Thursday, October 4, 2007

More Death on the Installment Plan

Being broke and having no prospects, I decided to give blood for the free coupons for ice cream and coffee. Blood for ice cream, blood for coffee, it was a good trade, a good place to start a poem. Going there was like enlisting: you were thrown together with a whole bunch of cruddy people, had to fill out forms; they asked you a lot of questions and looked at you as though knowing you were lying and wanting you to: Have you ever been to Africa? Have you ever used intravenous drugs that were not prescribed for you? Have you ever traded sex for drugs? Have you ever had sex with someone who has traded sex for drugs? Did you love this person? Did they love you? What is love, what kind of love was it? Do you have any regrets? The nurse gave me ball to squeeze to bring up my vein, like I could never do myself, and you never forgot that the needle was in you, hooked into the heart of your arm snagged like sweater on the hook of a coat hanger. My blood came out in great big red loops like I was a living valentine. She told me to keep squeezing every fifteen seconds. It doesn’t hurt a lot, but I felt somehow helpless stuck up on that couch with my feet up where I can see the holes in my socks in this room fresh as a hospital and for some reason I feel like crying, probably because I only slept four hours and I’m usually not up at this hour, only I couldn’t sleep and it’s a pity that I don’t find the nurse more attractive, because I want to cry a little and can’t cry very well so I imagine that I want to share my sorrow with someone that I can sleep with and so make the most of it, get it all out, so to speak. I imagine she would squeeze my hand every fifteen seconds and I would squeeze back and I would hate lying there on that couch, my head comforted on her breast, unable to stop crying and sniffling, really hating her perfume, which was certainly a knock-off and her strong nurse inflected accent. Easy, baby, she would say. I had a friend who use to say that to me. I look down at the bag and it looks bad, dark like a plastic sac full of coco from the inside of a vending machine, it looks brown and spoiled, already coagulated. No wonder: I’ve been going around with dead, spoiled blood in my veins, turned like bad meat.

I had to get out of there pretty quickly, I talk too much sometimes, or not all. I was hoping for some movie passes or a free steak dinner, but they just put me in a stupid raffle and gave me a stupid T-shirt, a pen, a tennis ball, a coupon for a massage and a free tattoo, and a ladies’ purse. They didn’t really intend for me to take this last item, but it was on the freebee table with all the other stuff and I was kind of pissed there were no movie tickets and no steak dinner. I was out for blood. I hopped out of that place and got a pint of whiskey at the usual place, to go, because the people who work the day shift are pretty awful and the people who come in are worse; these same people are also there in the evenings, but at this hour they haven’t been seasoned properly. I didn’t open the Old Crow right away because I wanted cigarettes and coffee first.

I went to one of those franchise coffee places that’s all overpriced that looks like a fruity hair salon. I bet it looks exactly like the drawings they made. The coupon got me a free bagel too, and it was all fancy and I mispronounced its name. I put this vile stuff on my bagel that I thought was lox, but tasted of berries and Spelenda® and reminded me of shampooing my hair a girl’s place once. I sat down with my coffee in a booth and started to read Rimbaud, but it got pretty boring after a while because I can’t read French and so I stared to tear a few pages out of the book where I felt the poem could be shorter. I made an appendix out of these and a frontispiece for the appendix with a napkin. I wrote the words “Abridged and Revised” on the cover and thought that future library patrons would thank me. People at the coffee place had trouble understanding me for some reason and I had to repeat myself when I asked for water. I got in trouble for smoking. I think I could have stayed and even been happy there, because they had unlimited coffee, but what with the smoking and all it got a little uncomfortable. I was in a booth so I didn’t think anyone really would have minded me slipping a little bourbon into my coffee. I made the mistake all innocent people make, that of defending myself. “I gave blood this morning.” I said. “I’m a veteran.” It’s really lousy when people say “sir” and they really don’t mean it (like police officers): “Please stop shouting, sir.” I wasn’t shouting. I just project exceptionally well and there’s something in your goddamned coffee gives me a burning sensation when I pee and it’s not just me, because I was in that bathroom a fucking long time and asked everybody who came in, men and women.

So I left there after I had made my point, not in too much of a hurry, because for all their talk, I didn’t see anyone behind the counter going for the phone and though other people with their damn cell phones kept asking if they should call, none of them actually did, because people are basically cowards, just worthless, really. I shouldn’t say that, because one girl stuck up for me. She was really bright and upbeat in a nihilistic hippy chick kind of way and gracious enough to share the pint I had. I told her about colleges she should apply to when she graduates from high school, but she says she’s quitting to de-tassel corn because apparently you can make good money and smoke up all day and de-tassel corn and go to something called Bonaroo. People are wrong when they say that young people are lazy. But you know me, I hate hard work and being dirty unless I’m sleeping.
But I made my point and it was like that scene in that stupid Jerry Maguire movie where Tom Cruise gets his ass fired and asks if anyone will go with him to start an amazing new company. I said something like that, but I guess it was pretty fucked up or people had trouble understanding me because nobody did and some ball caps and one old guy stood up like I was going to crash the place into the World Trade or something. Even the chick with the burned hair declined, but I guess her Mom really didn’t want her to go. She had one of those hospital bands on her wrist and I meant to ask her about that. I hate scenes. I just want people to just get along and otherwise leave me the hell alone. I guess I left in kind of a hurry. I was about halfway through the parking lot when I realized I had a lot less Old Crow than I thought I did, I didn’t have any. I had a momentary moment of reproach for the girl with burned hair, but I’d been pretty emphatic about her helping herself and it being a good idea. Holy crap, I was still carrying the mini-newspaper rack I grabbed on the way out. Well, that’s stupid. I wasn’t some crazy homeless person who thought he was going to sell them for money on the corner, though maybe it means some of those good people had made their call by now. I thought about peeing all over the newspapers in the rack, but John Kerry was on the front page and I didn’t want them to think there was some kind of political message.

I decided to take a shortcut from the sun through some dense underbrush that filled the ditch separating the parking lot of the coffee place from some other franchise crap. I thought it was a place where they made home style Italian food or cut your hair. By “dense underbrush” I really mean a whole lot of unpleasant thick nasty shit that you don’t want to try walking through any day. It was full of crap, crap from the coffee place and every other fuckface franchise in the damn mall. The water really reeked and mud got into my shoes which I really hate. I shouldn’t have wandered into there, but it was good cover and nine times out of ten there’s a stash of porno or something somewhere in place like this. Sure enough, I found a stained cardboard mat, some clothing and a jug of nasty looking water. It had been all rained on. There was no place to sit. A mosquito bit my eye. I didn’t want to stay there anymore. I suddenly recalled that maybe that wasn’t an Italian place, maybe it was a Mexican place on the other side. I needed salt. I was dehydrated. I bet they served Margaritas. By the pitcher. On my way out there was a box of condoms and, across from it, a spent condom. Look at this place, people are crazy. Fucking in a watery weed-filled ditch between Petsmart and Friendly’s.

Being inside the Mexican place took forever, like they’re weren’t ready for lunch, though the assembled, gently faded grandparents there didn’t seem to be having any trouble. I liked they way they looked, because they were all faded and washed out, and the women made little chirping noises and they all had such big droopy features, that didn’t really have any subtly that made me think they were honest. Whenever they made expressions there were lots of ripples, as it were and it made me happy and so I sketched with a little crayon they had given me, but it was a yellow crayon and so the faces looked entirely demonic, like some Emile Nolde painting and I felt like I was pure poison, really, and when was that waitress going to get here with the Margarita pitcher, even just get here and show up so I could express my desire to be treated to such a thing? I needed the salt. I was dehydrated. This was science talking.

I must have sobered up because when the waitress (Sandy) got there I had swallowed enough minutes and ice water to not talk about science. It was a good thing because I had started to worry I looked like I had too much crap. You get lousy service if you’re carrying too much random crap. Like a newspaper rack. I had wisely ditched that, but I still had the tennis ball, a torn-up library book, a stupid T-shirt and pen, and a ladies’ purse that clearly wasn’t mine. I must have dropped the coupon in the ditch and the thought of getting up to go get it and leave all this nice air conditioning and World War II veterans made me unhappy. I put it all this shit on a chair and tried to make it look like the owner of the purse might be joining me. I also worried if I stank from the ditch. But it was hot, or everyone stank a little, or maybe Sandy liked me well enough already and accepted me for who I was, because they were nice to me, and I got my Margarita (just one) and it was good and dark and cool and the music throbbed quietly and people seemed to be having a good time.

The Margarita wasn’t particularly good, so I was glad I didn’t get a whole pitcher. When Sandy got me a menu (“Just in case you get hungry.”) I realized why: it was really supposed to be a sort of French Country bistro, but it was another franchise, so it was like a cartoon, with the staff wearing stripey shirts or little black outfits (which looked pretty good on Sandy)and the motto “Vee ‘ope ewe like eet!” and the nasal phrase “Hawnnh-Hawnnh-Hawnnh” actually printed on the menu and I thought France! At last, I’ve made it to France. I had wanted to go to France ever since I didn’t believe in anything anymore. I didn’t believe in love. I knew this ever since I stopped reading Wittgenstein. All I cared about was looking good, getting laid and sleeping in and seeing something funny once in awhile like a Richard Burton movie. I wouldn’t drink, but I feel a need to laugh and there are only so many Richard Burton movies. I used to write stories, but they were always overdone and never went anywhere and weren’t very convincing because unlike most writers I really hated getting involved and being bothered and have no real curiosity about “the world” or desire to write about it. In fact, I’m pretty hostile to the whole idea. I mainly liked writing about myself and making shit up. I still cared about style, but mainly because I didn’t want other people to have it. The French have always understood this, I thought, petty thieves and low scoundrels are their national heroes. I would have to go to France to be understood, like Pierre Curie. There, I could drink cheap wine in little glasses and fight anti-Semitism, have sex in a teepee, drink absinthe, denounce the United States freely and decline the Nobel Prize.

I decided I had to get in shape for France, so I ordered a nice cognac, VSOP, which was exactly one power of ten greater the money I had left, but I pronounced its name right, perfectly even. I’m pretty good, if I can soften my tongue a little. Being charming is hard work and I had to quit doing the French inhale because it sucks and I was running out of cigarettes and started to think about food, though I got a Pernod next, because I realized I was getting my drinks all out of order. If I still had a cell phone I would call one of my polyglot friends who would know and would help me out.

I should eat something, I’ve lost blood, after all... bifteck au poivre... no, something, revolutionary -lobster Thermidor -it was summer, after all. Yet it was also Napoleonic, like the cognac aspired to be. It was all coming together. I would explain it all to Sandy when she came back. I began to plan out my campaign on the tablecloth, but I needed a bottle to keep my plans flat. I thought of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. I needed love to feel like a hero. I needed to feel like a hero to feel love. I was like Snoopy as the world famous World War I flying ace, drinking root beer in a little bistro, admiring his little French lass, shy and dashing, otherwise fearless on his flying doghouse, and I thought that was really, really beautiful, the flying doghouse idea.

A little bread and butter settles the stomach and you’re fine, you’re not going to throw up and you’re not going to cry. Bienvenue à la belle France. This place is wonderful, these people are kind. You can ask for sanctuary here, like at an embassy. Help, I am fleeing oppression. I am persecuted for my beliefs, my intensely personal sense of beauty, my sense of style and my interesting personality. Perhaps there are real rooms behind the windows on the fake terrace over looking the faux winding street that leads to the restroom and they need someone to wake up and change the Charles Azanavour cd that you can buy in the gift store. Perhaps Sandy will help you out. There is always a way. You can eat your food with both hands. You can close your eyes and float in the dark. You can speak French and you know the words to this song already, anyway.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Rabies Evangel



The rabies evangel virus (REV) is a species of rabies virus currently threatening to reach worldwide epidemic proportions. While rabies evangel in itself is no more virulent, nor difficult to prevent than other species of rabies and, in fact, has considerably lower mortality, it afflicts the infected person with sensations of religious euphoria, mania, and hallucinations and its infection is associated with deliberate, conscious attempts to spread the disease. Whether this latter behavior is a direct consequence of the infection or a mass disorder based on existing human religious beliefs and practices is unclear. It is undeniable, however, that the rapid spread of the disease and its possible future as an endemic if not universal infection for the worldwide human population, originates in the unique adaptation of this pathogen to benefit from the conscious efforts of human intelligence, technology and behavior to directly forward its propagation.

Causes, incidence, risk factors

Like earlier species of rabies, rabies evangel (REV) is spread by the saliva of an infected organism entering the bloodstream, usually through a bite, broken skin or through some kinds of sexual contact. The incubation period from inoculation to illness is about 7 days. The virus ultimately ends up in the brain, where it causes swelling (encephalitis). Unlike earlier forms of rabies, the encephalitis subsides and is restricted to certain parts of the brain, resulting in low mortality and sensations of euphoria, often with religious or schizoid ideation with marked manic behavior.

Though the disease remains zoonotic (other animals such as dogs, raccoons, rats, bats may carry the disease) most cases of REV are caused by deliberate human bites, injuries or other blood letting, or through biological weapons deliberately engineered by afflicted individuals to spread the disease.

The disease is now worldwide, reported on all continents except Antarctica with high concentrations in the American South, Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Particularly at risk are health and public safety workers, as there is an active attempt on the part of infected individuals to actively spread the disease. Only individuals in remote, inaccessible areas with little or no human population, are not at high risk for this infection.

Overall susceptibility to the disease seems to vary with the size of the inoculation, degree and severity of the bite or infected wound, and the proximity of the latter to the central nervous system.



Rabies evangel, like previously known forms of rabies, is a Lyssavirus of the family Rhabdoviridae, an RNA virus. It is shaped like a bullet with a lipoprotein envelope covered with knob like spikes of glycoprotein.

Once it has entered into the nervous system, the virus is effectively shielded from the immune system, spreading to the spinal column and through peripheral nerves to the skin, intestines and salivary glands, where it forms an infectious reservoir for biting.

Unlike previous known forms of rabies, however, REV is not indiscriminate in its action; after a brief period of cerebral swelling, it seems to favor a region of the frontal lobes previously associated with religious experiences[1]. Though the exact mechanism is unclear, it is believed that the virus, through its reproduction through infected tissues or some other means, stimulates the frontal lobes in such a way as to give the afflicted sensations and experiences typical of religious euphoria or psychedelic agents such as psilocybin (Griffiths, 2006).

It is important to stress at this point that none of the organized intentional behavior resulting from such experiences appears to be directly in any way created by the virus itself.  Rather, it seems to be an independent human cultural behavioral response to the experience, including the apparent desire to deliberately spread the disease to uninfected individuals. This behavior, however, is quite beneficial to the propagation of the virus (discussed below).

Though the virus seems specific in attacking the frontal lobes, other parts of the brain are also often infected, leading to the hallucinations, agitation, motor difficulties and anxiety typical of earlier forms of rabies.

 However, unlike previous forms of rabies, the encephalitis never progresses to become life threatening; rather this species of rabies virus seems to have reached a kind of equilibrium with its human hosts. While not asymptomatic and far from a harmless, carriers are able to function and complete complex tasks, including deliberate attempts to infect others.


• Pain and swelling at site of infection (usually a bite)
• Increased sensitivity at site of infection
• Initial high fevers with rapidly progressing encephalitis
• Myoclonus (popularly referred to “trembling in the sight of god”)
• Increased lacrimation (popularly referred to as the “tears of witness”)
• Hypersalivation
• Religious Euphoria/Mania
• Schizoid ideation
• Hallucinations
• Compulsion to infect uninfected individuals


Epidemiologists have long understood that the greatest problem in disease control, more than any the particular virulence factors that aid the pathogen, is the human behavior that abets and enables its spread. HIV, for instance, is actually quite difficult to transmit other than through sexual contact or blood contamination, yet human frailty meets the disease more than halfway; meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is owes its spread, among other things, to simple nose picking; malaria afflicts hundreds of millions because people find it difficult to use mosquito netting properly.

This familiar problem reaches an new and unique degree with rabies evangel, in that its spread is not an inadvertent result of other human desires or actions, but the direct result of individual and group desires to spread the disease itself.

These attempts usually take the form of deliberate biting attacks of infected individuals on others; the infected saliva of a human bite usually enough to infect a host. Scratches, abrasions, and skin breaking wounds are also a problem; like other forms of rabies, rabies evangel can be communicated through scratches, bites or injuries that are quite hard to detect, a fact that sadly sealed the fate of one entire Atlanta Metropolitan Police Precinct station responding to one of the earliest riots of infected crowds.

As a virus present in the saliva, some kinds sexual contact may also spread the disease and this is now believed to have played a much larger role in the original development of the disease than previously thought.

More complex technological attempts on the part of infected individuals to spread the disease have been reported, from infection bearing syringes to bullets. Fortunately, however, these attempts to weaponize rabies evangel have been comparatively crude in terms of their delivery; like other strains of rabies, rabies evangel requires a cool, dark place to survive outside of a host.

The possibility of more efficient and devastating means of dispersal should not be overlooked, however, as rabies, despite not having the ideal characteristics of a biological weapon[2], has been considered in the past as a possible candidate for such a program. In this light, it is particularly hoped that more immunologists, microbiologists and medical health professionals do not become infected with rabies evangel and become recruited to the cause of spreading the disease.

Various human and religious groups have been by no means universal in their interpretation of the euphoria, schizoid ideation and hallucinations created by REV; this has led, in many places already divided by sectarian lines, to armed conflict. Again, from the perspective of the disease, this is a favorable condition and its inadvertent capacity to inspire organized conflict can be looked upon as another positive trait, as the collapse of social order, widespread chaos and injuries with broken skin, malnourishment, unavailability of medical services and large movements of people are ideal conditions for the spread of any disease.


Rabies evangel has a very low mortality rate particularly compared to classical rabies, which uniformly fatal if not treated with vaccine.

However, once the virus has entered the brain and neurological symptoms appear, there may be no way to effectively clear the patient of the virus.

Worst of all, at this point, most infected individuals actively resist any treatment and deny having any disease, or that their hallucinations and euphoria are an illness at all; as with many familiar behavioral diseases like alcoholism or substance abuse, the denial of the problem on the part of the patient makes the disease utterly intractable to treatment.

Natural History

Many pathogens modify their host’s behavior to some degree to facilitate their spread, from the familiar nasal discharge and sneezing induced by the common rhinovirus to the biting behavior typical of animals infected with classical rabies.
Rabies evangel would, at first, seem to be unique in the degree of behavior modification, but even more extreme cases are familiar to the world of pathology:

A protozoic parasite, Toxioplasma gondi, for instance, has been observed to modify behavior in rats (Berdoy, 2000). A parasitic worm, Spinochordodes tellinii, directly induces suicidal behavior in grasshoppers (Biron, 2005).

Even if we can accept the extraordinary mechanism that rabies evangel seems to exhibit, the question still remains: how did this pathogen evolve? Analysis of the virus’ genome indicates that it is a recent descendent of rabies. Yet, from our study of the evolution of other pathogens, we know that several things must take place in order for a disease to pass from a stage 4 disease still dependent on a sylvatic cycle, to one that passes exclusively from human to human (stage 5) as rabies Evangel has become (Wolfe, 2007).

To begin, there is the question of how humans could have started to come into regular contact with the original carriers of rabies, believed in this case to be bats.
Investigative teams from the CDC dispatched to the first outbreaks of the disease in the American South believe that rabies evangel evolved from an asymptomatic rabies strain endemic to cave bats in rural Tennessee. It is believed that humans began to have regular contact with these bats when a particular extreme religious community took to the caves of Tennessee, in imitation of Mithraeum typical of early Christian practices of the first century, CE.

Living in close contact with infected bats for decades may have eventually allowed rabies evangel to accommodate itself to its human hosts. It is not known how the original strain of asymptomatic rabies evolved in the carrier bats.

In the remote rural areas of Tennessee many of the symptoms of rabies evangel would have gone unnoticed among similar isolated rural religious communities, where the behavior associated with rabies evangel (ecstatic experiences, glossolalia, seizures) would not have been unusual.

However, this would not, in itself, account for how the disease could become primarily a disease transmitted from human to human, let alone deliberately.
Investigators speculate the virus became more aggressive upon the contact of these formerly isolated human groups with new urban populations that began to invade these formerly remote and rural areas of Tennessee as part of the urbanization and migration of large groups to the South as part of a general trend of development of the Southern United States. As contacts between the groups grew, the increasing frequency of human bites and other attacks as well as sexual contact may have given the virus the large sustaining infectious population it needed to develop into a purely human disease.

Other investigative teams from the WHO posit the origin of the disease to have been in bats native to the ancient caves of the Middle East; cases of the occurrence of the disease, however only appear in the Middle East long after the disease had already attracted some attention in the American South. Some investigators originally suggested that rabies evangel may even be an ancient human disease, or some descendent thereof, but this does not seem borne out by the genetic record and what is known of its history.


Though unfortunately, the human history of biological warfare is full of examples of deliberate attempts to infect others, rabies evangel is unique in that it is the first disease known to man that infected individuals have deliberately chosen to spread for the perceived benefit of mankind.

As such, we could say, as a manner of speaking, that not only does rabies evangel, like many pathogens, know a lot about immunology, but, if successfully weaponized, it is even capable of using what we know against us.

This is, of course, not literally true; REV itself is not believed to actually causes these complex behaviors; instead, it simply at most, predisposes the afflicted to these behaviors and at least seems to map onto preexisting existing beliefs structures in many infected individuals. Human infection remains a matter of choice: uninfected individuals may be induced or compelled to voluntarily become infected.

What success we humans have had in controlling disease originates from two of our most notable and seemingly exceptional capacities: our ability to discover and understand the nature of disease and treat or prevent it and, even more critically, our ability to organize ourselves in large groups, as nations, or even a species, to contain or eradicate such diseases. Only in this manner was our singular great success over a pathogen made possible: smallpox.

With REV we are faced with the perhaps fatal prospect that these very resources –our understanding of disease and ability to organize –are turned against us with the threat of REV. As a result, the long term prospects to contain this disease do not seem great, for as humanity becomes infected it will no longer wish to  see it contained. Religion, like the love and war it has so often inspired in men, gets its force, its meaning, because it is a form of human solidarity. The ultimate fate of this disease may well be to become completely endemic to humans and so face eradication by redefinition; future authors of these bulletins will simply no longer consider it a disease. 

In the meantime, we can continue to hope what human hopes we can have, uninfected by REV, still free to consider as to whether or not the disease is more aptly named “evangel”, the bringer of good news, or “dysangel,” the bringer of ill-tidings, and choose whether or not to accept the message it brings.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Drinking Martinis While Swimming the Hellespont


It is a principle well known from Philosophy that the only truly interesting positions are the totally untenable ones, and the reasonable and well-tempered are the worst company.

So, it was with much amusement and sense of sport that I allowed my interlocutor to hold that Byron was the superior poet to Shelley. Yet this was far into our evening's entertainments, long enough for me to become truculent with my arms full of stars. So feeling girded in my evening suit, hanging somewhat damp and heavy in the pre-dawn air, I felt I was to brook no contumely, real or imagined, and no false opinion, valid or no, and so rose to the erstaz occasion of honor and blandly stated that Shelley was a true poet and Byron simply a haemophiliac of prosody. I was not to hear of Byron’s spurious superiority any longer.

And my contention was not with Vereker, Elliot Vereker, whose smirking craft I knew too well, but it was Vereker, in retrospect, who made the wedge. My cozened interlocutor began to speak of Byron’s athletic achievements: he had swum the Hellespont. A decent crawl, I countered, was exactly the impression he gave me from his verses. I do not think it was I, who am above such things, who noted that I am a fairly decent swimmer myself. Nor do I think it was I who contributed the fact that the Hellespont is only a little under a mile at points, geography not being a cultivated interest of mine. Yet these facts came out, and, in the presence of so many noted fair women of letters whose hair had come down somewhat after the cigars came out and seemed so shiny at this hour, I will admit that somehow the challenge was mine: I could swim the Hellespont, or its equivalent, easily, I declaimed, or someone declaimed for me and I assented, all in the manner of a Russian novel.

And it was not that sly Vereker who put the pitcher in my hand, but his hand, surely that guided the words, as easy as olives: I could even do it drinking martinis.

Having said these words, bets were made, hands shaken and my fate sealed. My only caveat came late, getting into my coat:

“I’m not doing it in a big shirt”

I was also not required to hold a candle or versify while doing it, which I attribute to my quick exit and not falling down the stairs.


The arrangements, it is incontrovertible, are Vereker’s machinations. I never knew such a man so totally indolent and unproductive, except in finding pleasures at others expense, by purse or person, criticizing (everything) and organizing pointless spectacles of society. This last was probably his true genius, for he was quite happy with his art, even if it was sometimes only to his own private amusement. Not that Vereker was charismatic -far from it, but he was a perfect opportunist: Vereker had his choice of characterless friend whose purposeless boat needed showing. And Vereker had friends, or something like it, and they had friends and wouldn’t it be swell to all get together again, have turn on the water and see if I could really do it. Vereker was a great one for charity, if by charity one means seeing that your choicest wine or boat just had to be shared. He told people it might be a bit nippy out on the water.

It was, after all, an excursion and a party. The formalities were attended to with all the due solemnity that could be conducted in boat shoes. It is agreed that I can have anything I want from the boat, but will remain in the water at all times. A suitably narrow channel is selected; I will swim alongside the boat. In keeping with the prevailing opinion, I chose to forgo any wet suit, and certainly any floatation device. Due respect was paid to my safety and I gently shrugged it off with my best collegiate winning smile, the championship smile that had got me through my schools and irresponsibility, real cowardice and bad behavior, the one they try and teach you in books along with the firm handshake, but comes out of sheer advantage, a few words muttered over your crib and a whole lot of money.


I am in my comfortable robe a bit before I have to be, so I can enjoy it, and the display of my athleticism: a cheer goes up when I come out. I have a few more tonics to warm up. I am funny. My hair is icily styled: I look good, and this is not lost on those I think should appreciate it. I learned a bit of showmanship on the team: be warm, a good sport , people will want to be near you. I make a good dive.


The water is quite cold, so the first batch, while refreshing, tends to leave me a little chilled. I cannot give Vereker the pleasure, surely not this early and so easily. “How’s it going down?” he asks gaily leaning off the boat. “A little less Cointreau, next time.” I say, splashing casually, like I was pool side. Vereker smirks inscrutably and taps a darkly wrapped cigarette against a rather nice mother of pearl case. I still need to acclimatize to the water. I can still feel it cutting into me. I’ve been in colder, I say to myself, in a little over a thousand strokes I’ll be there. There are more cheers, but I’d best get on with it. “Those better not be my Nat Shermans.” I say, and with a flip turn I continue on my way.


Swimming the Hellespont takes a long time. The hardest part is counting strokes, especially after that last pitcher. I suppose they’ll let me know. It’s cold and lonely in the water, which I normally love. I can hear the music from the boat and the lights rotate with my stroke and it is like I am swimming away from the party. I bet those are my Nat Shermans.


“How about a cigar, big guy?” “Sure, sure.” I demur, but I just want the cognac. I know well that it makes you colder, I just can’t imagine how much colder I could be. I think Vererker is wearing my sweater. With my swimming letter on it. I should have brained Vereker when I had my chance on that roof. “Emily here is writing her first paper on Kierkeggard.” says Vereker conversationally. I know what Vereker is up to. He hopes to tire me out wading while I chat with this charming young scholar. “I don’t think any of us can truly say what Abraham is doing.” she beams. She has remarkable eyes, and so I do my best to keep my answer general, my tone smooth and my teeth from chattering. We don’t really go into Either/Or. “Let’s talk while I swim.” I finally say, and back stroke a bit talking about something I know more about, Camus. My legs are cramping up, though, my left shoulder hurts, and my left hand resultingly seems to crash the water like a flat paddle, rather than slide into it. I keep losing count, but I think I’m only about 800 strokes out. I stall by asking the sophomore for a cigarette, which she neatly obliges. Vereker insists I have some cake. Some ice cream cake. “Well, I say”, and there is no concealing that I am cold and cramped “I think I’ll freshen up” I say turning in the water. “How far out did I go that last bit?” I cannot help but, let ask. “Uh, well, we’ve kind of been anchored for a bit, now, see, so -how long is this boat exactly?”

I am going to get Vereker an expired globe for his birthday.


The next two dozen strokes go nowhere. The numbness, I know, is bad, and I cannot seem to make my body move the way I want. My breathing is quite labored and my clenching my teeth does not keep them from chattering. I know what this is. Survival impels me to hop aboard the boat, even for a little bit. I consider the many advantages of female sympathy, my comfortable robe and a hot toddy. It takes all my resources of vanity not to give in.

Stafford, who’d also done swimming and track, is willing to give it to me. But I have to refuse. I suppose his concern is real enough, but it also looks good on him, and is no doubt the substance of his narration to the sweet concerned trio by the railing. This batch has a horseradish vodka in it, which is my favorite, but I’ve also been worrying about throwing up, which I mean to do out in the water. More than anything else, this goal lets me turn back to the water. My breath fogs in the light of the boat. I am like a racehorse. I can die, really, but I can’t look bad. It would be wrong. It would let everyone down. It is also bad if it looks too hard. “Gracie here is on your side.” says Vereker, “She’s totally willing to row the dingy and tow you.”

This Christmas, Vereker is getting a scummy terrarium with a dead turtle in it.


Quite pale, they say and their concern is not feigned, and so to put the flush to my cheeks I ask for the bottle (I haul myself up a little). Their faces swim before me and they are reaching to haul me in, “old sport” I hear, but I am cold and clammy and slip out of their caring grasp with a bad splash, that’s a bit much, but I laugh and a female voice cries “No!” I am a swimmer, though, and the uncertain look on Vereker’s face is delicious. I did not know he cared.

I am swimmer and swimming is always a lonely business. I’ve always been something of a lonely person and so I well suited to company, which I pass through like water, elegantly, swiftly, where I belong, into these cold black punches. I can swing too, and I do, with my belly full of Nemiroff, I am strong and hearty and know I will finish, I will finish first, the other lanes falling behind me. I will beat the clock itself. I’ve been pacing myself: it is time to pull ahead and finish it. I can see the lights of the shore I pull toward, unless I got turned around again, and that’s the boat, but I can hear distant cheers and I am no longer cold. And when I reach the shore I will stand again, I will have to wait for them to pull in and greet me with a towel. I can sleep all day tomorrow, next week if I wish and a little late supper. What a stupid, silly world where I man has to do such things and how well I am suited for it!


I died of course, but now I’ve swum the river that nobody knows, the Styx, and its hot black shores hold no fear for me, for I’ve swum it many times. And Vereker comes here, as he surely will, I will take him to a party (for we have real parties here) and I’ll collect on my bet then. Oh, he'll pay up big. And then I’ll get my neckties back as well.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mes Vieux Devoirs

pour mon professeur préfére, Marie-Claude Grangier

Quand j’étais au lycée, j’étais un rebelle. Je me révillais dans ma voiture rouillée ma voiture mouillée avec du pluie, enfumée par les cigarettes, et lourde de bouteilles de whisky. Comme d’habitude, je commençais tous le jours par donner des coups des poings en l’air et sur le tableau de bord cassé de ma voiture, et de temps en temps, le pare-brise, et le mirroir. Ils étaitent cassés aussi. J’étais en colère contre quelqu’un, ou quelque chose, mais, je ne savais pas quoi. Je pensais que le whisky me le diriat, mais le whiskey me disait: "Je m’en fous, achète plus de whisky." Je pensais que mes tatouages me le diraient, mais ils me faisaient seulement mal. Toute la matinée, c’était comme ça. Et les soirs aussi.

Comme d’habitude, je voulais rester au lit dans ma voiture, mais je ne pouvais pas. Je travaillais. Je surveillais les passages protéges pour les enfants de l’école primare. "Courez!" je disais aux enfants, "Courez, le monde peut vous écraser! Courez! Vous devez courir!" Leurs parents ne pensaient pas que je travaillais bien. Mais c’était moi qui voyais les enfants! C’était moi, qui savais quand il pleut.

When I was in high school, I was a rebel. I woke up in my rusted car, my car moist with rain and stale with cigarettes and heavy with whisky bottles. I usually started my days with a few quick punches in the air and on the broken dashboard of my car, and sometimes the windshield and mirror. They were also broken. I was mad at someone, or something, but I did not know why. I thought the whisky would tell me, but the whisky told me “I don’t give a fuck, buy more whisky.” I thought my tattoos would tell me, but they only hurt. It was like this all morning. The evenings also.

I always wanted to stay in my broken car, but I couldn’t. I worked. I was a crossing guard for a grade school. “Run!” I told the children. “Run, the world wants to erase you! Run! You must run!” Their parents didn’t think I did a very good job. But it was me who watched the children. It was me who knew it rained.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Seven Solitudes of Nietzsche

The conditions under which any one understands me, and necessarilyunderstands me−−I know them only too well. Even to endure my seriousness, my passion, he must carry intellectual integrity to the verge of hardness. He must be accustomed to living on mountain tops−−and to looking upon the wretched gabble of politics and nationalism as beneath him. He must have become indifferent; he must never ask of the truth whether it brings profit to him or a fatality to him... He must have an inclination, born of strength, for questions that no one has the courage for; the courage for the forbidden; predestination for the labyrinth. The experience of seven solitudes...

-Friedrich W. Nietzsche, The Antichrist
translated by H.L. Mencken

1. Masturbating. Afterwards, headache.

2. Waiting for Cosima Wagner to finish peeing.

3. Anti-semites.

4. Waiter does not get classical allusion in joke.

5. Lou

6. Listening to Wagner talk

7. The dawn.

Friday, May 11, 2007

For A Small and Changing Room

Dear Passenger, In keeping with classical 20th Century practice, this elevator has been retasked into a post modern sculpture for the Festival of Nations. We apologize for any conceptual or practical inconvenience this may cause. How to enjoy this sculpture: 1. From the outside of the sculpture press a button. As you are reading this you have already probably done this or someone has done this for you. 2. The elevator is a unique interactive sculpture in that it promises, like the highway and the gas chamber, the possibility of being somewhere else. 3. When the doors open, someone may magically appear already inside of the sculpture: this may even be someone you love, despise, or more likely, have no idea who they are, other than that they live in the same building. Act as appropriate. Do not blame the sculpture, which has, like life, simply presented these people to you. Indeed, when in doubt, this sculpture suggests you simply act as if they are somehow not there. 4. Press a button. Any button. If you have a large capacity for joy, experience and button pressing, press them all. 5. As the elevator briefly accelerates downward you will briefly experience a mild sensation of free fall, which you can exacerbate by jumping up. Reflect on what it means to be inside of a reference frame. Suggested topics: Newton, Mach, General and Special Relativity, the fact that you are doomed to die on this planet. 6. Considering this, this sculpture encourages you, if you have a sexual fantasy involving elevators, to just go for it. If your fantasy is very complicated, please remember that other people must use the elevator. 7. This elevator does not play music. Consider the implications. 8. You can, however, make your own music. If you are fond of old school hip hop, for instance, scratch your fingernails from side to side on the walls of the elevator. Proceed to rap. Suggested topics: who you are, what you came here to do, does Hip Hop Hate women? 9. The elevator does feature a small communication device for your use should anything go wrong during your short journey. Ask yourself what this might be. 10. If, in fact, the elevator has broken down, this may be the only thing you have had to read for sometime. Be thankful for the care and wit has provided for you during these otherwise all too quiet and perhaps desperate hours. Instead of panicking, futile button pressing and bickering, this sculpture asks you to consider the following: a) do not stand on each other's shoulders in an attempt to get out of the elevator through what you think is a hatch in the ceiling; in reality, these openings only exist in movies and TV and have not been featured in real elevators for sometime, mainly because people are frequently killed or injured trying to use them at times like these, b) there is no real danger of suffocation, c) likewise, it is impossible for the modern elevator to fall, even should the cable snap, which is itself unlikely: in the absence of the cable's tension, the elevator immediately locks to the side of the shaft, d) despite your current experience, elevator travel is, statistically speaking, more reliable and safer than air travel, automobiles or taking a shower, e) instead of slowly giving in to the devastating pressures of claustrophobia and isolation, why not form a reading group based on this document? Be sure to cite the document properly. 11. For instance, consider the following remarks on the elevator: "What else has a sliding stainless steel door like this? Answer: nothing. Stainless steel doors are featured on vaults, refrigerators and morgues all to signify the same thing: immortality, freshness sealed into incorruptibility, cleanliness. What has all this to do with vertical travel? Vertical travel is uncanny and unnatural. Vertical travel in an elevator is usually achieved by travel through a large dark shaft that no one ever sees. Travel in an elevator, therefore is most like being ingested and excreted, promising more oblivion and ignominy than death itself, which is why there is an effort to put the brightest best face on things with the stainless steel doors in the first place. Once you enter the elevator you enter into a room, a waiting room, but a waiting room of all waiting rooms. The best have no amenities at all, no mirrors or advertisements. This is because you are only marginally ever in that room: it is a space no one really shares, but everyone inhabits, (much like death also -or life, if you prefer). It is such a wholly innocuous and nugatory space that an entire genre of music has evolved around it. This can be said of almost no other sculpture or installation today.What about glass elevators? Glass elevators are deviant exhibitionist visions of the elevator. Eschatologically speaking, they are clearly designed for and by people who believe everything is transparent and do not believe in any kind of afterlife, believing heaven and hell to be aspects of our immanent existence: an academic point since glass elevators exist only in movies and in the perverted mind of Roald Dahl." Is the author being ironic? What prevents this from being a true semiotic analysis? Can you think of field of study where the author might be happier? Another place? Write your answer here__________ Where is this excerpt taken from? 12. If you have remained in this elevator one or more days, it is likely that something has happened to the outside world and you may be the only survivor(s): please use this document as the basis of your new society (you may also wish to apply this, in the event the social order inside the elevator has somehow broken down): we hold the following truths to be self evident: that all elevator passengers are created equal that they are endowed, by their Creator (or just plain circumstance), with certain unalienable elevator Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Passengers, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Passengers to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Following these first principles, proceed to the creation of a constitution. 13. The doors will open, one way or the other, accident or no. Step into this new world without hesitation.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Antimonies of Kant


This evening I was swimming at the gym, which here is like gray salty lights: it is like reading. And like a reader, somewhere after my 40th lap I crashed across my lane into another. It hut me most, but I apologized anyway:

"Sorry," I said, I was thinking about Kant."

"Oh not at all -the First Critique?"

"Oh no, no, just the Prolegomena."

It was then I realized that Kant was the perfect excuse for anything.


Notice how this will not work for reading Hume or Hegel.


A man sells his soul to answer hitherto unanswered problems in Kant scholarship. His interlocutor takes the form of a grotesque and licentious demon who can only be bribed by indulging the grossest of appetites. Yet for the price of his immortal being, the exgetical riddle is solved and his publication places him at the pinnacle of Kant scholarship.

Only during an honorary visit to Konigsberg, the professor is again troubled by the demon. All attempts to drive it away fail.

With despair and horror, the scholar realizes that not only is his own immortal soul lost, but that the reason his interlocutor is able to answer his questions is that the damned soul is Kant.


Locke: I am taking my ball and going home.

Kant: I am taking not merely the ball, but the condition of the possibility of the ball.

Wittgenstein: (punts) No one is allowed to talk about the ball.


Kant's Wife

Kant did not have a wife. Ahab had a wife. Like a fish needs a unicycle.


Kant: The Stephen Hawking of Being Totally Wrong