Saturday, June 30, 2007

ambitious apparatus (programming)

“Scholo, do you know if you are you a human or a machine?”

The question hung there for a time, riding on particles of dust, warmed by the soft glow of the sun infiltrating the nearly drawn drapes. Tension. It was building. Heat. It was rising. The gentle whine of hydraulics, the hissing release of steam, the crackle of pure harnessed energy – each added a new layer of discomfort to the tiny cluttered office.

At last, Scholo spoke. “Doctor, I have to tell you,” he said, “sometimes I find the ease of your questions insulting.”

The doctor smiled a little awkwardly, self-consciously smoothing the lapels of his crisp white coat. “Well, if my questions are so easy, Scholo, then you should have no problem answering them.”

The grinding of gears, the rapid firing of pistons, the fervent hum of transistors. Scholo raised his hand as he spoke, bringing one shining fingertip to his gleaming face for a scratch.

“With all due respect, doctor,” Scholo said, “I have no problem answering your questions, but sometimes they do seem a little demeaning.” He stirred in his chair, lifting one aluminium buttock and then the other. “For example,” he went on, “how should you feel if I were to ask you whether or not you knew if you were a man or a woman?”

“Oh,” the doctor huffed, leaning back and tenting his fingers arrogant before him, “I think I should be able to answer that question quite easily, and tell you with no uncertainty that I am, indeed, a man.”

“Now, imagine for a second,” Scholo continued, “that our positions are reversed, and let us say that I am the authority figure, that I am the one in the smart white coat, and that I am the one sitting at the nice oak desk with you,” he pointed an angry finger, his normally silver cheeks flushed a hot blue, “you, the experiment, you, on the other side—”

“Scholo, you’re being ridiculous, I—”

“Am I doctor?” Scholo shot, “Am I being ridiculous? Have I no right to be hurt by your insolence?”

“I-it, it,” the doctor stammered, “it was just the next in a series of questions, Scholo. It’s right here on this piece of paper.” He held up his stack of notes, fanning them with his other hand. “I don’t even think of this stuff, myself – it’s all created by the board, all written for me. I meant to harm.”

The barely audible squeak of oxidising irises. The mild flushing of lubricant. The persistent thumping of a complex series of tiny pumps.

“Well, to answer your question, doctor, I am a machine through and through.” Scholo hissed and whined to a standing position, looking down at the flustered doctor before turning to leave. “And, if I might add, humans such as yourself and your board only make me happier with that fact with each passing day.”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

a slow dark march

The shadows pain me just a little. Their slow dark march across the floor, an unrelenting slide, kicking up equal parts regret and misery. Something there but not. Something altogether—

This is only a fragment. Only a creation of my hungover brain.

Phone rings, too shrill, and my hand lazes its way to the receiver. Through the still of the dark, through that delicate sliver of light nosing past the thick drapes. I answer the call to find that it’s PT.

“I think I’ve done something stupid,” he tells me.

“Um, hello?”

“John, I think I’ve done something stupid,” he repeats, a little more earnest.

“All right,” I say. “It’s probably nothing that can’t be undone.”

“John, I’ve burned my manuscript.”

I lay there for a moment on the sofa, staring through the dim light at the shadows playing on the ceiling. His manuscript. Three years work at least. A slow dark march of words across page after page, an unrelenting—

“John, come on. Are you still there?”

“Yeah, PT – I’m still here. Listen,” I say, “it’s just a bunch of paper, a mere hard copy. You’ve got the files on your system, and you’ve got a back-up of those.”


“Right, PT? You’ve got digital copies.”

“Um, no,” he said. “I formatted everything – thought I’d wipe the slate clean.”


“Going on four years now,” he said. “I just couldn’t bear it any longer, seeing those same sixty thousand words, those same fifteen hundred paragraphs. It was all just too much.”

Piercing pain right behind my eyes. Mouth parched and a mad desire for water. Free hand reaches up to the drapes to shut out the invading light, and the many murky shadows close up into one.

“Two hundred seventy thousand letters,” PT continues. “Fifteen hundred lines. Oh god. I just could not bear to read it, to look at it, one more time. I couldn’t look at the title even once more. Couldn’t stomach the opening line.”

“Guess you should have come out last night,” I say. “Might have averted this tragedy.”

“Oh god,” PT groans. “What am I going to do?”

I was in no shape to carry this on any longer, though on any other day I would have gladly strung him along. “PT,” I say, “you emailed me a copy of your third draft a few months ago, remember? I’ll fire it back to you as soon as I’m mobile.”


“Bye, PT,” I say, and hang up the phone.

I close my eyes, and soon after fall into something of a slumber. I’m off to that place where headaches cease to exist, and shadow and light get all confused in their meanderings. That place where language is not so much spoken or written as it is seen, where signified and signifier trade places. That place where PT and his troubles can not reach me. That place where all—

This is only a fragment. This idea stops right here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

caught out in it

Thank God for rich parents. That’s all I have to say. Thank God for their money, their lack of responsibility, and their sheer idiocy, or I might never have met her. She, so young, so busy, so damned grown up, living this crazy life in the backseats of taxicabs, hotel rooms, and out on the catwalks. No parents. No rules. No turning back.

“No chaperone?” I asked.

“Naw,” she said, sipping at weird orange drink. “My parents don’t worry about me.”

“But you’re so young,” I said. “So young and so far from home. And this business. I mean, you’re paid to be beautiful and to have all of these strange people look at you—”

“It’s nothing,” she said. “You hear the stories – the temptations, the predators, the ensuing downward spiral – but it’s all nothing.” She paused a moment to really study my face. She paused, weird orange drink hovering just below her lips, and looked me right in the eye. “You’re really concerned, aren’t you. Concerned about me, a stranger – that’s so sweet.”

I shrugged because I didn’t know what else to say.

“Well, you can rest assured that I’m not going to let anyone take advantage of me. We girls,” she said with a silly grin, “tend to fend off predators by becoming predators ourselves.”

I laughed.

She didn’t.

“Want to come back to my room?” she asked.

Thank God for poor parents. That’s all I have to say. A one-way ticket to Europe and a suggestion that I find myself. “Come back,” they said, “when you’ve figured out who you are. Come back when you’ve decided what you’re going to do with your life.” Thank God for their lack of money, their foresight, and their sheer brilliance, or I might never have met her.

“Are you going check out any of some of the sights while you’re here?” she asked, turning over in bed, twisting herself up in the sheets.

“Naw,” I said. “Probably just step out and grab a coffee. Maybe pick up a newspaper.”

“So much to see, though!”

“Ah,” I said dismissively, “it’s all pretty much the same. Once you’ve seen one city, you’ve seen them all.” Just into my twenties, and already so cynical. “Some gaudy tower,” I went on, “a dirty river, and a bunch of old buildings – Just not for me. Besides,” I added, “I’ve already found the prettiest thing in this country.”

She gave me a bit of a smile, and slid out of the bed on her way to the shower. Stopping by the window, she peeked outside, and let loose a heavy sigh.

“Rain today,” she breathed.

“See,” I said, “to me, travel is like the rain. Such a lovely idea when viewed through the gauzy veil of imagination – ugly if you’re caught out in it. I think we ought to just spend the day inside.”

Sunday, June 17, 2007

shut tight those eyes

You catch images of her now in flickering grey and black. Poorly developed film on old stock, grainy and scratched. These are shots taken of memories, weakly transmitted over the great abyss of time. A girl you once knew. A girl you will never know again.

“What will it bring?” she asks, her voice distant, crackling, the audio, poor. She’s there for but a moment, overexposed flesh projected onto a crumbling wall. The petite, fresh features of a then-innocent face. Inky sea of hair, blending into eternity. “What will the future bring?”

“There will always be us,” you say, your disembodied voice quavering on a tremulous wave of interminable distance. “There will always be an us in one form or another.”

She flashes for a moment, the feeble connexion nearly lost. Her image flashes, and as it does, a moment of panic flashes across her youthful face. These memories: barely there at the best of times. You close your eyes tightly in an attempt to focus, to bring that picture back.

“So, we’ll be together forever then?” she asks, hopeful.

You open your eyes to find her there again, her faint image right before you. Her big, bright eyes are open wide in expectation. Her long, dark lashes curl. Her lips part in the beginning of a smile. The camera shakes as it zooms in close, unfocused, then focused.

She blinks.

“I didn’t say that,” you reply. “I didn’t say that at all.”

And in that instant, she is gone, her ghostly image blinking out entirely. She is gone, and you are left alone in this darkened room, the heart and soul of a victim. Tears well up. Breath catches in your throat. Hands begin to tremble.

“But you’re the one who left,” a feminine voice says, rustling into the room from somewhere else. It’s not her voice, but the voice of another. You squint into the dark, trying to conjure up a face to go along with those words – but you try, and fail, to come up with anything tangible.

“Always leaving,” another faceless voice accuses.

Throat hoarse, and feet leaden, your knees buckle and you soon find yourself on hands and knees. “Leave me alone,” you say, pulling yourself forward. So weak. These fleeting glimpses of the past take too much from you. You begin to crawl towards where you think the door should be, but you try, and you fail to find a way out of this room.

“How many time have you left?” someone asks, with a taunting laugh.

Other join in, one phantom becoming many, laughing and talking over each other. They fill your ears with indistinct, acerbic noise. Mocking, derisive. They’re sharing stories. Laughing at your pathetic exploits.

“Just leave me alone,” you plead. “Please just leave me alone.”

You shut tight your eyes, clap hands over ears, and curl up right there where you lie. Shut them out. Just shut them all out. Focus. Focus on nothing. Wipe that mind clean.

Pillow over head, the sound of an old projector whirrs somewhere in the great beyond, the end of the film thwip, thwip, thwipping on the reel. Most nights, sleep doesn’t come soon enough. And some nights, such as this, sleep will not come at all.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

love's lost fear

You listened to his recordings the other day, the voice of an old man hammering out his thoughts, working them as though they were a piece of iron between hammer and anvil. His voice, cracked with age, his breath laboured, he was a tireless warrior pushing ahead into the great unknown. The greatest explorer you ever knew.

“March eleventh, nineteen ninety-one,” came the voice at the beginning of the tape. “Some quick thoughts on this final voyage, and an idea for some lines of verse. Ah, I don’t know. As usual, whatever comes.”

You could hear the sounds of outside. A soft breeze pushing gently into the tape recorder’s mic, the songs of birds, and the tinkling of some far-off wind chime.

“I feel like this is it, like I’m starting on some kind of little journey between journeys. Does that make sense? Almost as though I’m through with one leg of the trip, and I’ve reached a point in the river that I can not paddle across.” He cleared his throat, and you could hear him taking a long drink of water. “We’re portaging the canoe now, my spirit guides and I, across this unnavigable stretch. It’s a lot of work, but we know that it is a necessary thing. We know that our work will be paid off in full.”

You met him in London back in 1988 at one of Baudrillard’s lectures at the ICA. Old even then, he still managed a rather arresting figure with his tweed suit and wild mass of white hair. Those mesmerising grey-blue eyes. He wedged himself into the seat beside you, and immediately turned to you, holding out his hand for an introduction. Names exchanged, he proceeded to ask, “So, why are you here?”

“Well, to listen to JB speak of course.”

“No, no,” he said, waving aside your feeble reply. “I mean, why are you here? Why are you here on this earth?”

You didn’t know. You still don’t, but since then, you put more effort into thinking about it.

His voice again, crackling on the tape.

“I awoke this morning with some lines running amok in my head. Something about the embodiment of Love, and Love’s cast-off coat. Something about embracing this next leg of the journey.”

Left alone with the breeze, the birds, and the chimes for moment, before his voice started up again:

“Stepping softly past Love’s lost fear,
another time, just one more year.
While at the point when we must cross
there won’t be shed a single tear.
No loss,
not here.”

He bumped the tape recorder at this point, and you could hear him scrambling to right the situation.

“Blasted thing,” he huffed.

More thumping and banging ensued before the machine was finally switched off.

You smiled. You smiled, thinking about the man at his forge, working those words. You smiled, thinking about his massive body of work. You smiled, thinking about him in his canoe with his spirit guides, paddling away down another stretch of lonely river.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

she goes softly

Now, where were we? Rifling through memories, getting all caught up in nostalgia, weighed down by that terrifying beast of old. It stalks, tearing after us through that tangled unworldly jungle of the mind. We try to get away, but it’s always just a little faster, a little more cunning, a touch more persistent. It isn't long before we’re caught, pummelled by the many horrid limbs of reminiscence.

Thoughts creep up of small, dank rooms in unfamiliar countries. Of long short nights in smirched little pubs – those nights which never end and never really begin. Thoughts of never-ending bottles, of alien money, and of sweat-slicked bodies twisting between the cool sheets of roadside hotels.


Flower petals floating on a morning breeze.

“She loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, she loves me not.”

“You are a little tangled up,” she says.

“Naw,” I breathe. “Friends and enemies and all that. Each petal has a name and a face.”

“And which am I, then?”

I’ve no answer, so I press the last petal into her palm and smile.


A month later, and a mysterious train wreck in eastern Europe cuts our getaway short. A mountain pass aflame. Luggage and its owners strewn about. Things like this, one never forgets. The hellish stench of diesel and burning flesh. The angry red-orange of a fiery forest. The sun very nearly blotted out.

We’re sitting on a rock, the frantic flashing lights of emergency vehicles in our eyes, and I pluck a strange red flower from the ground beside us. Nervous fingers go to work, petals floating on a soft freeze. A head lies on my shoulder, words nuzzling into my ear.

“Which am I?”

I swallow, and fold the remainder of the flower into my fist, crumpling it into a tight little ball. I swallow again, hard, eyelids fluttering, tears welling up.

“None of these,” she whispers, answering her own question. She wraps her little hand around mine, repeating, “none of these.”


Years after the fact, and I only remember her first name. Her first name and her face. Her first name, her face, and the smell of her hair after a bath. The way she took her coffee, black with only a pinch of sugar. The way she would smoke only half a cigaret. The way she would steal the blankets each night.

I’m stalked ceaselessly by nostalgia, trying desperately to get away but finding that it is no use. There are certain things that one will never forget, memories that one will never be able to drive away. Our final meandering stroll along the muddied waters of that swollen river. The lights of her aeroplane as it taxied away. The taste of her lips, and the bittersweet bliss of that last long kiss goodbye.