Sunday, March 18, 2012

More More Novel


At night after the big game Rick Romeo stood on top of Tychon Stadium. Noises of the crowd lingered through the empty stands. The deserted field held flashback images of the intense action and colors that’d been there hours before. The field vibrated. Rick grabbed an iron bar for balance, feeling the rushing air.

The southern part of the city stretched out before him. That compressed landscape of tight streets of narrow rowhouses had once been his universe. Utterly cheap and flimsy housing built 100 years ago for a mass of immigrants. Somehow those cheap houses were still around. Other immigrants from different lands now dwelled in many of them.

Rick distinguished the checkered pattern of streets, a different ethnicity crowded on each one: black, Irish, Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese and Chinese. A colorfully loud mess.

The old city before him was slowly being overlaid by gleaming new steel venues, like the Tower or this stadium, islands of entertainment and business for the city’s fast-moving high-tech people, who could be of any ethnicity because they were a separate breed, almost a new species. Men and women like Tychon were constructing a new city for new people. The old city with its tough people, poor and working poor, was considered dangerous. Yet the new city of unleashed competitiveness offered a new kind of danger—more ruthless because it was more refined, less human.

From up here, his old neighborhood-- once as vast as the world-- looked contained. In the larger scheme, tiny. Rick saw oxidized green steeples rising up from the so-narrow streets, Catholic churches dotting the entire long neighborhood.

His family’s rowhouse had sat in the shadow of a church. Rick saw in his mind a truck selling vegetables on the corner. In summer, a rainstorm flooding the block, kids of the neighborhood splashing in the urban stream. He knew well the interiors of the houses, Roman Catholic, tiny living rooms smaller than Tychon’s office bathroom, the rooms filled with religious statues and pictures of the sacred heart of Jesus.

A bleeding heart. Other denominations, other religions raised their children to be attorneys or doctors. Catholic families once wanted one son to be a priest.

That was the ideology in which Rick Romeo had been raised. One of his aunts was a nun. The local parish priest was a dinner guest in his parents’ house. Rick himself after college had attended a seminary intending to be a priest—then left to enlist in the Marines.

As a young man Rick had sensed his own wildness. He sought order, discipline, hierarchy, direction. But the Church was no longer a force. He’d wished it were—it’d lost the interest of larger society and it’d lost credibility. The priests he met seemed weak and flabby. Some turned out to be worse.

Rick remembered a young parish priest when he was a child, Father B. Something of a social activist. One time during a sleepy mass, in the sermon Father B began suddenly to speak about racism, violence, and hate—to confront the parishioners themselves. Rick and his sisters and brothers at up in the pew to listen. They’d never heard anything like it. An exciting moment. The message of Jesus became a living fact. Father B later left the priesthood, leaving behind the timid, the corrupt, and the simple-minded.

The Church, instead of a refuge from tragedy, became itself a tragedy, good deeds swept away by bad, the flock’s innumerable victims with nowhere to turn. Children had been unprotected. They were all children adrift in an uncaring universe.

The early Church hadn’t been a sanctuary, but a jumping-off point for changing society, led by fearless men and women ready to face anything, including the lions. Where today were the saints and martyrs? Today, Tychon was the world’s church: church and pope combined. The huge stadium on which Rick stood was contemporary society’s cathedral.

Rick Romeo was a soldier—a latter-day centurion who thrived by obedience to authority. Yet, Jesus had won over centurions as well as the sick and the homeless. he’d believed that anyone—anyone, no matter how corrupted by the world—could be saved.

Rick stood next to huge letters: “TYCHON.”

Tychon represented order and hierarchy. He embodied leadership and certainty—a certainty Rick knew everyone needed. Tychon was dominance personified. He showed no doubt, no hesitation, bolstered by untold wealth and power, manipulating the city and the leaders of the city through hidden strings. Existing on a higher mental plane, seeing farther, knowing others for the fools they were and always proved to be. Yet it was all material. It could be counted and quantified. Everything was appetite. There was no love in Tychon’s philosophy, and no love in Tychon. All love had long past been squelched within the man in pursuit of his magical dreams.

Rick saw the pollution-covered spires in his old neighborhood. He knew that on Sundays the churches were half-empty, parishioners chased away by scandal and irrelevance. Many churches were closed or were on the verge of closing by a cash-strapped archdiocese imploding upon itself. The presence of the Church in the city dwindled. Proportionally it was now a small wooden structure, little more than a chapel, a lonely cross atop a leaky roof at the end of a deserted street. The Church had returned to its very beginning: scorned and neglected. Abandoned, as Jesus had been abandoned at his execution by even his disciples, except the youngest one of them and a few loyal women, while soldiers gambled for his few belongings.

The games meanwhile increased and strengthened by the day. All the games—not only the sports teams. New religions. New idols. History had been reversed, Rick realized. He couldn’t comprehend how. Pagan ROME had renewed itself, thrown off its restraints, risen from the dust and formed itself into terrible new arenas. He saw it for real in front of him. On all sides. The return of power and greed.

Would the poor and meek now be thrown to the wild beasts, sacrificed on the altar of might? Maybe it was happening and he couldn’t see it.

Rick felt himself wearing an invisible team uniform. He’d become a priest after all—for the wrong side.

The once-vibrant image of Jesus had become muddied, no longer visible, covered in filth and betrayal. An entire city of betrayal, Rick Romeo one of the betrayers. Yet in the tiny chapel in the midst of tragedy, in his mind, a small light remained, a brittle, scarcely-seen ray of hope, a way out—a personality he’d tried to follow and every time like an infant trying to walk fell down.

Rick saw the stretch of the neighborhood, of the city, up to downtown, past gray City Hall with its yellow clock up to the unfinished Tower looming gigantic behind it. Rick felt the city’s rising chaos, the struggle of ambition and pain. A conflict of ideas ran through him. The world’s continuous noise. Rick had escaped here, to the stadium’s highest point above the scoreboards, skyboxes, and video screens, seeking peace. He wished for a quiet, spiritual place.

Despite his disillusion with the Church, he still carried a rosary. It’d been years since he’d said an Our Father or Hail Mary on it. Rick took the rosary from a pocket of his wallet and looked at it, held it up before him, the black beads of a medieval relic, badly out-of-date in the hyper-modern age. He ran the beads through his fingers, then put the rosary away.

The Tower was today, was now, was the city. Rising strength. Rick saw its cruel outline against the inharmonious night.

Near its top, directly beneath the shadow of incomplete girders, shone a spot of orange light. Lara Vox broadcasting. By herself?

Low clouds parked behind the skyscraper’s summit, creating a blue-white halo effect in the night sky. The spot of light pulled at him. What was the attraction he felt? What did Lara represent? The power of ideas? Perhaps there, in that single orange light, Rick glimpsed an opening.

Fan Appreciation Day was the day after next. Rick Romeo saw the collision of opposing forces. He knew Lara Vox was behind the ill-advised protest, directly or indirectly. Maybe he could stop it. He needed to arrange a meeting with Lara Vox. He needed to see her face-to-face and hear more of her thinking.

The night sky deepened. Rick made a mental note to have Connie contact Lara’s radio station in the morning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More New Novel


Mary Dreads walked along the boundary to the Green Zone, sipping absently from a large paper cup of hot coffee while dragging Parker on a leash along the sidewalk behind her. Parker was her scruffy little dog, a dirty pale orange animal who to onlookers sometimes appeared to be passed out. On Mary’s side of the wide avenue sat tumbling down structures, many abandoned, behind fencing, condemned. On the other side of the avenue stood restored Victorian homes that were part of the Green Zone.

The Green Zone was the university, with surrounding blocks of large houses and chain businesses which were in every way an extension of campus. The zone was “green,” i.e., environmentally conscious, yet with its extensive campus police and isolation from the greater neighborhood it was another kind of Green Zone as well—a protected enclave amid a world of poverty. The sarcastic use of the term began during the Iraq War, taken from the name of the American compound in Baghdad. The name stuck.

The Green Zone contained the area’s show dogs. Not just the designated Best. The Only. At moments in her life Mary had skirted the line. The crucial divide. Credit or debit. First class or the mass. Nobles or nowhere.

Behind its barriers the Green Zone was expanding, like a living organism gobbling up the ruined landscape then redeveloping and gentrifying it. The dividing line pushed farther and farther out.

Mary walked slowly along the busy avenue, a flood of cars streaming past. The houses of the Zone’s outer ring across the avenue were colored burnt red. This was fitting, as they always faced the sun.

Mary Dreads was a small young woman with small features and pale brown hair which she wore in dreadlocks in order to be recognizable, along with bright-colored garb. She knew she was unimpressive. Nevertheless she saw herself as a key figure in the insurgency she hoped would transform itself into revolution.

Her idol was Sofia Perovskaya, a 19th century Russian anarchist. Mary had learned about her in college. After the men fell from the forefront, Perovskaya took charge. Mary saw no less an outcome for herself. She knew the cause would have many stages. It required patience—Mary had of that virtue a warehouse. She was like a toy bulldog that once set on its path couldn’t be stopped.

She’d read and seen enough to know the weaknesses of movements. To know which individuals would be useful to the cause, and those who’d be useless.

At the African Lion one night she and Miles had written down four kinds of personalities to avoid, using scattershot input from Top Hat.

1.) Talkers.

Top Hat preferred calling this category “Theorists.” Bullshit artists in late night bullshit sessions expending their activist energy on talk. Mary had known revolutionaries like this in college. They were the only kind she found there. Sure, talk was necessary. Top Hat loved to talk. But even he agreed that it needed to be focused on special moments. Talk to recruit, or to energize the cause. What Lara Vox did on the airwaves. Miles seldom talked, but was the brightest of them all. The biggest talkers never left the university. Soon enough they were at the front of classrooms, still talking.

2.) Compromisers.

Top Hat called them “Incrementalists.” These persons looked for any excuse to cash in a perceived gain. “Can’t we all just get along?” Uh, no, not if you want to change the world.

How do you get along with a jackboot pushing your face into the mud? Most Compromisers were professionals who didn’t want to change the current system at all. They looked for a place inside the system. Token opposition to the status quo. Their resume was important.

Top Hat and Mary had a one-word code between themselves for this kind of activist: “Liberal.”

3.) Factionalists.

There were fifty kinds of anarchist and 500 styles of Marxist. Are you an Anarcho-Syndicalist Trotskyite or a Green Third International Bukharin Socialist? None of these people were serious. They were ideologues. Purists. Maintaining the purity of their faction mattered most to them. The fundraising, pamphleteering, paying rent on a cheap storefront office, and the inevitable neverending internal disputes left no time or energy for anything else. Miles put it best when he said that for many people in this country, ideology was a prop. It allowed them to not think. They inhaled a ready-made set of beliefs to do their thinking for them.

For the serious revolutionary, specifics didn’t matter. Mary knew libertarians who were more dedicated radicals than many so-called leftists.

4.) Tourists.

Those who joined the movement out of curiosity, who played the role on whim as a kind of hobby or entertainment, or who saw opportunity for themselves in the cause. Or maybe they just wanted to get laid.

Often these four types were four sides of the same person.

Mary’s reading of history showed that two things mattered for any revolutionary movement.

A.) Leadership.

Leadership meant having a small group of dedicated activists setting an agenda that must be followed by everyone in order to have success.

B.) Commitment.

This meant burning your boats. Leaving the plow behind. No turning back. This was the only acceptable mindset.

These were their stated rules. Mary’d found though that you knew instinctively who was a genuine comrade and who wasn’t. You could tell by their eyes. Bart the Bard, for instance, wore Marxist paraphernalia, but it’s not what he was about, other than to show he wanted rebellion against the existing order. He lived for rebellion.

They knew it wasn’t numbers that mattered, but the substance of those involved.

What was Mary’s background?

This question, she knew, would someday be asked in history books. Mary cringed at the thought of her family, and the dreary milieu she came from. She hoped this question wouldn’t be asked too hard.

What was the cause of her disillusion?

Mary Dreads was born disillusioned, she decided. She knew the world she was expected to conform to, with its silly social rituals and superficial idols, its condescending authority figures, wasn’t for her. She saw on every side of her only shallowness. Therefore the need to change that world.

What a coup to have Lara Vox involved! The city’s radical superhero. The further they drew Lara in and utilized her special talents, the more the cause would benefit. Mary walked to an important group meeting with Lara Vox now.

Mary heard Parker being dragged on the sidewalk behind her, zonked-out as always. Not quite a fearless attack dog. Not exactly a fitting companion for a dedicated revolutionary like herself.

She’d found Parker five years ago in an alleyway. The dog was marginally more alert at the time. Mary carried him home, cleaned him up, took him to a vet for shots, then presented him as a gift to a friend with a young daughter. The friend was a famous professor who’d had the child late in life via artificial insemination.

Mary liked the lonely little kid. The celebrated professor had a full schedule. The well-behaved dog was perfect for a well-behaved little girl.

Four years later the professor showed up at Mary’s door in the west side neighborhood where Mary now stayed. The woman had tracked down her former student.

“I’ve taken a new position,” the severe woman said, her teary-eyed daughter standing obediently behind her. “We’re moving to Wisconsin. Here’s your dog.”

Mary Dreads wasn’t sure how an active radical like herself could take care of an animal. Mary’s solution was to take Parker with her everywhere. Including her sixteen-hour a week job at a pizza shop, where Parker stayed in the back room. Parker didn’t mind. Neither did anyone else. He attended all the revolutionary meetings. Mary thought of him as part of the movement.

Mary sometimes wondered if Parker was just old, or if he was retarded. She’d decided he was no more retarded than anyone else in this stupid town.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Another Novel Excerpt


The silver limousine leaving the airport cut through the vast crammed brown-and-orange neighborhoods of the southern side of the city like a sharp knife. Along the broad avenue on both sides moved desperate broken homeless people in grimy dull orange-and-brown rags layered for the chilled air. The sky shimmered cold blue. Behind the shuffling or crying people stood block after block after block of dilapidated falling-down buildings, in contrast to which the sleek clean limo was a craft from another planet.

Tychon had missed the protest, happily. It’d been handled satisfactorily, from what he’d heard and seen on TV. It’s why one employed underlings.

He’d flown in early on his private jet from his business trip solely to see a concert. To represent himself at a cultural happening. The city’s renowned orchestra, which he generously supported, was to perform this evening Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto. Less well-known than the First, but in many ways more powerful, which meant for Tychon more moving. Yes, he could be moved, not by superficial causes, nor for sentimental reasons.

Funerals for instance did nothing to him since death was an unavoidable part of life. Funerals were social occasions good for networking. He’d been unmoved by death itself. Only the largest gestures could touch Arthur Tychon. He remained puzzled that anything could. Perhaps great art transported him to a higher plane, a kind of Valhalla above ordinary human beings, a level where he felt he lived anyway. Great art mimicked his own greatness.

Tychon looked toward the front, at the rearview mirror so the driver could see his eyes. His driver noticed and picked up his rate of speed. For Tychon there was nothing worse than to be late for an anticipated concert. The limo sped ahead amid a ruined world.

If Tychon could ever be made uncomfortable, it’d be from similarities between decayed portions of the city, glimpses of helpless vulnerability, and undisclosed corners of his memory. From shows of weakness, which strength pitied yet also fed upon, so that weakness became affirmation of strength. If he could ever be made uncomfortable.

He would meet his date at the concert hall: Alexandra, an attractive Polish-descent blonde age 35 who made herself available for Arthur Tychon’s occasional nights out, as well as for other things. As the limousine efficiently pulled up outside the monstrously ugly modern hall, Tychon observed her waiting reliably for him inside the glass doors, wearing a long burgundy coat which matched her healthy coloring. He appreciated Alexandra’s punctuality.

Their box seats, he noticed as they sat in them, were too far back from the stage. Not the best seats in the house. Alexandra liked to be seen with him, preferably by as much of the audience as possible, as he enjoyed being seen with her. Concert going was also a social occasion.

The Concerto opened the program, which meant they could leave early. Recreation for Tychon was brief, aside from watching the football games, which could be excused because he owned the team.

Lights dimmed. The pianist strode onto the stage to respectful applause. He walked like a gladiator. The virtuoso was fifty years old but looked younger. He gave a short bow, more a nod than a bow, and took his seat.

The pianist struck thunderous chords, jumping out of his seat as he pounded the keyboard. Tychon enjoyed this immensely. He wanted to see only strong men at the piano, only beautiful women on the violin. The great Russian concertos required a strong man with powerful hands to do them justice. He noticed the man’s hands—as large and sinewy as the Laser’s. The pianist displayed astounding dexterity with those hands, flawless coordination. Strength combined with accuracy. As fine an athlete in his way as the Laser.

Tychon sat back and enjoyed the performance. He noted the audience demographic: 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in age. He was one of the younger persons here. Unbelievable! Symphonic music was a dying art. In fifteen years the hall would be all but empty.

He absorbed himself in the masterful construction of the piece. Classical music at its best was perfect logic. The war between logic and passion; the mind keeping at bay the chaos of the world and the dark forces below. Not even keeping away those dark forces, those awful passions, but using them, directing them, feeding on them, so that passion and logic and darkness became one and the same.

The excellent pianist paused from his labors to allow sounds of the full orchestra to enter the space. Tychon noticed how the conductor, controlling every individual musician, every particular sound, mixed them into one piece. In the concert hall the world became comprehensible. In the same way, Tychon believed he could hold the various parts of the greater world inside his head. The individual actors in his life. He studied them, saw through them, saw each individual’s strength and weakness, knew them as thoroughly as the symphony conductor knew the members of the orchestra. Tychon believed he could control the people in his world the same way the conductor controlled his people—controlled them and created this world of sound which the audience experienced. Those occasions, or those persons, Tychon couldn’t control he’d dismissed from his head.

What did it take to create a great pianist? Much watering of the plant from an early age. Assertive parents. tutors, lessons, schools, a conservatory, with much enforced listening. No doubt some ability. The ability had to be bullied, coaxed, guided, molded, lectured, shown. It’d be an obsessive investment.

Arthur Tychon had created his own prodigy, not exactly at music. It remained to be seen if the talents of the person would ever be fully realized.

As he listened, basking in the warm colors of the polished brass and burnished violins, Tychon visualized the orchestra dressed in the football team’s colors, green blazers and blue trousers with orange stripes. There was no prestige in owning a rock band. Corporate logos were slapped on the biggest of them. They’d already been bought. But an entire symphony!—that would be an achievement. It would further meld high culture with the games, to create an inspired experience. A religious experience in its way, tribute to the gods of today. He envisioned this very orchestra playing while his football athletes took the field. The greatest music. Wagner. “Carmina Burana.” “Zarathustra.” The famous Liszt fanfare. Beethoven’s Ninth!

He’d have to buy a full team choir also, he decided. He’d move the musicians out of this ill-conceived hall—it resembled a gymnasium—donations gone to waste; modernism without grandeur, which missed the point. Only if he, Arthur Tychon, was in charge would anything in this, his adopted city, be done right.

Those who designed the concert hall wanted it to be democratic. Which meant, mediocre. By his lights democracy equaled mediocrity. Amazing, the backward thinking of those who should know the realities of society or otherwise not be hired.

This hall wasn’t about democracy! It was an expression of will, a cavern of talent, a showcase of authority. The Orchestra was a celebration of hierarchy, from the conductor down, of the eternal nature of human society—a society which in its struggles, complexities, conflicts, its designations of lows and highs was greater than any imagined symphony. Yes, millions suffered, but to be at the top was glorious.

Democracy was America’s secular religion. Powerful individuals, whatever their political persuasion, Right or Left, properly treated “democracy” the same way he supposed religious people handled their faith—something to pay lip service to but whose commandments you broke at every opportunity.

Within the dark hall the pianist resumed playing. A thrilling flow of piano keys. Alexandra swayed in her seat as if at a rock concert. At least she enjoyed herself. Be grateful for small favors.

Did the magnificent playing register on anyone else? The rest of the audience was here for Culture. They sat in their seats like stuffed prop dummies.

Tychon saw only the glowing black-and-white keys, across which the hands moved with impossible dexterity.

The pianist sweat heavily as he played, enjoying himself, caught up in the majestic sound for which he was the fulcrum, the device through which to bring genius to the audience. Tychon moved to the edge of his seat. Here it came: unmistakable signs that the climax neared, was about to be reached. Sound built inexorably like an approaching wave. Power expanded through the hall—the power of art. The crescendo. Tremendous! The pianist’s hands raised and paused with a final flourish as the last notes reverberated. An exclamation point. Order restored. Might made right. Musical victory.

Tychon stood and yelled in appreciation.