Tag Archives: fiction

7 steps to happiness

For the first time in your adult life, you’re happy. Instead of enjoying your happiness like a sane person, you analyze the hell out of it, because that’s what people who are not used to being happy do. Also, you were a philosophy major in college. Snicker all you want at that, but a philosophy degree is better preparation for life than that business degree some chumps were suckered into. Philosophy is about questioning everything. You were never a yes-man.

1. Jettison the friends who aren’t friends anymore.

Friendships (and romances) are like Wonder bread. You think that they are going to last forever, but they don’t. This is especially true of friendship/romance created under duress. Fear is not the goo that binds the bread pudding of friendship. Fear is a ticking time bomb of sticky toxic waste.

That college roommate? You were away from home for the first time and were deathly afraid of being alone. The woman you married because your mother was dying? Afraid of being alone. That friend who was so there for you when you left your wife? See the first two.

You hang on far too long, afraid of being ungrateful, as the fear that started the friendship/romance evolves into resentment, leaving behind a decaying relationship corpse that you are afraid to bury because then you’d truly be alone. The corpse seems better than the alternative. At some point, you realize that if you are actually grateful for the relationship, you should bury the corpse and let that person get back to living his or her life, and that you should go on with your life, too.

You also realize that these people all knew you at your worst–your worst case scenario you. That is all that they see when they look at you–a basket case. Even though they don’t mean to do it, they can convince you that you’re still a basket case by the way they treat you. You don’t need that. They don’t need it either. Pity generates as much resentment as fear.

And then one day you let go… you embrace being alone… the state you’ve been afraid of your entire adult life. You relearn a word you discovered when you were two: No. And it is fantastic! Those pitying eyes are gone. All those Wonder bread people who you thought you couldn’t live without? Turns out life is so much better without them. In your empty apartment, you let the dishes pile up in the sink. You sing along with Glen Campbell and are not afraid that someone is watching you, judging you. Eat hummus with a spoon right out of the container. Watch the Indians on TV in your boxer shorts and do pushups between innings. Experimentally eat the raisin that you dropped on the kitchen floor maybe a week ago. Who cares? No one. Not a single solitary soul. It’s glorious! All that worrying about people who didn’t give a shit about you was like a slow drip of acid into your soul.

There’s a difference between being solitary and being alone. It’s a secret that had been kept from you for a long time, but you finally whispered it to yourself.

When you come home to your empty apartment, with no one there to greet you (not even a cat), you are relieved and happy. A long, loud sigh escapes from your lips every day after you close the front door and deadbolt it.

Even healthy relationships expire and require burying. Not that Facebook cares about that. Facebook insists that you remain friends with people you’ve long since moved past. Facebook friends are not actual friends, by the way. Facebook is a vile scam preying on fear of loneliness. At best, it is methadone. You know that. You minimize your time there.

2. Don’t travel. 

You never thought you’d live in a country with a “Department of Homeland Security” did you? Oh, but you do. Now every trip to the airport is a dystopian nightmare of inscrutable (human-free) check-in machines, cold stares as you shuffle in line up to the body scanner, shoeless, and then the long shamble through corridors filled with people bumping into each other as they interact with their phones. You get to your gate and discover that you’re sitting in a middle seat because every flight you’re on is overbooked.

Driving isn’t much better. Hours stuck in heavy traffic add to your creeping guilt over burning hydrocarbons that are quickly killing off our planet. That road trip music list on your iPhone isn’t aging well either as you slowly inch forward. Should have made that list longer. Better songs. Urgh.

Once you get there, there’s the disappointment of being there. “There” is not that great. Certainly not worth the bullshit of travel.

So when it comes time to take a week off, you stay in your blissfully empty apartment indulging in your main hobby: writing books that no one reads. Ahhhh. That’s better.

3. Watch more TV. Skip going to movies. 

You were brought up to believe that TV was as awful as candy corn, and that movies were high art. Gilligan’s Island, The Captain and Tennille Variety Hour, CHiPs, and The A-Team pretty much cemented that.

The movies had Nashville, Jaws, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Blue Velvet…

And then one day you saw Twin Peaks. You shook excitedly in your barracks room, vibrating in your chair. And Twin Peaks begat The X Files. And then came The Sopranos. And then Mad Men. Now you spend your time waiting for the next season of The Americans and Orphan Black to hit the small screen.

Meanwhile, movies have become a massive billowing shitstorm of comic book junk, fucked dialog and plots, and cartoonish special effects. And admission is too much. You find yourself sitting in front of an old lady who carries on a monologue that matches exactly what you’re thinking about the billowing shitstorm you are currently, for no good reason, subjecting yourself to. The cantankerous old broad lets loose a loud popcorn-and-Coke gasser. Why am I here when I could be at home, blissfully alone, watching something good?

4. Pay off all of your bills and don’t create new ones. 

Much of the stress of your daily life used to be bills. You grew up poor, so you compensated for that by running up insane credit card debt with the woman you fear-married. You owed so much fucking money it was maddening, and you were dizzy with nausea thinking about it every waking minute of every day. You went to sleep thinking about being broke and every morning you woke up… still broke.

But then, once you were alone, you lived like a monk… mainly out of self-hatred for having abandoned the rotting corpse of your marriage like a teenage mother ditching a prom-night-conceived baby at a fire station.

One day, you woke up and realized that all that monkishness had taken away one of the things you’d most hated about your existence: the feeling that you’d never emerge from debt. You’d paid everything off. Holy mother of fuck! You felt 20, 40 pounds lighter.

Now you wake up and wonder, “Exactly how much money do I have in the bank?” with an incredible sense of relief. Money has lost its grip on your life.

5. Don’t eat in restaurants. 

You also wake up physically lighter. Why? Because one of your major indulgences used to be eating in restaurants. You used to work in a restaurant, so you happen to know the secret of “good food,” and it’s spelled F-A-T.

If you eat in a class restaurant, you can be certain that you’re eating a stick of butter mixed in with your order. If you eat in a not-so-class joint, you’re eating eight ounces of blended oil (best case), beef tallow, or Kaola Gold.

Now that you’ve stopped eating in restaurants, you aren’t eating artery-clogging, megadoses of fat. Suddenly you’re not feeling like total shit anymore. Funny how that happens.

6. Cut out alcohol. Exercise instead.

When you were first alone, you dulled the miasma of anxiety whirling in your chest cavity with plastic bottles of cheap, clear fluid purporting to be vodka. It only helped somewhat. You drank until you passed out, and then woke up the next morning with a massive hangover. Work dulled some of the anxiety, but only during work. Once you left work, you were right back in downtown Shit City, standing on the corner of Fucked and Main. So more drinking.

One day you came home from work and saw that you ran out of alcohol, and so did without it because the thought of facing the liquor store clerk after a day of dealing with people was too much. Then you forgot to pick up alcohol again. And then you didn’t pick up alcohol on purpose.

You mastered your anxiety through long walks, and then bicycling, and then a rowing machine. The exercise not only knocks out the anxiety, it makes you feel so much better than booze ever did. You actually feel strong, like you could handle anything.

7. Don’t give a shit that no one is reading your books.

The one constant in your life has always been books and writing. You read from an early age. You don’t even remember how it came about. No one taught you. When you went to kindergarten, you were already reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. You could already write, too.

As you grew older, books were your salve. You could take your parents’ constant fighting if you could crack open a book. You loved detective novels and science fiction.

You wrote short stories and hid them under your mattress like they were pornography. Your mother found them and encouraged you to keep on writing. You even got a (completely worthless) graduate degree in writing.

Like every writer, you have a sneaking suspicion half the time that you’re a genius. The other half of the time, you’re certain you’re a charlatan and everything you’ve written is pure junk. But the one constant is that you love books and love writing. Now that you’re alone, debtless, and sober, you can actually concentrate on doing what you love. No one is reading your work, but that’s okay. You’re fine with that. You reach inside yourself and find all the things that you love (and hate) about the world and put them on the page. Nothing matters but the writing itself. This doesn’t mean you don’t want people to read what you’ve written, but if they don’t, it won’t stop you from writing.

Nothing will.

New book here, not that you care: http://amzn.to/2bG110j

5 Hints about Explosive Decompression

Explosive Decompression, a new novel by John L. Sheppard, will be published on Sept. 4, 2016 by Paragraph Line Books.

1. Why we’re on the brink of mass extinction (The Daily Beast).

2. A molecule of water can exist in six places at once (Vice). 

3. Bio coding language makes it easier to hack living cells (New Scientist).

4. Frankie Yankovic, “Pennsylvania Polka.”

5. Dalai Lama: Religion without quantum physics is an incomplete picture of reality (Vice).

Goethe Strasse: A short story by Joseph Hirsch

Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow from the Paragraph Line Books. Learn more about him at www.joeyhirsch.com.

My two friends had already been kicked off the ICE (Intercontinental Express) after the little porter had come by and found them without tickets. I had somehow escaped the wrath of the train agent, and now I was headed to Frankfurt alone, to the red light district and its whorehouses. I took a gulp from my premixed Jack & Coke and watched the little German towns as they breezed past. Transoms and mercury vapor lamps flashed in the night, graffiti-scarred railway platforms and slumbering Hessen villages.

This was to be our last Saturday together in Germany before deploying for a year-long tour of duty to Camp Victory, Iraq. Some of the soldiers had wives or girlfriends, and children. They would be spending these last solemn hours together with their families, the atmosphere in the cloistered living rooms heavy with the weight of their impending departure, and the knowledge that they might not come back. Assuming they did make it safely through the year, they could potentially return absent an eye, a leg, a testicle, or conceivably even a mind.

I thankfully had no such worries. I had arrived late to my unit in Germany. I had spent the last few months struggling to adjust to life in the Army, to mastering my Squad Automatic Weapon, to memorizing how to safely cauterize a wound and give a saline IV, or how to tie a tourniquet around a lacerated vein. When the weekends finally came and we were released from duty, I typically wandered around the cobblestone streets, unable to speak the language and usually too drunk to even make an attempt. Thus, there was no chance to meet real women, let alone get involved in some sort of lengthy courtship, only to have the same truncated by a tearful goodbye as I left her on the runway at Ramstein Airbase and walked into the mouth of a C-17 Hercules, flying off to Iraq…

I finished my drink and struggled against my thoughts. There was a steamy hiss and then a mechanical clang as the doors of the train opened. I stepped out into the Hauptbahnhof, a massive secular cathedral built in honor of Deutschland’s true religion, punctuality.

I ignored the Turks selling hash, sidestepped a verminous claque of cooing pigeons. An African couple pushed a stroller and walked mutely past me. Love…the word came unbidden. It was a sham. I had quickly learned that no marriage truly survived the Army. I had one friend whose wife worked at the bank branch on-base. She was in charge of their joint account, and while he had been on an 18-month deployment to Afghanistan, she had burnt through roughly $20,000 of his money on Amazon.com and Ebay. Love…Another buddy was so paranoid about his wife sleeping with other men that he had come home one evening, and due to some miscommunication had electrocuted his cable guy with a stun gun, shocking the poor bastard with several-thousand volts because he thought the man was screwing his wife.

As for the rest of my friends, they were not loyal enough to even be paranoid. They called themselves “geographical bachelors,” and they had long ago resigned themselves to the fact that their wives might cheat on them, and so they usually felt obligated to cheat first. Naturally, the ring came off of the finger every weekend.

I walked down Goethe Strasse, toward the neon tenderloin already glutted with tourists, drug dealers, and perverts. Clearly paying a whore for sex was more pragmatic than gambling on something as shifty and deceptive as love. I had never been with a prostitute before, but I was curious. Money for sex: so simple, and ancient.

Steam leaked from the wet sewers nestled among the cobblestones. The fetid air wafted up toward the glass fronts of the Shisha shops, and mixed with the smell of heavily-spiced Turkish schwarma meat. There were several houses of ill-repute on either side of the street. I walked up to the nearest one, an old Hussar-style building with mansard folds on the roof. Cars honked in the middle of the street, protesting the standstill traffic. And then, as I stepped inside, all became quiet.

The smell of pine-scented floor treatment filled my lungs. The light was a low-wattage maroon, making all of the shapes dark as my eyes struggled to adjust. Men poured past me on the narrow staircase as I struggled upward. The smell of cigarettes, body odor, and talcum powder comingled and formed the unmistakable musk of sex. I came to the first floor, where several doors on either end of the room were open and women stood, waiting. Muffled groans came from behind the closed doors.

Directly in front of me sat a woman in a latex corset with a mesh body-stocking underneath. Her hair was dyed black and her skin was pale. She held a riding crop in her hand which terminated in a cat-o-nine tails. Next to her was a sandwich board which listed the various services she offered: Lights discipline-Heavy discipline-Spanking. I had already gotten my fill of corporal punishment in the Army. I kept it moving, and men continued to walk around me. They stared at the women, who continued about their daily chores with studied indifference, as if they were a school of goldfish that had grown used to being watched while they swam in their tank.  

Near the end of the hall, I saw a woman who piqued my interest. Her features were cold, distinctly eastern European. Her eyes were a wolfish, gelid blue and her expression was sullen. Something about her reminded me of an old girlfriend, from a past life before the Army had gotten hold of me and filled my head with thoughts of war.

“Wie viele?” I asked.

“Funfzig Euro,” she said.

I pulled out the bill and handed it to her. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was supposed to haggle, but I had no intention of doing so. It was certainly worth fifty Euro to bury my face in that hair, pant into the nautilus of her ear until I came, remembering for a drunken, sweaty hour that I was once a teenager and that I had been in love.

We walked into the room and she closed the door. The lights were already dim and I could see the balcony across the street, where a naked prostitute smoked a cigarette and stared down into the slum below us. There was a sound to my left, a light splashing. I turned to look and saw that the uncanny doppelgänger of my high-school girlfriend was already naked, and with one leg perched on the edge of the porcelain, she had begun to urinate into the sink.

I watched her until she finished, remarking to myself that Germany and America were two remarkably different nations. She finished up and went over to the bed, which could more properly have been called a mattress. She lay down, splayed in a glorious pose fit for a charcoal study. I began undressing, becoming increasingly self-conscious as I took off each undergarment, realizing that she held the advantage because she was already naked and scrutinizing me. It felt like I was stripping for her edification, and we both repressed a momentary smile.

I kicked off the rest of my clothes and headed over to the bed. She deftly worked a condom over my penis and we began. She was responsive, and warm, but I knew it would be some kind of sick betrayal to attempt to make genuine love to her. I pumped away, rubbing my nose into her hair and trying to recall that girl in high-school, chasing that sensation I knew I would never feel again, the one I had no right to anymore. She was as tight as a pharmaceutical bottle and I had to suppress a laugh, thinking that many a woman who would brand her with a scarlet letter had probably seen more action, and with less to show for it.

I came in short order and rolled off of her. She handed me a washcloth and I rubbed myself down. Voices from the hallway came to us now, a muttered babble of Turkish interspersed with German. She handed me a cigarette and lit it for me. I took a drag. Gauloises, Blonde. I had discovered them back in Darmstadt. In Germany there were still cigarette vending machines all over the place.

She smoked her own cigarette and tapped the mattress. “Good bed,” she said.

“Yeah…”

I wondered what her story was. Had she been impressed into this life, kidnapped by a Bulgarian Mafioso who sold girls to some sadistic pimp? I tried not to think of it, whatever kind of transaction it was that I had been complicit in, and what percentage of my soul it may have cost me to lay there with her on the mattress for five minutes. No matter how bad it was, I mused, it still wasn’t as horrific as marriage.

I suddenly stood up and went over to my pants. I dug into the pockets and came up with a ten Euro note. I gave it to her. Her eyes widened momentarily, and then she kissed me on the cheek. “Danke Schon.”

“Bitte schon.”  I said.

Then I dressed and got out of there. A week later I was already in Iraq.

Out now: Escape from Mondo Tiki Island: A Two-Fisted South Seas Adventure, by John Sheppard

Escape_from_Mondo_Ti_Cover_for_KindlejpgWho will survive the wrath of the VENGEFUL ISLAND GOD when he vents his rage in a riptide of LAVA-FILLED HATE that only death can assuage?

We’re proud to announce the latest from John Sheppard: Escape from Mondo Tiki Island: A Two-Fisted South Seas Adventure!

Escape from Mondo Tiki Island is a fast-moving, good-humored adventure tale filled with oddball twists and turns, taking place at the dawn of the Cold War on a tiny island in the South Pacific. The book features bombastic bad guys, beautiful island girls and a bewildered hero — and a host of near-fatal encounters with cybernetic chimps, a submarine, mad scientists and an exploding volcano — all set in a delightfully demented exotic locale. Welcome to the untold story of Russ Russo, a Yank sea ROUGHNECK! A LUNATIC has taken control of the raft… SEE WHO SURVIVES four days of SUN-SCORCHED TERROR! Learn the revealing truth about the half-savage daughters of the CHICAGO OUTFIT! See what happens when DESPERATE ISLAND MEN attempt to defile them! Who can defeat the CASTAWAY NAZI and his JAPANESE HENCHMEN? Blood flows like wine in the SHIP OF THE DAMNED where mad French scientists unleash their LOVE-STARVED APES in an orgy of gore! Forty-eight corpses… ONE HILL! Meet the Navy’s DEADLIEST frogmen who suckered a COMMIE PLATOON! Who will survive the wrath of the VENGEFUL ISLAND GOD when he vents his rage in a riptide of LAVA-FILLED HATE that only death can assuage?

Check it out now!

Why I don’t bow before Blood Meridian By Joseph Hirsch

I was recently invited to read at a “Noir at the Bar” event at the Meshuggah Café, in Saint Louis. The reading was hosted and arranged by Jed Ayres, the crime writer, and fellow readers included Scott Phillips, author of The Ice Harvest, which was adapted by Harold Ramis into a film of the same name, starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

Being as this was my first time reading one of my books in public, before a crowd, I was quite anxious. I felt that I did reasonably well in my performance (selecting a chapter from one of my earlier, hardboiled crime novels, Rolling Country). After each of the invited writers had read, many books were signed and sold, and then our select group adjourned to the rooftop bar of the Moonrise Hotel, where I was staying during the course of my short visit to Saint Louis.

We discussed many topics that night, but mostly we talked about books, since writing them was our métier. Eventually, during the course of the evening, the subject turned to Cormac McCarthy’s blood-soaked Western magnum opus, Blood Meridian.  For readers not familiar with the work, scholar Dana Phillips offers a more than adequate summary in the opening passages of his study, History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:

“[Blood Meridian] is only very loosely centered around the character identified to the reader simply as ‘the kid’. Its opening pages offer a summary of the kid’s early life in the Tennessee hills, his flight to Texas in 1848, and his recruitment by a troop of filibusters, most of whom are slaughtered by a force of Comanche as their expedition makes its way into Mexico. The kid then joins up with Captain John Joel Glanton’s band of scalp hunters, who have a contract to provide the Mexicans with the hair of Apache raiders preying on isolated borderland villages and towns. Glanton and his men begin their own bloody campaign of depredations, which lasts for a year or two and several hundred pages. The kid is one of the few survivors of this campaign. The last chapters of the novel offer a compressed account of the final twenty-eight years of his life of wandering, and of his eventual death in an outhouse at the hands of his old comrade-in-arms, the seven-foot tall three-hundred pound hairless albino Judge Holden, a man of incredible savagery and great intellectual facility.” (Evans, 433-434)

Although generally ignored by critics, and selling in unimpressive numbers upon initial publication, the book has gone on to become something of a cause celebre in recent years. Part of the obsessive attention the book draws has something to do with the various interpretations suggested by the text. Phillips hints at the unwieldy, impossible-to-categorize nature of the book in the aforementioned essay:

Blood Meridian is a very complicated book-although complication is not a quality often associated with the label Western…[R]eviewers attempting to map this novel’s outlandish aesthetic and moral territories resorted to striking but desperate oppositions. To them, the novel seemed a blend of Hieronymus Bosch and Sam Peckinpah; of Salvador Dali, Shakespeare, and the Bible; of Faulkner and Fellini; of Gustave Dore, Louis L ‘Amour, Dante, and Goya; of cowboys and nothingness; of Texas and Vietnam.” (434)

My own personal feelings about Blood Meridian are a bit more prosaic: I find the novel to be a pretentious, nearly-unreadable pastiche hybrid of every writer from Ernest Hemingway, to H.P. Lovecraft, to Norman Mailer. I concede this statement is harsh, and would thus like to qualify it by adding two caveats, the first being that I consider Cormac McCarthy to be far superior to me as a writer, and that, secondly, while I find Blood Meridian to be a grim, impenetrable slog, I have enjoyed some of Mr. McCarthy’s other books (including No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses) immensely.

It must also be said that, regardless of what one thinks of the man’s writing, McCarthy belongs to a small corpus of postmodern stylists who have eschewed all of the blandishments of fame, shunning the limelight and remaining publicly indifferent to all the encomiums showered on his work. On the continuum where authors can be plotted, from the most reclusive to the most shamelessly fame-mongering, Cormac McCarthy could perhaps best be contextually situated somewhere between J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon (the latter of whom did actually lent his voice to an episode of The Simpsons, something it would be unfathomable to imagine McCarthy doing). According to Dana Phillips:

“Throughout most of his career, which began in the mid-1960s, McCarthy had worked and published in obscurity. Promotional campaigns meant little to him; he refused the interviews, personal appearances, and academic sinecures that might have made his name more widely known sooner. And for many years his readership was limited to a small group of admirers mostly from the South.” (433)

Decorum alone, however, cannot excuse the stylistic excesses and abysmal lack of narrative fluidity that, in my opinion, comprise the bulk of Blood Meridian. The author Charles Portis, something of a recluse in his own right, not only ignores the praise heaped on him and his work, but the Arkansan also wrote what I consider to be a far superior Western, True Grit (adapted for the screen twice, first in a film starring John Wayne, and then in a later, more faithful adaptation, filmed by the Coen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges).

Several of my fellow scribes at the rooftop bar that night took umbrage at my strong opinion of Blood Meridian. One, Jed Ayres (author of Fierce Bitches and Peckerwood), arched and eyebrow and said, “You don’t like epics, huh?”

I shook my head. The epic nature of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is not what I find risible about the book. In point of fact, I love epics, and, though the genre is most often associated with works of antiquity, I count at least two modern novels as epics, and number them among my ten all-time favorite reads, the first being Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and the latter of the two being Mitchell Smith’s Stone City.

In To Disenchant and Disintoxicate (sic): Blood Meridian as critical Epic, author Justin Evans categorizes Blood Meridian as an epic, but qualifies this statement by adding that McCarthy subjects (and perhaps subverts) the genre, by giving it the postmodern treatment:

“By analogy with critical theory, we can read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) as a ‘critical epic.’ It tries to make this most traditional literary form into a self-reflexive and self-critical but idealistic agent, one that respects the ideals of traditional literary forms but radicalizes them in order to criticize modern societies… [s]ince the epic has often been tied to the affirmation of social norms.” (405)

The extreme violence of the book, many have argued, is meant to be read as an allegory or metaphor for every Occidental form of violent dominance and subjugation (often with racist undertones or outright xenophobic justifications), from imperialism to Manifest Destiny, to, as previously mentioned by scholar Dana Phillips, American intervention in Vietnam.

The violence of the book is one of my central objections to Blood Meridian, though not because the gore serves as an allegory, criticizing the bloodshed inherent in the maintenance of Western hegemonic supremacy in global affairs. My problem with the violence is that its cumulative effect is to first inure the reader, and then ultimately to bore them, numbing them with the fugue-like repetition of descriptive passages detailing scalpings, hangings, and eviscerations, one after another. Much like Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho or Marquis De Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinism, the horror is not delivered with the irregularity that gives a suspenseful tale of terror its power to shock. The book is just a narratively slack catalogue of abuses.

According to James Dorson, in his article Demystifying the Judge: Law and Mythical Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:  “Since its publication in 1985, the extreme scenes of violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian have posed a central problem for critics.” (105). Dorson argues (or rationalizes) the violence not by “…either historicizing it in the context of American imperialism, or by naturalizing it as part and parcel of the human condition…” (IBID), but rather “[t]hrough a reading of Judge Holden’s character as a figure of the law… propos[ing] instead to read its violence as the result of a metaphysical yearning for meaning to brace us against the fear of the unknown.” (IBID)

The problem with the character of the Judge, though (the main antagonist in this fatalist epic) is that while he may be, for Dorson, a symbol for “a metaphysical yearning for meaning to brace us against the fear of the unknown,” he is not believable as a character; he is merely a cipher for the philosophical pontification that Dorson mistakes for profound meaning. Characters can work as symbols, but they must first stand inspection as flesh and blood creatures, as did, for instance Captain Ahab or Mr. Kurtz, in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, respectively. Both men are violent, and arguably mad, but the creators of Ahab and Kurtz ably show, through slowly unfurling, revelatory passages, how these men arrived at their barbarized states.

Dorson, meanwhile, undercuts his own argument and inadvertently bolsters mine, when he writes, “There is no ‘atavistic egg,’ neither divine nor secular, that can explain or legitimate [the Judge’s] existence. There is no ground to base his rule upon, just ‘the shore of a void’ (111) from which all of his unfathomable malice arises.” (160) The Judge is about as real and complex as the villain in a slasher movie aimed at a teenage audience, although McCarthy is talented enough to cloak his character’s deficiencies in a literary patina that might distract the reader from realizing the Judge is not the creation of the 19th century’s bloody, Westward expansion, but is a boogeyman, created ex nihilo for the sole purpose of killing, like the numerous “baddies” Jason, Freddy, etc., who populate the exploitation genre once derisively referred to as “dead teenager movies.”

Dorson even echoes my sentiments on the subject of the more general violence of the novel, rather than that specific to the judge: “The sheer accumulation of atrocities and their matter-of-fact representation, characteristic of the novel, tend to break down any semblance of plot and make it difficult for readers to cognitively process the violence.” (IBID)

My own writing is quite violent. My latest novel, for instance, the Western, The Dove and the Crow, has already drawn mixed reviews from readers due to its gore and brutality. My previous published Western, Orphan Elixir, has also elicited revulsion in a number of people who have read the work, and have registered their disgust at various critical outlets, like Amazon.com and Goodreads. In defense of my own works, though, I should say that the violence in Orphan Elixir or The Dove and the Crow is leavened with humor and scenes of general tranquility. Blood Meridian, on the other hand, bludgeons the reader with redundant orgies of sadism, a cheerless litany that makes the book a chore to read.

The violence, which I have discussed at length, is not the only aspect of the novel that is desensitizing and renders the book virtually unreadable. It is, at a fundamental level, poorly written, in punishingly tumescent prose that alternates between the baroque and a kind of tone-deaf, affectless turgidity. The book is afflicted with what, after having encountered it many times in print, I have uncharitably dubbed “And-itus” (sic), a kind of writing in which a seemingly numberless stack of coordinating conjunctions denature the prose of any sort of rhythm or cadence. Here is a sample, quoted by Dorson:

“…riding down the unhorsed Saxons and spearing and clubbing them […] and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows.” (IBID)

I lost count of the number of times the word “and” was used in the above passage, but the diligent (or obsessive-compulsively inclined) reader is welcome to do the tally. McCarthy’s prose, spellbinding when he’s in rare form (as in his post-apocalyptic novel, The Road), can be quite a thing to behold. In the case of Blood Meridian, though, the writing recalls Truman Capote’s pithy (but perhaps apocryphal) assessment of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “That’s not writing; that’s typing.” Kerouac, at least, had the twin excuses of attempting to create a literary style akin to jazz music, and the effects of an amphetamine bender, to absolve him of his redundancies. McCarthy has fewer excuses.

The only plausible apologia for this kind of excess is offered by the previously-quoted Justin Evans, who, sees such language as innate to the “formal devices of the epic” (406), a parataxis, “…the yoking together of words or phrases or even sentences by simple conjunctions like ‘and,’ rather than the use of subordinate clauses.” (IBID). It is little wonder, then, that the book has drawn comparison not only to the epics of Greek antiquity, but also to the Bible, which, regardless of one’s faith or which translation they prefer, does become quite soporific, especially in its recounting of who begat whom; replace the word “begat” with “scalped,” however, and it becomes even easier to understand why Blood Meridian and the Bible might deserve space on the same shelf.

When McCarthy isn’t stringing coordinating conjunctions together like a washerwoman hanging up laundry on a clothesline, he seems to be doing a pastiche of H.P. Lovecraft at his most misanthropically byzantine and eldritch. Dorson highlights this nearly-saurian stylistic tic in his essay, by singling out the following passage, which serves our purpose here nicely: “In that sleep and in sleeps to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of any ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.” (310)

This sort of writing can be effective in small doses, as in the case of Lovecraft’s short stories. Over the course of a novel of epic length, however, attempting to decipher the meaning of McCarthy’s words merely becomes a psychic endurance test. Along with Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, I read Blood Meridian cover to cover, not because I enjoyed it, but because I hated it, and felt that by finishing the book I was somehow defeating an unseen, unfathomably alien intelligence that had lured me into a masochistic test of wills, from which I could only emerge victorious after reading my way through the gauntlet of senseless words laid across the page.

The hands on the clock seemed to draw to a standstill as I read the book, as “time [was] often slowed down to a repetitive and homogenous grind, where the action seem[ed] frozen into a gaudy fresco of massacres and mutilation.” (Dorson, 110)

And now, having read the book and written of it, I hope to never speak of it again. I will say, though, that in spite of my genuine loathing for Blood Meridian, I was somewhat excited to learn that it was being considered for film adaptation by two men, first Ridley Scott, and then later by Andrew Dominik. Both men eventually dropped out of the project for different reasons, Scott to pursue a then-unspecified project, and Andrew Dominik to helm an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about the ill-fated starlet Marilyn Monroe, Blonde, tentatively scheduled for a 2016 release and starring the lovely Naomi Watts, of Mulholland Drive fame.

How, the reader may wonder, after this scathing essay, could I be looking forward to a film adaptation of a book I despise? The answer is simple: My issue lies with the prose of McCarthy’s work, which, when converted into visual poetry (preferably by Aussie Andrew Dominik, who helmed the masterful adaptation of Ron Hansen’s Western, The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) might become a thing entirely separate from, and wholly superior to, the novel that serves as its source material.

It has been said that mediocre books make great films, and both Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, based respectively on inferior works by Peter Benchley and Mario Puzzo, lend more than a modicum of credence to this theory. It is, then, perhaps more than plausible that a great film can be salvaged from the wreckage of Cormac McCarthy’s bloated Western.

I would like to close this essay by saying that, despite the sometimes snarky, sometimes exasperated tone of this work, I by no means meant the assessment in the sulfurous spirit of, for instance, Mark Twain’s condemnation of James Fenimore Cooper’s writing, Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses. When Twain vented his spleen (with, it should be added, a satiric scalpel far finer than mine), he meant to encompass the whole corpus of Cooper’s body of work. I, on the other hand, can only reiterate that, with the exception of Blood Meridian, I have enjoyed most of what I’ve read by McCarthy, that I consider him to be a far superior writer to me, and that, long after the three Westerns I’ve written have faded into the ether of memory, or sit stored and cached on some seldom-frequented server at the corner of the internet, people will be still talking about Blood Meridian, and Cormac McCarthy.

Sources:

Dorson, James. Demystifying the Judge: Law and Mythical Violence in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 36, Aesthetic Politics-Revolutionary and Counter-Revolutionary (Winter 2013), pp. 105-121. Indiana University Press. Print.

Evans, Justin. To Disenchant and Disintoxicate (sic): Blood Meridian as Critical Epic. Modern Philology, Vol. 112, No. 2 (November 2014), pp. 405-426. University of Chicago Press. Print.

Phillips, Dana. History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. American Literature, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 433-460. Duke University Press. Print.

Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow, a weird western.

Get Bent by Joseph Hirsch

I like “genre-bending,” as Rory Costello once called what I do. Sometimes I get carried away with myself and piss readers off with my experimentation. My novel Kentucky Bestiary (available from Paragraph Line, buy ten copies now, thank you) was, much like the alter-ego of scribe John Fante “neither fish nor fowl.” The first half of the book was a police procedural, while the second half was a supernatural horror story.

There are at least two “three-star” reviews on Amazon for Kentucky Bestiary. A three-star review, according to the Great Satan Jeff Bezos, means the readers thought the book was just okay, not good. One of the readers said, in essence, “Hirsch was on a roll with the police procedural, but all of a sudden the story dovetailed into this absurd horror and fantasy yarn.” Another three-star reviewer said, basically, “The first half of the book was so boring, and was just another humdrum cop yarn. But the second half, the horror half, was great.”

The comedian Mitch Hedberg (RIP) once said, “You can’t please everybody. And last night, all of those people were at my show.” I guess you could say that, as a writer, I can’t please everybody, and all those people read Kentucky Bestiary. But I wrote it, and I like it, and whether it is selfish of me to say this or not, I feel like that is all a writer need say to feel (s)he accomplished his/her goals.

Melville and Fitzgerald died believing themselves to be mediocrities. Their books get a lot of “five-star” reviews these days, but if Amazon existed in the American Renaissance or Roaring Twenties period, I’ll bet you Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby would not have been treated as classics, but as puzzling failures.

Not that I’m comparing myself to either one of those men. The bottom line is that I will have to be dead for fifty years or so before I get to find out whether or not I’m worth a shit as a writer, at least as far as history is concerned.

Editor’s note: Joseph Hirsch is the author of The Dove and the Crow.

Coming soon from Paragraph Line Books

dove and crow cover

Coming Soon, from Paragraph Line Books, The Dove and the Crow… a new novel by Joseph Hirsch…

Meet the Crow: He’s been around for hundreds of years. He took scalps in the time of Cortez and Columbus. He skins men and makes rugs of their hides, lassos of their intestines. Right now he’s angry, and out for blood.

Meet the Dove: Matina’s a whore at the Maison de Joie, with more mojo than you can shake a stick at. It’s been said that, with just one bat of her eyelashes, she can turn pennyroyal tea into tincture of opium. 

Meet the Tracker: Dognose Jones, the adopted son of a Cherokee medicine man, has a special gift. He can smell his prey like a bloodhound scenting its chase. 

Welcome to the Wild, Weird West.

New book out

Our latest title, After the Jump, has emerged from the womb, covered over in a goopy coating of literary afterbirth. If you like books… this is definitely a book.* It has a cover and words and everything. Perhaps you should tell your friends, (if you have any). (Loser.)

41gSEZ-wP7L

 

*Your results may vary. Any rights under this plan shall commence procedures to the shares of the year following governed by giving consent of their satisfaction that one (1) A portion of effecting, or affairs, a Participant, may amend, alter or both parties, that period. (2) The Courts in the business on such Holder is an election under this Agreement may provide that the form of cancellation, however, nothing in this plan or retailers for Invalidity. (3) The Detachable Date, upon surrender for such Holder as instructed by the Stock already owned or more warrants alone upon the case may elect to make any Participant.

Your Doom Amuses Me

“Come on, CNN! Bring me there!” Elroy said, flipping to channel 742, CNN-Plus-Plus, which was entirely devoted to plague and pestilence. The week before had been Bubonic Plague Week, which was approximately ten times better than Shark Week. The old tube TV glowed and hummed. It was ever-so-slightly too green and he couldn’t seem to fix it, no matter how much swearing and slapping he applied to the problem.

Beside him, on the TV tray, was Allow Me to Cough Gently Into My Closed Fist: Selected Emails by Jonathan Franzen, a book created by Franzen’s Internet provider out of confidential emails he’d sent to his closest friends, other writers, and his editor, mostly trashing his closest friends, other writers, his editor, and his Internet service provider. Michiko Kakutani from the New York Times called the book, “…a triumph!” and “a cautionary example for all of us who blindly click on ‘I agree’ when installing software.”

He sat on an overstuffed, plaid-cloth Sears Barcalounger left over from his bachelor days. It reeked of spilled beer and piss from that time he fell asleep in it and his old college roommate–a business major who’d answered an ad on Craigslist for a quiet, studious student (he was none of those things)–stuck Elroy’s hand in a bucket of ice water. He woke up to drenched pants, a wet hand and a shirtless group of post-pubescent boys wearing tighty-whities on their heads and making devil’s horns with their hands, tongues lolling out joyously. “Got you, motherfucker! Got you!” No amount of cleaner could get the smell out, so his favorite chair was consigned to the basement after his marriage.

“Elroy! Your supper’s getting cold!” Liddy shouted from upstairs. Didn’t she realize that basement time was sacrosanct? That the annoyances of the day should remain upstairs? “Supper”! Who still said “supper” anyway? When would they ever have sex again? he wondered. It was up to her. Why was it at her discretion? She caught him jerking off in the shower the day before and wept in front of him, leaving the shower door open so he could witness all her despair over the state she’d placed him in.

“You’re not even thinking of me, are you?” she gurgled through all the tears.

The sad fact of the matter was that he was imagining Discovery iD correspondent Tamron Hall wearing a leather bustier, cracking a whip, in stiletto heels, hollering, “I know what you’ve been up to in your basement! Our cameras were on the scene!”

CNN-Plus-Plus did not disappoint. Somewhere in the third world, some brown people were vomiting up their own entrails, crying tears of blood, some yellowish stuff oozing from their foreheads. This was new. This was definitely new. Elroy sat up involuntarily, in a position that was sure to give him a slight backache later on. Somewhere in his subconscious mind he knew this, but he was mesmerized by all the wonderful death on screen.

The florescent tube above his head flickered and emitted a strange hum. Without taking his eyes off the screen… actual dead people, stacked in a pyre, kerosene was being applied… he picked up a broomstick next to his chair and used it to poke the light box overhead, which temporarily stopped the hum. He’d fix the thing one of these days. It was on a list that Liddy kept upstairs, tacked to the refrigerator with a magnet she’d bought at that tacky resort they’d stayed in during their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. The best part of the holiday was walking along the chain link fence at the edge of the resort where the ragged children begged for food and change, pustulating boils raised on their limbs and faces, wearing t-shirts for championships that never happened.

“It’s going to get cold!” she shouted from the top of the stairs. Ugh. It was like having another boss. His boss at work kept catching him on his Samsung Galaxy looking at MassMurderWatch.com, his favorite news aggregator. He couldn’t work all the time, could he? Jesus H. Christ! His boss would give him this whole tsk, tsk business, how he should only look at that shit during designated break times. Fifteen minutes every two hours, and forty-five minutes for lunch, was hardly enough time to enjoy anything like a break, especially when he had to come home to Liddy, who was doing some sort of nesting bullshit now that she was preggers.

He thought about having to deal with the fucking kid once the little bundle of joy popped out of Liddy’s uterus. It was a girl, too, (thanks ultrasound, you killer of surprises!) so his daughter probably wouldn’t want to watch The Government Is Hiding Serial Killers in Secret Labs in Abandoned West Virginia Coal Mines with her old man. Of course not.

Elroy often contemplated his misery. The wallowing felt good in its way.

“Elroy!”

“In a minute!” he shouted. He turned back to the screen. The pile of bodies was on fire. He’d missed the moment of the lighting. Fuck! And no DVR down here in the funky basement either, so he couldn’t go back ten seconds to see the flames’ initial bursting upon the disease-ravaged carcasses. Goddamn, his life!

The light box buzzed again. For the millionth time, he bashed it with the broomstick, this time more violently than ever before. The broomstick smashed the tube and crystal particles rained down upon him. It was lovely. But he wasn’t alive to appreciate it. The broomstick jammed in the socket once occupied by the tube and an electrical pulse ran down through it into his body, electrocuting him and setting the old cloth Barcalounger ablaze, the cleaning chemicals saturating the cloth turning the fire as hot as a kiln. Poof!

From behind the washer/dryer combo, the ghost of Rod Serling appeared. “I love irony,” the black-and-white apparition said. “Consider this… a man… ah, fuck it.” He lit a Pall Mall using the flames off Elroy’s burning corpse, and then warmed his transparent hands over the body. It was cold being dead. Cold and lonely.

The tiny wisp of soul that Elroy’s body once contained flew up and away like a bottle rocket, off to haunt Tamron Hall.

In the years that followed, Elroy’s death was written about extensively in The Journal of Spontaneous Human Combustion.

Liddy remarried a few years later. And their girl didn’t turn out to be a jerk. Liddy was finally happy. So this story has a happy ending, right? Right.

Big Fat Hands of Iron

On a glorious American morning, Goobly Gorbus strolled through the park admiring the dew sparkling on the flowers. His hands were jammed into his hip pockets. He walked with the careless arrogance of one well pleased with himself. He’d written an especially inflammatory poem the night before excoriating the government’s policies in Latin America. It was so hard to find a rhyme for “Nicaragua,” but he’d overcome that hurdle with the phrase “mal agua.” He thought that was surpassingly clever. He breathed deeply of the soft morning air and strolled casually and more than just a bit elegantly, he thought, around the corner toward the duck pond. Perhaps he’d find some inspiration there. Something in the way the ducks squawked and quacked reminded him of Congressmen debating a bill.

He was so lost in a daydream of the furor his poem would raise once it was published in his personal zine that he nearly walked into The Man, also strolling through the park.

The Man nodded. “Gorbus,” he said. “Good morning.”

Goobly nodded. He loathed The Man. Best not waste any words on the likes of him, he thought.

The corners of The Man’s eyes crinkled. “Feeling a bit haughty this morning?” He laughed. “That’s okay. I know you dislike me, but I don’t care.”

Goobly rolled his eyes and The Man laughed again. “I don’t care that you don’t like me,” The Man said, “but it’s important to me that you know I don’t care.” He regarded Goobly through lidded eyes. “What do you think of that?”

Goobly snorted. “What do I think? I’ll show you what I think.” He spun on his heels rather gracefully, even though he stumbled a bit, and dropped his pants. He aimed his pale buttocks at The Man and loosed a shrill, wavering, tooting fart. “Ha!” he shouted, pulling up his britches. “That’s what I think.” He folded his arms over his chest and regarded The Man.

The Man hooted. “You’re such a tease.” He stuck the tip of his thumb into his mouth. His eyes bulged and his cheeks puffed. Just as his face began to purple, his entire body burst inside out with a horrible wet plop and everted into a gigantic pulsating veiny wet and dripping rectum.

Gorbus grimaced. “That’s disgusting!” he cried.

“Oh, now,” The Man said. “Don’t be a ninny.” His face was embedded within the slick side of his rectal wall. “I’m merely embodying the natural state of our society.”

Goobly rolled his eyes. “So now you’re symbolic, is that it?”

The Man’s eyes widened in sincerity. “Exactly,” he said. “Thank you for pointing that out. You see–”

“Oh, look!” a child’s voice cried. “A slippery slide!”

Several more children’s voices cried out.

“Yeah!”

“Cool!”

“Neato!”

Multicolored carnival lights suddenly appeared on The Man’s body, chasing each other over the curves and folds of his monstrously distended rectum. A cheerful organ tune burbled and bubbled. The enticing smell of popcorn and elephant ears and corn dogs filled the breeze. The lights and the music and the warm scents hypnotized Goobly for just a moment. The Man looked just like a carnival ride, even though in reality he looked nothing like a carnival ride.

“Come on, kids!” The Man shouted in a carnival barker’s voice. “Brave the slippery slide! Do you have what it takes? Thrills, chills, and spills await you if only you have the nerve!”

They came from all over the park. Some were running, but most of them just waddled. “That’s so sad,” The Man said, breaking the carnival illusion in Goobly’s eyes. “They have great hand-eye coordination from playing their video games for hours every day, but their asses are all double wide.”

Goobly watched the children converge on The Man. Red-faced and puffing, they lurched and waddled, heaved and gasped. Their double chins wagged, their bellies sagged, and each child’s four cheeks jiggled like mounds of jello. “Hey,” Goobly called.     “What are you–”

“Ssshhh…” The Man breathed. “Suffer the little children to come to me.”

A boy appeared atop The Man. From Goobly’s perspective, the boy appeared to rise over The Man’s bulk like a bloated moon over a landfill. He might have been beautiful in another life–corn silk hair, pale blue eyes, full red lips–but in this life he was a swollen little troll, a grotesque avatar of sloth, gluttony, greed, and the ready availability of processed foods. His wheezing gasps bellowsed. He tottered above The Man grinning triumphantly, then dove headfirst into the horrible gaping fundament.

“Hey, wait!” Goobly cried to no avail.

Shrieking and giggling, the children clambered over The Man’s slick wet rectum to explore the gaping orifice at its top. “Get down from there!” Goobly yelled. “That’s disgusting! Get out of there!”

“Shut up, loser,” said a fat little girl. Mucous, blood, and feces smeared her face. She reached inside the sphincter, grabbed a polyp, and pulled herself inside.

“Yeah, loser,” The Man chuckled. “Don’t interfere with things you don’t understand.”

In a crescendo of delighted shrieks, the mass of children disappeared into The Man’s lower descending colon. His eyelids fluttered in pleasure. “Aaahhh…” he breathed. “Young American innocence tastes so sweet.”

“Unbelievable!” Goobly shouted. He clasped his hands to his head. “Those kids climbed inside you! They’re up your ass!”

The Man laughed. “Of course they’re up my ass. How else will they be changed?” Peristaltic contractions rippled up and down his abdominal wall. A few miserable screams sounded from deep in his belly. “Not to worry,” he said. “Of course, we lose some in the process, but we think the sacrifice is worth it.”

Goobly fell back a step, holding his hands up as if to defend himself. “This is crazy,” he said. “You’re a monster.”

The Man shook his head. “You’d better get with the program, Gorbus. I’m the bedrock of society. I do the hard jobs no one else has the, um, intestinal fortitude to do.” He tittered. “Why, I’m all that stands between you and despair. If not for me, then we’d be overrun by the likes of you, and then what?”

Goobly stepped forward, his index finger raised to make a point, but then a grasping hand popped out from The Man’s mouth and clutched at his chin. The cords in its forearms stretched and strained. Goobly saw a face in the darkness at the back of The Man’s throat. The face grimaced desperately as the hand clutched and pulled at The Man’s chin, trying to heave its way free from The Man’s gullet. The Man closed his mouth and swallowed mightily. A huge lump disappeared with a despairing scream down The Man’s throat.

“A few of them always try to buck the system,” he said with an indulgent smile, “but resistance is futile.”

“You stole that line!” Goobly shouted, pointing a shaking finger in The Man’s face.

The Man swatted Goobly’s finger away and chuckled. “No,” he said. “I wrote that line. I’m like God. All things serve me and I move in mysterious ways.”

The great purple lump of The Man’s everted rectum quivered and burped and spewed a frothy fountain of blood. Goobly leaped back with a cry. “What was that?” he demanded, his shaking voice thin and shrill.

The Man shrugged. “Just as a few of them always try to buck the system, a few of them are inevitably swallowed by the system, never to be seen again.” A single tear tracked slowly down his cheek. He wiped it away and studied the tear glistening on his forefinger for a moment. Then he flicked it away. “They’re weak,” he said, “not fit to participate in our grand experiment.” He dropped into a crouch and shuffled sideways pumping his arms. “Ya gotta break a few eggs,” he rasped, then spun around and shuffled back toward Goobly. “If you want to make a good omelet.” He snapped upright and grinned. “Hot cha cha cha!” Blood dripped from his rectum and pattered across his face. He rubbed it into his cheeks and grinned. “Keeps me lookin’ young,” he beamed.

A grasping hand popped out from his distended anus and groped for purchase. Slowly a shoulder emerged and then a head heaved forth. The child pulled himself from The Man’s rectum and slid to the ground. He wiped grue from his eyes and blinked rapidly. His sides bellowsed a few times as he caught his breath. He stepped forward and extended his hand. “Thank you, sir,” he said, soberly shaking The Man’s hand. “You’ve made a man of me.” He turned and marched off.

“Where’s he going?” Goobly asked.

“The Man smiled tenderly. “Oh, to be that young again,” he said. “He’s going boldly forth into the corporate world to occupy an uncomfortable chair in a vast cubicle farm. He’ll make a fantastic cog in a great corporate machine. Give me half a million of these obedient little robots and the profits will soar. Oh…” He choked up a bit. He smiled and cleared his throat. “It makes me feel ever so patriotic.”

He farted, a long, low blast that resonated deep in the bass register and sounded rather painful. His face reddened. “Please do excuse me,” he said. “You’re about to witness a paradigm shift.”

The children climbed out from his pulsing rectum. Singly at first, then in small groups, and finally in a great flood they emerged blinking from The Man’s bowels, wiping the sticky residue of his last meal from their eyes and digging the foul offal from their ears. Goobly heard their chatter. “Finally,” one fresh-faced young girl said to her mates, “I can see. What’s good for The Man is good for me.”

Her companions giggled. “That would make a great advertising jingle,” exclaimed a young man with a sweater draped casually over his shoulders.

The fresh-faced girl laughed. “So it would,” she agreed. They all laughed and linked arms and marched away.

The last of the children disappeared down the street. The Man’s everted rectum shrunk and shriveled and disappeared into his nether regions where it belonged. He stood, arms folded across his chest, beaming happily. “There they go,” he said, “the followers of tomorrow. May God bless them.” He turned to Goobly. “So,” he said, frowning. “What about you? What’s your story? How did I fail to catch you?”

Goobly backed away. “Oh, no no no,” he said. “I’m not crawling up your ass. I don’t want to be like them.”

The Man shook his head. “No, it’s too late for you. I want to know how you escaped. It troubles me that so many grown men and women will never know the sublime joy of working for the greater good.” He spread his arms. “Come, tell me.”

Goobly shook his head. “You’re disgusting.”

The Man roared laughter. “Oh my.” He grinned. “Oh my my! You are naïve, aren’t you! I think that’s cute. I could just eat you up.” His grin grew even wider.

Goobly backed away shaking his head. “I’ll expose you,” he said, thrusting his jaw forward.

The Man doubled over laughing. “What are you gonna do? Oh, I know! You’ll start a blog!” He shrieked laughter. “You’ll spread sarcastic internet memes! You’ll get a facebook page!” His laughter spiraled higher and higher, piercing the sky.

The Man laughed. He laughed long and loud and hard. He laughed last and he laughed best. The smug bastard.