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, again both froward and rearward at once.
The Reader is reminded that this is a continuation of and the third chapter of…
Part the First—Ill Winds: In which the Soule of Humanitie is greatly vexed in many realms of human endeavoure. Each successive part of the novel shall draw the Reader closer to the uppermost rung of the Great Chain of Being. We begin at ground level, the World of Making and Doing. The Author draws upon experiences in this and other incarnations. Here on the ground, much darkness, little light.
* * * * *
Back up the tape, take a ringside seat at the confession of one of the killer dudes. Shredders of the social contract. The Sicke Krewe who set us up for the disaster of 2009. I’m telling you, this is the nuts and bolts of how it all goes down the plug hole. 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 judge him harshly that night. Guilty as sin. Guilty of democracide. “Have you read Grisham’s latest?” His opening gambit. Jeff’s unredeemed face, a beacon of pure ferocity, with barely a soupçon of unacknowledged irony, poised as if to hear his master’s voice. The siren call of plutocracy’s Victrola. It must be August 9, 2008. Only six months and change before the world slides 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 sees the demise of Adi Da, Guru Mahesh Maharishi Yogi, Opus the penguin and S & H Green Stamps. Thanatos is gaining the upper hand. A bit more than a century till the big trigger will be pulled, the Technological Singularity. Enlightenment out of reach and The Redemption a whispered dream. “No, I’ve never read any Grisham,” I cop warily. I’m prepared for the usual tale of corporate derring do I’ve come to expect on these outings. Jeff and my ex-wife Beth share a birthday, so he and Anya and Beth and I are out for the annual birthday ritual. A trendy suburban bistro, Black Market. The girls have just stepped out for their obligatory powder. This year it’s an early dinner on account of me wanting to make the proper ritual observance of the eve of destruction.
* * * * *
Let’s hit the pause button for a minute here, just to lay out the historical three sixty. The year of the fateful birthday celebration, when Jeff regales me of his tale of politico-legal derring-do, is the year before the billionaire sociopaths set the traps for every citizen of the US of A. Two Thousand Nine is the year money becomes Imperatoris In Aeternum, emperor forever. Two Thousand Eight is the set up for 2009. The year markets tank all around the globe. Why? Because the sleight-of-hand now-you-see-me now-you-don’t boys are handing out credit to losers and then betting on them to lose. The fix is 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 is the plat du jour. Jeff is ahead of the game, a privateer for the Fortune 100 fat cats. Two Thousand Nine, the year toward which this story is aiming, is a thrilling year for tales of piracy, terror and international criminal regimes. Here’s a quick rundown.
Pirates set sail on the high seas off the coast of Somalia. The Japanese, the Chinese and the Americans send 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 on notice! 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 cyberthugs in the pay of 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. Watch out 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. The real saboteurs are dismantling the system from the inside back home.
* * * * *
Jeff proceeds unbidden. “Grisham took the whole damn thing right out of our playbook.” I wait for Jeff to settle into the tale. A professional raconteur, he can 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 sit in the airport bookstore and read it. Didn’t give Grisham a goddam dime.” With a slight nod to himself, Jeff indicates he’s ready to spill. The rest of the story is a bonafide jaw-dropper. “Well, he gets most of it pretty darn close to the truth, only our main guy is definitely not an adulterer. That just isn’t fair. He’s a good guy.” And then of course there’s the creepy bit at the end of the story, the part that Grisham misses. That’s when they tell the newly elected Chief Justice of West Virginia that if he wants to keep the job they hand him on a Tupperware platter he’ll of course hire the clerk of their choice. The real kicker is that the clerk will write his opinions for him. Spoiler alert—it’s the new justice’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 talks about his cloak and dagger dealings so openly, like he has to get it off his chest or something. I 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 do great work, important work. She has no idea. She’s so excited that she sings about it to her boss back in DC, who happens to be a well-placed operative in Jeff’s corporate underworld. Word gets back to Jeff that he should shut up and quit chirping to that Diamond guy. But by that time I know all I need to know. Excited wingmen gotta chirp.
* * * * *
|PARTITIONS. 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 machine, 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 to each other. 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 good reception. [from Mulligan, S.P.B., The Medical Alchemist]
* * * * *
Jeff is totally shameless about his ‘work’. I never can 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 isn’t so sure she wants in anymore. Reminds her too much of her cousins in the Russian Mafia. But Jeff is flat out ebullient in his speech on the topic. It must be intoxicating for him, a blue-collar Jewish kid from the Bronx. His family are Democrats all the way back to Creation, but when his pop dies in an industrial accident and the company lawyers swindles his mother out of any claim on her husband’s future income, Jeff can go one of two ways. He can grow up to be a zealous crusader against corporate greed and its pernicious effects on the little guy. Or he can do just what he did—join the winning team. He sees first hand the crushing effects of poverty early on and swears it will never happen to his family. What can a poor boy do? “So they sent me to West Virginia. It’s quite a challenge, like the most unfriendly judiciary for corporations.” Jeff mimes 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 is morbidly funny, now that we’re all on the same page, the last page. The Redemption.
* * * * *
The thing about telling stories is it’s never exactly the same as the first rendition, real-life whisper down the lane. And even the first rendition is nothing compared to the events themselves. By the time the story makes it into Grisham it’s a page turner, but it’s definitely missing some of the juice that I got from Jeff. I can’t even imagine the evil shit he doesn’t tell me. Whispers. As Elie Wiesel tells it in his introduction to his novel, The Gates of the Forest, humans play Scheherezade to God’s uxoricidal Sultan. He concludes,”God made man because he loves stories.” I never get tired of Wiesel’s story of the story:
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 inhales sharply through both nostrils, then opens his mouth to exhale his fable of magic and miscreance. “The guy who is chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court back then is probably one of the most popular politicians ever in the whole state of West Virginia. For years he runs this rogue court, decides cases overwhelmingly in favor of plaintiffs. The most anti-corporate judicial environment in the country! We’re never gonna find a Republican to beat him in the state of West Virginia. So we just pick this conservative Democrat lawyer with no judicial experience whatsoever. He’s happy as a clam to accept our million dollar backing, no questions asked, thank you very much. We get this great team of hungry young Turks with Blackberrys to research the hell out of the judge. Bingo! Find an incident where all three judges accidentally sign off on a work release to place a convicted child molester, get this, in a school! All three douchebags! Can you imagine that? Paydirt!” Jeff grins a supremely self-satisfied grin, shaking his head slowly side to side. “Matter of fact, it never actually happens! They catch the mistake before the creep is released. Same difference, though. Don Blankenship, the Coal King, is in on this one with us. Creates a fake grassroots organization, ‘Save the Kids’, based on the decision that never even frickin’ happened! Works every time. Astroturfing, gotta love it.” My gut begins to clench and I feel like it wants to expel something rank. Jeff lets out a huge open-mouthed silent whinny. “People just start callin’ in and signin’ on. Big protests, news coverage, the works. It’s great. Matter of fact we create a second ‘astroturf’ protest group just makin’ sure we have all our bases covered. Really beat the bushes.”
* * * * *
In the next life, Jeff comes back as my dog. You can see the craftiness in his face. A Saluki is nobody’s fool. I have to laugh out loud when I figure out who my faithful Caleb is. That dog’s a real conniving SOB. I have a strong hunch during my tenure with Caleb that Moshiach, the savior of humanity, is finally gonna show up. I’m coming up on retirement in 2121 when I just have a hunch. The wheels are coming off Leviathan, the artificial island where all the surviving humans are hustled by the AI’s. Then it happened. I sense it, the moment the whole universe changed. I know it sounds crazy, after all these incarnations. I’m a writer, but the uncanny certainty I have is hard to describe. I give it my best shot. I have to sit down and put it in writing or I’ll forget the feeling. When I finally have it all down I read it out loud, try it out on Caleb. He’s my only companion since my partner died. I’m a bit of a mystic in that life, though mostly I keep it to myself. I know Caleb will keep our secret:
Listen. This is the day of 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 knows about any of the back room manipulations and additional millions of out-of-state dollars pouring in. Plausible deniability. Forbes and Time Magazine describe it as the nastiest election of 2004, part of the U.S. Chamber of Congress’ war on judges. Part of the reason justice is out of reach for the average American Joe or Jane. For Jeff, just another well-played game of world domination. When the smoke clears Jeff’s boy is right where they need him. It is his thumbs down, bought and paid for by the defendant, Ol’ Don Blankenship himself, that puts the kibosh on the appeal. No recusal, just a slam dunk for the corporate boogeymen. Jeff doesn’t reveal to me at dinner that night that the big plan is to head off the Caperton versus Massey Coal case before it reaches the West Virginia Supreme Court on appeal. Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, is a bad hombre straight out of central casting. He is eventually convicted as the chief culprit in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. A complete and utter lack of conscience. He can without compunction instruct his foremen to force the miners to flip their safety badges around. Few molecules of noxious gas will reach the detectors. He regularly tighten his grip over his capos by plunking down cans of Dad’s Root Beer on their desks. It’s a clear sign to anyone with eyes. They all know the ‘DAD’S’ acronym: Do As Don Says.
The real reason for all of the court stacking shenanigans is that the cabal of suits simply have to prop up one of their own. Nothing to do with politics. Strictly ‘bidness’. A good man and his family are destroyed in the bargain. Hugh Caperton’s family-run West Virginia coal company doesn’t stand a chance against the well-funded behemoth. After I read Grisham’s The Appeal I understand it. The social and legal implications Jeff omitted from the story are truly horrifying. The next year I read about the case in the papers, when it makes it to the US Supremes. It still gives me the heebie-jeebies when I remember how Jeff tells me with particular relish the part of the story that never sees the light of day, the bit about ‘assigning’ their hand picked clerk to write the judge’s opinions for him. If the dude wants to keep his job. I’m stunned. Jeff has zero qualms about undermining the electoral process. How does he sleep at night? I’ll never forget. We’re driving around the Washington Beltway when I ask him. His answer,”It’s just a damn shame that people are so friggin’ stupid.”
* * * * *
I’m quieter than usual when the ladies return to the table. I feel like my good friend Jeff has been extracted into a spaceship and replaced by an alien. I feel sick. In fact all three of my dinner companions might as well be little green men. I can suddenly hear the social fabric fraying and tearing around me. They say that Job is a man of infinite patience. Bullshit. It’s a crock. His mind’s blown. He has no idea what hit him. He rends his garment and tears his hair. He doesn’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 loses it all, he gets it all back. Presto change-o. Except, is this his beautiful wife? Are these his beautiful children? Is this his beautiful house? No, they’re all replacements. Job had Capgras Syndrome. They’d lock him away if he admits what he really knows. The previous story has 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 is blinking in the noonday sun at his replacement family and kids and the whole ballagan. But you see, the thing is, Job never really exists.
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 do my best to act festive, but an enormous gulf yawns between me and my old pal Jeff that just isn’t likely to be paved over. You could drive a coal truck through it. I’m staring into the face of the Fourth Reich. I won’t reconnect with Jeff in any meaningful way until his next life. As Caleb. Sad. Since the Redemption we’ve actually revived our old poker gang. Having Jeff as my faithful canine companion in the intervening incarnation goes a long way toward mending the breach. When the dinner’s over, maybe thirty minutes or so before sunset, I motion for our waitress. “I have a kind of strange request.” Now they’re all staring at me at the dinner table. Before the sun goes down and Tisha B’Av is upon us, I need 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,” the poor girl’s tenuous response. I tell her it’s for a religious observance. I’m a regular customer so I don’t expect any trouble.
Jeff and Anya are giving each other cockeyed smiles. Another weirdness à la Michael. Poor Anya, a good soul. She loves Jeff. She’s trying desperately not to get dragged down the moral rathole with him. Neither of them have any idea of where I’m going with all this religious stuff. But Beth knows and sits there staring stiffly. A suppressed eye roll. And I know what I am doing. Probably. Except in my heart I believe that the purpose of life is to spread bliss. Where’s 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’m just not there. Loss, pain, but no bliss in sight. When the waitress comes back with the egg and the implements of destruction I look her in the eye and thank her. She backs away from the table mystified. I remove the saucer from under my coffee cup, crumple the paper towel on it, and before Beth can say ‘Oh, Michael don’t,’ I light it ablaze and watch it instantly turn to ash. A few glances from nearby tables, but the conflagration is brief and contained. Crack and peel the boiled egg, roll it in the pile of ash and, with nary a blessing, down the hatch. Chase with a crust of bread and a gulp of tasteless tap water. Jeff and Anya are silent, caught between horror and hilarity. “Tisha B’Av,” I mutter. I’m tumbling into the spiritual nadir of the Hebrew liturgical calendar. “Destruction of the Temple.” I can’t explain any more. For now, the gulf is just too broad. Sundown. Time to go. The fast begins.
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