Archive for the 'Stories' Category

19
Aug
09

Book 26 – entry 12

I was walking downtown today, having one of those days in which all seems black, preposterous, and stupid. I was in a  rancorous mood, looking at all the milling humans with their sulky faces, going where they were supposed to be going as if going there had as much point as going to prison for a meal and a night’s sleep. I wasn’t minding the fact that my own face must have looked equally as dour, that there was a certain pointlessness to whatever it was I was doing downtown, to wherever it was I was going. It was one of those cases, I suppose, in which I separated myself from my human brethren because I couldn’t bear carrying the knowledge that I was one of them – couldn’t stand looking in the mirror. I was floating around on some black, haughty cloud primed to dump buckets of acid rain on the world around me.

I tried to break that miserable spell by smiling at a passing gentleman with a briefcase and a Macy’s bag. He returned my smile with a sneer. If that countenance bore words they surely said nothing less than, “Fuck you and your smile too.” So my contrived little smile fell to the pavement like a turd from a crow’s ass. Only I wish it fell on his head instead of the pavement.

It was that kind of day.

I was about to hop on a bus, but the buses were crowded and I didn’t feel like being crammed in a tight space with a bunch of saturnine office workers, so I decided to just keep walking. I kept my eyes to the ground, or at shop windows, any place but at the sad eyes of other humans. I waited at a crosswalk, impatient for nothing.

Then I saw him in his baggy Carharts and orange safety vest, his corduroy baseball hat askew, smiling while picking weeds out of a planter box. It was hard to miss him. He stood out like a beacon on a prison rock, not just because his vest called attention to him, but because something in him called attention to him, something unusual, something organic.

I crossed the street and took a seat at a empty sidewalk café and watched him carefully work the weeds out of the box, attentively placing them into a burlap sack he had carabineered to his jeans. Sweat was pooling at his beard-line in the late afternoon sun. He had a blithe, suntanned face, artfully engraved with the milage of time. He whistled a vaguely familiar tune as he moved on to the next planter box.

He stood for moment regarding a young, heathy-looking maple that was growing in its round, concrete container. He had calm, effervescent eyes. Very focused. They seemed not to notice the world around him – only the world in front of him. Judging by his peaceful glint I’d say he found that world to be a beautiful one. Watching him made me feel envious and small, if not a bit petty.

The maple tree was girded by two rings of flowers: around the perimeter a band of pretty blue things shaped like bells that spilled out over the edge of the planter, and behind those a stand of Narcissus, all leaning toward the sidewalk as if repelled by the stream of car exhaust. He caressed the Narcissus stalks with gentle hands, as if encouraging them to stand erect. He stroked the little blue flowers as one might pet a cat. His hands were strong and earth-toned, coated with a residue of soil. He had spindly, deft fingers. I couldn’t help imagining that magic came out of the tips when he worked. He had a weeding fork in his pocket but he didn’t seem to need it. The weeds just gave themselves up to him without resistence.

The crosswalk signal set free a new batch of pedestrians. They marched by with jerky gaits – a kind a static clattering. Their passing was like the shutter of a old movie camera, clicking slowly and irregularly, breaking up my view of the gardener into little bits of graceful movement. It was an odd juxtaposition, all those suits and polished heels, hand bags and briefcases swishing by with anxious intent. None of them even saw the gardener.

But I keep seeing him, looking for him, fixating on him.

After the pedestrians passed and I once again had a unobstructed view, I let out an unconscious sigh and smiled. He looked over at me as if responding to my sigh, and he returned my smile with one that only made mine grow bigger. He stood up and gave the thin trunk of the maple a final caress before moving on to the next planter. He turned his face to me.

“Lovely day,” he said.

I just smiled and nodded. And as I watched him gracefully walk toward the next planter, I added softly, resolutely: “Thanks to you.”

04
Aug
09

the reclaimation ~ part 1

The sign on the door said  FRESH BUTTER. That struck me as very odd since any butter that might still be around would either be extremely old, and therefore inedible, or a synthetic facsimile and therefore incapable of possessing the quality previously know as freshness. Of course, the very thought that there might be such a thing as real butter was preposterous, since every last cow on the planet had been exterminated when the Bovine Flu of 2052 broke out.

I hadn’t had butter in over ten years, and I missed it. Dairy products and beef were the last vestiges of the old world, of culinary pleasure, of the man-beast, man-nature relationship; of a time when humans still seemed to possess a quality of – well, humanness. While cattle were still around, most people had a nearly religious reverence for them, and nary a soul ever would sit down to the rare meal of beef stew, steak tar-tar, or even a cheese and apple sandwich, without first offering a long, solemn prayer to the spirit of the animal – whether still incarnate or not – offering deep gratitude and wishes that its species would live long and prosperously. But once the cattle – our last source of animal nutrition –  disappeared, all sense of reverence seemed to go with them.

I had always been a vegetarian, so I never missed beef, though I suffered on behalf of my comrades who did. Cheese, yogurt, milk and sour cream, however, I missed a good deal – though not as much as butter. I always had an unnatural affinity for the stuff, slathering it generously on such disparate items as bread, cookies, fruit, nuts and chocolate. I would even eat it straight from the cube, which would send my poor father – heaven rest his vindicated soul – into paroxysms of disgust.

I still occasionally dream of butter. Once I dreamt that I had drowned in it. It was a blissful death (I am told all death is) and I was quite content to spend my eternity in that silky, warm, golden bath; but my father emerged from the bottom of the infinite vat, pushed me to the surface and reprimanded me for my indulgence. It was a gentle reproach: “Your time’s not yet up, son,” he said rather dolefully. And so I woke up unable to shake the thought that life without butter was better than no life at all.

In the dream my father had also reminded me of the fact that I was spared from the Bovine virus, and that there was a reason, however oblique, for that fact. For my own part, I admit I’ve had plenty of days in which I rather wished I hadn’t been so spared. Every damned deadly virus that came along seemed to miss me. And I avoided the vaccinations, or rather used their contraband antidotes so as to mitigate the effects of all the mind-numbing drugs the Institution laced them with. I was a walking target for any number of swift-acting lethal bugs, and I kept anticipating the day when one would finally catch up with me. It was bad enough living in a world bereft of simple pleasures – of real food and real books; variations of weather or thought; the possibility of knowledge and freedom of expression, of real theater, real cinema, real art; of drunken revelry, potable natural water, or even – for the love of god, fornication! –  but to live in it without the joys of butter and all its fuzzy cousins . . . Well, it often didn’t seem worth the trouble.

Like the epidemics that preceded it, the Bovine Flu claimed the lives of a significant portion of the population – in this case nearly a third. It also wiped out the entire population of ostriches, which – so we were told – were inexplicably susceptible to the virus. The truth was more likely that the Institution, for reasons no one’s been able to rationally explain, had decided that no commoner, be they Witless or Beacon, should be allowed to enjoy meat, nor for that matter, anything fresh. To see to this, their nefarious scientists conjured up lethal viruses in their abominable labs, implanted them in the helpless animals, let a lot of credulous people get sick and die, slaughtered the offending beasts, then went on global television and triumphantly praised themselves as saviors of the sacred human race.

On account of this cavalier business, we were forced to say goodbye not only to cheeseburgers and ostrich steaks, but to many of our friends and family as well.

Meanwhile, the DelSanto corporation –  which in truth was more of an oligarchical government unto itself than a corporation – began gene-splicing the world’s food supply –  patenting the seeds, propagating and distributing the fertilizers and pesticides that, not coincidentally, only their seeds would respond to –  thereby seeing to it (with a little additional help from international legislation) that their seeds and their seeds alone, would be used to grow food. Of course in time they put every last honest farmer out of business, though as time would tell, actual soil-based agriculture was to become a thing of the past anyway. By the time all the organic farms were forced, squeezed, burned or legislated out of existence, there scarcely remained a plot of soil with enough nutrients in it to grow anything more nutritious than a head of iceberg lettuce, which was never known to contain any nutrients anyway, to say nothing of flavor.

Eventually, and of course by design, all food production took place in large factories, the end result of which was that, by the year 2076 – America’s somber tricentennial –  virtually all meals came to the consumer in the form of small sugarfoam containers, three ounces in weight, inside of which was a gruel that looked of rice, smelled of air freshener, and tasted – however vaguely – of whatever flavor the package lid promised. That each packet contained what the manufacturer promised to be a full days’ supply of any and all of the nutrients one might need, proved small consolation to those of us who still remembered the days of choice, flavor and gastronomy – those of us who felt that there was some intrinsic value to living in relationship to the land.

The Witless, of course, celebrated the scientific advance exactly as they were programmed to.

“How convenient,” they would bleat, “that eating is now such a quick and simple matter, and that our diet is now more nutritious, more balanced and more complete than ever. And these flavors! They taste exactly like the original . . . only better.”

Not that they knew what the original tasted like –  that had long since been erased from their collective memories. Sadly, you could give one of these numbskulls an apple, if only you could find one, and they’d tell you that the apple-flavored Nutri-Meal tasted much better. Depressingly, they would then report you to a Monitor for possessing the apple in the first place. Mournfully, we were grossly outnumbered: one-thousand, if not twenty, forty or fifty-thousand, to one. Of course, should we ever come across anything so rare and exquisite as an apple, the last thing in the world we would do is waste it on the irreverent taste buds of a Witless.

Outnumbered as we were, we Beacons fought valiantly and fruitlessly against the destruction and synthetic homogenization of our food supply. We fought with ever-dwindling hope and a spareness of energy against this and a litany of other institutional changes that took all the fun out of being human. And we always lost. The only thing we got out of our struggles was a faint, almost imperious sense of solidarity. But in time our numbers grew so few that to fight became pointless.

In fact, all the channels that used to exist to give us the illusion that we actually had some recourse against the madness, were now closed. We lamented this in private, fondly recollecting the days of the Old Constitution –  that venerable document that sought to keep checks and balances on the various branches of government, that gave us the right to badger our elected officials, caricature our idiotic leaders, assemble in the streets; to own guns and pornography and contraband that, because of our right to privacy, we could stash out of sight of nosey authorities, such that – generally speaking – so long as we didn’t cause undo harm upon our neighbors, we could at least, in the face of everything absurd about our daily reality, nevertheless have a good time.

Of course our lamentations always ended in the same refrain:

“Fat lot of good that ol’ piece of parchment did us!”

Long ago we stopped looking on in horror or outraged disgust while the Institution implemented one of its asinine, Draconian measures. Instead, we watched on like fans of a hapless football team, in a state of incredulous, hopeless dismay, while the Institution slaughtered one domesticated species after the other: first the swine (bye bye bacon), then the fowl (so long eggs), then the goat and sheep (a scary, metaphorical undertaking to some of us),  then the venison, which, in the absence of the aforementioned, had become a popular and abundant meat source.

Those of us who knew better than to trust any information that was propagated, distilled, hyperbozlized and disseminated by the institutional media machine, knew that it was in fact impossible to catch the virus from eating the meat, and that it was rare even to catch the virus from the animal, even if you were in close proximity to it. But the news casts all made it seem as if you would catch the virus and die if your neighbor fried up a slab of bacon. The news and fear had grown synonymous, and the majority of the population, as usual, swallowed the fear mongering propaganda like hungry fish gorging themselves on synthetic night crawlers. They poured into the streets with signs – crude drawings of throat-slitted pigs rendered in blood- red paint. “Kill the swine! Kill the swine!” they chanted.

There was no need to kill the swine; except for eating, of course. Quarantining infected farm workers, though inconvenient, would have been the most logical, useful course of action; so it made no sense to any one of us (media-generated hysteria notwithstanding) that in the year 2022, after the third major outbreak of Swine Flu, the Egyptian government slaughtered every last pig in the country, mercilessly leaving countless pig farmers, as well as the entire economic infrastructure with which they shared a symbiotic relationship, in a state of abject destitution. And while the folly and mercilessness of this desperate act might have sent a warning signal to the rest of the civilized world as to how not to react to the crisis, it instead set off a wave of similar measures that were slowly but surely adopted by every last sovereign and subservient nation on Earth.

To be continued. . . . .

AN~