The Partisans

Night, thus dark, save for a lit streetlamp. Quiet, thus lonely.

At length two men emerge sprinting from darkness and stop at the lamp, their modest black jackets and brown pants shining in the warm electric heat. One bends over, attempting and failing to catch his breath but powers through to say:

– This—this is—the place.

He’s nervous. He’s sweating. This is his night, his birthright, the time of his life. Lauded & reviled by all the right people. Tonight belongs to him. He is Mikhail.

He, on the other hand, is calmer, sedated almost, by something he sees in the night sky. A reflection telegraphed from the dead center of the universe. His job is done, and so he waits. He is Sweeney.

Mikhail – a short, heavyset man wearing a solid blue button-down, hair parted perfectly down the center, compressed by the thousand years of tyranny which preceded him and the weight of freedom which he has won for generations to come, drops the blue bag to help his breathing. Sweeney – tall, thin, unassuming, donning the same uniform but the shirt is stained through, head topped by a driver’s cap, and completed with a pair of unintentionally fingerless gloves, looks into the deep, royal blue night.

– Look at the stars.

Mikhail makes no response, leaving him to gaze. Sweeney continues:

– It’s the lights. Can’t hardly see ‘em anymore.

Sweeney smiles, and without turning says to Mikhail

– Remember back when we were—

to which Mikhail snaps back in between pained breaths

– Do—you—ever—stop?

Sweeney says nothing more, still looking into the sky, wondering nothing in particular. Everything seems to match him – the unknowing city in the distance hums its familiar beat, and the trees shortly off in the distance mirror his stillness. Beyond the lamp there is park, and flat grass all the way to the tree line. Behind them a bench, erected in memoriam of young Finnegan Affine nineteen-ninety-nine to two thousand, stands unopposed save for the lamp in the landscape. Wind courses through and conducts its soft orchestra, a light movement of air at their heels and the scuffing of leaves across the cement walkway and the ruffling of loose fabric around the wrists. For a moment Sweeney is alone.

Mikhail breaks the tension with a loud breath, stretching backward, finally overcoming his difficulties. He bends down to the bag and says:

– Well, then. Let’s have a look at the king.

Undoing the latch Mikhail steps back to admire his handiwork. The bag was purchased that morning at a discount shop, and Mikhail prides himself on its symbolism. Deep, royal blue leather, firm handles, silver clasps, and blood-red interior upholstery to make clean up a breeze. Expectedly the interior shines in the lamplight. Mikhail responds with his hands on his hips & a gentle, content sigh. Sweeney ambles up to Mikhail’s side, hands in pockets, neutral, and tilts his head slightly to the left.

Mikhail, in a familiar, frustrated tone, says

– What?

Sweeney shrugs.

– Well… will people know it’s ‘im?

– What do you mean ‘will people know?’ It’s the king, for christsakes.

– Yeah, we know that, but the…

Sweeney gestures to the bag.

– …is a bit mucky, and, ah, he doesn’t have the…

He gestures to his body.

– …other bits.

Mikhail looks back into the bag and tilts his head to the left. Both stare, dumbfounded.

With sudden clarity Mikhail claps Sweeney’s near shoulder.

– His face! It’s on every coin and cash in the country! There’s not a man, woman, or child alive who doesn’t have a profile in their pocket.

Sweeney frantically searches his jacket, coming back up a moment later saying

– I haven’t any money.

Mikhail takes his head in hand and steps away.

– Neither do I.

He paces back and forth while Sweeney takes back to looking at the sky. This wasn’t according to plan. The plan was fine, yes, the plan was fine. Executed perfectly, Mikhail might add. No hitches, no quarrels, none deader than had to be. So where was the reaction? The fanfare? Certainly they didn’t find it at the palace. They almost strolled through the gates. In fact the only obstacle to the royal chambers was a locked window, unconnected to any alarm and easily hurdled with the assistance of a rock found in the courtyard. Shouldn’t a king have something in place to keep people like Mikhail away? Or was this another form of His Majesty’s Arrogance, that attitude which drove Mikhail to plan to kill him in the first place? Does a king who cannot protect himself deserve to live? One would expect a sense of self-preservation from the monarch, if not from some careful third party. Perhaps they bagged the wrong man and the King’s Chambers is just a sadistic name given to the head servant’s quarters. He checks the bag once more, and – yes, yes, that’s him. That’s the man. A scalding wave flushes from Mikhail’s head down into his chest and burrows into his heartstrings. To distract himself he turns to Sweeney and asks a very important question.

– Where is Cognate?

Jonathan Cognate is their contact, to be met precisely at this hour in this park under this streetlamp. Mikhail took great pains to make this certain. Once he followed Cognate right into his personal restroom at Party Headquarters, quizzing him on the time, date, and circumstance. Even the bench was made clear, and it is glowing enough tonight to call itself a landmark. But Cognate has yet to arrive.

Sweeney shrugs again in response. Cognate was Mikhail’s responsibility. As was the bag.

You wouldn’t ah been here tonight if that weren’t the case, Sween. ‘Member that. He came t’ you and axed you personally. He’s yer friend, Sween, support the bastard. An’ I do, I do. An’ you’ve gon’ an’ dome it, mate, you’ve done somepin real this time. You’ve committed to a task. Mum always thought you ‘ad that problem but now you’ve gon and shown her up, ain’cha. This can be somepin, I know it. Yer tryin’ ta be a good man, Sween, and that’s all ya can be. You ‘ere there fer ‘im tonight, and no one can say otherwise.

Thinking of Mikhail, Sweeney turns to the pacing man, then back to the bag, back to Mikhail, back to the bag. A thought occurs.

– Wot’s the penalty, y’think?

Still pacing:

– For what?

– For, y’know, the…

Sweeney again gestures to the bag.

– …separation.

This is enough to halt Mikhail mid-step.

– I don’t know. Jailtime, certainly. Execution.

That last word hangs in the autumn air, gently swinging side to side in the breeze, neither witness willing to cut it down. Mikhail slowly resumes pacing, and Sweeney quickly resumes gazing. A bird’s whistle finally does the job for them, and in response Sweeney looks to his wrist.

– Huh. Look a’that.

Mikhail snaps to attention.

– What? What is it? The news? Have they found the body?

– No, it seems that the Emmys are on t’night.

– Oh.

Mikhail trods to the lamp. No, they couldn’t have been seen. There were no lights. No noise. Flawless. An in and out job. So what went wrong? Any and all failures – which there were none – couldn’t be on them. It’s the reception that’s the issue. The people. The palace. The people and the palace. It’s a matter of getting the word out. But surely the word would be from the palace? They’d tell, wouldn’t they? It’d be clear that the man was dead, and they’d have to let their subjects know. Right? Right. Then what of the people? Where is their jubilation? Where are the riots tearing down storefronts and towers alike? He swears, you do one thing right and nobody bats an eye, but you lash out in a public square against the injustices of the local preschool once and everybody just jumps all over your—

The Emmys?

Mikhail slowly turns to Sweeney.

– What is that you’re wearing?

– Oh, you like it? It’s one ah-vum Apple Watches.

– Why do you need that?

– On account’ve I need the time.

– On account of you need the time? Sweeney, this is what we fight against! These, these symbols of power! The corporations, the monarchy, everything that’s corrupted what we loved for their own gain – that’s what we’re dismantling! In striking them down, we show that true power should and does rest with—

– Don’t he ‘ave a son?

Riposted, Mikhail’s face contorts inward.

– The king?

– Yeah.

– Y-yeah.

– I suppose he’s king now.

– I suppose he is.

The night adds nothing. Mikhail turns to keep his pacing. Sweeney doubles down into thought.

– President won’t be none too pleased.

Mikhail is arrested in his tracks as his eyes go wide.

– Though I suppose having an absent king is rather advantageous from a president’s point of view.

– L-let’s not focus on that here. We’ve done a great service tonight. Yes, there are further steps to take, but we’ve make the first, and that’s what matters.

– Awright, I can work wif ‘at.

Thus consoled, Mikhail points to Sweeney’s watch.

– Can you make calls on that thing?

– Think so, yeah.

– Try and get Verwant on the horn, he might be open.

Sweeney moves to his watch and fiddles with the dial. The slow tone chimes on, leaving the men and soaring into the night, ring after ring, filling out the park. No answer.

– Seems as though he’s occupied.

– Seems that way.

– Sweeney.

– Yeah, Mik.

– What would you say we’ve accomplished tonight?

– I’d say we’ve done the right thing, mate.

– Mhm.

– It’s just…

– It’s just what?

– I mean, y’know.

– Are you saying what we did wasn’t worth the effort?

– No, no, I’m not sayin’ that. But…

– But?

– But…

– But.

– I’m just sayin’ we left alternatives.

Mikhail is about to chastise him for his lack of devotion when a low rumbling comes from the distant woods. Each sharply turns their attention to the source – some shadow approaches. They trade glances. What will they do – attack – convince – is it the police – did someone find it? – did someone find it! – but all too soon the shadow gathers itself out of the dark. It is a man, grizzled, gritty, homeless to the point of vulgarity. He notices the compatriots and says:

– Whazzit?

Mikhail and Sweeney are frozen. Sweeney is the first to gather his courage.

– H-hullo. How’re you?

– Doin’ well. M’name’s Liquor. He vomits. George Liquor.

Perhaps he fought in a war. Perhaps his namesake isn’t familial. Perhaps that fluid on his shoe wasn’t there this morning, when he read the daily paper to spite his illiteracy. The only thing for certain about George Liquor is that he is here now, a testament to their work, the embodiment of all socio-political philosophy which drives men to pontificate & eliminate. George Liquor is a common man.

Mikhail smiles.

– George, would you like to know what my comrade and I have done for you this evening?

– Sure. Ain’t got much else t’look at.

Mikhail laughs.

– Funny you would say it that way.

He produces the bag.

– We have here, tonight, in this very bag, your oppressor and mine…

With philosophic flourish Mikhail produces the head of the king.

– The recently deposed monarch.

George looks to the head, then to Mikhail, back to the head, back to Mikhail. Behind his eyes Mikhail can see a tremendous buildup, a lead-in to an overwhelming reaction. Reception, in its most base iteration.

George Liquor laughs. In between breaths he manages to explain.

– Messr, I have t’ say, you are some kinda riot. You oughta be onna one’ve ‘em shows, at night, y’know? Tellin’ yer bits about a king. You’d kill the house, that’s what ya’d kill. Y’know I met royalty once. Once. Sweet guy who said he was the ol’ Franz-is Ferdinand, nice man, hell’ve a decent chess player. Now, I knew he weren’t the bona fide Franz-is, but only on account’ve a member ah th’ Austro-Hungarian aristocracy woodn’t ah been no fan o’ the Detroit Lions, and not, as I later learned, because the bona fide Franz-is got himself shot around nineteen-fourteen. Wonder how he wooda played chess.

On this note George Liquor stumbles back into the night, muttering incoherent treatises on the rules of board games, the inconsistencies inherent in early twentieth century foreign policy, and the application process to become a television sidekick.

Once more Sweeney and Mikhail are alone. The unknowing city in the distance hums its familiar beat, and the trees shortly off in the distance mirror their stillness. Having little else to do Mikhail drops the head back into the bag, slumps to the cold earth, and sighs.

– Cognate’s not coming. Probably never planned on coming. Probably thought we’d never make it this far.

Mikhail stands, and dusts off his pants.

Mikhail’s first nightmare was a lion trapped in a cage, desperately lunging at a crowd of doubled-over schoolchildren. Each time the lion made an attempt at freedom, the children would only laugh harder. A few crawled on the pavement, rapt with violent seizures of spastic laughter. Some actually wet their pants.

It’d been years since Mikhail thought about this, and it was only just now, in one of those rare glances of memory, that he also remembered his first and only fear.

– Jesus Christ.

– I didn’t think you were o’ that persuasion.

– Oh no, my friend, God exists, and his sole purpose is to spite me.

Mikhail looks to the sky. He thinks back to his early days in the Party, and he thinks what that Mikhail – young, bright-eyed, and furious – would do. He remembers his first assignment in the Party, and he remembers the coronation of Mink the Second, a loathsome, pear-shaped character, and how the cold sheet rain kept him alive and the speech given to the gathered crowd of loving subjects:

My, what a day for a coronation. Would we have it any other way, ladies and gentlemen? This is OUR weather! And this is OUR star-spangled country, ladies and gentlemen, and we can take it back, and we get it back to work with you, the working man, and me, the working man. We are a great nation, the greatest nation, the god given nation, torn down, hated, and humiliated by THEM, beset on all sides by the tyranny of THEM. They are not us. I believe in this country, yes I do, and I have never met a more hardworking group of men and women than those I had the great pleasure of speaking to personally this very afternoon [break for applause]. It is a god given right to have coins jingoing in your pocket. Ladies and gentlemen, while you are out today please, give a moment and support support support OUR troops troops troops, and children are the future. Yes, OUR children, and not THEIR children. The fascists are knocking at OUR door, ladies and gentlemen, but the working man will not let THEM in, for he is a man, and so am I by extension, of liberty and freedom and the founding fathers o my country ‘tis of thee so in conclusion god bless us all.

He remembers the measures taken to test his devotion and the manners in which his devotion was tested. He remembers the abject poverty and the gnawing hunger of youthful passion.

– What’s open now?

– I think th’ Kingsman’s got a good late-night special.

Mikhail can only respond with a sigh. In the coming months he’ll find this to be increasingly true.

– All right. It doesn’t matter. None of this matters.

Sweeney claps him on the back.

– That’s the spirit.

And so they leave, forgetting the bag and the bench and the lamp, leaving all traces of their efforts behind them. The next morning a woman walking her dog finds the bag, and, performing her civic duty, throws it in a nearby dumpster.

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pseudo-Chaucer

Last semester I took a course about Geoffrey Chaucer, medieval poet (in Chaucer’s words, a “maker”) and forger of the English language. I’d never read his work and only had a passing knowledge of The Canterbury Tales, thus entering his canon with little want or expectation.

I fell in love.

Rarely had I encountered a work that I could describe as literal genius (cf. https://thirtyshortyears.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/dancing-dancing/) as I could with Chaucer’s oeuvre, Troilus and Crisyede in particular. The following poem is written in that’s work’s scheme — ABABBCC, or “rhime royal.” It’s a pale imitation, but an imitation worth making.

 

Dare I disturb the universe?
Trembling with pen in hand,
scribble another line of curse
against, running through my fingers, sand
marking time in a bygone land
that I may not truly forget,
however much I myself let.

If it be laughter, if it be shame,
if I avert mine own eyes,
the work will come out all the same.
This is but a mere screening guise
for all of time’s fools and all her wise;
we are a gathering of troubled thought
which has these lines begot.

Do you think this a light task?
Is the world growing ever madder
as you draw tight a grimacing mask?
Here’s my work — but it’s no matter.
I’m of the former, not the latter.
But whether what I have written is true–
that, in fact, is up to you.

Welcome Back, Hello

Hello. How are you?

I don’t know if you remember me. I can’t blame you if you don’t. It’s been too long.

Occasionally the world will make demands of you which preclude more enjoyable activities. For me this world manifested itself in two albatrosses of significantly different importance: College (of Higher Importance and Not Altogether Unenjoyable) and Work (of Little Importance and Tedious-To-Boot). Both, to my resigned chagrin, have prevented my daily maintenance of The Daily Coma.

Again — my highest apologies.

 

It’s the nights which are the longest.

7 or 8 Things I Know About Her

First Criticism

Two years old, and her mother takes her downtown for the day. As she rode the subway back from the museum a man sitting across the aisle looked down to meet her glance. She smiled at him. He turned away.

The Animal Presence

The neighborhood was notorious for harboring a score of feral cats. Naturally she wanted to take them in and make them all her own. Naturally her father disagreed. This did little to stop her from feeding a deep-orange tabby table-scraps every night at eight-thirty. This arrangement continued for another year until the cloudy Tuesday when the tabby didn’t come. She was sad, but more than that she was taken aback at her understanding of the whole situation.

Self-Criticism

–Somehow, I feel like, whenever I walk into a room, everybody becomes hyperaware of my being there, and they whisper about me, and what I might be wearing, and just other stuff like that. I can’t tell if this is a paranoia or a narcissism. Or both.

Fantasies

Once on television she watched (her father watched) as Boise State defeated Oklahoma in a grave blow to reality. At the end of a game a player ran off the field and came up to a cheerleader and knelt down and a year later they were married. Her hope then became not to marry the Varsity Captain but to be loved in such a public way that love could never again be doubted.

Listening

–Just because you’re so smart doesn’t mean you know more than I do.

This was her mother, aggressive, tense, who left the argument shortly after, leaving her to wonder what would lead someone to say that.

The Trees

Whenever she found herself alone she traveled to the expanse of trees in the west side of the city. There she’d cleared out a patch where she could read White Teeth and ask questions of her mother’s comments on modern music.

The Great-Aunt

Her grandmother proposed that they all go visit her sister in Roswell for the weekend. She had no opposition (not that she could have) until they arrived and she saw for the first time in two years a withered, chair-bound creature, buried in tubes, who everybody kept calling Rosemary. The sight reminded her of the tape a friend had brought during a sleepover some years ago and stayed forgotten until its avatar sat mute in the living room. She said the required pleasantries and spent as much time as possible in the upstairs bathroom.

aw jeez

aw jeez

aw jeez aw jeez

the internet people are gon’ be real cheezed

no posts no content not even a sneeze

aw jeez

more than a month

aw jeez

i’m gon’ have ta do somethin’ real quick here

occupied time is wasted time

i think

or do i

aw jeez

this isn’t great

Kate Chopin and Her Substandard Friends

My first and last experience with Kate Chopin was in the late first half of my junior year. We were assigned the slim volume of her The Awakening to read over winter break. Having no knowledge of Chopin and fewer expectations for her novella, I set to the task, finishing in two days.

I loathed it.

At the time, it was the worst book I’d ever read. Bar none. (The title now belongs to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a position which I will defend to this day.)  I didn’t have enough unkind works for it, nor any recommendations for friends outside “Just don’t.” It felt nice to have something to hate.

I’ve thought on The Awakening lately, and I’ve come to a startling realization — I don’t remember why I hated it. There was something on the main character making bad decisions, and something else about prose, but I honestly cannot recall why it was a bad book. I’ve hated it just to have something to hate.

If I can’t fully remember the reasons why I despised The Awakening, then I cannot continue to hate it. At some point I’ll revisit the novella. I’m going to takes notes on The Awakening — a surprising first. I fully expect the work to be better than I remember, and hope to be surprised by some genius on Chopin’s part.

This probably doesn’t pertain to you. Cheers.

I’m Not a Fan

“A man devoted to his ideals alone is a caterpillar caught in its cocoon.”

– Maurice Lapin, Manifesto of the Nth Generation

There are many things I dislike. It comes with the territory of having strong opinions. Some people say I dislike too many things, and that I should reconsider some of my deeper-held views. These people are probably wrong.

That being said, one cannot dislike a thing without reason — that’s disingenuous and inauthentic. I’m going to lay out the dislikes which come first — last — — first — in my thinkings, and reason out why they are disliked. Again, I do not intend these opinions to be the omega of criticism on the subject, nor is it an assault on the tastes of those who enjoy these works, as opinion is often mistaken for. They are my thoughts, straight and true, presented to be mended, improved, and made whole.

So. Let’s begin.

  • Fantasy / Science Fiction

I’ll preface this criticism with the fact that I am an ardent fan of Doctor Who, a touchstone of the Sci-fi television genre. The general whimsy of the series, the character of the Doctor, the philosophy it espouses — they all draw the viewer in, and wrap them comfortably in Gallifreyan thread. That being said, Doctor Who proves an exception to the standard. I find no enjoyment in novelistic works of sci-fi or fantasy. Both genres rely heavily on world-building in order for the reader to understand the plot. The author must explain the particular scenario to the reader so that the plot may continue afterward — this is simply not good writing. Such a wide swath of world is condensed into a single book that the essence of a novel is lost in the details. A Mrs. Dalloway or a V. will give you minimal explanation (if that) as to what’s going on, but they slowly elaborate through the novel’s progression. This is what makes a great novel great — they will not hold the hands of their audience. This is not to imply that hand-holding is inherent in sci-fi and fantasy, but it is often used as a crutch to support the world around the characters. These genres will put the concepts before the people when it should be vice versa. I won’t deny the ambition inherent in fantasy and sci-fi works. I remember enjoying Ender’s Game during freshman year of high school, and a name by the man of Gene Wolfe keeps bubbling to the surface as a reportedly quality writer. I hope one day to be surprised, but here I wait.

  • John Green and Young Adult books

Now, I might get some flack for this, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it: I like reading books. I’ll give you a moment to climb back in your chair.

There. Calm? Good. As someone who reads, I’m all too familiar with the phenomenon of Young Adult fiction. YA has become the most advertised, if not to say the most popular, genre in modern reading, spearheaded by John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Reading YA is not a crime in itself, as the genre doesn’t claim to be making deep artistic incursions — but only reading YA is deplorable. It is, by no standard, good. This is YA’s nature — a light, shallow form that younger people can pick up quickly, and perhaps facilitate an initial love of reading. Yet I keep finding people of my age defending YA as anything more than that, and better suited to their lifestyles than “that hard stuff.” I’ve had someone tell me that Stars was the most accurate depiction of a relationship with cancer she’d ever seen. Maybe it was for her, but a book made for younger audiences inherently cannot express deeper themes than mature literature (if you’re on a cancer kick, I’d recommend Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther’s account of his son’s death at the hands of brain cancer, and, though you’ll have to read the whole novel to get the context, the final chapter of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is well worth your time). Perhaps this large support for YA is a case of squeaky wheels getting oil. Those who devote their beings to the cause of YA will make their case loudly, and across ample channels. A simple work can be spread by a simple message. Part of its appeal comes from a loose concept of wanting kids to read, or as it’s often phrased, “at least they’re reading something,” a veiled excuse to stop paying attention. Kids who are getting into reading aren’t familiar with the best books out there, those that best describe man and his subtle tendencies. I’m not advocating we throw Infinite Jest-shape bricks at people, but surely we can move beyond YA into more mature, and thus more rewarding, works.

For further debate on the subject, I recommend this excellent article from The New Yorker.

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/henry-james-great-ya-debate

  • Upstream Color

Upstream Color is a 2013 film written and directed by Shane Carruth, most notable for his 2004 time-machine film Primer. I haven’t seen Primer, so I’ll reserve judgment on Carruth’s total output, and focus solely on UC.

The dialogue is sparse to the film’s detriment, the camera works tries to emulate Malick without the vision or aesthetic beauty, and the plot — which I won’t spoil here — is a romance disguised as a pseudo-philosophical inquiry. Again, UC seems to be more about the concept rather than the people, though it does make a genuine appeal to their shared misfortune and humanity. The film feels as though it’s trying its best to be “modern,” in the sense that it spends the better part of two hours doing nothing in particular. The point of UC, as I saw it, was to illustrate how people come together through a traumatic connection, but the way UC conveyed the idea was unnecessarily convoluted. I know other people highly enjoy the film, but it just doesn’t appeal to me.

  • Not Liking The Catcher in the Rye

As with Upstream Color, this is more of a sticking point among friends. Disdain for Holden Caulfield is a phenomenon highly prevalent in our new generation, much like political apathy, or a successful Chris Pratt. The readers I’ve talked with have, on a startling scale, renounced Catcher and its protagonist as preachy, poorly-written drivel best suited for angsty freshman. This denotes a fundamental misunderstanding of the text, of Salinger as an artist, and of other individuals’ ability to cope with tragedy. Holden has lost his younger brother to a brutal struggle with pneumonia (a fact that many detractors gloss over), he’s trying to find some semblance of purpose only to be constantly rebutted by an uncaring world, he wants so desperately to be an adult, but can’t find authentic adults to look up to, and he knows that he is one of those phonies in life, hiding his shame under cynicism and disdain for other people. Catcher is an existential novel, a term which here means “a novel about apathetic whining.” Get over yourself, try and forget all the whining about Holden’s “whining,” and revel in one of the 20th century’s greatest writers.

Do these opinions make me better than you? No. My reading of Pynchon fills that demand. But they are my opinions, and just that.

Thank you, and goodnight.