The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of Undivided: The Redemption Inquiry. The second chapter of…
Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Much darkness, little light.
In which the author affords the Reader a glimpse of the dark Underbelly of the Beast as availed him by a former friend deep in the thrall of the Darke Side of the Bodie Politick. The view from The Redemption, once again both froward and rearward at once.
Back up the tape, take a ringside seat at the confession of one of the killer dudes. Shredders of the social contract. I’m telling you, this is the nuts and bolts of how it all went down the plug hole. I’m talking about the social contract, what binds us all together in the common cause of being human beings, at least here in the US of A. My pal Jeff. I judged him harshly that night. Guilty as sin. Guilty of democracide. “Have you read Grisham’s latest?” he offered as his opening gambit. Jeff’s unredeemed face, a beacon of pure ferocity, with barely a soupçon of unacknowledged irony, was poised as if to hear his master’s voice. The siren call of plutocracy’s Victrola. It must’ve been August 9, 2008. Only six months and change before the world would slide irretrievably into the next phase of the hostile takeover by the moneyed goons. Nineth of August, the eve of Tisha B’Av on the Jewish lunisolar calendar, tipping point of oblivion. Two thousand eight saw the demise of Adi Da, Guru Mahesh Maharishi Yogi, Opus the penguin and S & H Green Stamps. Thanatos was gaining the upper hand. A bit more than a century till the big trigger would be pulled, the Technological Singularity. Enlightenment out of reach and The Redemption a whispered dream. “No, I’ve never read any Grisham,” I replied warily. I was prepared for the usual tale of corporate derring do I’d come to expect on these outings. Jeff and my ex-wife Beth shared a birthday, so he and Anya and Beth and I were out for the annual birthday ritual. A trendy suburban bistro, Black Market. The girls had just stepped out for their obligatory powder. This year it was an early dinner on account of me wanting to make the proper ritual observance of the eve of destruction.
* * * * *
Let me hit the pause button for a minute here, just to give you the historical three sixty. The year Jeff told me his tale of politico-legal machismo was the year before the billionaire sociopaths set themselves up to take over for good. Two Thousand Nine, the year money became emperor for eternity. Two Thousand Eight, on the other hand, was the threshold, the year the market tanked all around the globe. Why? Because the sleight-of-hand now-you-see-me now-you-don’t boys were handing out credit to losers and then betting on them to lose. The fix was in from the bottom feeders to the top hats, from subprime mortgage lenders to the mortgage insurers to the bond raters to the Wall Street reporters to the credit default swappers. Con men and pirates. Turns out sociopathy was on the menu worldwide. Jeff was ahead of the game, a privateer for the Fortune 100 fat cats. The year Two Thousand Nine turned out to be a thrilling year for piracy, terror and international criminal regimes. Also, just to keep things in play, for the apprehension of perps! Pirates set sail on the high seas off the coast of Somalia. The Japanese, the Chinese and the Americans sent their military heavies to apprehend the scurvy crews. Har! The Maersk Alabama is boarded by Somali pirates in little motor boats, the first pirate seizure of a ship under the American flag since the 1820’s. Double har! That same year, former Union of Congolese Patriots leader Thomas Lubanga gets his mug dragged before a tribunal, the first trial at the International Criminal Court. Arraigned for training child soldiers to kill, pillage, and rape. Yikes! Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is sentenced to 25 years on account of ordering murders and kidnappings by his security thugs. Hiss! The International Criminal Court also puts out a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for slaughtering people and starving others to death in Darfur. About time, lads! The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime kicks off the Blue Heart Campaign Against Human Trafficking. Sick bastards at last beware! The Tamil Tigers, the Hindu terrorist organization in Sri Lanka—who invented suicide vests and pioneered the use of airpower in terrorist attacks—are brought under the boot of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Whew! However, the US Department of Homeland Security discovers that cyberspies from Russia, China and other nations have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid. Oh no! Vladimir Putin sends clear signals of his intent to retake the helm of the Russian ship of state. Watchout boys and girls! The stakes of the international game of Cops and Robbers keep going up! Chasing bad guys across the surface of the planet while the real saboteurs were taking down the system from the inside at home.
* * * * *
Jeff proceeded unbidden. “Grisham took the whole damn thing right out of our playbook.” I waited for Jeff to settle into the tale. A professional raconteur, he could weave a presidential election out of a hanging chad. In fact he did just that. But that’s another story. “Yeah. I mean I didn’t want to buy the book and support the douchebag so I just sat in the airport bookstore and read it. Didn’t give Grisham a goddam dime.” With a slight nod to himself, Jeff indicated he was ready to spill. The rest of the story was a bonafide jaw-dropper. “Well, he got most of it pretty darn close to the truth, only the main guy was definitely not an adulterer. That just wasn’t fair. He was a good guy.” And then of course there was the creepy bit at the end of the story, the part that Grisham missed. That’s when they told the newly elected chief justice that if he wanted to keep the job they’d handed him on a tupperware platter he’d of course hire the clerk of their choice. The real kicker was that the clerk would write his opinions for him. Spoiler alert—it was the clerk’s ex-boss. “So you know I work part time for this organization my firm lends me out to, Citizens For Better Governance, right.” He’d told me often about the shadowy network of Fortune 100 companies convened to funnel money into political covert ops. Making the world safe for corporate greed. I’m not sure why he talked about his cloak and dagger dealings so openly, like he had to get it off his chest or something. I’d once mentioned it to the lone Republican lobbyist at a family dinner on a palatial estate in the Hamptons. She got all excited, said they did great work, important work. She had no idea. She was so excited that she had to sing about it to her boss back in DC, who happens to be a well-placed operative in Jeff’s corporate underworld. Word got back to Jeff that he should shut up and quit chirping to that Diamond guy. But by that time I knew all I needed to know. Excited wingmen gotta chirp.
* * * * *
|PARTITION. The Mexican Manakin, a sparrow in a morning coat, courts his lovers in a lek, a posse of male competitors leaping and hurling themselves over each other in a manic dance of lust, a Darwinian two-step, a moonwalking Michael Jackson on methamphetamine. Poor machines made of flesh, doomed to the handful of routines for which they are wired. Yes, mind can play its heart out on this Aeolian harp of a
mechanism, combining and recombining to great effect the full range of possible airs. But in the end, it is not the machinery that distinguishes them from the Emperor’s nightingale, is it? Or else the defeat of John Henry, Paul Bunyan and Gary Kasparov by their respective opposing automata would spell the end of humanity as we conceive it. Am I right? The only acceptable answer: 110001000011011100001.
We are each of us variations on a theme, lovers on cue. So many species, each its unique song and dance, mutually unintelligible with the others. The family Pipridae, the break-dancers of the singing and perching order Passeriformis, sports fifty six species scattered among its eighteen genuses. You’ve got your White-crowned manakin, your Crimson-hooded, your Band-tailed and Wire-tailed manakins. You have Golden-headed, Red-capped, Red-headed, Round-tailed and Scarlet-horned manakins. Then there’s your Blue-crowned, Blue-rumped, Cerulean-capped, Snow-capped, Golden-crowned, Opal-crowned, Orange-bellied and White-fronted manakins. The Helmeted and the Araripe manakins are the sole representatives of the genus Antilophia. Next up is the Long-tailed, the Lance-tailed, the Blue-backed, the Yungas and the Blue manakin. Following on, the Pin-tailed, the Golden-winged, the White-bibbed, White-ruffed and White-throated manakins. Fast apace, the White-, the Orange- and the Golden-collared and their White-bearded manakin confrere.
Shifting genus again, we find the Fiery-capped, the Eastern and the Western striped and their near cousin, the Club-winged Manakin. Then let fly with the Black, the Olive, the Green, the Lita, the Yellow-headed and the Jet manakin. In hot pursuit, the Flame-, the Orange-, the Yellow- and the Saffron-crested, the last a tyrant by genus. The other tyrants—the Sulfur-bellied, the Pale-bellied, the Wied’s, the Serra do Mar, the Dwarf and the Tiny—tyrant manakins all. And last we have the questionable Piprites–Black-capped, Gray-headed, Wing-barred—all vying to be real manakins. Nature’s wingmen in search of a good reception. [from Mulligan, S.P.B., The Medical Alchemist]
* * * * *
Jeff was totally shameless about his ‘work’. I never could seem to remember the exact name of the covert group. Probably a combination of disbelief about my buddy hanging out with antidemocratic thugs, and the generic blandness of the names concocted for these kinds of ersatz operations. Citizens, like hell. Even his wife Anya wasn’t so sure she wanted in anymore. Reminded her too much of her cousins in the Russian Mafia. But Jeff remained ebullient in his speech on the topic. It must have been intoxicating for him, a blue-collar Jewish kid from the Bronx. His family had been Democrats all the way back to Creation, but when his pop died in an industrial accident and the company lawyers swindled his mother out of any claim on her husband’s future income, Jeff could have gone one of two ways. He could have grown up to be a zealous crusader against corporate greed and its pernicious effects on the little guy. Or he could’ve done just what he did—join the winning team. He had seen first hand the crushing effects of poverty early on and swore it would never happen to his family. What can a poor boy do? “So they sent me to West Virginia. It’s a real challenge, like the most unfriendly judiciary for corporations.” Jeff mimed his disgust. I can laugh at that comic book look of dismay now. Kind of like the look on Jughead’s face when Archie said he was going to marry Veronica instead of Betty. Would you get a load of that?! These days even Jeff thinks his slavish commitment to the corporate goons was morbidly funny in a way, now that we’re all on the same page, since The Redemption.
* * * * *
The thing about telling stories is it’s never exactly the same as the first rendition, a real-life whisper down the lane. And even the first rendition is nothing compared to the events themselves. By the time the story made it into Grisham it was a page turner, but it definitely was missing some of the juice that I got from Jeff. I can’t even imagine the evil shit he didn’t tell me. Elie Wiesel has a good twist on how it does and doesn’t matter, how the mojo gets passed along. Same thing for evil mojo as for good. It’s in his introduction to The Gates of the Forest. I never get tired of this one. Listen:
When Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov, the founder of Hasidism, saw that the Jewish people was threatened by tragedy, he would go to a particular place in the forest where he lit a fire, recited a particular prayer, and the miracle was accomplished, averting the tragedy. Later, when the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, the Maggid of Mezrich, had to intervene with heaven for the same reason, he went to the same place in the forest where he told the Master of the Universe that while he did not know how to light the fire, he could still recite the prayer, and again, the miracle was accomplished. Later still, Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov, in turn a disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich, went into the forest to save his people. “I do not know how to light the fire,” he pleaded with God, “and I do not know the prayer, but I can find the place and this must be sufficient.” Once again, the miracle was accomplished. When it was the turn of Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn, the great-grandson of the Maggid of Mezrich who was named after the Baal Shem Tov, to avert the threat, he sat in his armchair, holding his head in his hands, and said to God: “I am unable to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the tale.”
* * * * *
Jeff inhaled sharply through both nostrils, then opened his mouth to exhale his tale of magic and miscreance. “The guy who was chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court back then was probably one of the most popular politicians ever in the whole state of West Virginia. For years he headed up his rogue court, decided cases overwhelmingly in favor of plaintiffs. The most anti-corporate judicial environment in the country! We were never gonna find a Republican to beat him in the state of West Virginia. So we just picked this conservative Democrat lawyer with no judicial experience whatsoever. He was happy as a clam to accept our million smackers as backing, no questions asked, thank you very much. Then we sent out our team of hungry young Turks with Blackberrys to research the hell out of the judge. Bingo! Found an incident where all three judges accidentally signed off on a work release placing a convicted child molester in a school. Can you imagine that? Paydirt!” Jeff grinned a supremely self-satisfied grin, shaking his head slowly side to side. “Matter of fact, it never actually happened! They caught the mistake before the creep was released. Same difference, though. Don Blankenship, the Coal King, was in on this one with us. Created a fake grassroots organization, ‘For the Sake of the Kids’, based on the decision that never even frickin’ happened! Astroturfing, gotta love it.” My gut began to clench like it wanted to expel something awful I’d just eaten. Jeff let out a big open-mouthed silent whinney. “People just started callin’ in and signin’ on. Big protests, news coverage, it was great. Matter of fact we created another ‘astroturf’ interest group just makin’ sure we had all our bases covered.”
* * * * *
In the next life, Jeff actually came back as my dog. I could still see the craftiness on his face then. A Saluki is nobody’s fool. I had to laugh out loud when I figured out who my faithful Caleb was. He could be a real conniving SOB. I had a strong hunch that it was in that lifetime that Moshiach, the savior of humanity, was gonna show up. I was coming up on retirement in 2121 when I could just tell. I could sense the moment the whole universe changed all at once. Hard to describe, but I gave it my best shot. I had to sit down and put it in writing or I’d forget the feeling. When I finally had it all down I read it outloud, tried it out on Caleb. He was my only companion after my partner died. I was a bit of a mystic in that life, though mostly I kept it to myself. I knew Caleb would keep our secret:
Listen. This is the day after our release from the Czar’s prison. The heavenly mandate has been decided. It is permitted, put through. The assembly line of the cosmic demiurge is cranked and ready to roll. The distribution of parcels by the divine visage. The holy rabbi is released, his mission sanctioned, his extraordinary rendition. I see my Beloved splayed out against the Milky Way, hand-painted toes wriggling in delight. She eyes me coyly, a sidelong glance, and I return from the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt, redolent of planetissimals. You say that it’s a celery root and I say it’s a goddamn kbo. Bowl me over with interstellar ice balls. Better yet lob me a slow arching, underhanded pitch. One that I can hit out of the park. Yes, it is permitted. Revive all of the dead souls. Pluck the jewel from the crown and crush it, pulverize it, and pour each shining bit into the slack-jawed open mouth of the zombie nation. Yes, though more than half of it will go to waste, spilling into the void of deep interstellar space. Oh the part that gets in, that shines from the heart, from the eyes, from the tips of the fingers, and the crown of the head. There is no turning back.
I hear the sound of an implacable machine grinding eternity in its gears. The Broad-faced One smiles his knowing and weary smile. I have stared into the underside of the Crown, seen bands of every language concentric, lining the Crown with the tongues of all humanity. My heart catches, my entire being sighs. I am afraid that is not enough. Oh lover, oh father, oh mother, I see now that I am small, the Small Face, and the tears that I weep are harsh. They mingle with your tears, my Beloved. The sweet and gentle rain that falls from your eyes softens the hot downpour from mine. Mother and father, a million miles away, locked in their intergalactic postmortem state, move in me. The beard on my face is white with age, yet the face itself is small, small as a toddler who’s wandered far from the safety of home. Home.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Jeff’s candidate never knew about any of the back room manipulations and millions of out-of-state dollars pouring in. Plausible deniability. Forbes and Time Magazine described it as the nastiest election of 2004, part of the U.S. Chamber of Congress’ war on judges. Part of the reason justice became out of reach for the average American Joe or Jane. For Jeff, just another well-played game of world domination. When the smoke cleared Jeff’s boy was right where they needed him. It was his thumbs down, bought and paid for by the defendant, Ol’ Don Blankenship himself, that put the kibosh on the appeal. No recusal, just a slam dunk for the corporate boogeymen. Jeff didn’t reveal to me at dinner that night that the big plan was to head off the Caperton versus Massey Coal case before it reached the West Virginia Supreme Court on appeal. Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, was a bad hombre straight out of central casting. He was eventually convicted as the chief culprit in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. He had an utter lack of conscience. Thus he could with impunity instruct his foremen to force the miners to turn their safety badges around. Few molecules of noxious gas would reach the detectors. He’d regularly tighten his grip over his capos by plunking down cans of Dad’s Root Beer on their desks. It was a clear signal to every employee. They all knew what ‘DAD’S’ stood for: Do As Don Says.
The real reason for all of the court stacking shenanigans was that the cabal of suits simply had to prop up one of their own. Nothing to do with politics. Strictly ‘bidness’. A good man and his family were destroyed in the bargain. Hugh Caperton’s family-run West Virginia coal company didn’t stand a chance against the well-funded behemoth. After I read Grisham’s The Appeal I got it. The social and legal implications Jeff had omitted from the story were truly horrifying. The next year I read about the case in the papers, when it made it to the US Supremes. Jeff told me with particular relish the part of the story that never saw the light of day, the bit about ‘assigning’ their hand picked clerk to write the judge’s opinions for him. If he wanted to keep his job. I was stunned. Jeff had zero qualms about undermining the electoral process. How did he sleep at night? I’ll never forget. We were driving around the Washington Beltway when I asked him. His answer was chilling. “It’s just a damn shame that people are so friggin’ stupid.”
* * * * *
I was a bit quieter than usual after the ladies returned to the table. I felt like my good friend Jeff had been sucked into a spaceship and replaced by an alien. I felt sick. In fact all three of my dinner companions might as well have been little green men. I was suddenly aware of the social fabric fraying and tearing around me. They say that Job was a man of infinite patience. Bullshit. It’s a crock. His mind was blown. He had no idea what hit him. He rent his garment and tore his hair. He didn’t know what the hell hit him. The voice from the whirlwind, the so called adversary, the left hand of the Divine Name. And just as quickly as he lost it all, he got it all back. Presto change-o. Except was this his beautiful wife? Were these his beautiful children? Was this his beautiful house? No, they were all replacements. Job had Capgras Syndrome. They would have locked him away if he’d admitted what he really knew. The previous story had been erased, rewritten. They probably wiped his memory. I’m not sure, but I don’t think Job has the last word on that one. So there he was blinking in the noonday sun at his replacement family and kids and the whole ballagan. But you see, the thing is, Job never really existed at all.
The part we forget, the part we have consistently failed to integrate, the failure in the teeth of the success of Western culture’s innumerable triumphs, is very simple. No matter what they say, no matter what slogan they chant, no matter what banner flies overhead, you cannot, nor imagine that you ever can, have it all. It’s as simple as that, really. Yet that is the poison that eats at the heart of the body politic. At last the machine grows quiet. The heat death of the universe. Entropy is satisfied. What’s left? What story to tell? Whatever it is it must be entropy driven. Energy is taken. I did my best to act festive, but I felt an enormous gulf yawning between me and my old pal Jeff that just wasn’t likely to be paved over. You could’ve driven a coal truck through it. I felt like I was staring into the face of the Fourth Reich. I wasn’t going to reconnect with Jeff in any meaningful way until the next life. Sad. Since the Redemption we’ve actually revived our old poker gang. Having Jeff as my faithful canine companion in the intervening incarnation went a long way toward mending the breach. When the dinner was over, maybe thirty minutes or so before sunset, I motioned for our waitress. “I have a somewhat strange request.” Now they were all staring at me at the dinner table. Before the sun went down and Tisha B’Av was upon us, I needed an egg to stand in for the ancient Temple sacrifice. And a pile of ashes, the Temple itself burned to the ground by the Romans. “Could you ask the chef to hard boil an egg for me? And when you bring it out, could you also bring a lighter or some matches and a paper towel?” “I’ll have to ask the manager, sir,” was the poor girl’s tenuous reponse. I told her it was for a religious observance. I was a regular customer so I didn’t expect any trouble.
Jeff and Anya were giving each other cockeyed smiles. Another weirdness à la Michael. Poor Anya, a good soul. She loved Jeff. She was trying desperately not to get dragged down the moral rathole with him. Neither of them had any idea of where I was going with all this religious stuff. But Beth knew and sat there staring stiffly. A suppressed eye roll. And I knew what I was doing. Probably. Except in my heart I believed that the purpose of life was to spread bliss. Where was the bliss in this? I must be bliss-taken. Crack your toe on the bedpost in the dark and cry out, “Holy Light of Eternity, infuse me now!” I just wasn’t there. Loss, pain, but no bliss in sight. When the waitress came back with the egg and the implements of destruction I looked her in the eye and thanked her. She backed away from the table mystified. I removed the saucer from under my coffee cup, crumpled the paper towel on it, and before Beth could say ‘Oh, Michael don’t,’ I’d lit it ablaze and watched it instantly turn to ash. A few glances from nearby tables, but the conflagration was brief and contained. Cracked and peeled the boiled egg, rolled it in the pile of ash and, with nary a blessing, down the hatch. Chased by a crust of bread and a gulp of tasteless tap water. Jeff and Anya were silent, caught between horror and hilarity. “Tisha B’Av,” I muttered. I felt myself tumbling into the spiritual nadir of the Hebrew liturgical calendar. “Destruction of the Temple.” I couldn’t explain any more. For now, the gulf was just too broad. Sundown, time to fast. Time to go.