The Fatalist: Chapter 2

The body that had once belonged to Gregory Vitrola, and now belonged to The Fatalist, slumbered peacefully.  He’d summoned a thick matt of algae onto one of the larger lagoons in Overland Swamp and used it as a mattress.

Floating above the surface of the water, buoyed by his bed of life, The Fatalist slept deeply.  He snored loudly and moved frequently with swift fluidity.  He rolled over, he stirred, he yawned and made smacking sounds with his lips.

He dreamed, but his dreams were unlike any he’d had while he was human.

When he’d been human his dreams were filled with judging eyes and pointed fingers, as he was surrounded and accosted by faceless authority figures.  Gregory Vitrola never felt in place, and always as though he needed to escape.

Now that he was The Fatalist, his dreams were peaceful.  Within his dreams, The Fatalist ceased to have a single identity, but was simultaneously each member of a growing family.  His new family comprised of every living thing in the swamp, and in his dreams he was all of them simultaneously.

Gregory Vitrola’s first day as The Fatalist was spent dreaming.


During just his second day as The Fatalist, Gregory Vitrola was able to feel what it was like to have sex.  Laying on a puddle on a lazy early evening, The Fatalist startled to life, suddenly drawn to the southwest.

He loped through the swamp, smoothly hurtling tree roots and dodging piles of muck, becoming more familiar with the lay on the land at each step.  He could see, or rather sense by the heat it generated, a car in the distance.  It wasn’t moving but the engine was running.

Roughly fifty yards down a trail from The Fatalist, an automobile had been idling for close to an hour, and its windows open.  The car’s radio was on, playing an antiperspirant ad very loudly, and apart from the car a blanket was laid out on the ground.

At the center of the blanket lay a couple; they caressed each other smoothly and confidently.  The Fatalist could feel these lovers’ passion in all his cells, and he experienced the intensity of their feeling.

The Fatalist wrapped himself in these lovers’ ecstasy, drawing closer and closer, until he could almost actually see them over a rock.  He couldn’t see much of the actual scene, but seeing just the sharp repetitive motion of it, was enough to put The Fatalist in a joyful slumber.

Such was The Fatalist’s sensitivity to the swamp that he shared in every birth and every death.  As he grooved on the passion of these ecstatic libertines, each thrust was an intensifying pulse of pleasure.  As he lay with his head on a rock looking up at still clouds, he could feel both lovers climax, and then lay on each other, smooching and rubbing.

After they’d finished, each of them lay in a near-comatose state of relaxation.  The Fatalist took this opportunity to creep within a stone’s throw of the couple, inspecting them intently.  They were not attractive, or at least would not have seemed attractive through human eyes, but their aspect displayed serene joy.

They seemed to be well into their fifties, and each had a poorly maintained, lumpy body.  The way they giggled and the love he could feel through the grass underneath them made The Fatalist think they were an old couple, and to fuck among the trees was likely a tradition of theirs.

The Fatalist, when he’d been Gregory Vitrola, had not believed in love.  He remembered figuring that love might be conceptually possible, but that for him it was only a dream.  This was a large part of the reason he’d attempted to kill himself.  He now felt what love was or could be, and he closed his eyes.

What the Fatalist did not know was that these lovers were each cheating on their spouses, and what he’d interpreted as partners beautifully giving of themselves would be considered by many to be illicit and gross.

These judgments of things as “right” or “wrong,” “pleasant” or “unpleasant” didn’t matter to him.  What mattered to The Fatalist was the expression of life at its most unrestrained, and he loved it.

As he lay a stone’s throw away from the couple, watching these adulterers’ rhythmic motion, he could sense through the feel of the road a vehicle speeding towards the couple.  He looked down the road, and he saw in the distance a white midsize sedan accelerating towards them, and within moments it was roughly a block away.

The couple, having noticed the car speeding to them, were panicked and dressing rapidly.  They were not nearly fast enough.  The white car pulled over, and a slender brown-haired woman burst out the driver’s side door in a rage.  “Robert!” the woman screamed, sounding shocked and enflamed.  “Samantha what the fuck!?”

Samantha immediately started wailing and sobbing, but The Fatalist could tell she wasn’t really crying, because underneath her the ground tasted no salty droplets.  Her scream cut through the trees and made The Fatalist shiver, and her horrid mock sobs made him feel rotted on the inside.  “I don’t—I don’t—“ she licked her palm and tried to use the moisture to make it look like she’d been crying.  “I don’t know!”

She sobbed loudly while Robert stood up as he pulled his pants on.  “Baby baby baby it just happened, I swear to god it just happened and I’m sorry.”

“Robert,” the woman said in a steady voice.  She reached into her purse and pulled out a snub-nosed revolver.  She pointed it at Robert.  “I’ve had it with your lies and I’m going to kill you if you don’t tell me the truth.”

Samantha was almost fully dressed when she shot upright and stood holding her hands as far out in front of her as she could.  “Jill, Jill, what are you doing?”

Jill shot into the ground next to Samantha and it hurt me like a red-hot poker into the soft meat of my thigh.  I bellowed so loudly I believed the entire swamp could feel my pain.  As I screamed I picked a handful of dirt off the ground and squeezed until it was a solid ball of soil.  After throwing this ball up into the air and catching it myself a couple times, I hurled it at the gun in Jill’s hand.  The ball of dirt covered in green, foamy sludge stuck the gun Jill had fired against the tree to her left.

The short, immensely dramatic scene The Fatalist had been watching was brought to an immediate halt, as all three humans searched the area for clues about what the hell had just happened.

As all three of their gazes fell onto The Fatalist and their jaws dropped, he erupted with a shout that shook the trees.  “NO GUNS!”

The threesome scurried as fast as they could into the car Jill had driven to them in and their exhaust backfired as they were shot down the path out of the swamp.  The clearing where the gross adulterers had been was now littered with Robert’s shirt, Samantha’s bra, a picnic blanket, a condom wrapper, and an empty bag of potato chips.

Using vines of his own creation, The Fatalist hung all these items from the trees that surrounded the expanse the lovers had just occupied.  He knew all the people would start to talk about him now, and they would come looking.

“Oh shit,” The Fatalist said to himself, softly.

The Fatalist: Chapter 1

The Fatalist: Chapter 2

Movie review: Election (1999)


Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne (screenplay) Tom Perotta (novel)

Stars: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein

Movie is currently available on Netflix streaming

Alexander Paine’s Election (1999), a portrait of small-town high school politics is hilarious, realistic, and in the end very meaningful.  In the center of the film is a remarkable, rigidly intense performance by Reese Witherspoon.  She plays Tracey Flick, a High School student who’s commitment and ferocity distinguish her from her classmates, and she knows it.  Her character’s mask of cheeriness, along with her inexhaustible supply of energy, bring her into conflict with her high school social studies teacher, Jim McCalister (Matthew Broderick).

Broderick plays the ostensible protagonist of this story, and his self-serving inner monologue (which all four main characters also have) makes a comical juxtaposition with his callous actions.  He knows that Tracey Flick (Witherspoon), his most committed student, would surely win the titular election, and he feels he cannot let that happen.  In order to defeat Tracey in the election, he selects the student who is most clearly Tracey’s opposite, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein), to run against her.

Paul Metzlerl is absolutely brainless, but his heart is the size of a mountain.  At night, as he lies in bed with his hands folded over his chest, he prays “Please help her (his sister) to be a happier person ‘cause she’s so smart and sensitive and I love her so much.”  The sweetness in Chris Klein’s performance is hilarious and heartwarming, creating a nice counterpoint to Jessica Campbell’s perfectly centered performance as the film’s only truly sympathetic character, Paul’s younger sister Tammy Metzler.  Tammy Metzler, who’s inner monologue we could most easily imagine coming from a real teenage girl, acts as the audience’s true surrogate.

All these characters are woven into a complex tableau of small-town debauchery and the worst of intentions into a simple, short, magnificent film.  As negative as this film’s portrayal of small-town “values” and extremely selfish people, disguises in itself what I believe is a soft heart.  In the end, I believe Election is a sort of ethical treatise, and one that sees all its characters get their just desserts.  Election is hilarious, layered, and brilliant.  I recommend you see it.


Movie review: Election (1999)

Treetops (volume 4)

4. Concourse Parkway

Norwood Park was like every other park in the city during the day, a collection of baseball diamonds and children running as fast as they can.  At night though, Norwood Park belonged to the gangs.

It hadn’t always been this way.  There was even a time when Norwood Park and the Teddy were considered sister parks, and in 2003, the two were connected by a shiny sidewalk marketplace filled with book stores and vintage record shops.  The area became a magnet for moneyed tourists, a garden of possibilities for pickpockets and stick-up-men, so gangs were permanently struggling to gain control of it.

Two of the city’s biggest gangs, the Vikings and the Gents, spent the entire year of 2005 at war over this stretch of real estate, and on September 26th, two combatants were stabbed to death in the alley behind the Bombay Noodle Hut.  As a result of this and several other violent departures from normalcy, consumers avoided the area.  As the years stretched on and the gangs went nowhere, Concourse Parkway became a retail graveyard, and thus, it was no longer an area of contention between any gangs.

Businesses began to fail and get boarded up, creating the skeletal remains of commerce.  These corpses continued to serve a purpose at least for the gangs, as empty space to cover with spray paint signatures.  Roly, upon seeing all the tags, called out,  “Do we have a sprayer?”

“No,” Max said, “We didn’t bring one.”

“Fuckin of course not,” Roly stepped away from the others, casting his hands frustrated to the sky.

Mason, having been handed a can of red spray paint by one of his soldiers, tossed it up to Roly.  “Here ya go.”

Roly began to shake it vigorously, making that familiar rattle loud enough for all to hear.  Simon asked, “What is that red?” but it was more statement than question.  He knew that the can was red, Red was the Heaters signifying color, while the Treetops’ was green.

“You’re right,” said Roly as he flipped the can back to Mason, “Can’t use it.”

Mason shrugged, took the can and tossed it to another Heater as he signaled toward a blank patch of brick over a dumpster with a closed lid.  The Heater, a pudgy boy with thick glasses, started struggling to pull himself up and tag the space with a red H.

Seeing this, Simon made himself known, calling out loudly, “Right, I’ma just keep goin, anyone can join me.”

Art jogged over to Simon, beckoning Max to join them, which he did.  Roly stood at the mouth of the alley holding his hands in front of him attempting to bar anyone from leaving, “Wait we’re almost done.”

“Na, just catch up,” Big D said as he joined Max Art and Simon.  The Treetops stepped into the street, posting up next to a jeep.

After a short time the Jeep’s doors opened, and out stepped a young couple.  The man, Zachary wore a purple handkerchief around his neck, and the woman, Angelica, had a purple doo-rag on her head.  Max knew who they were.  He was head of the Gents and she was head of the Rosie’s, two gangs with a history of interbreeding so deep that they’d long ago been considered in effect the same gang.

The Rosie spoke first, “Who’re you?”

Simon introduced them, “The Treetops, from Evergreen.”

“Tourists,” said a heavily tattooed man holding a cedar cane and wearing shined wingtips as he too stepped out of the Jeep, “Get the fuck outta here.”

Max dug in his pocket, looking for the invitation he’d received that morning, but Simon spoke before he could find it.  “Or what?”

The Gent seemed stunned, clearly unused to defiance.  “Or we fuck you up, what you think?”  He took the cane, held it up vertically as its tip planted onto the cement directly in front of him.

Max found the invitation and held it out.  “Here’s our pass to the summit, it’s cool.”

Angelica stepped forward and grabbed the invitation.  “What the fuck is this?”  As she read the pass she chuckled, “oh my god you stupid fucks, where’d you get this?”

Just then, Roly, Mason and the Heaters arrived huffing and gasping, having run half the way down the block.  “These are the Treetops, from one a the south suburbs, Evergreen, they’re cool though.”

Angelica shook her head laughing.  “They’re cool?”  She turned and walked directly to Mason, staring at him in the eyes as she did.  “They don’t look cool.”

Art, who’d previously been silent, offered what he felt was a helpful suggestion.  “We could just throw down.”  Everyone who’d heard was stunned, and rendered quiet by their surprise.  “I mean, if ya just wanna know if we’re for real, there’s an easy way to find out right?”  He stared down each Gent in turn, finally stopping in front of the biggest one, Zachary.

He looked around, watching Art’s eyes and the eyes of his fellow gang members, and he knew what was expected of him.  He swung hard, landing his knuckles in Art’s cheek with a moist wallop.

After having the position of his head suddenly and violently altered, he slowly brought it back to standard position.  The Rosies and the Gents both shot into action, creating semi-circles behind their members

“Is that it?” Art said grinning ear to ear.  He hadn’t moved at all, and did not appear to have been struck.  Zachary was bolstered then, and pulled his fist back farther than before, but Art interjected with an elbow to the gut.  Zachary hadn’t seen it coming, so it knocked the wind out of him, and he collapsed gasping for air.

None of the Gents or the Rosies made a move, and all held silent.  Mason stepped forward,  “These are the Treetops, from Evergreen, they’re coming in to the summit, ‘kay?”

As the Treetops crossed the street from the concourse to Norwood Park, Max jogged ahead of them again and called out, “Simon, Roly, D, Art, powow.”  He flipped an open palm above his head and used it to signal that the Treetops should come together.

Mason raised his arm and opened his mouth as if to offer protest, then thought better of it, and stuck his hands in his pockets.  He hurried across the street to the park and disappeared in the shadows.

When he was certain Mason was out of earshot, Max spoke sounding nervous.  “I don’t trust Mason, I think those invitations were fake, I think he planted them.”  As he made his suspicions known, he became aware that though Big D’s face wore its standard blank expression, he detected what he thought was a nervous tension in Roly’s knit eyebrows.

“Yeah well that’s real interesting,” Simon spoke, his voice filled with what could be described as an aggressive boredom.  “I’m not goin’ back to Evergreen.  Mason’s suspicious, okay, so what?”

“Yeah I’m not missing this,” said Art, “I can handle myself.”

Max was frustrated by what he felt was brash overconfidence displayed by his fellow Treetops.  Didn’t they realize the danger of their situation?  Could he really trust Roly and Big D?  The Treetops were a gang, not a family, so every member was a potential traitor.

After a time of silent consideration, Roly interjected.  “Don’t worry about Mason.  Mason’s solid–well, he’s not solid, but he’s not, ya know, not, ambitious, I guess.”

“What?”  Max blared, as he’d not expected Roly to use that word.  The wheels in his head rolled over the word again and again.  “Ambitious?  What’s that supposed to mean?  What the fuck does Mason have to be ambitious about?  Why’d you pick that word?”

“I don’t know, uh, I just said it, it felt right I don’t know.”

Max grabbed Roly’s collar and forced him backwards until his back met the cold jagged brick of the alley wall.  “Are you working with Mason?  What’s the plan?”

Big D grabbed Max’s arm and wrenched it away, holding it against his own chest.  “Come on, guys, let’s just go to the speech.”

Roly dropped onto his ass, folding his arms around his knees.  “I don’t know why I said ambitious, I guess cause it sounded cool, I don’t know.”

Across the street, Simon and Art already stood, motioning with their hands for the others to join them.  Max yelled, “are you ladies done?  It’s not safe for young ladies to wander at night, look.”

The gangs were heading into the park, and in the distance was heard the squeal of a PA system turning on.  The speech was just about to take place, so Simon and Art turned and walked toward the noise, with Max Roly and Big D in tow.  Max was still extremely nervous, but there was no time to deal with fears, however justified.

Volume 3

Volume 2

Volume 1

Treetops (volume 4)

A New Dawn: Chapter 3

3. Hail the Queen


The dawning of what we called Era #1 was sad and bloody

we lost many friends and family those days to beyond-the-wall

beyond-the-wall is a new term people use for everything

the feeling of love and attachment to what we still have

there is no more sex in our society except when it’s illicit

I believed in The Queen like we all did when we turned away

we showed our backs to the eaters knowing they were gone

if we stopped believing in them they’d go away from us

so we focus on some of those I’ve seen outside the Mall Palace

pleading wailers and bleeding aborters is all they are anyway

that’s what they said but I’ve been down there before and I know

the truth of the suffering holdouts and the hope they have

the hope that we could come together new from the rubble

I have the same hope but I know the future in what I will do

Era #1 must crash to an end like the Second World War

and we will parade the Queen’s Head around and into the fire.


I must do it out in the courtyard so everyone can see

at the Year 6 celebration whenever that is I will stab her

day and night’s difference means nothing to us anymore

we are off the calendar now as the Queen dictates the date

dawn and dusk are both dead is something we say now

“Just like everyone else!” is a chant often raised in taverns

Civilization’s over and everyone’s already dead so what?

this is symbolized by question marks in every sad alley

Angelica tells us it’s time for the dawning of Year 6!

she opens the liquor stores to a great rush of people

but less great than expected and horror drapes her face

for as she turns to me a shiv goes into her stomach

the crowd gasps and tries to erupt but no one is sad or mad

the multitude move as a great whooshing gust of flesh

so I raise my reddened hand holding a blade above the crowd

“SHE’S DEAD!” screaming and expecting a rousing cheer

instead the silence was stark as it set out over the shuffling mass.

the rousing cheer I’d inspired was angry and had a plan

I smile and welcome the dawning of a new day again


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

A New Dawn: Chapter 3

Zen Comedy 14: Endless Possibilities

The Zen Comedian offers no specific advice to aid in joke writing, because he says that every comedian’s jokes must find their genesis in his or her own soul, without outside input.  However, he does offer sage counsel to any victims of writers block: “The comic mind is an infinite palette, combine colors to create infinite potential.”  A palette, for those who don’t know, is that thing with a thumbhole and all the different colors of paint on it that artists used to mix colors, and I think that this is an excellent metaphor for the writing and the performance of jokes.  Two Zen Comedy masters that make excellent use of all colors on their personal palettes are both very different and almost seemingly interchangeable, Emo Phillips and Steven Wright.

Both of these comics use unexpected and weird punchline-oriented comedy, which could become tiresome in fairly short order, but their performance styles are each unaccountably compelling when combined with the substance of the jokes they tell.  Steven Wright delivers his jokes in a flat monotone, moving very little and leaving a worn expression on his face as if he is very tired.  This aspect works extremely well in combination with short bits like “I bought some powdered water but I don’t know what to add,” because his palpable lack of enthusiasm blends well with a skewered take on reality and the English language.  Emo Phillips is almost the opposite, with his ludicrously high-pitched voice and habit of constantly moving his body, he seems like a ball of nervous energy.  In one of my personal favorite bits, he describes slapping someone whom he mistook for an old classmate on the back before he realized that “if that’s really Jimmy Peterson, he would have grown up too.”  These are each brilliantly weird bits, and when combined with unconventional performance style’s as they are, they make the routines they are part of engrossing and hysterical.

I am not proposing that these offbeat performance styles are necessarily beneficial, only that they demonstrate the value of the Zen Comedian’s wisdom.  Zen master’s Phillips and Wright simply perform in the ways most beneficial to the jokes they’ve written.  Wright’s jokes are deadpan absurdist observations, and Phillips’ jokes are the inner monologue of a madman, so each of their styles complement these qualities perfectly.  So translating the Zen Comedian’s wisdom into practical advice, I’ll say that when working on a new bit, a comedian should experiment with different ways to tell their jokes, as well as constantly altering the substance of all material.

In my own stand-up, I’ve for years been using a bit wherein I share what I feel is great wisdom I’ve learnt from my car accident and subsequent time in the hospital, boiling it down to three simple truths.  These truths are: 1. love will not save you, 2. happiness is temporary, and 3. you will die before you are ready.  I realize that this does not read as comedic, but this type of blunt cynicism can be very funny, as long as I perform it correctly.  I believe I’ve learnt that the most effective way of delivering this joke is to be flippant, as though I think that these facts should be plainly obvious to everyone, but I don’t fully understand why this is the best way to tell the joke.  I will therefore continue to experiment with this joke, uncovering more of what the Zen Comedian calls “infinite possibilities,” and just maybe, someday I’ll find one I can be satisfied with.



Zen Comedy 14: Endless Possibilities

Treetops (Volume 3)

3. The Teddy

Mason led them to the Main Concourse, an asphalt line that bisected the park and was peppered with streetlights.  It was twenty yards wide, and at night completely barren, making of it an eerie black stone river.

Simon, energized from what he felt was a victory over Mason, could not hide his excitement.  “Let’s find a spot and post up, see what happens.”  As Simon broke into a light jog, coasting in front of the rest.

Mason grinned, barely letting his teeth show.  Max noticed this anticipatory smile and called after Simon.  “I don’t think that’s real wise.”

Simon responded, “Whatever,” curt and sharp.  He sat on a garbage can, hanging his feet before its mouth.

As soon as he did this, two large, muscled gang members rushed out from under the trees and knocked Simon to the ground, causing him to land painfully on his hip.  They were both wearing black tank tops, green suspenders and world war 2 era headgear.

“The summit is to take place in Norwood park, keep moving.”  These were members of War Helmet, a gang renowned throughout the city for its brutal discipline.  Simon tried to lash out at the Helmet who’d assaulted him, but before he could take a swing, two more grabbed him by each arm and held him still.

“That’s War Helmet,” Mason said casually, “They’re providing some of the security.”

“Security?”  Simon opened his mouth as if he didn’t understand.  After just a moment of consideration he closed his mouth and relaxed his arms, seeing that in a physical contest he would be outmatched and outnumbered.  “Understood.”  Simon frowned and lowered his head.

As they continued down the Concourse, Mason kept the dialog going.  “War Helmet comes from Port Ashland, I don’t know much about them, don’t mess with ’em though.”

“Yeah,” Simon said, defeated.

As quickly as the members of War Helmet had arrived, they disappeared into the darkness created by the trees.  Art was intrigued by this show of mastery, and he searched the darkness for other members of this gang, crouching under low branches and peering up through the leaves toward the streetlights.

“Stop looking for us,” a voice came from nowhere, loud and deep.  “The summit is to take place in Norwood park, clear the Concourse.”

“Or what?”  Simon strode slowly into the middle of the black, solid path.  Stretching his arms to his sides, he straightened his right leg out in front of him, than switched it with his left.  “Come on, War Helmet, scare me, I wanna see your force.”

After around 15 seconds watching the willows, Mason tapped Simon on the shoulder and spoke softly into his ear.  “Unless you’re gonna go in there and look for them, I think we should go.”

With his mouth held open and his pupils flicking back and forth, Simon nodded and began to walk forward.  The rest of the Treetops followed, continuing a frightened caravan.


The Treetops came to and passed what was affectionately referred to as the Big Fountain.  The Big Fountain had once upon a time been one of the city’s central meeting places, hosting all manner of political rallies and musical performances, but it had been decades since water had flowed through it.  Now it was simply a grouping of mold-covered gargoyles looking fearsome and portending doom.

Seeing that on the edge of the Big Fountain sat a fairly nondescript group of street hoods, displaying no obvious colors and all facing in different directions.  Passing them, Mason casually waved his hand.  “Jeremy.”

A Skinny man in an undershirt waved, remaining silent.  His face was gaunt and his bones stuck out, making it appear as though he’d not eaten for years.  The streetlights circling the fountain made the divots and crevices in his face create shadows when the streetlight hit them from the right angle.  The shadows on his face made him appear ghostlike, but not the ghost of a person, more a dark harbinger of the end times.

“That was Jeremy, he runs The Numbers, they’re all right.”  From the fountain, The Treetops and The Heaters continued through a tight group of willow trees.  The trees were packed together such that they created a decaying canopy, moonlight shining through its gaps at different angles.

Max became uneasy.  “Who’re The Numbers?”  Max asked nervously, as though the answer would harm him.

“They’re from the outskirts, I think, by the train yards, I think.”

Waiting until the Numbers were out of earshot, Simon eventually proffered his analysis.  “The Numbers is a stupid name.”

“So is the Treetops,” said Art, casting his potentially offensive statement casually; just throwing it out there.  “And so is the Forty-Niners, and so is the Heaters.  Gang names are stupid.”  Art looked into Simon’s eyes, challenging him.  Simon and Art conflicted often, sometimes even coming to blows, but Simon was too scared after his encounter with War Helmet to tire himself out in this way, so he said nothing.

As soon as he invoked the name of the Heaters, which had already been the center of a contentious moment, Art looked Mason in the eye, seemingly daring him to make a move.  Mason silently kept moving, trying not to look at Art.

“The numbers is a stupid name,” Simon spoke, his voice tinged with anticipation.  “The Heaters is a stupider name though, it must be said.”

In an instant Simon was on his back, Mason standing over him with a cocked-back fist.  “Why’re you fuckin with me?”

Simon twisted and pushed up with his hands, backing Mason up and claiming his own patch of grass.  “Cause we don’t need you.  I don’t even know why you’re here, get the fuck out.”

“He’s here cause we wanted a guide,” Roly said, backing Simon and Mason away from one another.  “We weren’t gonna come up here with no plan.  Mason knows the park better than we do.”

“Oh wow he probably knows they got trees and stuff.”  Simon spoke staring into Mason’s eyes as they circled each other, Big D standing between them.  “Fuck that, like we can’t figure it out.”

As he stretched his arms out, Big D sounded like a toddler begging his parents not to hurt each other.  “Two is better than one right?  Isn’t that a good enough reason?”

Simon responded quickly, “No, I don’t trust Mason, he’s got a plan and I don’t like it.”

Purposefully and deliberately, Max strode out between them.  “Cool it, Simon.  Fact is, we weren’t gonna come without a guide and you know it.”

“But why couldn’t we come without a guide?  We got an invitation same as them, we’re not stupid.”

Max lowered his head and beckoned Simon with his hand to lower his the same way so they could speak more softly and privately with one another.  “I wasn’t comin’ without a guide, that’s what it comes to.  You wanna blame someone for nothing?  Fine blame me, but cool it, you’re not helping us, look around.”

Simon stood up straight, looked around and saw they were surrounded at all sides by the Heaters, many of them clutching weapons.  He looked left to right, seeing the whole situation.  “Okay, you’re right, that was uncalled for, I apologize.”

Mason stood silent watching Simon’s face, seeing from his expression that his apology had been insincere.  “It’s okay, whatever.  Want us to take you to Norwood now?”

Max felt sickened by Mason’s superior attitude, but he just said “yeah,” and they all moved on.

Treetops (Volume 3)

Essay: A New Golden Age

In recent years, television’s experienced a glut of truly exceptional programming (no, not everywhere, but bear with me).  This recent onslaught of complex characters, engrossing and unexpected plot lines, as well as genuine emotional connection have shown that television is one of this country’s greatest platforms for modern artistic expression.  In this article, I will focus on three programs, the latter two of which are deadly serious and violent hourlong dramas.  So to start with, I would like to begin with an extremely progressive and transgressive step in the evolution of the half hour sitcom; the final season of 30 Rock.

Over 7 seasons, during which 30 Rock (2006-13) was consistently near to topping the list of the best comedy’s on TV, and in its final season it achieved greater freedom and silly hilarity than any other sitcom before or since.  In the last episode of the season, “Hogcock!” (a combination of hogwash and poppycock) the show subverts traditional series finale tropes at every turn, creating what may be the funniest episode of the decade’s best comedy.  Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), ever smiling and eternally helpful whipping boy of the entire series becomes the new head of NBC, Jack (Alec Baldwin) who for the entire series was the man in charge undergoes a crisis of direction, and Liz (Tina Fey) prepares to stop working and struggles to raise her two adopted children.  The show uses fantastic references to references, creating completely off-the-wall jokes throughout the episode, which stands as one of the long-running series’ best.

Though 30 Rock was an example of the great steps taken in situation comedy of late, the first season of HBO’s True Detective (2014-15) went even farther than The Sopranos or The Wire in making it’s hourlong runtime a truly cinematic experience.  While the stars (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) create compelling focal points to a story about true horror, evil, and violence.  One episode, “Who Goes There?” opens with a breathless six minute single shot of a botched drug bust/robbery that left me shocked and stunned.  This sequence, taken as exemplum for the outstanding series as a whole, illustrates that True Detective sought and achieved true dramatic greatness.

While True Detective demonstrated that wonderful TV is still on premium networks like HBO, Netflix has now burst on the scene as a great exhibitor of original programming, and no where was that more apparent than in Netflix’s airing of Happy Valley (2014)Happy Valley, which first aired on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), tells the story of Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire), a no-nonsense police detective investigating a mysterious disappearance.   As might be expected, she becomes embroiled in events beyond her pay grade.  In the face of these new intense developments in her personal and professional life, she shows an almost magical backbone, like Sergeant Marge Gunderson (France McDormand) in Fargo, she is a picture of effectiveness.   Sarah Lancashire’s performance as this protagonist is complex and intense, and makes Happy Valley the greatest television show I’ve seen in what feels like decades.

These three shows, one representing the persevering effectiveness of network television (30 Rock), one showing the great depths to which premium cable can plunge (True Detective), and one showing television’s exciting future (Happy Valley), have left me more excited about the future of television than ever before.  It remains to be seen just how much entertainment will change in the coming decades, but I, for one, am thirsty to behold what the future will offer.

Essay: A New Golden Age

Poem: A Dime

It begins the same way every time,

I wake up somewhere new, a new time, new everything,

I remember too from before, in my soul, in my head too,

this time I’m Davis Whinsper Hum,

wild west drunken innkeeper, fat and old, soon to be dead,

tumbleweeds roll and whistle, air of lead, some stray firing,

this time I’m afloat on a stone raft,

burning sludge everywhere, sky of fire, doomsday survivor,

cackling out loud jackin’ it, ever defiant, No Name Fuck Shit,

now I’m a noble serf sick on glut,

coliseum in blood chuckling, the glorious, Lustian van Tispit,

but the rebels break the wall, string me up, show me true horror,

I don’t understand what’s happening,

are these all cast-off darts, Plinko chips, galactic bingo dots,

all picking lotto numbers, all power ball, so none of it matters,

don’t think that for what’s the use,

it makes me unwise, to think that, or shows that I’m foolish,

if I act on that belief, burning smell, will be all that pervades,

so follow love to the gate of hell,

cry all in and push, risk it all now, feel my space in time,

but it is all the same, combos differ, luck is what directs,

but this is a selfish mantra,

solidified separation, all it is truly, inspiring no one at all,

like “what’s the point?” in coins, flipping.

Poem: A Dime

Movie Review: Five Element Ninjas (1982)

Five Element Ninjas

Director: Chang Cheh

Writer: Chang Cheh, Kuang Ni

Stars: Tien-Chi Cheng, Tien Hsiang Lung

Five Element Ninjas is currently available on Netflix streaming

Five Element Ninjas, the bonkers ultraviolet kung fu masterpiece, was made during the slow fade of Hong Kong’s great Shaw Brothers Studio in the early eighties, and easily surpasses even the greatest of its predecessors (Heroes of the East, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Crippled Avengers) in action, bloodshed, and overall madness.  I call this film bonkers because through my western eyes, everything about it is absolutely crazy.  The film opens with a brief textual explanation that all weapons and costumes in the film are based on ancient Chinese and Japanese designs, but who cares?  The crazy weapons (a huge bladed circle vs. a huge axe) and crazier costumes (threadbare white capes fastened around the neck by a loose-fitting silver chain) only serve to give the impression that the action is not taking place in reality, but in the opium-addled mind of kung-fu fantasist Chang Cheh.

I should state here that I have no direct knowledge of any opium abuse, but given Chang Cheh’s filmography, I am given to assume he must have been on something.  Between the years 1966 and 1988, a scant twenty-two years, he directed an astounding 84 films, many of them classics of the genre (Vengeance, Shaolin Martial Arts, One-Armed Swordsman).  This prodigious output suggests that the director’s heart probably wasn’t always in the films he made, which is undoubtedly true, but in Five Element Ninjas, every fight scene seems painstakingly choreographed, making each and every one of them a joy to watch.

Having been a long-time fan of kung-fu movies, one of my biggest complaints about the genre is the way that one fighter can defeat an entire army, as they seem to have agreed to fight him one by one, in sequence.  I watch a fight scene in Legend of Drunken Master, Jackie Chan and Lau Kar-Leung’s own masterpiece, and I cannot help but notice the crowd of fighters simply watching the fight, and I wonder why they don’t try to help.  Five Element Ninjas does not have this sickness, and watching one man fight crowds of enemies single-handedly becomes ludicrous and beautiful.  Opponents do not take turns, attacking in true unison, but the one fighter always seems to be a step ahead of all of them, flipping, turning his back, and falling on the ground, making the fight scenes more akin to underwater ballet than an actual physical contest.

When considering the plot, and what actually happens in the film, it seems obvious that the director, Chang Cheh, did not like women.  The few female characters are all treacherous and villainous betrayers, but these elements, like every part of the plot, seem secondary to the action.  In this review, I’ve described none of the plot of this film because in all honesty, every plot development is truly just filling the gaps between fight scenes, of which there seem to be more than I would have thought possible.  Five Element Ninjas is in its bones and at its heart the most joyous celebration of the fight scene I have ever watched.  If you are the type who can get lost in these sequences of outrageous violence (at one point a fighter is literally pulled into four pieces) and beautiful swirling movement (the training sequence is a masterpiece), then this is a film for you.


Movie Review: Five Element Ninjas (1982)

A New Dawn: Chapter 2

The Holdouts

Day 534:

This is my first entry in five months, and now we have almost the whole town back, the commercial district anyway, but life is more hell now than ever.  We finished the whiskey two days ago, and I still drink to blackout nightly, but now I have to use gin to do it.  I hate gin, but if I get smashed on beer I piss myself, and the mash liquor we make tastes like bile.

We watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly last night in the cineplex and everyone dug the bridge scene where civil war guy talks about liquor.  When he says something like “in this bottle is the warrior’s courage,” everyone cheered and smashed bottles on the ground, which is all we do since we ran out of bullets.

Everyone still carries guns around, but it’s been more than a year since the last bullet was fired.  We used to shoot them in the air for any reason.  Angelica used to tell us to fire our guns as much as we wanted at noon on the dot.  She said that this “Aggressive ritual” was necessary for our survival.  Of course our bullets ran out in months, except Angelica’s.  She’s got a cache of guns and bullets, and that’s one of the ways she controls us now.

So we smash bottles on the ground instead.  Now there’s glass on the ground everywhere.  My feet get so hot in my heavy boots from wearing them all day, but it’s important.

She always says freedom is the most important thing, but lately I’ve been wondering about our freedom?  Maybe we could reach out, with radio or something, and we could talk to other survivors.  Angelica says there are no other survivors, but how would she know?

Maybe we should look behind the wall again.  We should be having group discussions about this at least, but Angelica told us that meeting in groups was an indication of insanity and suicidal ideation.  My friend, Judith Fairbanks “committed suicide” by opening her mouth and driving it down on to a butcher knife as hard as he could.  She beat herself severely before this, they said.

It’s ridiculous, and I can tell from the expressions on people’s faces that they know it’s ridiculous, Angelica killed her.  It feels good to write it down.  Angelica killed Judith.

I’ve heard people deify Angelica.  They talk about how she watches them while they sleep and sees them when they wake up.  I don’t think she has any power.  I think she’s mad.

I’m hearing the words “sedition” and “insurrection” spoken in the streets almost daily.  I don’t think it’s coming yet though.  Most of the time when I hear these words spoken, they’re whispered.

I have so little faith nowadays, in anything.  I don’t believe in myself or anyone else.  I don’t think we should have sent the children away, things have gotten grim since then.

No one knows where they went, and most of them were dead anyway.  We’re all dead.  I have to remember to keep saying that; it doesn’t matter because we’re all dead already.  We all saw what we’ve done to make it to this point, we all know.  So why do we need to keep going down that path?

I’ve washed my eyes with clean water and I can see that Angelica must be stopped.

Say this and then step on a crate.  Russel said he has a megaphone that works, so maybe I can trade him something.  Russel likes downers, so wrap him a package.  Then stand on a balcony with a megaphone and yell the truth to people.

Angelica has kept us afraid of her for long enough!  We have suffered and we have died, and things are getting worse daily!  Do you know that tonight Angelica is eating well?  She says she lives with us but she knows nothing of the world we live in.  Many have cried that we need to storm the mall offices, take Angelica prisoner, and put her on trial.  Many voices are calling for revolution, but I think there is another way.

Perhaps human society is nothing but a chain of dynasties and rebellions, but we are a survivor society, we need each other.  We will take Angelica prisoner, do her no harm, and negotiate a peace.

1. All free persons deserve to be treated with respect.

2. Our existence is not contingent on the providence of anyone else.

3. We will mourn our dead family and lost loved ones, even if they were cowards in the end.

4. We will never stop trying to contact other people, and we demand the use of all available resources in order to do so.

5. We will create a court that will hear grievances, the decisions of which will be made by an elected congress.

Possible committee members:  Kelly, Robert, Samantha, Roberta

I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care

They are coming now.  They will soon find me and kill me eventually.  None of this will matter, it won’t matter that I’ve written some of it down, no one will ever read this.  I am leaving this message somewhere it will never be discovered.  If you discover it, congratulations, none of this means anything at all.


A New Dawn: Chapter 1:



A New Dawn: Chapter 2