Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Four


"Aggressive white men
toxic with testosterone;
polar ice caps melt
like grilled cheese.
Laughing white male faces;
the bird tarries.
Vanilla ice cream cone
dripping onto the street.
The flavor escapes me."

The neutered poet concludes his short work to the ladies' applause. He's sweating at the exertion of having read. The facsimile of a man looks to Margo for approval.

The literary people sit on the veranda of a suburban mansion at pale orange tables with pastel green sun umbrellas, sipping from pink and green lemonade drinks.

Attractive Margo nods her head. The soft poet happily resumes his seat next to Mrs. Vanden Snot, a major patron. The exhausted poet melts in his seat. Mrs. Vanden Snot flaps air at him with a silk fan. The man is surrounded by fit women. A planetary visitor would peg him as the weaker sex.

The women resume their talk.

"Order or chaos."

"The Joker-- an apt metaphor."

"One gross crime after another."

"Dissent for the sake of dissent."

"Their crazy leader."

"Rank and not-to-be endured behavior."

"What of their class status?"

"Bosh! Our diversity speaks for itself."

An elegantly groomed blue lawn spreads before them.

The conversation circles around Margo, a powerful, mature woman with brown kinky hair. At the edge of the gathering, a pretty doctoral student named Maryann glides in, late.

She slinks behind a table to hide her tennis player legs. Margo takes notice.

"Why do you hide there, girl? You have a confused mix of colors today."

Maryann wears a skimpy red-and-black dress, bright yellow leotards, and white boots. The ensemble is mismatched.

"Oh!" she says, noticing her boots. Her eyes look up. She's a relative newcomer who's been adopted by the group.

"I was in a rush," Maryann explains. "A meeting. You know."

The yellow color puts the legs on display, which pauses the discussion. They're quite . . . athletic.

The male poet is choking on his lemonade. A petite Mexican waitress with red skin and black hair brings Maryann a tall glass of iced tea. The student flicks the girl away, then brushes strands of hair off her forehead.

The refined people discuss the destruction of the rebels, a disagreeable but necessary task. Best to be done offstage. They wish to avoid any mess.

While they talk, the new arrival plays with her dress.

"There is no place for them in our world," Margo announces. "Is there, Maryann?"

The distracted student is again the focus. Her dark blue eyes rise. They're very powerful.

"Oh. Er, ah, no."

The talk sweeps on.

"They have no reason, no cause," Mrs. Vanden Snot insists.

"Dinosaur white males," another adds, to much hilarity.

The pasty-faced poet laughs also.

Margo sums up the prevalent attitude, glancing first at the younger woman across the way, a gesture toward nascent, unused force-- the only potential competition for her in this group.

"We need no justification to destroy the rebels, other than they are the Other," Margo states as her shoulders shift and her eyes cast around for possible rebellion. "That's sufficient reason. There can be no outsiders other than ourselves, within the system. There's only the system."

"What of their ideas?"

"I refuse to acknowledge they have ideas!"

Everyone laughs.

(Next: THE CHASE.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Three

(Scrolling down the movie screen):
Irresistible hate. The Man in the Black Hat senses this emotion as soon as the figure walks into the warehouse accompanied by the callow youth who found her. Black hat motions to hidden bodyguards. Shadowy hands grab Willie and toss him outside. A steel door closes.

The men in the room question whether she should fear being alone with them-- or should they instead fear being alone with her?! The Assassin strides forward until she stands in front of Black Hat's desk, staring down with large tilted head at him.

Her sudden presence fills the spacious room. She wears a white jumpsuit over her taut form, with pointed white leather boots, and skin-tight white gloves on her hands with dark red stains on them. He can't see behind her mask, but senses sarcastic features as her sharp blue eyes study him. She's adopted an arrogant yet casual stance, unsettling for reasons no one can fathom. How has the atmosphere in this space of control become so changed-- so charged-- in mere moments?
The Defense Committee for Overprivileged Writers meets in a green and gray warehouse moments before the arrival of the spectral creature they've gone to great trouble to hire. The handful of discreetly-dressed men sit in a semi-circle of chairs on a concrete floor, amid deep yellow crates which stand behind a gray metal desk. As they talk in hushed tones, eyes glance warily at a waiting door. One set of eyes, behind glasses, stares at the door most intently.

"Afraid to be here?" the Man in the Black Hat mocks him.

The man in glasses clears his throat. Nerdy and unshaven, he resembles Jonathan Franzen.

"I understand the mission," he puts in.

"YOU should, Black Hat emphasizes, pointing at him.

Objectively, like mad scientists they discuss the creation of an agent; how a struggling person of ambition can be utilized as a tool if caught early enough. It's a tried-and-true technique; the philosophy behind the Blue Caps of the Bolsheviks and the S.S. of the Nazis.

A short man with black hair explains the process to his more aristocratic-looking colleagues. The Weasel, is how he's known.

"The prospects obsess over work and struggle. We use that to bind them to us; to wash from their minds all conscience to keep them on a narrow track. Always there must be an Enemy as focus. This the Rebellion readily provides. The result is the ultimate literary terrorist, programmed to destroy literary terrorists!"

The Weasel smiles with difficulty. His person appears damaged, or deformed, amid the rigid bearing of the others. He sits at an angle as if his back had been broken, peering up at the ruddy Overdog in the black hat across from him.

"The art of the matter," Black Hat talks over him, "is to program the selected agents without their knowing they've been programmed. Presumably this has been accomplished."

"Indeed!" the Weasel answers, black beady eyes glistening as they look up at the man.

Angles of yellow and gray light crisscross the scene. Black Hat rises and sits behind the steel desk which faces the warehouse door as the other men fade into shadow. . . .
Now the glowing white spirit is before them.

"Forgive the white mask," the Assassin sneers. "But then, you wear a black one!"

She refers to the veil.

"We're not alike," Black Hat tells her with what tries to be an assertive voice, though it sounds weak next to hers. "Remember that. You're hired to do a job. You'll do what I want. The alternative for you is to be as obliterated as the person you're about to obliterate."

She doesn't reply. Her intelligence burns through the mask at him. He senses her sneer widen. He's happy she wears a mask. Never would he care to see that face.

The camera pulls back to reveal the other members of the Defense Committee. The Weasel grins. The unshaven writer looks away and his hands flutter in his lap. His chair is turned sideways, signalling halfway participation in the project. Part of him wishes not to be here. The other part is compelled to ask a question of the ghost-like character they've hired. He clears his throat.

"Do you know clearly what you're undertaking?" he asks.

The brooding eyes behind the mask turn contemptuously on him.

"I know who I contend with. There's enough talk in literary cirlces to suggest your target is the same. It's, um, rather obvious!"

The Weasel quickly responds.

"Yes, yes," he says. "Obvious to us all. But how do you propose to do it?"

A widening smile before them.

"Good sirs, take off the head and the body is dead. The movement will wither. That's the first step. He's unable to avoid contact. His ego won't allow it! He'll welcome his doom. That I know. It'll be glorious to provide it. Gladly will I destroy literary scum. I'll take down the literary pretender to save the literary art."

"You're a writer?" the Franzen-like character asks.

"You can call me that."

"Of what school? Which program did you attend? Which teachers did you have?"

"The teachers of life! But don't worry, good sir. I've amended my underground status. I've atoned for past crimes. My official learning may now exceed yours. Not to put myself in your lofty realm; I know the gap between us. As to what school I belong to, I'm a Stoic and a Cynic. I'm an Epicurean also. A hedonist, a narcissist, an exhibitionist; yet also a hermit, alone unto myself. I'm of the world and apart from it; ruined by it and repulsed by it, yet thoroughly embracing it. I'm an Imperial Roman; a corrupted product of our time."

As she finishes she bows her head. The voice from behind the mask is more vibrant, more threatening, more authoritative, more filled with meaning than any they've heard before. The men smile. Victory is guaranteed for them, they're certain.

The camera zooms in on the man behind the black veil. His lips move. The voice on the soundtrack becomes peevish.

"My friend has died . . . his funeral . . . they mocked him. They mocked me! You know how they confronted us at Columbia. You went against their leader before and must do so again. Obliterate, obliterate, obliterate, obliterate. No rebellion. NO REBELLION."

The mysterious white-clad figure in front of him bows its head, like a creation of his imagination; mad compulsive product of his id.

"Bring out the dummy," Black Hat orders.

An effigy of the ULA's former leader is wheeled out. The black-veiled literary scion looks at the Assassin, then points to the dummy.

"Kill it," he says.

The room explodes in violence. Before the onlookers can blink the effigy has been kicked, punched, stomped, decapitated; the stuffing knocked out of it; sawdust scattered about the large space. What's left of the dummy lies face first on the concrete floor, a knife protruding from its back.

"Well done," Black Hat comments.

Those behind him enthusiastically applaud. Even hesitant Franzen joins in.

"May the upcoming encounter go as well," the Franzen character tentatively adds, squeamish about the necessity of what's to come.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Two


The screen shows a funeral procession on a Manhattan avenue; a moving line of black, purple, and maroon cars on a cloudy slate-gray day. One by one the cars pull into a cemetary.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

At a gravesite the Man in the Black Hat stands impassively, his nondescript wife with Chief Lopate set a few paces behind him. The camera shifts to reveal a row of sober young literary priests on the other side come down from New England.

Lost is another of Black Hat's top lieutenants, second in the past year. This man faced off publicly against the rebels twice; against their best poet; against their most insane clown. Now he's too swiftly gone. Ostensibly a poet-- an easy cover-- in fact he'd been a chief apparatchik who'd been key in putting together and maintaining the system of literary control and indoctrination now solidly in place.

A twisted curl appears on Black Hat's lower lip-- we see only the lower half of his face, beneath the black veil. Without a word he turns bitterly from the grave and moves up a rise away from his friends and colleagues, toward a crypt at the center of the cemetary.

Inside: black walls. In front of him is a brass name plate. The camera zooms in on it. We can't read it but know it's for his grandfather or other ancestor, one in an endless line of Puritan-bred patriarchs who've passed on to Black Hat his unbreachable name, his legacy, and his obligations. He feels buried alive. Buried! In this crypt, this grave, this walled prison cell trapping him on a path of power and manipulation from which there's never an escape.

He can't breathe. Cars and people await outside but he doesn't want them. He lies on the cold stone floor like a boy in his mansion's room, saying over and over "Not me, not me, not me. . . ."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chapter Thirty-One


The literary fugitive awakes on the floor of an abandoned building. A soot-colored butterfly rests next to his head.

"Get out of here!" he yells, startled.

A window in a dusty wall stands open nearby. He tries to close it, but it's stuck. Scattering sweeps of blue-gray rain rush through it. Large drops of wetness gather on the crumbled wooden pane. The butterfly must've entered through the opening.

When the rain pauses, the man tries to coax the butterfly outside. It flaps its wings frantically; hysterically, rushing up and down about the room.

"Calm down!" the man tells it, to no avail.

The butterfly flies not to the window, but away from it, toward an inside corridor, and vanishes.

"Goofy thing," the man mutters to himself.

The fugitive leaves to run errands, returning that afternoon.

He looks in a bathroom off the corridor. The water doesn't run. Blown-in leaves cover the bottom of the bathtub. When he pushes his hand through the leaves, the butterfly jumps up. A hiding place.

The man doesn't chase the butterfly out. It'd do no good.

As night falls and the man lays down on a blanket to think about his life, maybe to sleep, he notices the butterfly hugging a wall. Its wings are closed. A gray insect is all it is. Why isn't it flying? Maybe it's tired. It looks to be catching its breath, if that's possible. Its moments of nervous flying must exhaust its little life.

Just him and the butterfly. Hah! As he nods off, he notices the thing sitting perplexed on a stack of newspaper beside him. They both can rest. They both can hide.

The man awakes to frustrated flapping. The butterfly is trying to fly, but can't elevate.

"Calm down," the man tells it. "You'll tire yourself."

The butterfly's sooty wings flap and flap.

When the man awakes for real, the butterfly is gone. Maybe it escaped through the window. He never sees it again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chapter Thirty


The hunter has become the hunted. The Rebellion's former leader thinks this as he runs from various agents of conformity sent to destroy him. He's gone underground for real. His every movement and appearance are tracked as if on a radar screen. His last attempts to dynamite established lit have themselves been blown up, spectacularly. He senses a new player thrown into the chase; his instincts cry, "Danger!" as fake demi-puppet voices on all sides plead, "Don't hide. Don't hide!"

A rogue writer roaming the seas. In the most regulated and conformist time in history this is a threat to technified artistic monopoly. Harpoons from past battles pierce his tough hide. A previous enemy is after him. A speech has been made; gold doubloon offered. "Death to. . . ." He awaits the sighting.

On all sides: poverty. Shambled buildings, shambling people. Red and orange brick decay. Stark and moving reality. Gray rubble: broken blocks of stone in the street, alongside broken dreams. Soot, rats, and insects. A city's destruction. Reclaiming-nature's way. This is his ocean. Let the Overdogs come. He's wounded and tired, ready to sleep, but remains dangerous. A few more battles await.

Let the ships come! He'll sink more of them, until all wild life like himself in the unregulated sea is gone; killed; rounded-up; numbered; penned; trained; leashed; all independence and freedom, and rebellion, hammered away leaving for the gratification of the gentry only calmness; silence; smooth and eternal placidity.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Nine


Under the radar screen!

The assignment to locate the former leader of the ULA is given by Boss Eggers to a hulking figure who's existed on the literary margins for several years. The designated candidate is well-educated-- well-trained anyway-- but not extremely bright. He's been an unthinking McSweeneyite minion and has now progressed to become the Spy.

Meeting the Dave as prelude to the promotion is the highlight of his life. He sees not the ruthlessly ambitious power-hungry gangleader Eggers is in reality, but the myth of charitable good guy. The Spy so wants to believe!

The Spy holds a narrow world view with strict objectives: "Success. Eggers. Eggers. Success." In his mind the two ideas coincide. Obey Eggers, belong to him, and success is assured. This is the way of the world. He's spent his life seeking a figure to placate; a warlord willing to use him; someone to idolize, and has found him.

The Spy's flaw is that with his happy nature he's too willing to listen to the last person who tells him anything. He can be turned-- there is that hazard. The Spy has no conscience but he has a kind of sensitivity, an eagerness to like everybody, to be liked, which if exploited by the wrong non-Eggers person could be dangerous. The God Eggers can make occasional appearances to keep the Spy happy but he can't do it every day.

Brought into play is a coldly rational operative who'll betray any side, if the pay is right. The betrayal itself satisfies his warped ego. The money is secondary.

(Has this operative previously betrayed the underground? This remains a mystery.)

And so, the Spy himself is tailed. Not to his knowledge. Or does he suspect the cheap operative following him? Has the Spy noticed a reflection against a distant building behind him, in the green sour ringlets of moonlight?

The tail, sent to watch the Spy, steps back and waits in shadows at a fence amid the unfamiliar urban landscape. This is a cake assignment. He's counting his paycheck from the boundlessly-funded Eggers empire. All he has to do is keep up with the large bozo. No longer does he hear the Spy's weighty tread.

Lost him! The operative begins to move along the fence. He'll need to take a shortcut to get back to the direction in which the Spy was heading. He doesn't notice the large shadow behind him, the huge hands moving through an opening in the fence, until the hands are around his throat, crushing it, and life speeds out of him like a snuffed flame.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Eight


Black Hat drives to his refuge in a private enclave for the super-rich beyond the Hamptons. He takes the late ferry ride onto the island.

In the basement of the house is a secure room. Underground, ironically. Even his wife has never been inside. He starts up a computer and logs into a private file, into which he types new entries-- fresh musings.
THE FIREWALL: Bureaucracies of government, foundations, large corporations, and academia, which provide walls of insularity and safety for status quo ideas. The Firewall's institutional effect is to manufacture for the inhabitants the illusion they can be free thinkers within the bureaucracies.

QUESTION: What if a person behind the Firewall began advocating for the literary Rebellion?

TRANSPARENCY: We operate without transparency; with mask upon mask. Honesty has been the ULA leader's undoing. His dilemma: the minute he abandons transparency he becomes "postmodern": i.e., duplicitous. False. Like us.

CO-OPTATION: I, Black Hat, have continued to co-opt the markers of rebellion. Note my story about pirate radio, which created a patter, a mantra which meant nothing. Affectation of the hip. Subversion made toothless. Subverting the subversives. Turning rebellion on its head.

THE DOUBLE SYSTEM: The apparent literary System, and the Behind-System.

THE INSIDER-OUTSIDER: One-eyed jacks. Overdogs who imagine themselves outside. Contradictions. Such as: globalist anti-Imperialists. N+1 in this category?

PRIMITIVES: Residue of literature past, exemplified by the Eggers Gang with its loyalty to an individual instead of the System.

NEW SOCIALIZATION: The acceptance of monopoly culture. Crafting an Anglo-American narrative that's properly Imperialist. The old-style American-centered story is gone.

ANTI-THOUGHT: Monitoring and self-monitoring. Automatic self-editing.

ANTI-LITERATURE: Showcased in prestige magazine poetry and fiction.

ANTIBODIES: What the Rebellion crudely refers to as demi-puppets. Anti-Literature's vigilante warrior knights. Literary reactionaries. White blood cells whose job is to ruthlessly destroy the infection of dissent.
Black Hat is pleased with what he's typed. He locks the room and walks upstairs through the large house which to him is a cottage.

The doors are open on this late summer night. Leaves scatter inside. He's disheveled, wearing slippers. He looks like a homeless guy. The irony is that he's more like the underground than they can know. When he destroys them he'll destroy part of himself.

Black Hat steps onto the porch without his disguise. He sees no green light. The tragedy of his life is to have been born beyond the green light; to have nothing to strive for because everything's been his from the beginning.

Boss Eggers has his mob hoodlums seeking the ULA on the ground. Black Hat will then put his own agent into the chase. An Antibody. Contact with the Assassin has been successfully made. Soon: checkmate.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Meeting the Assassin"


Unstoppable fury,
a clique of nonentities
led by Salome
out to destroy;
"Coward," they call me,
attacking from all sides
this actor,
a fool, a fanatic
adrift in the wilderness
of literary insignificance,
theatrical reading-crash juxtapositions;
"Stop running!
So we can stomp you with our
posted commentaries":
The voice of my opponent,
or one of her envious friends,
envious of my outsized voice,
my underground p.r. noise,
of my acting. . . .

We're both actors,
she the better one,
extraordinary pathological con-artist
playing role after role,
from Tragic Heroine to Superhero,
Urchin, Student, Harlequin,

"Coward," she cries at me;
I, coward?
I'm terrified of the Assassin, truth be told,
not without cause
given her terrible hatred of me,
her madness,
multifarious nefarious talents;
Uma dressed as a samurai
wielding a sword, sharp-edged;
Yet still I want to see her, and kiss her
without her mask,
behind her seven veils
before I'm slain by her.
Unlike John the Baptist,
I want to do so before I'm dead--
while I'm still more than a decapitated head.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Seven


Later that afternoon Black Hat stands in a much smaller office that's more important than anything at Literature Police Headquarters. He's with an agent known by a code name: "Jamie." The man isn't with the CIA, because there is no CIA, but the goals of the organization he belongs to are the same.

They study three lighted boards. One tracks every website and e-mail of the literary revolutionaries. Another outlines existing underground structures, or lack of same. A third follows the movements of the rebels' former leader.

Colored lights glimmer on the various boards, while Jamie watches like the conductor of a symphony. The office is dark. Outside a wide window stands Manhattan, and beyond, the sweep of the East River.

"The most radical literary organization, ever," Jamie says in admiration about a series of names on a map on one of the boards. "A cultural insurrection. Currently contained. Some activity here, and here, which could prove troubling. Our big advantage against them is our invisibility. They're like a blindfolded man stumbling around a room with the lights on. They see nothing-- their new leader doesn't want to see anything-- while we see everything."

The vast commercial reach of New York City touches them in a mosaic of lighted dots from the window. A backdrop of power. They glance at the third large screen.

"His person is under our radar screen," Jamie says. "I'm attacking him and two of his former colleagues on-line."

The man turns then to Black Hat with an attitude of submission. We realize he's as much under Overdog control as anyone else in the movie serial.

"Will they be destroyed?" the scion of power and wealth says-- not a question but a command.

"Yes," Jamie says, with slight hesitation. "Eventually. We'll do it piece-by-piece. From inside; outside; all sides."

"Good!" the Mysterious One affirms, then turns as Jamie steps back into shadow like the brainwashed apparatchik that he is.

Without another word Black Hat strides from the room, down shadowy corridors toward a waiting elevator.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Six


BY MANHATTAN STANDARDS it's a modest-sized building, a couple dozen stories. The color is battleship gray. The style is generic, unremarkable, so that as one passes down the streets one is unlikely to notice the structure. Even when you search for it, Literature Police Headquarters is difficult to find. Its most noteworthy feature is an absence of windows of any kind.

Inside, the Man in the Black Hat is dazzled by the ground floor's orange-and-purple art deco design. This one area, a tribute to American lit's history, is a temple to a great cultural legacy; an ornate ceiling in the main hall done in pewabic tile. Series of displays pay homage to giants like Whitman, Twain, Katherine Anne Porter, Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. Toward the end of the room are newer names like Jack Kerouac. Workers ready a glass case for the memory of Norman Mailer. The hall is a museum.

Chief Lopate greets Black Hat near the elevators.

"So good to meet you!" the Chief exclaims enthusiastically, though they saw each other yesterday.

Chief Lopate is a kind of ultimate sycophant; the literary bureaucrat triumphant. Throughout his career-- indeed, his life-- he's followed every rule, obediently. In every area, to the strictures of the system he's loyally complied, without the merest hinted whisper of complaint, and has risen through the ranks accordingly with a comfortable weekly paycheck (all he really cares about) and a title which is meaningless: "Chief."

A glorified servant, like a hotel doorman in purple general's cap, and purple greatcoat with two rows of brass buttons, and clapboards on the shoulders. Lopate saves such clown costume for ceremonial occasions, but it's visible through every part of his being anyway. The man reminds Black Hat of a large dog he owns which greets him eagerly, with expectant look on its face, waiting to be given a command, told to do something, without which the dog is lost, can only creep back into its corner near a window to sleep.

"Today I want a tour," Black Hat tells the man. "Top two floors only."

"Yes. Yes!" Lopate proclaims. "No, no, not there! Those are for ordinary people."

The Chief steers his master away from the normal elevators toward one marked, "Express. Authorized Personnel Only."

They step into the transport to hierarchy with smiles.

The first floor they examine is filled with cubicles of busily working people.

"This is the Truth Department," Chief Lopate says. "As you know, its mission is to suppress Truth!"

Lopate says these words with some glee; the air of a man announcing a game rigged to always ensure victory. He rubs his hands together involuntarily; happily.

The floor spreads over a large area. Most of the workers wear crisp gray Literature Police uniforms. Technology: Computers at every work station, and large screen TV's across the walls which display silent interviews of current writers, give a sense of power and money. The movement of people in the office is regimented, like that of a machine.

Black Hat is impressed with the evident efficiency.

Everything is antiseptically clean.

In a cubicle nearby, prim Officer R. Donadio finishes a report on CIA involvement in literature which states there isn't any! Never been. A few accidental indications over the years which mean nothing. Black Hat peers over her shoulder to read the report. Officer Donadio doesn't mind. As he reads, Black Hat nods his head in agreement. The slate has been wiped clean.

At the center of the floor, equidistant from all sides, is the Room of Secrets. A uniformed guard stands at attention. A red steel door-- the only color to be seen above the first floor-- leads into what is actually a room inside a room. Through this door shredders await, along with TV screens, telephones, and weapons; first line of defense-- given a revolution which makes it this high.

"The key?" Black Hat asks.

"Two of them," Lopate says, pointing to two locks side-by-side which must be opened simultaneously. "The guard on duty has one. I frankly don't know who retains the other. Mr. Plimpton once did. Now--?"

Lopate shrugs.

"Do you ever think about who could hold the Second key?" Black Hat asks.

"It's not my position to think!" the Chief exclaims.

The other suppresses reaction. The Second key hangs around his own neck.

The other side of the floor contains the Marketing department, where staffers create writers to be given to conglomerates to hype, often fake revolutionaries. Posters of Miranda July decorate this area.

The highest floor is as quiet as a monastery, its loudest sound the gentle flow of air conditioning. A handful of studious individuals in white shirts and black ties read silently. "The Harvard Room," an embossed sign announces at the entrance to this area.

"The Investigators," Lopate says in a hushed voice. "Our best people."

"Do they investiage the Rebellion?" Black Hat asks.

Lopate frowns.

"Over here," he says.

The camera follows them to another part of the floor, at the end of the wide movie screen, where sits a large computer screen on a white steel desk.

"Many people fight the Rebellion," Lopate relates in a scripted way. "There are several counter-insurgency actions taking place this minute which are beyond my job category to know the details. But we do our part! Don't think we're not steadily working in approved Literature Police way."

He types in a password, then clicks on a screen:

"This site is the result of the work of Floor 8. It represents thousands of man-and-woman hours."

Black Hat scrolls through it.

"It appears," the Overdog remarks, "that more work is needed."

Lopate takes the rebuke silently. He stands at attention and willfully empties his mind. Anger is suppressed except when dealing with bad guys.

"Come along," his master orders.

Chief Lopate, titular head of the Literature Police, mechanically follows the man.

They're back in the Harvard Room with the Investigators. The Man in the Black Hat observes the many certificates, diplomas, and awards adorning the muted walls. On this floor, as on all others, there are no windows. The Investigators continue to read under soft artificial light, not saying anything. It's a closed room; isolated. The workers could be wearing blindfolds. Fitting for a corrupt town where gang bosses control so much territory. The Police are ultimately on someone's payroll, including his own.

Black Hat strolls about the desks, glancing at the employees, noting the name tags of the Best of the Best: Birkerts, Sante, Menand, Wood. No one of the faceless persons looks up. All continue deliberately to read.

"What do they investigate?" Black Hat asks.

"Why-- nothing," Chief Lopate replies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Five


TO CELEBRATE the coming destruction of the ULA, a reading is held in Philadelphia, hosted by "215" people. With the ULA's leader out of town, and several others of the band scattered, its network in disarray, this is thought safe. The event is to be a joining of two camps; of Overdog Eggers Gang people, and those minor undergrounders who at the urging of Guildenstern have jumped to their side. Unlike the final scene of "Animal Farm," however, there will be no equality at the table. Hierarchical positions so reflective of the greater society-- of high and low in the social order-- will be strictly maintained.

Guildenstern explains the strategy to his underground colleagues.

"Don't make waves!" he tells them. "This is a first step-- a test to see how you'll behave. Follow along. Later you'll reap benefits."

Guildenstern sits up front with the chic 215 people, the Whitneys, Binnies, Joshuas, Mileses, and the like. The underground poets allowed to participate are directed toward the back.

"Don't worry," an undergrounder assures his friends. "We'll have final say-- when we read! We'll show our ability."

He's a tall, ratty fellow with wispy goattee and faded beret, wearing a "I Hate King Wenclas" button on his t-shirt. His motley colleagues, including two skanky females in torn black leotards, nod their heads in agreement. The yuppies across the room think them reprehensible.

"They look subhuman," the cleanly-scrubbed, carefully arrayed gentry remark in loud voices. "They're disgusting!"

They themselves exude the perfection of their class. They're garbed as bohemians, but it's a minutely designed, freshly-washed, and assuredly expensive kind of bohemia: designer jeans worn for the first and only time. The persons in the fine clothes are those who honor the superficial in their art and are themselves superficially attractive, with dead eyes.

"This is a peace gathering," Guildenstern reminds them. "A victory celebration. Don't humiliate them. Let's seat them closer to the stage. Right next to us-- an empty table."

He rises and addresses the room. "Bring up the poets!"

The handful of poets at the back stand up with slow dignity. Guildenstern points them to their new seats. The literary yuppies, leading snobs in the city, react with haughtiness. One takes a can of air freshener and sprays toward the poets' table. The seated poets grit their teeth.

"Patience!" the ratty poet says. "Wait until we read."

The Ivy Leaguers read first, their presentation endless, pretentious, and boring. When the moment for the undergrounders arrives the gentry stand in a group and put on their jackets. "Have to run! Ciao! Bye!" One by one they vanish out the door until only Guildenstern remains.

"Gosh, guys," he says to the undergrounders who've sold out their principles at his urging, in the interest of comity, of acceptance and gain. "It's getting late!"

Then he also hurries from the nearly vacant room to catch up with his friends as the first of the underground poets, with echoing footsteps, takes the brightly-lit stage.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Four


Atop a rise, the stone villa fills the movie screen as Willie walks up to it.

DAMAGE. This is the mood conveyed by the misshapen house of no coherent shape or design, white walls turned gray, standing like a wrecked fortress behind overgrown green weeds and out-of-control pine trees.

DEVASTATION. The aftermath of battles fought and survived, with every scar, retreat, and regrouping, of psychic violence resumed again and again, present in every crooked stone on the steep walk, or open window in set-back levels above, within which faded red curtains move slowly in the heavy summer breeze.

RETREAT. Seclusion. Great open wounds. Has the dangerous hunter he seeks herself been hiding?

Before he can knock on the ornate door it opens on its own.

"Hello? Hello?"

Willie walks tentatively into a room.

Expansive views on every side. Thick walls; coolness. He steps through a faded ballroom of surpassing elegance, with orange-red tile floor, what he sees of it beneath cascades of leaves and branches of trees blown in from open windows. Intruding nature; a sense of abandonment. Beyond, a melancholy patio of past joy and a backdrop of mountains.

He moves into an anteroom of white walls and heavy black furniture, leading to a black iron stairwell. Violet flowers stand in a black vase on a black table.


Willie ascends the stairs. At the top hangs the portrait of a beautiful woman. The camera lingers on the portrait. . . .

From distant rooms comes the sound of recorded music. Chaotic punk noises incongruous with the villa; then again, completely apt. The contradiction surprises him. In a hallway, a hanging Union Jack flag. More leaves; a purple ribbon. Against a wall, a dusty German beer bottle. The echo of long-ago parties.

With feigned casualness Willie steps into the final room, within which lounges a thin woman dressed entirely in white, with a white scarf wrapped around her face, ineptly, as if grabbed in a hurry.She's surrounded by clutter, the debris of the house; by stacks of clothing, end tables, suitcases, and books. Willie is scared to death.

"May Barber?"

The silence which follows his query unsettles him. He can barely stand. The woman's blue eyes, all he can notice from her face, are an overpowering force.

"Um. Brilliant," a throaty voice remarks, then the figure sits up. Perhaps it's been lost in reverie for a hundred years and he's awakened it. "Have a seat."

Willie stumbles into an ornate wood chair as the dangerous eyes study him with amusement and contempt. The deadliest of literary assassins; once member of the ULA gang. Behind the white scarf lives a nuclear force of will; pulsating; ready. She could destroy him with her piercing eyes alone. Willie's only defense if things go awry is his own weakness.

The still-young woman has bangs of jet-black hair. He doesn't look directly at her white face-- he senses this isn't allowed-- but has the impression of grotesque scars behind the silk covering rustling now in the warm air with every inhale and exhale from the woman's mouth. Not a ghost, of this he's sure. A demon, maybe, but not a ghost. He feels the slap of heat of her breath carry to him as she talks.

"I've been waiting for you; someone like you," she tells him, then gazes about herself with a deep sigh, as if the eternal burden of Sisyphus is to be resumed, and it's his fault.

"I have instructions," Willie tells her, while a yellow paper in his hand shakes uncontrollably. "Right here. They say you know the assignment."


Her voice surges with emotion; with strength that fills the house. Willie has met many writers; students and teachers, published poets and novelists. None have expressed emotion of this brand. Has the ULA been right all along? Does the underground indeed bring new energy to the art form? He feels himself in the presence of a tornado.

"My unfinished assignment," her voice says wryly, shadows of moving lips visible behind the scarf. "I live only for revenge-- the re-righting of the equillibrium of the world, which the so-called Rebellion has disturbed. The Rebellion must be destroyed. I've seen it up close. The biggest collection of yokels and cretinous goons gathered in one place since the discovery of the gangleader's treasured Buddy Holly and Elvis."

Her voice expresses an Elvis-like sneer.

"Every nuance is lost on them. Utter blockheads mistaking simplicity-- I mean, stupidity-- for genuineness. I tried to wrest away their leadership, you know, which might've saved them. He wanted me to remain simple. He believes art should be simple! Twice I almost defeated him, but he ran away like a coward."

Willie wants to ask then why she wears scars, but is afraid to. Then again, what greater scars must the other side carry?

"Punchbowls," she tells him. "Putting his head in punchbowls at parties is his idea of marketing. But what do punchbowls have to do with being a writer? Punchbowls and literature; literature and punchbowls. They're not similar. I fail to see the correlation. Writing is about the art; only about the art. Words are important. Not punchbowls! Words. We train in the use of words. We're masters of words. Have I removed myself from the world only to immerse myself in strategies about punchbowls? Not! I'm here to improve my skill with words. To learn. To train. To refine words' edge until the sentence is as sharp as a samurai sword. I want to become better, and better, and better, until my words slice the barbarian into a dozen pieces; into a single rivulating pool of blood!"

She laughs vigorously, viciously, with the lusty energy of a knight. For a full minute she doesn't stop. Then her unreal eyes zero in on her nervous visitor who still clutches his yellow telegram. In her gaze he shrinks in his chair.

"As writers we make words move. We make them sing. We create them, craft them, forge them, polish them, until their meaning comes to the finest point. Then we make them enter the reader's soul, here."

Her finger touches her heart. She gasps at the pain. The hand is as white and beautifully shaped as the hand of a Greek statue.

"The person who sent you wants me to fight the Rebellion. To destroy their head. The underground: peasants overreaching themselves. Gangsters. Not literary samurai. I trained with their leader when I was a mere apprentice like yourself. Now I surpass him in every way. The literary priests can't deal with the man so they turn to me."

"You're the best?"

"The worst! No, not good enough. Never good enough. I've enveloped myself in language, its codes, structure, rules; have humbled myself before its mystery. Humility, humility. Oh God, ambition is the greatest sin and from that I forever shirk. It's only by the shedding of rhetorical blood that I can atone for my past misdeeds. Literature is a sacred vessel which must not be tarnished; cannot be touched by literary barbarians, must not be approached unless the seeker be pure in intent and washed in literary training."

She stands from the couch, has moved with surprising quickness. The sinewy body in white has come to life. He sees the form and vigor of an assassin. Still her finger jabs her heart. Smell emanates from her; a smell of body, perfume, ointment, sulfur, gunpowder, and sex, all in one smell, overpowering. Her head shakes. Her striking blue eyes waver. Moisture streams down her face beneath the tightly-wound scarf, sweat or tears flowing like a river.

"Oh God. Oh God! Do you know what it means to be a writer? The price to be paid? The sacrifice? The emotional pain? The emotional violence? To arrive at the highest plane; the highest plane."

Willie is caught up in her mad hysteria. He senses writing now not as a printed page, or dots on a computer screen, but as a living being as real as the walls, the wind, the sun outside, and this person in front of him. He falls out of his chair before her.

"Will you take the assignment?" he asks.

"Yes!" she screams.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Three


(A Narrator's Voice.)
How does one become a literary assassin? What are the steps which transform a young and idealistic writer into the most dreaded of literary monsters-- into THE ASSASSIN abusively wielding talent and intelligence without character, compunction, or conscience?

For a vast class of writers from the wrong side of society's railroad tracks there is no outlet other than to write in obscurity for zeens, tiny lit-journals, or little-read websites. In this netherworld beneath the established Noise of Literature it's easy to become part of the feuds and fights of the gutter press; to become a soldier of Rebellion; or as often, a mercenary for aristocrats who so fear the vibrant crude raucous Energy of these writers, so different from the refined brand, that hired counterrevolutionary gangs will be sent into literary back alleys and scribes' dives to put down the barbarous miscreants.

Think of a gawky young woman from a small town, insecure yet intelligent, dropout from a major midwestern college-- she'd been kicked out of a writing class-- staying around campus anyway working as a dishwasher, scrawling in spare minutes with large letters a journal which in its angst and nascent madness became the foundation for one of the rawest of all zeen projects during the raging late 90's heyday of the "zine" phenomenon.

The put-upon young woman's split personality began at this time. Maybe it'd been dormant within the person all along. There was the core individual-- a rodent; the mouse-- a self-image forged from beaten-down circumstance. Accompanying the zeen however arose a new persona different from the mouse in every aspect: louder, larger, better-looking, with unreal, often drug or alcohol-fueled confidence. The creation of the new persona was as remarkable and fabulous as the birth of a superhero. The myth of her zeen was propagated as much by the persona's hyperbolic appearances with local zeensters at bars and clubs, later written-up by them, as by the zeen itself.

At the same time, back in her cheap hovel afterward, the superhero having scattered like a puff of smoke through a misaligned open window overlooking the college town, the mouse withdrew into her core self. No longer bold, but fearful. Not anymore confident, but the reverse.

Growing steadily out of her control was the Image; the Myth.

Indeed, she'd become striking looking. She'd become beautiful, and was the last to know. It wasn't her, you see. It was the blown-up Image; the projected superhero. She was a mouse hidden beneath a portrait of a tiger.

The mouse's zeen came to the attention of an underground promoter searching for new talent for a group he was forming. He met her in Chicago and was blown away; stunned. The lo-budget zeen hustler met not the mouse, not the real person, but "May Barber," all-powerful superhero. She joined the group.

Later it'd be known as the ULA, engine of new literary rebellion.

In truth, the mouse had already begun to hate her alter-ego, which in its emotion-spewing vulgarity was the polar opposite of the kind of genteel and precise Anglophile writer she'd long dreamed of becoming. By the same token, "May Barber" detested the weak nerdiness of the mouse. It was an internal dispute within her certain to lead to disaster.

The cheap zeen hustler, more ballyhoo artist than writer, began his assault on the bastions of established literature, carrying forward the controversy-fueled shenanigans of his own zeen of the 90's. Onto this underground zeen animal, crazed and reckless in best underground tradition, conflicted May transferred her self-hate. The mouse saw the over-the-top character as her great antagonist. As she stood half-naked behind the hustler on stage at CBGB's as part of the ULA act, she loathed what she was doing; what she'd become. She didn't want to destroy the literary mainstream. She wanted to join it!
Two Mays: the Mouse and the Goddess. In the pressure cooker of the ULA's early days the hate and loathing within both sides of her flowed into a new figure of secrecy and stealth, of transcendent bitterness: the Assassin. This cruel new entity battled the ULA's leader himself. . . .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Two


Willie sits sipping coffee at a cafe directly across from the Spanish Steps. Prostitutes and priests pass by. From a distance, a white coated waiter approaches from between tables. Approaches; approaches. He arrives and hands Willie a yellow telegram.

"TELEGRAM" on screen, many typed words beneath.

"Grazi," Willie says.

These are his long-awaited instructions. They outline an itinerary to northern Italy, a city named Vicenza where exists a large American army base and a CIA station as well as the target of his adventure, a mysterious writer named May Barber he's to convince to do something. She's the most dangerous of the dangerous.

Willie has been in Italy now for two weeks, receiving daily calls from Poofer which have sounded scarier and scarier, centered around some guy "in a black hat" who Poofer insists he was "obligated to please." Otherwise, "poof" would go the professor's esteemed job and reputation. This morning, a final call: from Gloria back at the university informing Willie that Poofer was rushed to the hospital last night after a sudden heart attack which left him buried beneath a cascade of books and papers.

"Will he survive?" Willie had asked.

"Does anyone care?" Gloria had answered.

Now at the cafe, Willie thinks about his mission with misgiving. The adventure so far has been as boring as a Henry James novel, albeit with great food and scenery, paid for by his mother's ample credit line. Ahead waits the climax. He'll be putting himself into the hands of this Barber person, who might enlighten him or destroy him. This, in a country where he knows nobody, and where his vocabulary has expanded to twelve phrases, including "Quanto costa?" and "Gelato chocolatta."

He has toughened, however, in that he now looks forward to his fate.

Vicenza is a city near mountains where most of the people look German and the core center of town is medieval. One could be living eight hundred years ago amid castle walls, the native populace strolling quaintly, but for hyperactive American G.I.'s with boom boxes on their shoulders blasting loudly. Willie buries himself within his tweed sportjacket and tries to look native.

To be fair, he sat next to an American lieutenant and his girlfriend last evening at an open-air restaurant and found them well-mannered and intelligent. They both, in fact, had attended Yale. The man enlisted after college, because he'd "wanted to join the fight against terror." Handsome people. An American centurion and his mate come overseas-- to Italy, appropriately. The turnings of Empire. They conversed about books and writing.

"You write?" the pretty girl asked Willie.

"Not very well!" he replied.

That touch of home now bolsters Willie as he boards a green bus, takes out a Michelin map and begins studying street signs.

The street: he steps off and ascends a hill. At the top glimmers a white villa surrounded by pine trees. This has been described in his instructions. The morning sun is hot. He's sweating. He's very thirsty. The point of his quest in sight, his legs are weak. The wrong messenger, he is, he knows. Hapless messenger. The stone house stands before him. Black, ornate doors. What wounded warrior waits inside?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chapter Twenty-One

No, I haven't forgotten about Lindsay, rookie member of the Literature Police, working as a night guard in a literary factory resembling a prison complex. (See Chapter Five and Chapter Seven.)

She's been unable to re-enter the Forbidden Room due to a sudden rush of appearances of The Man in the Black Hat. Something important is happening. The conflict within literature between mandarins and rebels is reaching a climax.

Late at night The Man in the Black Hat sits in his high-up office overlooking the factory. Never does the man sleep. The rookie sees his wide-brimmed hat with its dark veil moving about, then stopping. She imagines at those moments that he looks directly at her. She shudders.

One night the office is dark. He's gone. Her opportunity has arrived.

She rushes through the guard stations, heart beating frantically. The green door awaits. Heavy green door. Mysterious green steel door, full of portent.

She's flung the door open and rushes down the corridor. A utility closet; simple closet, humble and unremarkable closet, seemingly, but the corridor stretches further, deeper, until she feels that it's burrowed far into the earth, or into another world.

Ahead: an orange glow. Her pace slows. Glowing; throbbing. Beams of light, of celebration, filling the green-painted stone block walls with arrays of light. Why here? Oh, why here in this damp surreal dungeon, like a prisoner never to be released?

At the end of the corridor, in the glow of light, placed against a back wall is a book. Only a book. That's all. That's everything. The beginning and end of human knowledge. The signal achievement of humanity.

She's unable to read the title. Something tells her it's the most fabulous book ever created; the greatest work; a story and a symphony; a work of poetry, beauty, history, and meaning. She tries to reach the book, to touch it. A frustrating unseen barrier keeps her away. Her time's up, she knows. It's past. With stampeding footsteps of disappointment and disbelief she turns and runs back the way she came.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chapter Twenty

Having failed as a clown, the mole known as Guildenstern is lectured by an Eggers assistant before given another assignment.

"The splits and factions within the Underground, the rampant jealousies and fights, are our best weapons against them. We must exacerbate the splits. When underground writers work against conflict with us, they're working against themselves. When they betray the literary Rebellion, they're betraying themselves."

Guildenstern sits unhappily. They're in an empty club in Philadelphia, chairs on tables, a cleaning woman vacuuming. In the half-lit venue, red and black motifs blare from the near walls like mad heralds on every side of them. Guildenstern is on medication to stay awake. This has heightened his senses.

"Don't take what I say wrong!" the McSweeneyite tells the mole, his smarmy Eggers-like face of arrogance pushing close. "At times you've behaved brilliantly. We need a return to form so we can wrap this up. The big guys grow impatient. They expected finality long before now. The tiniest hint of literary dissent and change threatens their empire. It threatens us!"

Guildenstern is too aware of the man's sweat and black stubble, and his whiny voice. The words are discordant notes on an out-of-tune piano.

"Did you know we tried to get an operative into the rebels' founding meeting? A hired hit man. We failed, but succeeded in getting to members of their gang afterward. Not soon enough, as the Rebellion moved very fast and outmaneuvered us. But we slowed them down. We caused turmoil. The buyoff price of those we used was amazingly low. We made the right moves. Yet every time we thought we'd split and destroyed them, disintegrated them, their movement bounced back to life.

"What do we want now? We want literary pacification. You know the message: 'Can't we all get along?' The way to achieve this is to use the literary pacifists in the underground. The 'Don't Make Waves' crowd. The 'Do Your Own Thing' loners. The self-serving factionalists who'd rather fight with other poets and writers than with us! We must encourage this. They must see their former leader, and not us, as the enemy. Simple misdirection, that's what I'm talking about. They will see-- what we want them to see!"

Guildenstern absorbs the lesson, and like a trained pet nods his head in obedience.

The well-dressed young man before him chuckles with closed eyes. His face is red and his suit is black. Operative! The fellow embodies the word. A paid stooge with not a scruple or principle, serving literary power. Suddenly the man drops his smile and points his finger at the lowest of literary animals.

"Give the pacifists the taste of success! Allow them to sniff our air. The instant the Rebellion has been taken over or destroyed these same hapless suckers will be hustled out the back door with the bus boys and the grease scraps. 'Get them out of here!' our crowd will huffily demand, permanently scarred by contact with the grubby beggars.

"Out there!" he exclaims, pointing to a red door behind the bar. "That's where they belong. OUT THERE!"

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chapter Nineteen

WHILE steps are taken to contact The Assassin, the rest of the new Counter-Insurgency Plan is begun. With initial mole "Rosencrantz" having blown himself up in an act of spontaneous combustion, his brother-in-betrayal, code-named "Guildenstern," becomes the focus. The idea is to put forward an Establishment clown to counter the Underground's famed Jelly Boy.

"The problem I see with this," The Man in the Black Hat murmurs over his cellphone to Boss Eggers, "Is that Guildenstern is a clown. I mean, he's REALLY a clown, with makeup or without. We don't want another insane Rosencrantz who'll piss off not just the underground, but everyone."

Boss Eggers is silent. Guildenstern is his hireling.

The movie screen shows a close-up of the black veil obscuring the thoughts of the Black-Hatted One as his mumbling words appear on the soundtrack.

"I'll gladly back this clown-- but I expect a return from him. He's been a mole for how many years now? How many paychecks? What are the results? Every time I've tried contacting him he's taking a nap!"

"You're not supposed to contact him," Eggers snaps.

On the soundtrack are heard gurgly whimpering noises of frustration coming from the Man in the Black Hat.

"The Underground yet lives!" he whispers in a choked voice as rebuke, then hangs up.

The screen wipes him off to reveal Boss Eggers in his posh San Francisco office with movie set backdrop. An expression of bemusement falls over his surly face. His confidence never wavers. Eggers shakes his head and laughs.

The next day: a new cable-TV show debuts: "Talking Books with Roody McDoody."

A clown in a garish red-and-yellow polka dot clown suit, with makeup smeared over his face, jumps through a sheet of paper saying "ROODY!" on it. A paid studio audience of fourteen people cheers.

The clown waves his arms about.

"Whoop-Whoop-De-Doo!" he hoots. "Welcome to the Roody McDoody Show! Kids, we are going to talk today about books. There are Good books and then there are Bad books. Here is a Good book."

Roody holds up a copy of The Corrections. The audience cheers.

"And here is a Bad book."

We can't see the title, but the camera focuses on the word "ULA" on it.

A chorus of boos.

The screen then displays blown-up photos of various underground personalities, including King Wenclas. The clown throws colorful oversized darts at them. He's not very adept. The darts fail to stick.

"ROO-DY! ROO-DY!" the studio audience chants.

The clown tries again. He begins to sweat, further smearing his clown makeup. A face of desperation is glimpsed beneath.

Inside a Brooklyn flat, The Man in the Black Hat, watching it on TV, turns to his wife.

"This is horrendous," he says.

The clown is worse than Neal Pollock.

The Roody Show moves into the Interview segment.

"Kids, let's give a Big Roody hello! to award-winning novelist Francine Prose. Whoop-Whoop-De-Do!"

"Yaaay!" the paid audience cheers on cue.

Ms. Prose, dressed in a chic pantsuit, looks uncomfortable on the clown set, but is a trouper. Roody plops down in one of the plush chairs provided on stage, glad to be done with the Darts segment. He's exhausted. It's the most work he's done in decades. "Could use a beer right now," he's heard over the microphone muttering to himself.

"May I sit down?" the prim author asks, clearly not understanding the show is supposed to co-opt the Underground. Etiquette has been suspended.

"Why the hell not?" Roody says, prodded from his reverie, feigning to snap into action while not doing so. While leaning back in the armchair and wiping his smeared forehead with one hand, he uses the other to signal the audience.


"So, Fran baby-- tell us about yourself," he says to the esteemed author.

"Okay." The lean and sultry-hued well-bred middle-aged middle class essence of boozhification begins, carrying the self-love of a five year-old.

"In my award-winning book to writers I emphasize the peculiar and precious solitary experience, the almost-religious bond between 'writer' and 'reader' which must not be hindered but needs to instead be strenuously advanced through the indoctrination I mean the education of readers to give them the proper necessities for understanding what we the trained writers of the Academy bring to the page. It's a quiescent procedure by necessity of maintaining our difference from improper and, well, insufficiently screened writers and readers who like bacilli or a virus might infect the Body Literati with their vulgarity and improperly screened. . . ."

Roody points to the audience from his seat as he gazes at the ceiling.


"Keep it going, Professor," he encourages the very proper Ms. Prose, who's stopped. "You have the floor, my dear."

She continues what has to be one of the most boring monologues ever recorded. All the while she studies her host, who during his days as an establishment plant in the underground was infamous for falling asleep every time asked to do anything. She wonders if he's narcoleptic for real. Grittily she continues discussing her book. Roody's head is rocking around on his neck as he leans farther back in his comfortable chair. It's been, after all, for him, a stressful day. The demands made on him lately by his overseers are altogether too much. He'd rather think about something tranquil, like his days as an affluent WASP before various divorces diminished his finances. His times relaxing with a Scotch and soda on his yacht. With a smile he remembers.

Prose: "--rather than capitulate to narrative demands, the best writers of today, the most celebrated anyway, like Jonathan Franzen and Alice Munro, will luxuriate over the words and over every last trivial detail of the story's environment to create a framework of sympathy not with the characters but with the task of the writer who has the unfortunate obligation to fill pages with craftings of words so that the reader becomes trapped in the art with no interest beyond the feelings imbued in the observational process. Counter-intuitively, this is good--"

The red-headed producer of the show looks concerned. Her blue eyes gape. Roody has missed one of his scheduled "Whoop-Whoop-De-Do"'s. Members of the paid audience begin to sneak off. Roody's head now is tilted fully back, his mouth open.

Prose: "--the requirement to not judge, to not bring unreliable human opinion into the narrative or rather the text because to narrate presupposes a narrator, a judgement, an authorial authority when our task is generously to describe, with gentle patter, innocent and unthinking patter lulling the mind-- "

Roody: "Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . ."

The host is snoring! Loudly and irreverently snoring. The last audience member is heard to say, "They don't pay enough for this shit," before running off.

Ms. Prose glances toward the producer, who has five minutes to kill. This is live television. The producer makes a rotating gesture with her hand, a signal to keep going.

"--the work stripped of the extraneous, of meaning, opinion, society, emotion, we the reader can focus on what is most necessary to the art which is the word on the page itself disconnected from the necessity to thrill or even communicate--"

Prose continues talking in her ultra-refined way as time runs out. With her last monotonous words, the camera focuses on the sleeping clown while graphics flash on the screen over his image: "ROO-DY! ROO-DY! ROO-DY!" Then the image fades to darkness.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chapter Eighteen


A large sign: "MILANO AIRPORT."

Next door is the train station. "Scusi. Scusi!" Willie bustles among a throng of Italian extras and is shoved into a Prima Classa rail car. Vendors sell Campari and snacks between the train tracks. Willie is too shaken from the flight and the culture shock to eat.

His cellphone rings.


"Willie!" Professor Poofer's voice crackles over the tinny receiver. There's panic in the voice. A desperation, as if in the interim since Willie last saw him, Poofer has learned a terrible secret.

"Roma. Wait there. Further instructions . . . then you'll meet . . . . The barber in May . . . you must. . . . Very urgent. The future of literature, our entire world, depends. . . . Convincing . . . you must be very convincing. Desperate . . . awful . . . nightmarish . . . horrible! You must. . . . Goodbye."

As Willie absorbs the stream of incoherence, the sliding door to the train compartment opens. A tall young woman with flowing auburn hair, carrying a large artist's case, plops down on the seat across from him.

"Hello," she says.

"Hi," Willie squeaks.

The woman is dressed in black from head to toe, and wears large black sunglasses which obscure much of her very white face. She puts out her hand and they shake.

"Melanie. From Toronto."

"Willie. From Connecticut. Via Rhode Island."

His hand has been crushed. Canadian girls are very strong. He puts the throbbing hand in the pocket of his tweed sportjacket.

"Do you play hockey?" he asks, realizing he's an idiot.

Melanie sneers. "Were you born in a bathtub?" she replies. "Were you raised at Starbucks, or Disneyland, or McDonald's? Did you go to college with operatic clowns and Ivy-covered prima donnas?"

She grabs a large glossy magazine and begins turning pages. Willie takes out a notebook to jot down reflections on his experience. He senses Melanie observing him over the pages of her magazine, behind the sunglasses. His notebook fills with nonsense.

The train speeds fast, through tunnels; across the movie screen until it arrives amid the chaotic madness of Rome's Stazione Termini.

"Well," Willie says to Melanie as they rise.

He wants to ask if they can meet later. Melanie slams him against the compartment, putting a red card into his jacket pocket.

"For a nearby hotel," she says. "Three blocks away. Go there. You'll be safe. Wait for instructions. Don't trust anybody!"

She leaves. Gone. Italian extras jam the corridor of the train.

(Next: The Clowns.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chapter Seventeen


Professor Poofer's pale blue eyes widen as he reads the text message on his cellphone. The panic in his eyeballs fills the movie screen. Then the camera pulls back and we see he sits behind a brown desk in an untidy office. Outside a side window are the vine-covered walls of an Ivy League campus.

"Er, ah, well, yes, er, Mr., er, uh, I mean, well. Willie! Yes! Er, how's your mother, Willie?"

The wary writing student utters a noncommital reply. Poofer appears to him as a grotesque, propped on several phone books behind his desk, an amorphous blob-like nondescript lump of characterlessness. Poofer leers at the student. Willie is reminded of Poofer's famous story, "The Writing Student"-- famous for its multiple viewpoints of a writing professor's obscene and occasionally violent fantasies about one of his young female students. Highly lauded-- the foundation of the Poofer reputation-- but when reading it Willie found it only embarrassing-- squeamishly embarrassing-- and was thankful he was male.

"She's doing well, is she?"

Poofer's eyes gleam as he sets aside his cellphone and sits back in his creaky chair.

"Yes," he continues. "One of the university's largest donors. We're very grateful for her philanthropy, Willie, believe me. You should be grateful to her also, for recognizing your writing ability and sending you to me!"

He ponders this as if it had been a momentous occasion. In truth, Willie is no better or worse a writer than his similarly competent but undistinguished classmates.

"What you lack, Willie, is experience," the Professor pontificates. "Your mother and I were discussing this at the University Club the other day. She worries that her divorce from your father has left you without proper masculine, er, guidance. That you've turned out too delicate; too soft. She feels she's been too protective of you-- raising you, an only child, among books, paintings, cats, and rich matrons. Properly educating you, yes. But Willie, there remains outside the library: life. Life!"

A painting of Henry James frowns down at both of them from behind.

"I've just received a phone message from a very important colleague-- a famous author, actually-- who was once a student of mine. He informs me a young writing person is needed to fly to Italy for an important, er, artistic assignment. And right before me sits the perfect candidate! Tickets are on their way. They'll arrive shortly. Fly there, Willie. Milano! Roma! Venezia! BE the writer you've dreamed of being! Experience the summer joys of Italy. Culture! Art! Beautiful young women! Molto bellisima. Your mother will be grateful."

A door opens. "Oh! Gloria!" Poofer coos. A scared coed with outstretched arm hands Poofer an envelope, then hurries away. On the envelope: "PLANE TICKETS."

"You must rush now, Willie. You'll receive further instructions when you deplane. Life awaits! Irrepressible life! Get going. Perhaps you can run down Gloria, who I hear scampering down the hall, to give you a ride to the airport." Poofer giggles. "Go! Now! Run!"

Poofer rises halfway from his phone books and with pudgy hands motions Willie through the door.

"Life! Art! I'll call your mother!"

These words echo behind Willie as he runs ineptly down the hallway with the plane tickets to catch up with Gloria.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chapter Sixteen

The movie screen is filled with bold, hand-written letters which spell two words: "UNDERGROUND" and "MANIFESTO." In the glitzy restaurant, Boss Eggers takes the brightly colored sheet of paper from his African sidekick and begins to read.

"Who creates revolutionaries? They're created by authoritarian regimes themselves, through their own blundering authoritarianism.

"What you need to know. There IS a literary rebellion. It began before I heard of it, through rebel writers like Richard K. I joined it in 1993. . . . Since 2001 I've been one of the movement's leaders, but only one of them. If I'm destroyed, others will step forward. We operate through organizations like the Underground Literary Alliance but also outside them. There are more of us than you know. One joins the Rebellion simply by acknowledging to yourself that literary change is necessary-- then working for that change in every way possible. All writers need to reorient the way they view themselves within the System of literature. Then they need to renegotiate their relationship within that System, and with those who run it.

"Every revolution creates: -Rebels; -Moderates; -Reactionaries; in symbiotic topsy-turvy rotations of weakness and strength. This revolution has experienced all three. Who has the upper hand at this moment I can't say. . . .

"HISTORY: From 2001 to 2004 we were kicking the Establishment's ass, going from victory to victory. In the years since we've faced waves of reaction. Our allies in the media were destroyed. Our main vehicle was shaken by betrayals. Yet, the literary Resistance has survived. I consider what we went through to be growing pains. We've been shattered, but the pieces are still out there, able to be reconsolidated at any time. . . .

"SECRET CODICIL #1: In hindsight, when setting up the ULA we behaved like naifs, with no anticipation of the moles, turncoats, and attacks upon us which would follow. Our structure, our discipline, and our internal security needed to be tighter. I had assumed that once a public profile was accomplished we'd be unassailable. This was mistaken.

"As solution I propose an ultra-secret arm of the underground, Unit Z, whose members would be known not by name but by number, and whose purpose will be to counter the counter-insurgents: to defend against the paid moles and spies who've been attacking us. Our biggest weakness has been our lack of "intelligence"-- a failure to know not only what is going on regarding us in the other camp, but on our own side; even in our main organization. We need a clearing house for tips and information. Unit Z would contain the hard-core of the hard-core; be relentlessly devoted to the cause. Not an ideal solution-- but given an unscrupulous enemy, how else is the cause to prevail?"

Boss Eggers stares across at his lunchmate, the man behind the veil, for effect, before reading one phrase more.


He looks up. "The rest of the page is blank."

A storm has appeared outside, as if in warning, while they talked. Thunder shakes the glass windows of the skyscraper and vibrates across the tables of the restaurant's elegant room. Sudden rain sweeps down upon the street outside as they watch, while waitresses light golden-flame candles. The three men involuntarily shiver.
The same storm passes across the Great Lakes and buries the crumbling industrial city of Detroit in lightning and rain. Clouds spread purple in all directions. The deposed leader of the Rebellion scurries like a wet rat from doorway to doorway of boarded building in the beat-down Cass Corridor, seeking shelter. He sprints across a street through a blue curtain of rain to another doorway, where he pauses with heart racing. Water runs down his face. The hoodie he wears is soaked, as are his shoes, and himself. This is the end of the line-- but here he can hide and regather his resources before attempting another wave. Or should he? The Apparatus of Dissent he's set into motion has jumped from his hands. . . .
Alone in his New York pied-a-terre at the storm's end-- his wife out of town-- the Man in the Black Hat considers the lunch meeting. The underground broadside read to him, concocted or real, has thrown him. He sits in darkness, behind his veil, considering his next move. Extreme measures are called for. The Rebellion has to be isolated, its outlets shut down. It has to be stopped!

He's shouted these last words, and punched the arm of his armchair weakly with his fist. His words linger in the air before him. "Stopped!" Two moles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are already at work. He knows also that Boss Eggers has sent an unnamed Spy on the underground's trail. This isn't enough. It's time to put into play the ultimate weapon, known by many names and identities; a human missile of unspeakable ability and unstoppable hate. Even the fiercest undergrounder would be no match for the individual known infamously as THE ASSASSIN. Assassinate! Demolish! Kill! The man smiles as he picks up his cellphone and punches in a text message. His order. Is the person still alive? Can the jackal-like agent be summoned and quickly brought into the fight? Impatience. Impatience! He needs victory NOW, by every measure; wants the underground broken; wants proof that the destruction of all protest, all complaint, all dissent against his dominance is assured.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chapter Fifteen

"The Meeting"

In the tony restaurant, as large as a stage set, Boss Eggers sees the Madman in the Black Hat, and smirks. The crazed literary bigwig sits in a corner near a window, barricaded by tables and plants, with a black veil attached to his broad-brimmed hat covering the upper part of his face. It makes him look like a comic book bad guy. Is it done for effec, to frighten his associates, Eggers wonders? Or a sign of the man's insanity?

"Let's proceed," Eggers says to his silent African sidekick.

Walking very straight, they navigate through the glossy tables and seat themselves with the plutocratic lunatic.

A waitress appears instantly.

"Anything to drink?"

"Get me your best beer, your best salad, best steak, rare, buried in onions, then your largest, most expensive dessert. The best of everything! And the same for him," Eggers says, pointing to his friend and dismissing the waitress in one easy gesture. The young woman, tall, with auburn bangs and clunky eyeglasses, and a white blouse, stares, smirks, grimaces, glares, then leaves and returns a moment later with their glistening beers. The Madman across from them is carefully sipping from a crystal goblet of bloodless wine.

"Who's behind you?" the gang boss throws at him.

A low voice creeps from beneath the veil.

"Who? Who indeed? Bankers? Money? The System? The Establishment? My father? My wife? Anyone? It's all paranoia. Maybe the CIA-- but what is that? A repository for a particular mindset, just as the ULA is a coalescence of a particular anarchist mindset-- or was, until I touched a button and destroyed it. What was the CIA? It also no longer exists. I'll say they were Eastern Establishment liberal Cold Warriors, well-educated, Yale mostly, with a yen for poetry."

"What did they want?" Eggers asks.

"Oh: victory. World domination. It was a class thing. One can't say they-- we-- are any longer bent on it, because we've 98% achieved it."

"Conspiracy theories," Boss Eggers sneers.

"No, no conspiracy. Public fact, visible for all to see."

The gang boss moves closer across the table, edging forward the man's wine glass, and his plate of alfalfa, asparagus, and beets, crowding his space.

"So is your class backing my rivals here in New York, the Negativity Plus people? Where do they get their money?"

"Rivals? Hardly. Partners, if anything. A different branch on the same tree. From what I hear they've retreated from literature-- into philosophy. The arcane teachings of an intentionally useless philosophy."

"So you're telling me--"

"I'm not telling you anything!" the madman exclaims.

He's become red-faced. At the same time beneath the veil appears a secretive smile. His head shakes, a mad spectre of black and red. It occurs to the crude gangland boss, who believes in nothing save his own enrichment, that before him sits the embodiment of evil. The man's face is so red it appears to be a shaft of burning fire, behind a black veil beneath a black hat. Yet the plutocrat keeps smiling. Insanely. Involuntarily the boss backs away.

The waitress drops their salads and steaks with a loud clunk onto the table. She knows the arrogant newcomer will tip lavishly regardless to impress the masked man, who eats here often and never tips anything.

Boss Eggers uses the sharp knife provided to cut his steak multiple times into tiny pieces. He watches the blood rush over the plate. He's wondering if he's underestimated this guy. Eggers has given him all the space in his publications he could want, has promoted his friends-- Britishers and bluebloods-- had thought he was humoring him, but now wonders, who is using whom?

Why the veil? Is the man a mutant who needs to shield his eyes? One of the High Priests! The Priests believe themselves to have special powers. Eggers knows how they view themselves, as part of a special Order, a club whose entry is gained through birth and indoctrination. Even he, all-powerful Boss Eggers, isn't good enough to be one of them.

But many times the caste's magic has failed. Such as, their failure-- even Plimpton's failure! Pimpernel Plimpton himself-- against the literary revolutionaries. He sees an opening.

"You say the rebels are destroyed," he tells the man. "Yet I've obtained this very day, through my planted sources, a message purporting to be from their former leader."

He snaps his fingers. His African companion produces from beneath his dashiki a glowing orange sheet of paper, the word "MANIFESTO" in large handwritten black letters across the top of the page. Eggers pushes aside his empty plates, grabs the paper and begins to read. . . .

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chapter Fourteen


While the literary Rebellion fights for its survival; while various other gangs plot against the rebels but also against themselves, the n+1 "Negativity Plus" boys have abandoned the battle altogether. Their latest project: building an "End of the World" underground shelter.

They meet in their current green-walled Manhattan headquarters, spartanly furnished, the walls bare save for one tattered poster of Karl Marx; tables empty except for stacks of unsold copies of their hysterical (both meanings) journal.

The five-person decision-making staff sit around a trapezoidally-shaped staff table with one leg shorter than the others, so that it rests permanently askew.

"This is the plan," Chad Harebrane, the looniest of their loony hyper-intellectualized ranks, lectures while unfurling many dozens of graphically colored blueprints and charts. "The planet begins to reach maximum crisis point early next year. I've located an abandoned stretch of subway on the upper west side. I've taken it over. Stocks of soon-to-vanish oil will power our computers and air-conditioning."

"Oil?" one of the others asks.

"Oil," Chad affirms. "It's vanishing anyway. Might as well grab our share." (Ideological consistency is never a concern with these fellows.)

"A private jet, already fueled, will be down there with us, so we can continue our flights to Cali and Europe. Best of all"-- he points to a stairway on a map-- "this leads directly to the heart of Columbia U, so we'll be able to continue to teach, at least until the heat aboveground becomes intolerable, which I estimate will take a few semesters."

A self-satisfied smirk, of a kind usually seen in an Idiot ward, takes shape about the corners of his mouth.

"What about food stocks?" one of the other sober-faced nut cases throws at him with an Inquisitional glare.

"Plenty of food stocks!" Chad assures them. "Enough for staff and select friends-- very select friends-- five dozen in all-- our entire readership actually-- plus allowances for expected 1.1 children per couple, though why we'd care to introduce new human-types into this awful planet is beyond comprehension. All-in-all, an adequate plan; enough food, oil, jet fuel, and DVDs of pretentiously bad foreign language movies to keep us entertained, right to the deadline of Earth Day, April 22, 2050."

"What happens then?" the others ask, hunching closer around the cockeyed staff table.

"Why, the world ends," Chad tells them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Chapter Thirteen


While gangleader Boss Eggers and the mysterious monied string-puller in the Black Hat have lunch together in a tony Manhattan restaurant, the Counterinsurgency plan intended to wipe out the Literary Resistance once and for all is implemented. Participating in the Plan, receiving directions from above, are a host of reactionary new lit organizations.

Such as: Blueblood Literary Alliance Haute (aka BLAH!); or, for those not blue-blooded enough, the Ultra Literary Trustfunders (ULTras), taking their name from aristocratic reactionaries during the French Revolution. Less well organized, and less serious, frankly, is the Mauve Hundreds, modeling themselves after the infamous Black Hundreds from the final days of Czarist Russia.

While Boss Eggers and his patron talk, and the leaders of the ULA vanish underground, the Mauve Hundreds hold their initial meeting at a fancy Manhattan bistro.

"Isn't this exciting?" one of them remarks while sampling jumbo-sized shrimp and sipping from a flavored martini. Inside the bistro, within the gaily-lit room, all appears to those gathered there to be secure and wonderful.

"We are going to wipe out the mosquitos!" a well-dressed publishing exec screams drunkenly, mauve mascara disarrayed over her mad eyes.

Hey, they overwork themselves into a frazzle for the garbage books they produce, and so are entitled to relax on occasion; loosening ties or corsets (the latest fashion trend); getting drunk or snorting high-priced cocaine-- only the best for them.

"Power to the Privileged!" a young man in a silk shirt and golden tie responds, thrusting his fist into the air. "All Power to the Conglomerates!"

The other partygoers look at him questioningly, wondering if he's being ironic. They are unused to anyone speaking UNironically, and can no longer tell the difference between genuineness, faux-genuineness, or pure snarkiness.

A hint of worry runs through them, as they remember why they've gathered. Can this possibly be one of the rebels? Does anyone know the person? Have the rebels crashed even this affair; done it to them again? Where are the bouncers, the bodyguards, the security people? They must throw him out to be safe!

After awhile they notice that there aren't hundreds of them gathered after all, but about two dozen-- those most committed to preserving things-as-they-are. (Given the lack of commitment from such people to anything but their own careers, this is actually a fantastic turnout, indication of how much the rebels have become feared.)

"Oh well," the mascara'd power-executive woman says while reaching for the drinks tray. "We'll be the Mauve Dozens!"

Longer-term literary reactionaries are already in full gear. One of the founders of the Lit-Blacklisters Co-Op is busily typing a novel intended to denounce-- in typically obscure fashion, with obscure but elegantly crafted prose-- the grubby band of rebels. It will provide justification of a sort-- at least, rationalizations-- for the hypocrisy, from such good liberal folks, of the Blacklist, and provide a framework for the Co-Op's existence, which after all is a Co-Op in that it's been fully "co-opted" by the establishment; by the minions of Mr. Black Hat himself.

The book's working title: "Sycophancy USA."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chapter Twelve


Climbing the steps to a Writers House on an Ivy League campus to post flyers, in the realm of the enemy, the leader of the ULA notices a sudden smell or chill in the air. He studies the movie-backdrop expanse of slate-gray clouds overhanging the city.

When he steps back outside, the cautionary feeling lingers. He's been betrayed so many times, on so many occasions almost destroyed,, that he's developed a sixth sense about such things. There isn't, really, anything different in the air. It's instead an accummulation of minute changes which have been building. Several key unanswered e-mails. Cryptic remarks from people. A suddenly cancelled meeting. This moment, an extra car or two upon nearby streets. A chill from the overall literary environment which surrounds the place.

The ULA's rebellion has been tolerated, but the amused, mildly irritated tolerance has ceased. The band of literary rebels have once too-often crossed the line between being merely quirky and becoming a genuine threat to the network of established literary gangsterism which dominates the racket; which controls most of the territory.

The ULA's unique position is to be feared and hunted by all sides, gangsters and literary police alike. Now word has come down from on high. Tolerance of any dissent is over. The mob bosses have lost patience. The shadowy figure above them in his wavering sanity has lost patience. The packs of destruction have been unleashed.

The ULA's leader-- front man more than leader, as the amorphous rebellion has no leader-- catalogues the things he needs, and where they are, how quickly he can get to them, what time a certain bus departs. He makes plans in his head to vanish as fast as possible within the shadows of this east coast city, or to leave it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chapter Eleven

"The Meeting" Part ?

When Boss Eggers enters the restaurant, African friend at his side-- one step behind-- he reminds The Man in the Black Hat of an Imperial Roman with his curly hair and arrogant profile outlined against the room's sunny beams of light.

It resembles a scene of a movie. But which one? He can't decide. Eggers is an Imperialist of some kind, but not Roman after all; has too benevolent of a face. Yes! "Lawrence of Arabia"-- when Lawrence enters the Officers Club with a young Arab companion. Boss Eggers is playing the role of enlightened colonialist.

In the seconds before Eggers sees him at a back table near the windows, nearly invisible within streams of sunlight, The Man in the Black Hat thinks of many things.

He wonders: How could this crude gang boss defeat the Rebellion? Boss Eggers is too much of the material world, gauges his progress mechanistically there, in terms of sales numbers and percentages, and mainly, dollars. The underground on the other hand is an Idea more than an entity. They have no structure, no home, no buildings. A seldom updated website. An Idea which can't be killed. Or rather, something which has been killed again and again, yet continues. It isn't for lack of effort that the Man in the Black Hat has failed. The right moves were made. He takes the Plimpton Image's criticism as a personal affront. Yet the Image is correct. Like any guerrilla army, the ULA need win no battles but the last one. They need only survive.

The battle isn't one of sales or buildings or numbers of employees, of material substance or territory. Instead it's a psychological war, an ideological contest; a test of minds.

Lately he's been seeing the rebels everywhere. At a recent reading in their home city one of them had stared him in the face. A laughing face laughingly close-- his own senses had failed to recognize the person. Only later did it occur to him it was one of them.

Or a copycat? (Like the man who confronted Boss Eggers at a private Literature Police soiree?) He can't know. The Resistance is every place.

To win, he needs to understand their strategy. But how can he? It's Custer against Sitting Bull, two vastly different mindsets. On the one hand, order, rule, hierarchy. (Custer sent to find the Sioux because in his wildness he was the only white man who could approach their viewpoint. Custer loved to hunt and shoot and ride, in the open spaces. A throwback to Gothic warrior ancestors, he'd never enjoyed civilization. Still, he was entrapped in the rigid System which had recruited and trained him, which gave him his limitations.)

Sitting Bull, on the other hand, was no warrior, no leader. A mystic having dreams. He needed no structure to buttress him. He communicated with his warriors through mental telepathy.

The Man in the Black Hat stirs from this reverie. His head wavers from undefined worry. The elegant napkin in his hand drops under the table. He's surrounded by phalanxes of tables, black wood lacquered and polished to a mirror'd gleam; barriers protecting his security. The tables to him are markers of wealth, of power, of established artistic order manifested by skyscrapers of thousands of people.

The physical dominance of the Machine is unquestioned. But there can be other vulnerabilities. How do you fight ideas? His own standing in the literary Empire is buttressed by money, true, but he retains other powers-- the heritage of his caste!-- and understands the importance of mind, of psychology. It's on THAT plain he must be prepared to fight.

Arrogant warlord Eggers has spotted the Man in the Black Hat at a distant table in the large and exclusive room in this well-guarded office building-- so-secure building-- at the heart of the city of Empire, and smiles.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chapter Ten


As the Man in the Black Hat speeds in a fast elevator from a high floor down to his important meeting with Boss Eggers, he takes a cellphone from his pocket and touches a button with a red X on it. A display on the cellphone reads in sharp red letters, "DESTROY THE ULA."

This message is transmitted to Imperial offices throughout the country.

Literature Police Sergeant John Freeman at Literature Police headquarters smirks happily as he reads the incoming message on his computer screen: "DESTROY THE ULA."

Trooper Skurnick at a desk nearby begins to say, "I know we're not supposed to pay anymore attention to them, but--" She's cut off with a glance from Freeman, whose eyes point her to her own screen with its own message, "DESTROY THE ULA."

In a newspaper building in Philadelphia, a short man with curly black hair rearranges a stack of papers on his desk as his computer begins to beep. The man looks like a Roman and thinks of himself the same way. Last January he'd spotlighted a ULA-like book with a ULA-looking cover in the newspaper's "Spring Books" section. Unironically, he'd written about the book, "about two renegade leaders of an underground literary movement"-- knowing well his city harbors the most infamous of all underground literary movements, which he'd helped his paper to ignore the past several years; the capper being a major article about one of the city's least talented poets which appeared the same day as one of the ULA's readings. Glorious!

The incessant beeping disturbs the Roman's reveries of literary Empire, then he gloats as he reads on the screen, "DESTROY THE ULA."

In another office, Michael Signorelli, dressed in a gray Star Wars uniform marking him as a drone, also reads the command and prepares to comply. "DESTROY THE ULA."

Across the Empire the message is sent and read, giving satisfaction to guardians of literary privilege only too eager to enforce conformity and shut out the forces of dissent and change. They feel swift encouragement. In their fears of literature's failure they have a target which can be named only secretly-- the target has now been named to them and they feed on the information: "DESTROY THE ULA!"

(So ends the first section of the serial, originally posted at AttackingtheDemi-Puppets. Coming soon: All-New Episodes. More literary gangland action.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chapter Nine

(Continuation of "The Meeting.")

The glowing holographic image of George Plimpton, in a darkened room inside a towering black skyscraper, explains the literary galaxy to the Man in the Black Hat.

"Look!" the Plimpton-image cries out in a sudden thundering voice. "There! The home planet; center of our galaxy."

His long, tanned finger is pointing at New York City.

"The largest planet. The center of literary Empire; home of the giant book companies, and scores of glossy magazines produced here to be sent out daily to other parts of the realm. Every day starships depart on missions to far-flung corners of the near-Universe, to reinforce, spread, and strengthen Imperial ideas."

His finger wanders to a much smaller light on the map, marked "Iowa."

"This is one of our colonies. A model base. Our goal has been to establish a network of outposts completely loyal to Imperial literary rule. They're manned by MFA-trained literary soldiers. The MFA programs, modeled on the successful one at Iowa, recruit-- if not the best-- at least the most cooperative and pliable of local writing talent. A typical example was Ray Carver. Beaten-down working-class man! His writing expressed the poverty and futility of his life-- yet never once did he show anger at, or knowledge about, the civilization itself. His writing said, 'This is the natural course of events. The caste system is immutable. Accept it!'"

Plimpton smiles wryly, proudly, for the small part he played in the writer's development.

"No Dreisers. No Jack Londons. No John Steinbecks. No! Ray Carver! That became the model. We multiply our lobotomized Ray Carvers and our patrician John Updikes throughout the galaxy. Wherever they go, they inhabit the available literary space. They monopolize media coverage and arts funding. Local writers have the option to join the system or vanish into obscurity. Many underground poets desiring to 'just write' are only too happy to comply, with scarcely a quibble of protest, but with instead: apathy.

"The MFAers are our missionaries-- our Starbucks employees, if you will-- opening the way for succeeding layers of conglomerate book companies and big-money foundations; ultimately, for us. For literary Empire."

The Plimpton holograph leisurely paces about.

"But you know this. That you're here; that you've questioned this oracle that I've become, from the past, speaking to you in the future, means that all is not completely well with the literary Machine which has controlled the art form for over five decades. What could be the problem?

"The radicals of the ULA? Those upstarts? I rather assume that measures were taken to destroy them. They are the Empire's most dangerous enemies. If they have not been destroyed, you've already failed. The longer they exist, in any condition, the greater their threat. Not a single voice of authentic rebellion to the Machine can remain. For them, survival is victory.

"Who else? 'Boss Eggers'? At the time I'm recording this, he's in the process of making a fundamental mistake, by moving his base of operations from the home planet. He prefers to stay here," (the finger lands on the San Francisco Bay area) "at the other end of the galaxy where he can rule as omnipotent warlord. The representatives of his he's left behind are weak. Meanwhile, a new organization arises on the home planet as I speak, with the rather cryptic and even silly title of N+1. Or something like that. Not a compelling name. Flawed from the beginning, I'd rather think. BUT, they've been trained in the Empire's best academies. They understand the prime importance of this location. They have a network of support drawn from intellectual movements of previous generations. Their leader, born in another galaxy, represents fresh blood which could be dangerous. They seem in themselves highly intelligent, perhaps more so than any potentials rivals.

"Where are their loyalties? Do you know? Do they understand the importance of our Legacy? Will they maintain the essential foundation? What do they believe? That's for you to discover. Absorbed or destroyed: the only choices.

"In the meantime, I presume The Paris Review is alive and well for use as our Flagship. A little dusty, perhaps, but with still-powerful engines. I know you'll maintain a ready crew. I've spoken long enough. I believe it's time for a nap! I bid you. . . ."

The image begins flickering, then quickly fades out. The soundless room resumes its blanket of darkness. The Man in the Black Hat hears only the flow of air-conditioning. He glances at his luminous watch. An hour has passed. It's time for the meeting.