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.