Chapter 7: C’est La…
[G-d’s note: this entire chapter never happened. Not one word. That’s not how it works. Dear Author, that’s really not how it works. And anyway, I’m nothing like that…nobody ever gives Me a fair shake. It’s always blasphemous, or at least factually inaccurate. Oh well, it could be worse; at least this time I wasn’t mistaken for Zeus or one of the angry gods and lambasted for all the things I’m not. Still. Damn. Can’t any mortal EVER get it right?]
To Burt Huguenot, Heaven was a lot like an elevator. It wasn’t so large as he imagined. Hell was a lot bigger. But much like an elevator, the music in Heaven sucked. It reminded him of something one of his favorite journalists had written about a Christian rock concert he’d once attended. Here is an excerpt from the op-ed:
I was the only person in the crowd to renounce his faith due to the altar-call. When the young and overly enthusiastic preache–I mean, youth pastor–announced that Heaven would be exactly like this wretched concert, I knew then and there that I had to go anywhere besides Heaven. I mean, really. An eternity of listening to Contemporary Christian Music the likes of this seems far more like hell than heaven to anyone with good taste.
Burt was slightly pleased to note that half of the bands his friend had written about had not made it to Heaven. Or he would have been pleased if he were capable of thinking such evil things in a place of only goodness and light. He merely noted that they were conspicuously absent from Heaven, but he’d run into one in Hell, and there, during his brief stay in the underworld, he was informed that most of the bands had sexual mores which were far more contemporary than Christian, and got their ticket punched by way of “licentiousness,” often with underage girls (‘but,’ Burt thought as he could only think fairly in that place of goodness and light, ‘that’s all rock musicians, religious appellations or not’).
“Burt!” Shouted the Almighty, in his incandescent glory.
“Yes, God?” asked Burt Huguenot.
“He’s still writing the novel,” the Lord said. “This is ridiculous.”
“You knew it would go down this way. Omniscience, Free Will. Hell, when you explained to me that I took away the wrong message while writing Inchon–The Musical, the cosmos made a lot more sense, but you had to explain it and I couldn’t have understood it there.” Burt replied.
“I knew you’d say that,” boomed the Maker of All Things, in a deep timbre not unlike that of Leonid Kharinotov. “I know, I know. Still. My beloved little Darwin is all grown up and making a complete ass of himself. It wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t about to single-handedly destroy 1000 years of human progress.”
“Well, what do you want me to do? You told me that visual apparitions are a no-no.”
The Great Creator sighed: “Remember, Burt, all of this is rhetorical. I know the outcome. It’s just nice to talk about it sometimes.”
“We really were made in your image, weren’t we?”
“Indeed. So what was that Des Moines thing in his dream about, anyway?”
“I always had it out for Des Moines,” said Burt.
“So it goes,” the Almighty replied.
“Yes sir,” said Burt.
“Very well. Dismissed.”
“Oh, God?” Burt asked.
“Yes, faithful servant?”
“Can we play something besides Brown-Eyed-Girl? I mean, I thought Purgatory was the waiting room with the bad music.”
“I happen to enjoy that song. One can only listen to so much Amazing Grace before growing weary of it, and if they ever sing that In The Sweet By And By song again…so help Me I’ll–“
“If you say so. You’re God, not me,” interrupted Burt. At that, the King of Kings waved his hand dismissively at Burt, and the myriad angels cocked their heads towards the exit in perfect unison.
Chapter 8: [redacted] Chapter 18: The Emergence of Dr. Steiner
By John Madison Darwin
Jim and Cassandra were both sitting on the ground in a disused park. Professor Aldridge had, the previous evening, been standing on a bench like Moses on Sinai, delivering more of his mad pronouncements. The two of them had already begun recruiting to the Organization for Effect Over Cause, the new cult…ural movement they’d started based on Aldridge’s philosophical brilliance.
But he had a moment of clarity that would later drive both hero and heroine to the bottle: he snapped into sanity.
“Jim, Cassandra, I have a confession,” he said, suddenly not bumbling and stumbling over his words. “I, like you, once sat at the feet of a great teacher.”
“Who?” Cassandra asked.
“Suzy Blande, the Great Mind of Selfishality, authoress of Zeus Pulled Out. I was once a member of her circle, practicing licentiousness and debaucheries the likes of which have only been seen in German pornography or that one Italian movie I can’t ever remember.” His voice shook as he said this. “We believed in Blande’s Three Great Truths: the nonexistence of society, the infiniteness of the individual, and that she, quite literally, was god.”
Jim and Cassandra both looked to each other, then waited for the good professor to continue. He didn’t. Instead he screeched at the top of his lungs:
“Attempt, therefore, to make love to everyone you meet! And remember the Great Fisherman! Let me tell you now the parable of the Great Fisherman!” his voice cracked under the strain of years of heavy smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse..
“Behold, once upon a time there was a man in Alaska. Or wherever it is they catch salmon. He stood on the riverbank, having caught nothing all day. It was a terrible day. Until, just downstream, he saw a salmon fly out of the water into the air as it made its way to the spawning grounds. Or waters. I don’t know.” Aldridge scratched his head. He coughed.
“We’re listening, Professor.” Jim said.
“Good! Seizing the opportunity, the Great Fisherman cast his line ahead of the salmon, expecting nothing. But the salmon took the bait. Oh the fight the salmon put up,” he coughed. “Alcohol, please.”
Jim stood and handed the Professor a bottle of rye. The professor guzzled it and continued.
“The salmon fought him for ten minutes in an epic battle of man versus fish. He pulled his catch from the water, and held it up, and behold,” another swig. “He pulled the beautiful fish from the water, and it was the most perfect, gigantic salmon he’d ever seen in his fifty years of fishing. Fifty years!” he shouted. “It was so pristine, and it stared at him so intently as it flopped around trying to escape, he felt–for the first time in his life–that he could not eat this fish. It was too beautiful. It had to be free, so with tears in his eyes, he gently set the fish back in the water, and upstream she swam,” the professor finished the bottle at that point. It was an epic sight.
“That was a beautiful story,” Cassandra said.
“Oh, it’s not over, child,” Aldridge sat down on the bench. “As the fish swam upstream, a grizzly bear emerged from the woods and straightaway snatched it from the water with its powerful claws, and downed it in just one gulp. It stared at the Fisherman for a moment, let out a mighty roar, and lumbered back into the woods.”
Jim and Cassandra both stared at each other.
“That’s tragic,” Jim said.
“No, it’s a beautiful story–the bear was certainly happy. The Fisherman was a sentimental fool. Carpe piscis! Seize the fish! Let not thy sentiments cloud thy judgments, child, so says Lord Krsna.”
Jim and Cassandra again both looked to each other, and then to Aldridge, blinking.
“You are both weary from three days of binge drinking, mushrooms, and chronic,” Aldridge said. “Leave me be, fair people!” He shouted, and then his tone lowered with a guttural cough: “Leave me be. But spread my gospel to all the nations, as far as the east is from the west!”
Both Jim and Cassandra took their leave of the madman. For a moment, they questioned the wisdom of continuing any further in this vein–but they continued. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jim got back to writing his novel and
burt’s right, i shouldn’t be writing this. i want you to go right now and hang by your legs upside down from a fire escape, jerk yourself off, and shout–anything. just shout and jerk yourself off. that’s all most of it is, anyway. note, i am not responsible for any consequences if you actually do something as stupid and illegal as this. what you just read is called a colorful metaphor (ooh, meta) about our cultural standards. or lack thereof. you’re all a bunch of fucking idiots jerking off, hanging from fire escapes.
Jim went to bed. It had been a long three days. Cassandra was still out and about, but she’d soon be in her sweet bed as well. Such a long three days.
Meanwhile, Professor Aldridge was found lying on a park-bench by none other than his arch-rival, Dr. Ivan Steiner, Esq. (no relation to another famous Steiner.)
It was a bizarre meeting: Aldridge was insane, and Steiner was the greatest living proponent of the Dusseldorf School.
“Oh, Professor Aldridge, it’s such a shame you’ve ended up like this, in the dustbin of history. You had so much potential. You taught me too well. But I know what Jim and Cassandra are up to–you can never defeat the Dusseldorf School. Ridiculing us makes us stronger. We control academia, we control the future!” Steiner twisted his moustache in his thumb and index finger and laughed.
“I–Ivan?” Aldridge asked, startled out of his blackout. “Is that you?”
“It’s been twenty years, Aldridge. I came to find you. The cultural transmogrification is almost complete. You think your Blandian crypto-fascist capitalistic metanarrative can defeat the might of the great Dusseldorf School? It is to laugh.”
“Ivan…” Aldridge said. “I trained you too well. Jim and Cassandra, they’re our only hope now. Our…only…hope.” he drifted back to unconsciousness.
Jim and Cassandra did not know they were mere pawns in a great game of chess. Indeed, it was the longest game of chess ever played. Two grandmasters: Aldridge and Steiner, facing off like eldritch wizards in the Great Cultural War. Dr. Steiner had two students of his own, who appeared from the shadows as he stood over Prof. Aldridge.
“Dr. Steiner, is this the heretic?”
“He’s not even a heretic–he’s an infidel!” Steiner shouted. “He has been corrupted by the belief in the right of the individual to be individual without the heavy hand of Society! What do we believe in?”
“The right of Society to conform its constituent individuals to its own necessities as set forth in the principles of Permanent Cultural Transmogrification! Novo qua Novo!” both students–Jason and Margeaux–shouted in unison.
“Shall we…eliminate him for the good of the Movement?” Jason asked.
“No, no, that is too good for dear old Professor Aldridge. Let’s leave him to rot in obscurity. Come! You must now go further the Cause by starting more Dusseldorfian memes on the Internet!”
“I’ll get all of our followers to change their pictures to look like the Pi symbol,” Margeaux said.
Steiner cackled–his voice echoing through the Chicago night. “To the Dorfmobile!”
The next day, Jim walked into his classroom. He was tired–and also still pretty high. His students were bored and tired, too. He couldn’t blame them. What was this shit he was shoveling to them? He couldn’t bear it anymore. He’d finally cracked.
“Class, as you have probably forgotten over the three-day-weekend, last Friday was the day we celebrated the vibrancy of our school by pointing out the fact that many of us are different in ways that are essentially the same. Today we’re going to celebrate individuality, because there is nothing more vibrant or diverse than snowflakes. So I’d like for each of you to take the first half of class to think of one unique thing about yourself, as an individual, that makes you a valuable and irreplaceable human being, because there is no part of society more diverse than the individual. You are free to say anything you wish. It can be an idea, an accomplishment, a dream, anything.”
“This sounds like some really gay chick shit,” Butch Wilson, the half-back said.
“That’s offensive!” Tyler Hancock, who very much liked musicals, shouted.
“That’s demeaning!” Debby Montague, the class feminist rejoined.
“Shut up.” Jim said. “Butch, why are you degrading others?”
“Because. Snowflakes. And vibrancy. I think you’re a fag. You look like one.”
“Butch, there is nothing manlier than the rugged individual spirit,” Jim walked around the class. “Or more fantastic,” he said–in a way that Tyler appreciated. “Or as appreciative of women and their decisions in society.” He said to Debby, who nearly swooned, but realized that would have been bowing to the Patriarchy. “Groups of people get into fights over these things. Sometimes it’s right to fight, when it’s a fight for basic rights. But basic rights are the rights that affect us all. Those rights are life, liberty, property. Without those three basic rights, we’re all just meat for the grinder. Don’t trust anyone who wants to trade you a privilege for a right. It’s for their benefit, not yours.”
Butch laughed. “This is so gay.”
“Butch, I think the nerd has something smart to say. Shut up.” Shawn Coleman, the quarterback said. Butch had to fall in line.
“I’m probably the only teacher who is ever going to tell you this. And hell, I’m probably going to get fired for saying this. Maybe I should be–I’m not doing my job.” Jim walked around the classroom as he spoke. “I give a shit about each and every one of you kids. And I worry over you. You’re all sixteen, seventeen. Soon you’ll be going to college. Or trade school. Or straight to work. Or hell, to live on welfare. But I want you to know right now, in this moment, that no one in history has ever been you, and no one will ever be you. Don’t be what Society tells you to be. Don’t be what anyone else tells you to be. Just be you, and fuck everyone else. Even if it means you’re unpopular and alone. It’s better to be a lone wolf than an ant. Wolves survive, thrive in the wilderness. And life is a wilderness. Ants thrive too, but the individual ant is insignificant to the point of worthlessness. The lone wolf cannot be replaced so easily.”
“You are unique. You are special. You might not make a million dollars or be a movie star, or go to the moon, but you know what? Don’t let anyone crush that dream. Pursue it. Do what it takes. Society tells you that, don’t they? But what they don’t tell you is all the strings attached to their way. They don’t tell you that they will do everything in their power to make sure you fail. Because the nail that sticks up always gets hammered down.” At this, one girl, Rafaela Martinez, who was very smart, began to cry. “Sure you want to be a doctor, but you gotta go a half million dollars in debt for it, and then you have to deal with all these ingrates that you won’t see a dime for. That’s what Society is all about. That’s what the Government is all about. I know. I work for them. It is my job to make you just smart enough to pass a goddamn test so you can be a positive statistic, so our school’s budget doesn’t get cut–well, except for music and arts, that budget’s gone, because those are individualistic tasks. You creative types are fucked. Nobody’s gonna help you out.”
“But even that isn’t what makes me unique. Do you know what makes me unique?”
Our Hero stopped typing and pounded his head against the desk next to his typewriter. “What is this shit?” I can’t believe I’m writing this. This is terrible. This is bullshit.” He got up and stepped out onto his balcony. It was a nasty, humid evening. He saw Mrs. Lafferty outside on her own balcony, sitting in a rocking chair, knitting. He sighed. Simplicity. His life was simple at that point, and so dull. Better than discussing pork chitterling trends in the Southeast, but still, it was missing something.
Maybe a woman. Nah, that’d be a rebound. He didn’t know. He didn’t care. He was restless, and broke. [G-d’s note: How many times do I have to tell you? Stop the staccato.]
He had a lot of words to write. He’d made so much progress, and so quickly, but he was quickly burning out. It wasn’t very good. In fact, it was awful. Fortunately for him, most people had no taste.
Our Hero thought about calling Carrie, but it was too late, and he wanted to see someone else anyway. Who could he call? It was late. “Ahh, the internet” he said as he saw his laptop sitting open on the sofa. He sat down and logged into his SocialNet account. Someone had requested to connect with him. He saw it was Hadouken, from the cafe incident. He chuckled and rejected it. “Weeaboos. Is that the right word? Weeaboo?” He asked himself. He looked around for people online. Liz was. He should disconnect with her. He’d forgotten, and she clearly didn’t care.
He disconnected. The Friendship Meter on the left hand side of the SocialNet page began to drain. It used algorithms to determine popularity levels among connected people and their groups. It was more complicated than the number of friends you had, it also measured their degrees of interconnectedness to one another. It was based on Michael Rockwell’s theories of Friendstistics. The bar turned from a healthy green to a pale, sad yellow. “I wonder if I can get it down to red tonight. I’m at what, 492 connections. Maybe if I knock off 92 people, I can get down to red. I want to be unpopular.”
He looked around himself, shrugged, and removed a his former friends from the USDA. None of them had bothered to check up on him anyway. “C’est la fucking vie” he said as he removed the moderately attractive bureaucrat from two cubicles over–Samantha Waltham. She always smelled nice, and smiled at him–she had a cute smile. He’d have chased her if not for Liz. Maybe they’d have gone out and hit it off and then dated for a while and got married and had kids and grown old together in Peoria or something. [G-d’s note: They’d have spent a life of marital bliss in Tahiti. He blew it.] “Whatever,” he said to himself. 480 connections. Wait. Eliminating Samantha actually put him back into the green! (She was very picky about her connections, which gave her a negative standing in the Friendstistical algorithm.)
“This is stupid.” Our Hero said. Someone messaged him. It was one of his high school classmates. He ignored the message. Didn’t want to hear from those people. He wanted to be sociable, but had no one with whom to be sociable. Was it really just Carrie and a couple other misfits now? Were they it? He didn’t realize how much his social life had suffered during his time with Liz and, of course, with the USDA. Wow, what a dull and meaningless existence.
He closed his laptop and poured himself a shot of vodka, and went to bed. He would repeat this routine for almost two months, slowly whittling his connections down to about 300–the monotony saw an increase of word count to nearly 100,000. Carrie called from time to time, showed up at his door at least once a week, but she knew it was time for him to write. He had to be left to his own mad machinations.
Dead Tree Version, 2nd Ed. Copyright ©2018 Ian McLeod
Reprinted with permission.