Let’s burn Voltaire. Let’s erase the visage and work of Jonathan Swift from history. Outlaw the works of Bill Hicks. Satire must be stopped. It’s ruining our lives. Stephen Colbert is ruining our lives, not just the lives of sensitive Asians like Suey Park but every single one of us, every black, yellow, brown, red, white and rainbow of us.
Colbert worships at the alter of that most insidious of entertainment genres, satire. Satire’s insensitive rampage has gone on far too long. Aristophanes’ satire killed Socrates. The poet Hipponax insulted the sculptor Bupalus so egregiously that he hung himself. Mark Twain was an obvious racist who furthered the belief in the superiority of the white man. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ruined the lives of countless communists. Television character Archie Bunker unfairly characterized the blue collar working class of his day.
Why would we tolerate satire for so long? Why didn’t the Greeks nip it in the bud? Or the Romans? How in the hell did the Communist Russia allow the evils of satire to live? It’s everywhere and it starts with sarcasm. And who hasn’t met the sinister sarcasm? Doctors, nurses, lawyers, policemen, soldiers are often victims of sarcasm, they claim as a result of the nature of their work, all that human suffering and death and evil and other shit. They self-righteously claim sarcasm is self-defense, their pre-emptive treatment for depression and stress. Oh brudder… But we all know it’s rampant. You know the waitress is painting her kitchen banter with sarcastic descriptions of you and you beautiful children. There ought to be a law.
Stephen Colbert doesn’t want us to find some ironic connection in his racist jokes to some real-life lunacy. Why do that? What’s his purpose? He’s not even a real person, anyway, right? Either Jonathan Swift had a true hankering for baby meat or he was just some guy making jokes in hopes of enlightening his contemporaries to the poor and the orphaned. What in the hell would the latter serve? Bill Hicks’ suggestion that all marketing people should kill themselves couldn’t have been a call for more honesty in advertising or a warning to consumers. What the fuck, bro?
Would it be cynical to suggest that in the midst of selling you tampons and peanut butter, Stephen Colbert doesn't really give a shit about racial insensitivity? Would it be cynical to suggest that Swift wasn't truly concerned about the state of his city and the welfare of the poor as he spread his fame and sold his writing? Would it be cynical to remind you that Bill Hicks sold you a ticket or a DVD before he made us think about how corporations manipulate us through media? Yup. That's cynicism.
This is irony.
This is satire.
We all have those friends who automatically turn to phantoms when doors creak-open or cry conspiracy when some hairs-width of a connection materializes between terrorism and politics. We can sympathize with the notions but rationality and facts inevitably carry the day. That said, I willingly admit my suspicions about the historicity of Jesus or the death of Michael Hastings. But I also willingly concede that personal biases spice my thoughts on these subjects and my opinions may very likely meet their demise in light of the facts.
Coincidence is a strange phenomenon. Often a platform for bizarre assumptions, coincidence aims at our most basic human instincts for the supernatural or conspiratorial. Over the years, I have marveled at the subtle semantic connections between peoples’ names and the news they inhabited. Elian (sounds way too much like alien) Gonzales was a young Cuban boy forcibly ripped from his father’s home by armed US immigration agents in 2000. Bernie Madoff (pronounced made-off) made off with millions in Wall Street investors’ money several years ago. I caught myself laughing at an article about a man recently released from prison who found an amazing artistic outlet during his incarceration. His name is Jesse Krimes. It would appear that Stan Lee is in fact god. This vague synchronicity appears all the time. And it is exactly time (and a whole lot of complexity) that provides logical resolution. Sheer volume of names of people on the planet, the volume of words used to describe events and things, the mathematical billiard game of crisscrossing timelines and our own internal tendency to make leaps across rational gaps creates what we perceive as to-good-to-be-true coincidences.
I’m dragging all of this out today because of two very weird news items that appeared within days of each other. On the surface, my novel That Night Filled Mountain has two basic plot points. First, Marcus Hatchet robs a megachurch of nearly $200,000. Second, a Russian Imperial Faberge Egg plays the part of my McGuffin. Imagine my incredulity when I woke one morning this month to find Joel Olsteen’s church robbed of (you guessed it) $200,000 in cash. I had a good laugh to say the least. But the weirdness didn’t stop there. Only days after the Olsteen robbery, an actual Russian Imperial Faberge Egg emerged in the Mid-West, nearly sold for scrap. Not just one but two of my plot points reified in the real world.
As much as this all tempts me to write things into existence (world peace, abolishment of religion and money, a sad, sleazy porn career for Sarah Palin), I understand that weird shit happens all the time and I can marvel at coincidence with the same attitude that others marvel at ghosts and prognosticators.
He had been staring at the “234” next to her name on the list of recent correspondence in his phone when Sarah opened the bathroom door, naked and clean, vigorously working a towel against her wet hair.
Oh good, you’re already dressed, she said and moved lightly across the carpet to touch the top of his head as she made her way to the bed where her dress lay as if its previous owner had dematerialized. He pressed the screen on the phone and the most recent of the 234 messages from the young French waitress appeared. He didn’t read them. He had them memorized, imprinted in his mind as indelible as their digital impressions. Je te desire... baiser… une caresse… embrasse moi… au poil… permettez-moi de vous… I hope we’re not too late meet the Daniels, Sarah told him, the red silk and spaghetti string enveloping her like paint. He smiled at her and closed his phone. I’m sure they’ll wait, he said and tightened his tie against the button on his shirt. They better if Bobby wants this promotion, she spoke into the mirror where she was applying eyeliner. He’s already got the job, he told her. Does he know? Nope. You just want to watch him squirm. I want him to know I take these things seriously. Sarah gave him a glance under the bristle. You’ve been far too serious lately. You think? I’m not completely incredulous, babe. As the ramifications of her statement seeped into the gray folds of his brain, the phone rattled the surface of the table behind him, the 235th message sent seconds ago by a barely legal bob-haired French girl curled on a divan in a shitty flat some 5,000 miles across a dark ocean. One of the many reasons I love you, Sarah.
Updated with preview illustration by Weshouldbestrangers (Jonathan Phillips)
Updated with preview of illustration by Scad7 (Stefan Dixon)
And there are some things I won't tell you, she whispered, her eyes releasing their tethers and wandering from his face.
Like what? It won't be that easy, dude. It's been that easy so far. I decide how easy it is. A rush of regret rattled him and he sighed before he could stop himself. He reclined against the broken springs in the couch and wished he'd never heard her voice, touched her neck, tasted the inside of her ear. When she found him again, the shine in his eyes had fizzled and she left him sitting in the boiling mix of smoke and conversation. The tonnage of jeunesse dorée began gelling and coagulating, growing thicker, expanding through the doorways and creeping under the furniture, replacing the air, devouring his focus. Afraid one of these punks had drugged his whiskey, he set the tumbler on the cluttered table that had been pestering his knees and he stood straight into the invisible ooze and he breathed it deeply and a malevolent rush traversed him like a closing zipper. He even heard it. An ascending metallic rip punching through the top of his skull. A large vase fell and shattered in his wake through the ooze and the gleam, the shapes of young breasts under logos on T-shirts, yards of inconceivably clean teeth. He discovered himself gripping a balcony rail. A crisp breeze was dragging the ocean air through the streets where the traffic roared. The harsh halogen beams strafed his perch as they peaked the hill in the distance below him, chilling him with each direct hit. He closed his eyes and dropped his head forward to the rail. A low dull vibration massaged the cold steel against his forehead then faded, soothing his vertigo as it went. She was standing behind him when he realized he had no clue how long he had been on the balcony. How did you think this was going to work? He rocked his brow temple to temple on the metal. I don’t know, he told her. How old are you again? You know how old I am. Well, you’re acting like a child, dude. I’m fine. We both got laid. Yeah, we did. We might get laid again. Okay. And your wife might not find out. Uh-huh. Chill the fuck out. She went silent. And then she was gone. The thought of her skin against his or the freshness of her breath or the heat he had fingered between her young buttocks never crossed his mind as he gathered a deep breath and shook off the remaining globs of ooze and swung each of his legs in turn over the rail and jumped the distance from the balcony to the roof of her BMW which belched concave as he landed, his ankle curling and popping beneath him then he limped into the night pleading with the gods of minor injuries that his joint wasn’t broken.
Allie Pierce's illustration for my poem 'End of the Alley' will appear in my book of short pieces called "Chrysalis."
He never could talk the dog into the house.
She would sit in the snow, her black eyes knowing him the way ninjas knew their victims in the movies he watched late at night. And just like he never saw the ends of those films, he never saw her when she would dash silently through the barely open sliding door to whatever safety she felt compelled to steal. He had tried baiting her with treats. No go. He had tried a bait-and-switch with her leash. Not having it. She just stared at him like a cop. He would sit with the cold air filling the house, deliberately averting his eyes from the open glass lest she be there, stalking her opportunity. When he did gamble, her face was reliably there long enough to register the movement of her black coat, more a shadow of the dog than the dog really. Eventually, he would find a way to forget the duel and keep his attention occupied and she would invariably appear coiled on the bed, barely acknowledging his presence, a satisfied sigh.
What are you gonna do?
Has it gotten to a point I have to do something? You said she’s wandering, talking to herself, seeing things—. I said it seems she does. Seems she does? Yeah. Either she does or she doesn’t. That thing at the window could’ve just been a startle, maybe a bird? You are rationalizing. Who doesn’t talk to themselves when they’re alone? You’re rationalizing. Maybe I just got lucky a couple of times. Lucky? What do you propose I do? Call a doctor. A doctor would just stuff her full of pills. What if she needs pills? She doesn’t need pills. You get to decide that? I get to decide she needs a doctor? I just think it sounds worthy of attention. I shouldn’t have brought it up. Have you talked to her? Like I said, it’s really not that bad, just noticeable. You are rationalizing. You sound like you’re willing that to be true. You said she screamed in the kitchen, like in terror? Yes. And no one else in the house? Yeah. And you found her washing dishes? And I asked her, what-the-fuck…? And she acted oblivious? Yeah. You don’t see that as out-of-the-ordinary? Of course it’s out-of-the-ordinary. Have you met her family? They live back west, met her brother once, briefly. Could you call him? I don’t know. Just tell him what you told me. I’m just not convinced something’s wrong. You have got to be kidding me. Look, I’ll admit we might have jumped into the living situation a little prematurely. What does that have to do with it? Maybe she’s just not adjusting very well. How would you know? What do you mean? I mean you have no baseline for her behavior. We dated before. No you didn’t. We damn sure did. I’m not gonna argue about how long you knew her before this. I should hope not. But you said—out of your mouth—this may have been a little quick on the draw. Don’t get me wrong—. Dammit, don’t tell me something worth discussing and then take it back. Jesuschrist. You’ve been doing it since you started this conversation. So I’m having some mild regret. Uh-huh. But we both know that happens when you find yourself living with someone. It’s natural. Of course it is. What regrets did you feel when we were living together? Don’t start that. Start what? You know exactly what. Listen, we had our time—. We did and let’s leave it at that. Fine but you have to admit we had more time before we moved in together than you and she had. I understand that. But what you don’t seem to understand is that it’s what you don’t know about her that may be the problem. What I don’t know? Yeah. What about what you don’t know. There are reasons we put things in orbit. Huh? Satellites see more up there than we could ever see down here. Gimmie a break. You don’t want help. I’m not sure I need any. Then why would you bring any of this up with me, the woman who used to be where she is now? I don’t know, just talking, making conversation. Really? You asked how things are. And you certainly had no problem telling me until—. Until you suggested I have her see a shrink and dump pills down her throat. I have a friend. I’m sure you do. He’s really good. I’m sure he is. He’s helped a lot of my friends. Let’s drop this. Just think about it. I’m sure you’ll be doing that for me.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.