Monday, June 30, 2008

The Prophet With His Poison Tongue

Maybe you’ve seen me. By the corner, with my sandwich board. In the square, on my milk crate. I try to help you and you flip me off. I try to save you and you pay me no mind. And while other prophets may have been ignored in their lifetimes—validated by future generations—me, I won’t have the luxury.

Sometimes you toss me a few coins. Like I’m a bum. Sometimes you drop a doggie bag at my feet. Like I’m in this for half a chicken fried steak. And besides, your money will be no good. Not when the time comes. Your comfort food will be of no comfort. Not when the time comes.

But I stand on my simple mount and preach my simple sermon. The End is near, I tell you. Best be ready, I tell you. Time is not forever, I tell you. And you pull your children close. And you keep walking. And you say, forget the crazy man, Dear. Forget the crazy man. And me, I might be crazy. But I’m not the only one.

* * *

From thousands of years back the Mayans saw it coming. Their calendar, racking up the k’ins (days), the unials (months), the tuns (years). Ticking away like an odometer, closer and closer to the end of the Great Cycle. 5,200 years in the making. Closer and closer to the End of History.

For us, it will be December twenty-first, two thousand and twelve. What I mean is, by the Roman calendar, the Great Cycle ends on 12/21/12. One two, two one, one two. Add them together and that’s 3,3,3. Maybe not the Number of the Beast but halfway there. For them, it was to be 13.0.0.0.0. What I mean is, by the Mayan calendar, the Great Cycle ends on a perfect thirteen. How lucky is that?

And check this out: that day—12/21/12 if you like, 13.0.0.0.0 if you’re a stickler for accuracy—that day is the winter solstice, shortest day of the year. And while the sun makes but the briefest of appearances, on that day it crosses paths with the galactic equator. Bam.

So what happens? Floods, earthquakes? Tornadoes, hurricanes? 5,200 years coming. Four years to go. An End to History.

* * *

Maybe you’ve seen me. By the corner, with my sandwich board. In the square, on my milk crate. You laugh at the dirty old man, the loony fool. But there is no time for laughter. There is no time for levity. There is no time for apathy. Because really, there is no time.

Once in awhile you sit by my corner, in my square. Play your guitar and sing your songs and wink at passersby as you drown out my message. As you drown out the message. I tell you, sir, I’m preaching here. I tell you, sir, even if you don’t care, others must be reached. I tell you, sir, the End is near. There is no time for merrymaking.

And of course you care not. You tell me, bro, I’m preaching too. You tell me, bro, the people don’t dig on downers. You tell me, bro, I’m singing ‘bout peace. There’s always time for peace.

But really there isn’t. And I tell you as much but you laugh. Everybody laughs. You tell me, bro, you’re crazy. And I tell you, sir, I might be crazy. But I’m not the only one.

* * *

Nostradomus wasn’t any Mayan. He didn’t know about any Great Cycle, didn’t know about any 13.0.0.0.0. Nostradomus wasn’t any Mayan. But he called the End of History just the same.

And check this out: Nostradomus, he predicted all sorts of crap using judicial astrology—forecasted the future based on the movements of stars, movements of planets. Sound familiar? Did he see the solstice sun cross the galactic equator? Fucked if I know. But whatever he saw, what he made of it was plenty clear.

What he predicted: he predicted three Antichrists, three manifestations of evil, three destructive forces—3,3,3—that would precede the End of History. The first—an Emperor born near Italy who would exhaust his forces in Russian snow—was Napoleon. The second—a Captain of Germany whose revolt would cause great bloodshed—that was Hitler. The third—the Antichrist who finally ushers in the End—the third Antichrist is the worst of the bunch.

Of the third, Nostradomus wrote, he’ll “come out of the country of Greater Arabia.” Nostradomus wrote, “From the sky will come the great King of Terror.” Clear enough? Terror from the sky?

The most important historical event of the new century and Nostradomus called it almost half a millennium ago. And more, he knew this wasn’t just some serious shit. Really, this was the End of all serious shit.

* * *

Maybe you’ve seen me. By the corner, with my sandwich board. In the square, on my milk crate. You pity me. But still I try to help you. You ignore me. But still I try to inform you. You laugh at me. But still I try.

You need to know nothing lasts. You need to know there’s always an End. You need to know it only grows closer. Never further away.

Of course, I understand your reluctance. You refuse to accept that there is an ebb and flow. You refuse to accept that you are temporary. That everything is temporary. Of course, you are afraid. But fear is not excuse enough. Not for me.

So prepare, I tell you. Repent if that’s what you believe in, I tell you. Make amends if you have amends to make, I tell you. I might be crazy, I tell you. But I’m not the only one.

I might be crazy, I tell you. But all things considered, there’s something to be said for experiencing the End of History. And there’s something to be said for peace of mind.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Correspondence


From: Peter Smithson
To: Nathan Himes
Subject: Happy Monday!

Dear Nate-the-Great,
Not that I need to remind you buddy, but this is going to be a most busy week. An initial report for the Chester account is due Wednesday and I’m going to need you to redraft your charts. Basically, a pie chart with only two sections looks a tad dull. So, what I’d like is for you to redo them as bar graphs. Thanks buddy.
Speaking of bars, hope you didn’t get too drunk this weekend, lol. We don’t need another situation like last Monday, with you all hungover and slurping down a whole pot of coffee. That coffee’s for the whole office, buddy. Lol. Any-who, good luck with those graphs.
Sincerely,
Pete



From: Nathan Himes
To: Peter Smithson
Subject: Crappy Monday

Dear Peter,
I’m a full grown man. Call me Nathan. Call me Nate. But kill this Nate-the-Great shit. You sound like my grandfather.
The Chester account is not my department. While you may be my superior, any graphs constructed were done only as a personal favor, not a professional duty. I gave you pie charts because I figured a fellow as portly as yourself would have an easier time relating to something that looked edible. My mistake. I’ve got my own work to do here. Any changes you need, make them yourself.
Finally, as you know corporate can read all company e-mails. Therefore, I’d prefer you didn’t speculate when it comes to my weekend activities. I’m sure the higher ups might frown upon my off-hours drinking, just as they might frown upon the bottle of cheap whiskey in the bottom drawer of your desk. Oops, I forgot they can read our e-mails. Sorry. Lol.
Very Truly Yours,
Nathan



From: Peter Smithson
To: Nathan Himes
Subject: Sincere Apologies

Dear Nate,
I’m so, so sorry you took offense to the nickname. I assure you, it was meant only as a show of affection. However, since we're on the subject, I’d appreciate if you referred to me as Mr. Smithson, or simply Boss in all future communications.
While the Chester account is not technically your responsibility, as your supervisor I have full authority to delegate tasks. So if I tell you I want a bar graph, give me a goddamn bar graph.
To conclude this correspondence, whatever’s stored in my desk is entirely my business. Just as whatever’s stored in your desk, such as a huge pile of condoms, is entirely your business. And whatever happens to those condoms, such as their tendency to disappear each time your secretary frequents your office, well that’s your business too. Certainly not any of my business. And certainly not any of the higher ups’ business. And certainly, certainly not any of your wife’s business.
With respect and admiration,
Boss Smithson



From: Nathan Himes
To: Peter Smithson
Subject: Blow Me

Dear Captain Douche Bag,
First, in all future communications, please refer to me as King Himes: Master of Pie Charts. Or better yet, don’t refer to me at all.
Next, with respect to the Chester account, you can turn your bar graphs sideways and shove them up your fat ass. Be careful though, I wouldn’t want you to incur any brain damage.
And lastly, I’d like to clear things up with regards to the interoffice romance referenced in your previous e-mail. Not that I owe you an explanation. As you may be aware, everything a man does, he does with one goal in mind. That goal, of course, being pussy. Some men prefer sporadic, varied pussy. Other men, frequent and familiar pussy.
For example, one man might use his position of authority to diversify his pussy intake. By the same account, another man might embezzle a little cash so his wife doesn’t leave his pathetic, overweight ass. Thus stabilizing his flow of commonplace pussy. That being said, mention the secretary situation to my wife and I’ll choke you to death with your stupid fucking Tweety Bird necktie.
Love you lots,
Mr. Nathan Himes


From: Martin Shaw
To: Peter Smithson
Cc: Nathan Himes
Subject: Urgent

Dear Misters Smithson and Himes,
I would very much like to see you both in my office as soon as possible. Feel free to bring your secretaries and/or whiskey bottles with you. While you will soon have little need for the former, the latter may provide some consolation.
Many thanks,
Martin Shaw
President, Shaw Analysts Group


Monday, June 16, 2008

Wandering

With the heavy summer heat, a smothering blanket. With the acidic winter cold, a badger gnawing at exposed flesh. Probably, you can count the number of nice New York days on your hands. Combine spring and autumn and you’ll get a week and a half of mild, sunny weather. Total. And if you’re lucky, a couple of those days you’ll be off work.

I’m not about to risk it.

Today, I call out. All the flowers blossoming, I say my sinuses are killing me. All the pollen in the air, I have a major migraine. On the other end, The Boss sounds less than sympathetic. But in an office without windows, on a day this choice, can I blame him? And I’m totally full of shit. So can I blame him?

I take the subway into Manhattan. Because days like today, they’re worth more than fifteen bucks an hour.

A Helluva Sight.

In SoHo, I look at shops I can’t afford to shop at. I look at restaurants I can’t afford to eat at. I look at a homeless man with his rubbery prick in hand. Standing in front of a bougie boutique, pissing on a pile of garbage. I assume he’s homeless, being he isn’t housebroken.

Men in suits pass, say nothing. Students in bright purple t-shirts don’t even look. New York City, everybody fits in. And on a day this fine, nobody’s about to worry on account of a little urine.

The homeless man zips up, proceeds to root around in the trash for cans and bottles and assorted treasure. More power to him.

Northward Bound.

Moving slowly and without any real point. What they call a New York Walk is the exact opposite of this. New York Walks are for days too hot or days too cold or days when you have someplace to be. New York Walks are for most New York days. And today is anything but.

At Washington Square Park, old men play chess and smoke long brown cigarettes. A college kid sitting on concrete steps strums an acoustic guitar, collects loose change in an NYU hat. A wannabe bohemian. A well-fed artist.

Some man with no shirt offers me coke. Some girl with a long dress offers me salvation. To both, I politely decline.

The 1 train takes me to midtown where businessmen who don’t give half a shit about the weather push past tourists who don’t realize how they’ve lucked out. The businessmen, too into themselves to notice. The tourists, too into everything else.

Who Could Have Anyplace Better to Be?

Just inside Central Park, a man in a jury-rigged clown costume twists and folds balloon animals. Striped pajama pants, a plain white undershirt stretched over his gut. No makeup but a red foam nose. And at least a dozen children lined up. Waiting. They request giraffes and tigers and hippos that all look exactly alike.

I nod slightly to the clown. He winks and turns his attention back to the kiddies. If I had offspring, I wouldn’t let them within spitting distance of this guy. But lucky for me, I don’t have offspring. Lucky for my offspring.

Cherry blossoms and fresh green lawn. Toddlers stumble around like drunkards. Weeping willows and just opening daffodils. Kids lazily toss a baseball back and forth between bare hands. Bees and statues of important men on horses. Young ladies in bikinis sunbathe with raggedy paperbacks. Blackbirds and boulders. Men in shorts far too short jog with their iPods.

And I wonder, damn, shouldn’t these people be in school? Or at work…

Love is in the Air. Or Maybe Just Pollen.

A walkway shaded by trees, lined with artists busy sketching young couples. Most days, these guys would do back flips just to make eye contact with a passerby. But spring is for lovers. And with the Valentine’s Day hangover still thick as fog, no park-side doodler is without subject.

Heading north slowly, without any real point. I see a man kneel and remove a small, velvet box from his pocket. This all happens not fifteen feet away. Before he can get a word out, before he even opens his mouth, the woman with him screams. Oh my God, she says. Oh my God, oh my God, of course I will.

What I first want to say is, I give it a year, tops. Just to be funny. Just to be a dick. But I can’t. So I keep on strolling. Because today, it’s far too prime a day to be a total asshole.

And I don’t want to say I start misting up. Just that maybe my allergies are kicking in for real. So I move East. Out of the park and away from all the blossoming vegetation. Or away from all the puppy love. Whatever.

Time Keeps Moving. Too Far Sometimes.

Countless hi-rise apartment buildings and sushi restaurants. Upscale thrift stores and gourmet markets. To my left, the yard of a convalescence home is partitioned off by a tall fence of iron bars. A handful of elderlies hunched over in wheelchairs, propped on walkers with tennis ball-padded legs.

And up against the fence, an old man with paper skin and sagging jowls grips the bars with both hands. His gaze follows me until I’m no longer in his field of vision. Then he looks back to the street traffic.

Like an inmate whose only crime is age. But criminals can be paroled, pardoned. The old man, he’s only getting older. His prison’s only getting smaller and there will be no time off for good behavior. But at least he’s outside. On a day like today, that’s as much as anybody can ask.

Low Tide Blues.

When the sky goes pink I figure it’s getting toward happy hour. On Second Avenue there’s no shortage of bars offering the two for one but anything with an outdoor patio has a line like Splash Mountain. So I end up in a dark room with a warm glass of whiskey. But that’s alright.

Heading home I take the local train, making three stops for every one on the express line. I can use the sit. And the whiskey, dense in my belly, it fights off boredom. Sure, a forty-minute subway ride is milked for a solid hour. But that’s alright.

At home, my inbox is full of emails from The Boss. Listing assignments and meetings and important presentations that occurred. Nothing asking about my migraine. Listing projects and reports and everything I missed out on. Everything I missed out on. But that’s alright.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Inappropriate Proposition

“Can you imagine the first bastard to ever eat an egg?” This is Big Larry talking. Talking with a mouth full of omelette. “All those other cavemen must have looked at him like he’d lost it.”

Gil isn’t at all sure what Big Larry’s getting at. “I’m not at all sure what you’re getting at,” he says.

“Listen kid, what in the name of fuck would compel a person to eat cooked chicken menstruation?” A string of American cheese stretches from the corner of Big Larry’s mouth to his chin. One hand holding a fork, the other stretched across the pleather booth like he’s cradling an invisible date. The waitress approaches and Big Larry waves her off before she can speak. Doesn’t even look at her, just waves her off. “Because that’s all an egg is, a goddamn chicken period. But some nut decided to eat one, figured it was tasty, now we call them eggs. Much more appetizing.”

Across the table Gil nurses a cup of black coffee. Dark, like his prospects. Bitter, like Gil himself. “I guess you got a point.”

“Of course I have a point,” Big Larry says. “But I haven’t gotten to it yet. Just listen, pollen is nothing but tree jizz. I’m telling you kid, that’s exactly what it is. But nobody calls it that. Can you imagine people walking around all spring and bitching ‘This damn Elm cum is making me sneeze.’ That would never fly. So we call it pollen. Now, do you get my point?”

Gil has no fucking idea what Big Larry is talking about. But he doesn’t say as much. Gil, he just scratches at his two-day stubble and stares Big Larry straight in the eyes. All this, trying his damnedest to come off as thoughtful.

“Listen Kid,” Big Larry says. “What I’m trying to get across is, in this life you’ve got two choices. Either you look at things the way you want them to be or you look at things the way they are. Either you choose to be right or you choose to be happy.”

* * *

The omelette, gone. Gil, on his third cup of coffee. “I got a question,” he says. “You can’t be more than five foot nine, a buck forty. So why’s everyone call you Big Larry?”

Big Larry pats his not-so-big belly and says, “Kid, once was a time my reputation preceded me. My reputation, let’s say it entered the room about ten inches before I did. You get my point?”

“I get it, yeah,” Gil says. And standing up, he chokes down the last of his stale coffee, grimaces at the taste and says, “Yeah, I get it. But there’s places I gotta be. Get my point?”

Your point is you’re a broke, shit-eating, ingrate,” Big Larry snaps. “So sit down and listen up. Sit down, and thank me for the three cups of joe I bought you. Listen up, and maybe you won’t be so goddamn broke this time tomorrow.”

To save a shred of pride, Gil stares right back at Big Larry. He stares for a beat, but there isn’t any doubt who’s in control here. There isn’t any doubt Gil’s going to sit back down. The waitress approaches and this time it’s Gil who waves her off before she can speak. “Okay,” he says. “But I don’t wanna hear no more about any tree busting its load.”

“Kid,” Big Larry says. “I can’t spit out a window without hitting someone you owe money to. Of this you’d have to agree.” Gil nods. “What I have for you is a proposition. Do what I ask, you’ll be rewarded. Will it be enough to wipe out your debts? No Gil, no it won’t. Will it be enough to keep your knee out of a cast for the next couple weeks? I would think so.”

“Okay,” Gil says. “Let’s hear it.”

* * *

“Right now Kid, right now relations between Missus Big Larry and myself are a shambles. We kept the flame burning longer than most, but right now, right now the connection just isn’t there. And you know, these days they'll stick a prenup in your Happy Meal. But back when the Missus and I tied the knot, wasn’t the case.”

“Jesus, man,” Gil says. And his eyes are so wide an onlooker would swear they’re Q-balls. The waitress approaches and both men wave her off before she can speak. “I don’t know what you heard about me but no, man. No. I won’t kill your wife.”

Big Larry’s head flings back so hard it bounces off the pleather cushions and he laughs something awful. Sounds like smokers cough. “Kid, you’re alright,” he manages before another laughing spell.

“Listen,” Big Larry says finally. “I can’t remember the last time the Missus and I had relations and I didn’t pretend she was someone else entirely. No different than masturbating really, if you had a right hand always bitching about the toilet seat being up.”

And while Gil is relieved that murder was not the deal to be brokered, he’s also a little disappointed. When he figured Big Larry was setting up a hit, it was the only time all evening Gil felt they were on the same page. Everything said before and since may just as well have been Greek.

“Here’s the point kid, I can’t divorce my wife on account of having no prenup. I can’t kill her on account of me not being a complete prick. What I’ve got to do is appease the lady. Keep her off my case. Keep her satisfied.” Big Larry winks a big wink. “However, as you might assume, half a lifetime married to a fellow with my reputation, Missus Big Larry has certain standards. But Gil, you have quite a reputation yourself.”

“So, you’re asking me to bone your lady?” Gil says, totally tactful. “And you’re gonna give me coin to do it?”

“Yeah Kid, that’s the offer,” Big Larry sighs. “Now, you can look at this two ways. Either you can look at this the way you want it to be. And then, you’re doing me a favor. Or you can look at this the way it is. And then, you’re nothing but a whore. Two choices kid, be happy or be right.”

For the first time all evening, Gil grins. “I don’t care much about being happy or being right. The way I see it, in this life the only choice I have is to get paid.”

“Kid,” says Big Larry. “We can shake on that.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Modern Magellan

Get this. There are no more frontiers. Not in terms of real estate. In now times, you can’t just move in and lay claim. Globalization and public relations and the Internet, they make it a bitch to pull off. Look at Iraq. Look how that’s turned out. No, you can’t barge in and grab land anymore. You’re liable to look like a real fuckhead

You say, I’m wrong. You say, ever see Star Trek? You say, space, it’s the final frontier. What I say is this: fuck space. Space is cold and dark. Space, nobody owns it so nobody wants it. It was the final frontier when everybody was trying to get there. It was the end-all be-all of adventure when there was a race on. Now, it’s nothing. Why do you think 1972 was the last moonwalk? Because we got there and nobody else owned it, so there was no point in taking it.

But a frontier, it’s a border. Where something ends and another thing begins, another thing entirely. A border. Between comfort and the unknown. A border. Between what’s yours and what’s not. My point being this: frontiers, they don’t necessarily divide land.

* * *

Get this. New York City was all Lanape Indians when the first Europeans showed up. And after Whitey tired of trading with the Lanape, after all the beavers had been killed for their pelts and there wasn’t anything left to exploit, after all that the Europeans sent the Indians packing. Sent them West. And they turned New York into a crowded heap of concrete. What’s more, they kept the Lanape name “Manhattan.” Maybe because they weren’t creative enough to think of another title. Maybe because they liked to rub it in.

They took. Moreover, they took with a certain satisfaction, a certain lack of shame that seemed to say, “Fuck you and everyone you know. And everyone they know too.” My point being this: even in the time of real adventurers, discovery was just another word for theft.

* * *

Get this. A good while ago, I stole a beer from some guy at a party. What I discovered, it was half drunk. What I discovered, it was still cold, it tasted good. Admittedly, that was both an asshole move and also disgusting. What’s more, the party was a kegger. So not only was stealing the beer fucked up and gnarly, it was completely unnecessary. That’s likely why it tasted so good.

What people always say when I tell them about this. What people always say is, I’m a punk, not an adventurer. What I always say when people call me a punk. What I always say is, punks take candy from babies, adventurers take honey from bears. My point being this: adventure is in the risk, be it the risk of a drunken sucker punch or the risk of an expertly chucked tomahawk.

* * *

Get this. In any large city, see someone walking down the street holding a black plastic bag and inside is either liquor or pornography. Without exception. Find someone carrying a black plastic bag filled with baby formula or bibles and I’ll eat my hat. It never happens. Why I’m telling you this: black plastic bags are like frontiers for the twenty-first century.

Steal a man’s $5 gin and he’ll come at you as if it were gold. Steal his copy of Midget Gang Bang 4 ½, it may as well be his first-born. Never will he call to bystanders for help. Never will he involve the police. But he’d sooner lick an electrical socket than let it go. Black plastic bags, pure fucking adventure.

It’s not about whether you’ve nabbed yourself a bottle of Blue Label or the June issue of Foot Fancy. It’s about not knowing what you nabbed, not knowing if someone’s right about to nab it back. The first frontier or the last frontier or every frontier besides. An island or a beer or a black plastic bag. Every one an adventure. My point being this: there’s any number of ways to steal the unknown.