tell me about the chewing gum.”

Again he nodded, not looking away from the stage.  “I have dedicated my entire life to engaging vanity.  The explication of futility.  Well, there have been exceptions, but those didn’t go anywhere.  And what is more vain than chewing gum?  Simulated eating.  Sometimes done to freshen breath, but it prompts the release of acidic digestive saliva and sours the mouth.  What is more vain than chewing gum—save an effort to halt the supply?  Damming that river of polymers for the most fleeting of instants before it simply flowed around.  At best!  In truth, I barely caused more than a price spike.”

I said: “You caused incalculable damage to the global economy.”

He shrugged.  “It’ll mend.”

I said: “Well, what’d you do with all the gum?”

“What had not been made, I aborted.  I bought or reallocated the chemical components on a massive scale.  What had been made I purchased and mostly dumped in the sea.  Imagine!  Even now, the oceans of the world are filled with little fish chewing gum.”  He mimicked a fish chewing gum.  “Of course, many containers were brought here.”

“The balls outside,” I said.

He nodded.

“So have you any gum?” I asked.

He withdrew a pack of peppermint sticks from his breast pocket and handed it to me.  “You had best away.  It won’t be long now.”  A screen showed his gunmen boarding a boat, discarding their masks overboard.

I thanked him, shook his hand, and turned to part, only at the last moment saying: “You know, you’re wrong about money being useless.”

“Oh?”

I tapped my brow with the packet of gum.  As I walked away, just over the techno I heard A. Julliard Gabrielli vomit the elixir of vanity.  I have no doubt he smiled at his reflection in the resultant pool.