The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
A Second-Hand Account of the Rise and Fall
of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry
David J. Keffer
August 1, 2017
Named after a man who historians simultaneously recall as ruthless and cruel as well as the harbinger of Pax Romana (the era of Roman Peace), the month of August arrived. Augustus Caesar had died in August of the year 14 A.D. Had he returned on this day, two thousand and three years later, he would have found the world much as he had left it in many respects. Where outright war did not rage, great instability lay beneath governments. Both in consensus and individually, men still acted against their own best interests. Countless were the instances where short-term gains out-weighed long-term, common good. Those who rose to political power through the individual merit of their perseverance and ambition, used that power to enrich themselves and their allies at the expense of the population in general. As a result, many turned inward seeking a private peace in a chaotic world. Some, motivated by what one must suppose was a drive to harness to the fullest the temporary form and energy granted to them, sought to protect the vulnerable among them.
It was, Oscar mused, just another month. If he did not act to forward the progress of amelioration, no one would notice. No one would remonstrate with him for refusing to employ his talents--no one, that is, but himself. Oscar directed his focus inward, attempting to discover if there dwelt a power within him that would prevent him from abandoning the greater cause. He detected no such strength, but perhaps there was momentarily too much darkness. He waited for the shadows to shift, in response to something as arbitrary as the position of the sun in the sky.
written while listening to: Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton, Philipp Wachsmann & Joel Ryan - Free Zone Appleby 2004 (Psi, psi 05.05, 2005, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
August 2, 2017
Dispensing with pleasantries, the abjurer and the evoker began to discuss the subject of their common interest: magic. On this topic, the abjurer explained, "The spell, globe of invulnerability, is highly praised for its ability to protect the caster, but the much less familiar spell, globe of vulnerability, possesses the power to illuminate the caster." The abjurer looked to his colleague. "Do you understand?"
The evoker gave indication neither of assent nor of dissent.
"The ancients knew this to be true," said the abjurer. He opened the library book, which he had been holding in reserve. He recited the following passage.
In Tao the only motion is returning;
The only useful quality, weakness.
For though all creatures under heaven are the products of Being,
Being itself is the product of Not-being.*
"The only useful quality is weakness," the abjurer repeated. He scanned the face of the evoker seeking some response.
The evoker chose not to betray any emotion. From his extensive experience watching television, he knew that there were many encounters in which the strong triumphed over the weak, for good or ill. However, he had never maintained an interest in argument, so he eventually nodded, a gesture which could liberally be interpreted as one of agreement.
Of course, the learned among us recognize that the evoker was himself the subject of a perpetual globe of vulnerability, a fact which had, perhaps counter-intuitively, provided him with an inexhaustible reserve of composure.
*Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (6th century BCE), translated by Arthur Waley, The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London, 1934.
full text: Terebess Asia Online.
written while listening to: Miroslav Vitous - Universal Syncopations (ECM Records, ECM 1863, 2003, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
August 3, 2017
On Thursday it fell to Zepha to share one of his secrets of the occult with Oscar. Zepha's scholarship, however, took a different form. He did not learn spells from grimoires. In fact, though he had been taught how to read when he had attended school, the practice did not come easily to him. Had he been obliged to learn only through books, he would have made very little progress indeed. Instead, Zepha passively absorbed the ambient magical energies, which pervade the universe, then radiated that energy, infinitesimally altered by having interacted with his being. One spell that resulted from this process was called (though not by Zepha who had no name for it) arcane ionization (Evocation). The spell created a local field around the caster, which accentuated the innate magical abilities of anyone so exposed.
The action of this spell was predicated on the proposition that humanity was not arranged according to a dichotomy, which distinguished between those who knew magic and those who did not. Much to the contrary, arcane ionization relied on the presence of a continuous spectrum of magical receptivity and it up-shifted everyone.
The effect of the spell on Oscar, who had greatly honed his skills through diligent study over the past seven months, was unmistakable. He became possessed of an uncommon lightness. He felt the passage of time come to a halt, though, after the fact, the day seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. Overcome by a mood of uncharacteristic optimism, words naturally flowed from him that made Zepha chuckle. The laughter proved contagious. Soon both boy and man were so caught up in a fit of giggling and guffawing that it prompted Zepha's neighbor in B-10, who worked nights, to emerge and order them to tone it down upon threat of summoning the police.
written while listening to: The Peter Brötzmann Trio - For Adolphe Sax (Atavistic, UMS/ALP230CD, 2002 (originally recorded and released 1967), United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 4, 2017
In the middle of the day, while both Zepha's sister and Oscar's mother were at work, the pair spotted the arrival of the postal truck, which prompted them to get up and collect the mail. They were in no hurry; the uneventful day stretched out before them. Oscar led Zepha on a circuitous path to Jacky's apartment, where they found the old man seated in his chair. The television related the day's outrages from a conservative news channel, though Jacky seemed to show little interest. Oscar asked if he could collect the mail. His question went unanswered as Jacky silently studied Zepha and Zepha studied the enormous Confederate flag that dominated the room. "Maybe another day..." Oscar said, trailing off.
Out at the mail stand, they greeted the carrier, who had a habit of listening to music via earbuds during the day and thus did not engage in conversation with those to whom he delivered mail. In response to Oscar, he nodded curtly.
With the mail carrier oblivious to their conversation, Oscar said to Zepha, "I am part of an organization called the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. The group was formed as an act of civil disobedience, in order to thwart the president's attempts to isolate and marginalize minorities in America." He examined Zepha's face but it wasn't clear that his words had made an impression.
Zepha was having trouble getting the key all the way into the mailbox lock, most of which were old and sometimes proved difficult to manipulate. Oscar leaned forward and pulled the key out and reinserted it. Then Zepha was able to turn it. As Zepha collected a catalogue and two envelopes, Oscar explained. "The Renegades are trying to make the world a better place. Do you want to join?"
"Sure," said Zepha, who, when things were not perfectly transparent to him, opted to err on the side of agreement and let any subsequent complications sort themselves out as they arose.
written while listening to: Joe McPhee - The Willisau Concert (Hat Hut Records, Hat-B, 1976, Switzerland, lp, discogs.com)
August 5, 2017
On Saturday, Jody took Zepha out to a new park. More than a decade ago, the city council had approved a development plan along the south waterfront of the river to gradually reclaim abandoned industrial brown spaces. This park had been one such area, occupying a narrow strip of land along the banks of the river and fenced off with chain link. Having opened at the beginning of the summer, the park still seemed new. The concrete of the sidewalks was white and uncracked. The paint on the playground equipment had not yet begun to peel. The sod that had been laid down earlier that year had taken hold and covered the ground in an expanse of verdant green. The newness of the park was also evident in the absence of mature trees; two dozen deciduous trees barely more than saplings were scattered through-out the park. The park was not located next to a dense residential area, so, ordinarily, few people were to be found there.
The sister led the brother to the water's edge, which was lined by boulders. They sat on a bench and watched the sun glitter off the surface of the slowly moving water.
"What's a Muslim?" the brother asked.
In the conversation that followed, the sister answered and asked questions of her own, regarding the conversations between her brother and Oscar. Like Oscar, Zepha followed the admonition of Confucius to conceal nothing, though it came naturally to him and he was better at it.
A small flock of Canadian geese drifted over the river to the edge of the park. Jody handed her brother the bag of old bread. He pulled out a slice and offered it to her. The next one he took for himself. They tore pieces off and tossed them to the waiting geese.
"I'm a Renegade," said the brother.
"You always have been," agreed the sister.
written while listening to: Simon Nabatov Trio - Sneak Preview (hatOLOGY, hatOLOGY 548, 2000, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
August 6, 2017
On Sunday, Oscar read from the brief and extremely direct book of Zephaniah.
14The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and exceeding swift: the voice of the day of the Lord is bitter, the mighty man shall there meet with tribulation. 15That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, 16a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks. 17And I will distress men, and they shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord: and their blood shall be poured out as earth, and their bodies as dung. 18Neither shall their silver and their gold be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: all the land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy, for he shall make even a speedy destruction of all them that dwell in the land.*
Oscar had a hard time reconciling the violence of the book with the tranquility of his neighbor who shared its name. He made a point to say as much to Jody and Zepha when he encountered them, returning from the grocery store, later in the day. Unfamiliar with the details of the book, neither Zepha nor his sister had any idea what Oscar was talking about. He left, greatly embarrassed at having mentioned it at all. What had he been thinking? The threat of ethnic cleansing described in this book, in which certain nations--the Philistines, the Ethiopians, the Assyrians, those who dwelt in Moab, the descendants of Ammon--were eradicated had been made millennia ago. Everyone had forgotten about it and that was just as well. It seemed ill-advised to record a list of the kinds of people one wanted killed. Oscar resolved not to make such a list of his own.
*Zephaniah 1:14-18, Douay-Rheims Bible.
full text: biblehub.com.
written while listening to: Albert Ayler - Fondation Maeght Nights Volumes 1 & 2 (Jazz View, COD 004/005, 1991 (originally recorded and released 1970), Italy, cd, discogs.com & discogs.com)
August 7, 2017
On the first day of the school year, Oscar waited for the orange, school bus at the edge of the parking lot. The bus wove a meandering path as it picked up more students through neighborhoods unfamiliar to Oscar. Half an hour later, it deposited them all at edge of a large, brick building. Once he was off the bus, Oscar, to his surprise, did not recognize the school. He was certain that he was supposed to return to the same public school, which he had attended before his parents moved him for one year to the Catholic school. The driver, however, refused to allow him to re-board the bus.
Oscar had no choice but to enter the school. Directed to the principal's office, he explained that he had mistakenly gotten on the wrong bus. She had her secretary check their records, while Oscar waited in the hall outside her office. In a few minutes, she returned and informed Oscar that he was, in fact, at the correct school. All the children in his apartment complex were zoned for this school.
The principal led Oscar to his classroom, nearly half an hour after the first bell had rung. Perhaps to explain Oscar's tardiness, she pulled his homeroom teacher out of the room and explained Oscar's misunderstanding. The teacher then, in an unfortunate exercise of poor judgment, shared this information with the rest of the class, while Oscar walked down an aisle to his desk. The class as a whole made no attempt to help the new student feel welcome for they laughed uproariously at his error.
Later, in the cafeteria, one boy in Oscar's homeroom, flanked by several others, approached him, and asked sardonically, "So, your mom didn't bother to tell you what school you were going to?"
Oscar could not conceive of an appropriate reply because, as it so happened, they appeared to be correct. As a result, he remained silent.
written while listening to: Myra Melford Extended Ensemble - Even The Sounds Shine (hat ART, hat ART CD 6161, 1995, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
August 8, 2017
Oscar could not perfectly emulate the example of the classical models of virtue whose works he had read. Such an observation should not surprise us. On the contrary, we would be astounded had it turned out any other way. Nevertheless, Oscar himself, felt a keen disappointment. The rules were simple. He could not ascribe his failure to a lack of clarity in the instructions. There was only one culprit, though it had many manifestations: a weakness of will, a lack of courage, a dearth of virtue. Those of us who are older, who have known the embrace of indecision, cowardice and vice, understand and accept that the failure to live up to our expectations is part of our human nature. For a young person, such as Oscar, who had yet to reconcile himself to a life in which he proved unable to achieve the obvious goals set before him, the experience of this failure was nauseating.
This particular bout of introspection stemmed from the fact that when he had returned home from school, he had not told his mother that either she had enrolled him at the wrong school or the school system had mis-assigned him or he had just gotten on the wrong bus. In fact, he was no longer sure, despite the principal's words, whether the school was right or wrong. Although the Master counseled to conceal nothing, Oscar hid the identity of the school from his mother. "Let neither of us know the truth," he intoned to White Tito, who was perched wordlessly beside the abjurer.
written while listening to: Ingrid Laubrock - ubatuba (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-022, 2015, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 9, 2017
For the Philistines, Oscar substituted his classmates, for the Ethiopians, the principal, for the Assyrians, his homeroom teacher, for the Moabites, the bus driver and for the descendants of Ammon, his own mother, for her unwitting role in the dismal affair. Oscar did not go so far as to beseech the Lord to smite those who had transgressed against him, as had the prophet Zephaniah; the request was implicit in the generation of the list. Nor did Oscar commit to paper these names; it remained a mental enumeration. He would not dignify it with the tangible reality of the Registry. Oscar understood that such a list as his represented weakness, but not the kind of weakness that Confucius deemed a positive quality. Nevertheless, throughout the school day, his thoughts returned to this list. It continued to strike him as incomplete. Several times, he reviewed it, searching for the missing item.
During social studies, he discovered the omission. It was, of course, his own name. It was impossible to examine the situation and not place some blame on the one about whom it was centered. If the Lord were to come and slay each by his mighty sword, as Zephaniah had prophesied, Oscar should be among the victims. It was a wicked world, worthy of annihilation. He should be counted among the wicked, lest he find no other home and his name be lost.
written while listening to: LaDonna Smith & Davey Williams - Sequana Sessions (Trans Museq, Transmuseq 20, 2015, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 10, 2017
Because Oscar had not yet attempted to bicycle from his new residence to the downtown library, he emailed Amanita when he was ready for a new reading assignment. In his short letter, which he read over several times before sending, he explained his situation and asked that she assign him something that he could easily download from the internet.
Amanita received the email at work. She gained a sense of Oscar's isolation from the sparse language in the missive. Had he written a poem lamenting his loneliness, he would not have expressed himself any more clearly. From her own experience, she knew that when one was faced with extended bouts of solitude, the best remedy was to tackle dense books, which possessed the ability to consume significant stretches of time. With this in mind, she assigned Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, written about 350 BC. Whatever doubt she had about the aptitude of a child of Oscar's age to tackle such a text had long since been dispelled. Had he not already read The Analects of Confucius and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius? She included in her email a link to the work at the Internet Classics Archive maintained by M.I.T.
From the very first sentence, Oscar was befuddled.
Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.*
It seemed to Oscar that the premise was clearly in error for there were many actions and pursuits that were explicitly aimed not at good, but at ill gain. At best, the opening sentence was a tautology which stated, "Things aim at good, so good is where things aim." Oscar entertained the idea that Amanita had assigned him this reading simply to torment him.
*Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Part 1, ca. 350 BC, translated by W.D. Ross.
The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Oliver Lake & Donal Leonellis Fox - Boston Duets (Music And Arts Programs Of America, Inc., CD-732, 1992, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 11, 2017
Their first composition assignment was to write one page about what they had done during the summer. Oscar heard classmates discussing their topics. One said that he intended to write about a trip to the beach while another chose a visit to her grandmother's house. One boy proudly announced that he would write about how he had managed to do nothing at all over the summer.
Oscar wrote of his visit to the mosque in the company of the barbarian. He wrote how he had fainted in the parking lot, not due to the stress of the encounter, but rather simply because he had been sick with a fever all week and had not yet fully recovered. He described how the imam had later talked to Mr. Gardener, the columnist, and how the columnist had interviewed all the current members of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry, including Oscar himself. Oscar also recounted how the publication of the column in the local newspaper had prompted more than one hundred other people to join the Registry. He concluded his essay by relating how his move out of the neighborhood had resulted in his virtual excommunication from the Renegades. He did not mention that his only recruit to the Registry since the move possessed three copies of the twenty-first chromosome.
Before school, he took the sheet of paper containing his essay into the woods behind building C and burned it in a ceremony lasting no more than a minute, as an offering to whatever gods happened to observe. At school, he turned in no essay and received an "F" as well as a reprimand from the teacher.
By this act, Oscar meant to demonstrate to Aristotle that the aim of all things, even in the pursuit of amelioration, was not the good.
written while listening to: Aruán Ortiz Trio - Vol. 1 (AYVA Musica, AV 033, 2004, Spain, cd, discogs.com)
August 12, 2017
Zepha had been asking about Oscar all week, to which Jody could only answer, "He's probably busy with school." So, when a decent hour on Saturday morning arrived, Jody sent her brother off to apartment C-18 in search of his friend.
Preoccupied with other thoughts, Oscar had already left the apartment and was riding his bicycle aimlessly around the local streets, now several blocks away. Oscar's mother therefore answered the door.
"Is Oscar home?" asked Zepha.
It should be well understood by the middle of the eighth month in our chronicle that Oscar confided little in his mother. While she knew that much of his time at the end of the summer had been spent with someone named Zepha who lived in the apartments, she had assumed that this person was a similarly aged boy. As a result, we cannot fault her for failing to recognize the thirty-one year-old man with the scraggly beard and stained t-shirt who stood before her. "No," she said hesitantly. "Who are you?"
Even given the rarity of the name, it still took Oscar's mother a few moments to make the connection. "You are Zephaniah," she said slowly.
"I am Zephaniah," her visitor confirmed.
"You're Oscar's friend."
"Oscar and I are Renegades," Zepha explained.
Oscar's mother had not imagined that the Registry had followed them to this apartment complex. "Did you sign a paper?" she asked Zepha.
Zepha paused; uncertainty flashed across his broad face. "No." He wondered if his failure to comply with this technicality invalidated his status as a Renegade. He ardently hoped it did not. In any case, Oscar's mother did not provide him with a definitive answer.
Having nothing else to say, Oscar's mother sent Zepha back home.
written while listening to: Pierre Favre Ensemble - Singing Drums (ECM Records, ECM 1274, 1984, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
August 13, 2017
Zepha cast a spell known as unspoken command, which manifested as a kind of subtle anxiety. His sister picked up on his uneasiness. She asked him, "What's the matter?" He informed her that Oscar's mom had told him that renegades had to sign a paper. So, with Oscar's mother's permission, Jody collected Oscar and drove them both over to Oscar's old neighborhood to sign the Registry, though she did not know what it was. Such is the efficacy of unspoken command.
The trio showed up at Omar's front door. Omar greeted Oscar warmly then smiled uncertainly at Zepha and Jody.
Lest there be any confusion, Jody announced, "We're here to sign the Registry."
Omar looked to Oscar, who nodded in confirmation.
Omar did not invite them inside. They stood on the porch and waited for him to return with the folder and a pen. He handed the folder to Oscar who passed it along to Zepha. Jody demonstrated what must be done by signing her own name beneath the names of Cybil's mother and father.
Zepha then printed his own name in simple, unadorned letters.
"Jody and Zephaniah?" said Omar reading from the sheet once it had been handed back to him. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Omar. Welcome to the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
"What is it?" Jody asked.
Omar belatedly explained to her the purpose of the organization that she, in relative ignorance, had just joined. In a happy coincidence, a lifetime of tending to the needs of her brother had instilled in Jody a general commitment to protecting the vulnerable. So, once the Registry was explained to her, she was ideologically comfortable with her membership.
In retrospect, Omar's reunion with Oscar seemed all too brief and strangely transactional. No information about well-being had been exchanged save for what could be extracted from the mere presence of Oscar and the two people who had accompanied him.
written while listening to: Aki Takase & Daniele D'Agaro - eponymous (Artesuono, ART, 2016, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
August 14, 2017
Jody and Oscar's mother had said little during their initial meeting on the previous day. When they met by chance on Monday evening in the parking lot, amidst a fine sprinkle of rain, they exchanged a few more words.
"So, it's just you and your brother?" Oscar's mother asked tentatively.
Jody fidgeted with the umbrella she had brought, judging whether the mist warranted opening it. "Yeah," she answered. "Our father died when we were young. Our mother passed away almost four years ago. So, it's me and Zepha against the world!" She smiled, softening the words.
"He stays home by himself during the day?" Oscar's mother asked this for confirmation; she already assumed it to be the case.
"Zepha's pretty independent," Jody said. She ran a hand through her increasing damp hair. "After my mother died, I put him in a group home for a while. Neither one of us liked it. We missed not seeing each other every day." She glanced up at her apartment. She noticed Zepha standing in the open doorway, watching them. She waved and he returned the greeting. "This situation, while it has its rough spots, is better."
"You are a good sister," Oscar's mother said quietly.
"He's a good brother," Jody replied, as if reminding the other woman of something she had forgotten. The drizzle began to pick up. Zepha stepped into the rain, intending to come down and meet her. "I'd better go," she said. "I don't want him taking the wet steps by himself." She dashed off and over her shoulder shouted, "We'll have to get together some time soon."
Oscar's mother could not help but be emboldened by the example of her neighbor.
written while listening to: Tomeka Reid Quartet - eponymous (Thirsty Ear, THI57210.2, 2015, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 15, 2017
There are one-thousand-four-hundred-forty minutes in each day. Not all are equal. A minute spent dreaming may be replayed again and again over the course of a restless night, while a minute spent watching the second hand of an analog stop watch is forever lost. The same minute can be perceived very differently by two creatures. Here we do not intend to suggest only that the reality of a minute depends upon external circumstance or proximity. Consider any minute, for example the minute before the noon hour, which passed in a march of such indistinguishable minutes for Zepha, seated on the apartment walkway, observing the world from his vantage point, while his sister was at work. This minute is of the same duration as the minute Oscar spent reading the middle school English class assignment, a text of such gruesome predictability that he sensed St. Jerome cringing over his shoulder and begging for a return to the pagan writing of Aristotle.
Alternatively, consider two individuals confined to the same bed in the hour before sleep; perhaps they are married. Should the one of them be discontented, unhappy with their situation, while the other seeks to mend a fractured relationship, the shared minute is grotesquely distended. On the one side, it is slowed almost to the point of paralysis. On the other, the minute so eagerly invites a future that it denies its own existence in the present. Thus torn, the minute, a unit of time ostensibly common to all objects, animate and otherwise, is incapable of presenting itself in a singular form. Once the commonality of time is sundered, any hope of reconciliation also disappears. Oscar's mother was not prone to thinking of the dissolution of her marriage in these terms. That she did so on a Tuesday, eight months after the departure of her husband, was likely a sign that she had accidentally crossed paths with some wayward spirit, whose passing momentarily disturbed the ordinary functioning of neural pathways.
written while listening to: CP Unit - Before the Heat Death (Clean Feed, CF408CD, 2017, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
August 16, 2017
On Saturday, during violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, a white supremacist had driven a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring nineteen. Much of the news cycle in the days that followed centered not on the protests themselves but on the presidents ambiguous response to them. He initially spread blame for the "hatred, bigotry and violence" to "many sides."* His equivocal statement was broadly interpreted as a concession to the extreme right-wing portion of his base, which publicly lauded his remarks. On Monday, under pressure to explicitly repudiate white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, the president read a perfunctory rebuke. However, on Tuesday, he returned to his earlier position placing blame on both the white supremacists and those gathered in counter-protest. As a result, the news cycle continued to focus on the subject.
Although neither Jody nor Oscar's mother devoted much of their time to digesting the news of the day, the airwaves were inundated with the story. Perhaps, it was this incident that nudged them to discuss the Confederate flag, many of which had been prominently carried by the white supremacists in Charlottesville. Naturally, their conversation turned to the tenant who hung the rebel flag on his wall across from the front door where its message could be seen from the parking lot. Oscar's mother did not know that her son routinely collected mail for the old man, nor that sometimes he had brought Zepha along. Nevertheless, she confided to Jody, "I've got to tell Oscar to steer clear of that old nut."
Jody replied, "Oh, I think he's mostly harmless." She added, in a whisper, "But it's his son you have to worry about. He strikes me as the car-ramming type..."
*"Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out White Supremacists", Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, August 12, 2017.
full text: The New York Times.
written while listening to: Tim Berne - Science Friction (Screwgun Records, SCREW U 013, 2002, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 17, 2017
As chance would have it, on the following day, Oscar's mother spotted an unfamiliar pick-up truck parked in front of their building. A small truck, its only distinguishing feature was the fact that it managed to retain its function given its extensive state of decrepitude. Large patches of the body had simply corroded away, creating irregularly shaped windows into its innards. The truck had also been subjected to at least one accident in its history, for what little of the navy blue paint that remained on the passenger-side door and front panel did not match the rest of the formerly white vehicle. From the third-floor walkway, Oscar's mother was able to look down and examine the contents of the bed. She found a collection of garbage--crushed beer cans, crumpled fast food bags, empty plastic bottles and several bricks with chunks of mortar attached to them--interspersed with dirty, aging tools--shovels, rakes, a mattock and a torn cardboard box filled with what appeared to be a few electric hand drills and saws.
The truck was parked haphazardly, occupying two spots in front of the open door of her flag-bearing neighbor. She instinctively connected the two. Her intuition proved correct a few minutes later when she saw a man emerge from the apartment and climb in the driver's seat of the truck. From her vantage point, the man seemed in little better shape than the truck, though perhaps younger. He had difficulty starting the engine. He tried the ignition several times, before it caught. When it did, a cloud of black smoke belched forth from the rear of the truck. It was through this haze of exhaust that Oscar's mother watched the creaking, sputtering vehicle depart the premises.
written while listening to: Harold E. Smith, Mike Kull & Joe McPhee - Trinity (CjRecord Productions, CJR-3, 1972, United States, lp, discogs.com)
August 18, 2017
Nothing is ever as simple as it appears. In Oscar's social studies class, they discussed the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, which was on prominent display in the state Capitol building in Nashville. After Charlottesville, there were renewed calls to remove it and other Confederate monuments. The Tennessee legislature, which in recent time had enjoyed a conservative Republican super-majority, had the previous year preemptively passed legislation making it increasingly difficult to remove such monuments. Forrest was an officer in the Civil War and, after the war's end, a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. With this information, the teacher asked the class if they thought the bust should be removed. Oscar raised his hand with the others.
The teacher then continued the lesson, noting that Forrest's views on race had evolved and that he had eventually decried the violence against blacks perpetrated by the KKK. Toward the end of his life, there was historical evidence that he had advocated for racial reconciliation. When the teacher again asked the class if the bust should be removed, the response was less certain.
Oscar's impulse was to raise his hand again, for the statue had become largely a symbol of division. Still, words from the Tao Te Ching gave him pause.
Truly, "things are often increased by seeking to diminish them
And diminished by seeking to increase them."
The maxims that others use in their teaching I too will use in mine.
Show me a man of violence that came to a good end,
And I will take him for my teacher.*
Ultimately, Oscar, forsaking the wisdom of the ancient world, raised his hand, as did most of the other children. Many murderers repented after their crimes, but, he reasoned, such contrition did not merit a memorial in the halls of power.
*Tao Te Ching, Lao-Tzu (6th century BCE), translated by Arthur Waley, The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London, 1934.
full text: Terebess Asia Online.
written while listening to: Kris Davis, Ingrid Laubrock & Tyshawn Sorey - Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed, CF183CD, 2010, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
August 19, 2017
On Saturday, Jacky hastily shouted a word as Oscar passed by his door. Oscar took a step backward and reappeared. The old man pushed himself to his feet and shuffled over. There, he explained to Oscar that his son had come by earlier in the week. "My daughter sent a package for me to his address. I don't know why she does that. The last time she called, I told her not to. Sometimes, I get the packages. Sometimes he opens them for himself. I asked him why he hadn't brought it over and he said he forgot." Jacky looked at Oscar and came to the point. "You got a bike. Can you do an old man a favor and go get it?"
Oscar didn't have anything planned. In fact, he had been about to get on his bike and pedal aimlessly. To the extent that Jacky's request might lead him to investigate some new local avenue, it was entirely in accord with his intent for the morning.
"Sure. Why not? How far does he live?"
He stood by the door as Jacky, with some effort, wrote down the address on a scrap of paper. In unsteady handwriting, "Street" was spelled with only one "e" and the "S" was written backwards.
Oscar didn't know the address but Jacky provided general directions. It seemed like an adventure. He claimed his backpack and got on his bike, determined to retrieve the package.
The weather was cool; Oscar spent a pleasant morning on the bicycle. He took several wrong turns and explored one dead-end. In the end, however, he found the address--a single, two-story building of eight apartments in even more humble straits than Oscar's own dwelling. An emaciated woman answered the door and, when asked, wordlessly handed over a package, the size of a shoe box. She said nothing. Oscar delivered the box to Jacky, who was easily dissuaded from his initial offer to pay Oscar a dollar for his efforts.
written while listening to: Guillermo Gregorio - Ellipsis (hatOLOGY, hatOLOGY 511, 1997, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
August 20, 2017
Jody took Zepha to the early mass on Sunday mornings at the old church downtown. For all of her life, their mother had regularly attended mass there. Thus, even at the sparsely attended eight-thirty mass, there were numerous familiar faces, who greeted them both and presented Zepha with a social interaction he did not receive elsewhere, his recent visits with Oscar aside. The siblings ventured down into the parish hall after mass and, over coffee and doughnuts, visited with other parishioners, until the hall emptied of all but the singing of the ten o'clock mass above them.
Returning home, they found Oscar waiting for them.
"You should go to church with us," Jody said.
"I went to Catholic school for a while," Oscar said by way of polite refusal.
They had errands to run and Oscar did not stay long. He took to his bicycle and returned to the street of the home of the woman from who he had received Jacky's package. He wanted to see her again. Given his imagination, he wondered why she was so thin and why she had chosen not to speak during the entirety of their exchange yesterday.
Oscar circled idly on his bicycle in the street. Several times, he looped through the parking lot, past the white and blue truck of Jacky's son, until it seemed to him conspicuous. Then he simply stopped on the edge of the road, there being no sidewalk, and examined the building. A shirtless man emerged from another apartment to smoke a cigarette. He glared at Oscar in an unpleasant way, but Oscar was not deterred. Oscar was rewarded, twenty minutes later, by a glimpse of the woman as she too emerged to smoke. She was, it seemed to Oscar, impossibly thin. Soon, she noticed Oscar's form and moments later seemed to recognize his face. She did not stare at him with hostility. Rather she looked at him uncomprehendingly, for she had no additional package to hand over.
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi - Sleepwalker's Conviction (Black Truffle, BT015, 2015, Australia, lp, discogs.com)
August 21, 2017
Some surviving historical texts are able to be dated by referencing the occurrence of a solar eclipse. Let this text be no different than those of the ancients. On Monday, August 21, 2017, both the county public schools and diocesan Catholic schools were closed for an eclipse that swept across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.
In the city itself, the moon was to obscure 99.8% of the sun. To experience totality, one had to drive thirty miles to the airport or farther. The physics and astronomy department at the university was hosting an event on campus for both the students, newly returned for the fall semester, and the surrounding community. However, some faculty members, determined to be in the path of totality, were traveling south. Omar's parents had been befriended by a senior professor, who owned a mountain home outside the borders of the national park. He had invited them and another family to view the eclipse from a mountaintop with a spectacular vista. Cybil, whose father had decided to work that day, had accepted Omar's offer to join them.
They left in the morning, though the eclipse didn't start until after one o'clock. During the two-hour drive, the thrill of participating in an event shaped by cosmic forces grew in them.
Omar, Cybil and the others were not disappointed. Exactly as predicted, the universe saw fit to align the sun and the Earth and to place the moon between them, if only temporarily. The moon dragged its shadow from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. It would have been easy to mistake the darkening sky for a great spell or omen. Cybil earnestly waited to be overcome, for yesterday, during his sermon, her pastor had extolled the congregation to allow the eclipse to bring about a change for the better in each individual. On the ride home, the two exhausted children, with no obvious signs of transmutation, slumped against each other, asleep in the back seat.
written while listening to: Jim O'Rourke - Tamper (Extreme, XCD 009, 1991, Australia, cd, discogs.com)
August 22, 2017
Charlotte and Lee sat beside each other on the old sofa. The television was on but one of the rabbit-ear antennae had been snapped off, so the reception was poor. Prior to 2009, when the signal had been analog, poor reception might have been tolerable, but, with a digital signal, fluctuation in the quality of the broadcast often caused the screen to entirely black out.
Charlotte could sense the irritation with the flickering image growing with Lee. She turned off the television, in an attempt to avoid an outburst. To change the subject quickly, she asked him, "Who's that kid your dad sent to get his package?"
She had apparently forgotten to tell him that someone had come by to retrieve the package, because Lee looked to the shelf where he had left it and seemed surprised to find it gone. She then had to explain Oscar's visit a few days earlier. She chose not to mention, at this time, that she had seen Oscar wandering about on his bike twice since then.
Lee and Oscar had never met. Each had no knowledge of the other. Lee became upset that perhaps Charlotte had simply given the package away to a stranger, despite her assurances that the boy had clearly been sent by Jacky to pick up the box. An argument ensued. It ended with Lee, rising to his feet, stalking into the bedroom, only to return a moment later, vowing to visit his father again in the next day or two. "If he didn't get the package," Lee began but then trailed off, not bothering to finish the threat. Charlotte had left the apartment.
written while listening to: Fire! with Oren Ambarchi - In the Mouth - A Hand (Rune Grammofon, RLP3130, 2012, Norway, lpx2, discogs.com)
August 23, 2017
Some days were harder than others. Lee had left early in the morning, having been warned not to miss another day this month, lest he be fired. He was working as an assistant to an otherwise one-man general contracting operation. Lee was often tasked with jobs that required nominal skill--moving tools and construction materials to and from the van, or site clean-up. Sometimes he simply provided a third hand where two were not enough.
His boss was gruff but had consented to hiring Lee despite his history of petty crimes (mostly burglary), his past struggles with drug addiction, and his appearance. On this last subject, there could be little cause for praise. Every aspect of Lee's person spoke of ill use and hard times, from his haggard expression to his prematurely weathered skin, from the tattoos on his neck to the ill-fitting clothes that had made their way to him via the Salvation Army. From an employer's point of view, Lee had his advantages as well; his alternatives were few and he could be paid under the table.
A social worker could call Lee a success, at least at the moment, for had he not overcome incarceration, a heroin habit and a spell of homelessness to return to a point where he had a somewhat regular job and the same roof over his head from one night to the next? However, it could not be denied that the stability of his situation was precarious. No one knew this better than Lee, who grappled on a daily basis with the temptation to return to quick money and a drug-induced euphoria. No one knew this better, except perhaps Charlotte, whose struggle with addiction was much less decided. Lee drew strength from her presence; they had come a long way together. He also accepted that if he were to abandon their redemption, she would fall, perhaps willingly, beside him. Some days this future seemed inevitable, but not today.
written while listening to: Burkhard Stangl - Unfinished. For William Turner, Painter. (Touch Records, TO:92, 2013, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
August 24, 2017
Never had a person simultaneously so dreaded and longed for euphoria. Its absence was ubiquitous and palpable, as if Charlotte were a widow wandering through a house shared for decades with a recently departed spouse. Its memory filled her thoughts and she was reminded of it by the most innocent of actions--opening a cupboard or looking for a missing shoe under the sofa. However great the absence of euphoria could be felt, its proximity, though, was even more inescapable. Charlotte had a little money in her pockets. She knew precisely where to go; her feet could lead her without being directed. She did not, however, indulge this hunger.
Instead, she waited at the bus stop. She looked idly out the windows as she traveled to the clinic. She waited again in the outpatient services lobby. Eventually, she received her daily dose of methadone. She was going on three months and the program which sponsored her medication would continue its funding for several more months, barring a relapse. Still, she perceived the three months as a blink of the eye, a fragile span of time that could be eradicated in a single moment of weakness.
She remained unemployable, for the time being. Although addiction was considered by law a disability and it was illegal for employers to discriminate against her on this basis, her appearance was enough to give anyone pause. She had lost so much weight that a quick visual assessment of her revealed her history. Charlotte appeared very much a junkie. After the clinic, she took the bus to the Thursday food pantry, where she collected a bag of groceries. On the ride home, she imagined that euphoria manifested in different forms and that, unknown to her, another version, more innocent than that with which she was familiar, was contained within the contents of the bag resting in her arms.
written while listening to: Aggregate Prime - Dream Deferred (Onyx Productions, ONYX 007, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
August 25, 2017
After school on Friday, Oscar paid a visit to Zepha's apartment but, to his surprise, found no one at home. Even Zepha, he thought to himself, had something better to do on Friday afternoon.
Oscar next bicycled around the local area. To call it a neighborhood was a stretch, since it was composed of scattered apartment buildings and industrial lots. Several small tracts of land, deemed unworthy of development, were largely used for illegal dumping of appliances and used tires. Although, he did not admit as much to himself, it was inevitable that he find his way to the apartment shared by Jacky's son and the too-thin woman.
Oscar rode circles in the parking lot, until coming back around from one loop, he discovered the woman intently watching him. He slowly brought his bike to her.
"There's no more packages," said Charlotte.
"I know," Oscar replied.
"You want to come in?"
"Okay." Oscar leaned his bike against the wall and followed Charlotte inside. She closed the door behind him. Oscar surveyed the cramped apartment and discovered a degree of poverty to which he had not previously been exposed. It was true that Jody and Zepha lived on modest means but Jody made a heroic attempt to create a healthy environment for Zepha that belied their economic insecurity. Even at the home of the barbarian, Lamar's mother possessed creature comforts familiar to most Americans. However, no attempt had been made in this apartment to give it a semblance of respectability. That lack of effort in itself spoke of an impoverishment foreign to Oscar. "What's your name?" he asked the woman.
"What does it mean?"
The woman answered his question with a perplexed gaze, as if the concept of a name having some meaning beyond identification of the individual had never occurred to her. Much of the subsequent conversation followed this same pattern.
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi - Grapes from the Estate (Touch Records, TO:61, 2004, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
August 26, 2017
It had been over two weeks since Amanita has assigned Oscar to read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. While his progress had been slow, he nevertheless accepted his mother's invitation to visit the library on Saturday afternoon. Another event was occurring downtown, which snarled traffic and made it impossible for her to find a parking spot. She dropped him off and headed to the western suburbs of the city to run errands.
Oscar entered the library and found himself staring at Amanita, far off at her reference desk. He had always considered the piercings on her face, her excessive makeup and her variously colored hair (today a solid, jet black) a kind of strange costume. However, in comparison to Charlotte, Amanita struck Oscar as healthy, clean, beautiful and resolute. He walked to her desk thinking he was fortunate to have her aid. When she smiled at him, he smiled broadly in return. When Amanita asked him how went the Registry, he told her in some depth about his latest two recruits, Zepha and Jody.
"Why's there such a crowd downtown?" he asked.
Amanita replied that, emboldened by the president's remarks after Charlottesville, white supremacists were meeting at Confederate monuments through-out the country. One rally was being held near campus today. A counter-protest, a peace gathering, was taking place in a park downtown. In an effort to avoid violence, the two locations were separated by a couple miles. The peace gathering had drawn a large crowd. "Why aren't you there?" she asked him, knowing of his task of amelioration.
Oscar shrugged. His presence seemed unnecessary in this case; there were already plenty of voices. He eventually changed the subject, confessing his struggle in penetrating the mysteries of Nicomachean Ethics.
At these words, Amanita smiled, almost tenderly. She reassured him that the book was a cornerstone of modern philosophy, which framed moral virtue as a conscious choice. "Your struggle," she told him, "is not in vain."
written while listening to: Éliane Radigue - L'île Re-Sonante (Shiiin, shiiin 1, 2005 (originally recorded 2000), France, cd, discogs.com)
August 27, 2017
Amanita spent a portion of Sunday grocery shopping with Rufus. Although they still maintained two apartments, largely at Amanita's insistence, they spent so much time together that this was a task in which they had shared interest.
On the day before, each had attended a rally. Rufus, undeterred by the potential for violence, had been one of the thousands of counter-protesters near campus, who had out-numbered the three dozen white supremacists seventy to one. The police had prepared well, with numerous barricades erected. No physical injury had resulted from the event.
Eschewing conflict, Amanita had walked, during her lunch hour, a few blocks to the downtown park at which a smaller crowd, numbering several hundred, had gathered for a peace rally. There Amanita had run into Mr. Gardener, who had greeted her with his characteristic warmth and cordiality. Soon, they had been joined by the unanticipated though entirely welcome arrival of Cybil, her mother and Omar. It constituted a modest gathering of Renegades.
Cybil had recounted the strength of her arguments with Omar's mother, who initially had been adamantly opposed to exposing her son to any violence. "It's a peace rally," Cybil had said drolly.
Amanita had shared that only an hour earlier she had parted ways with Oscar. Everyone gathered had asked how he was doing for no one but Omar had seen him since his move from the neighborhood, and Omar only briefly. Amanita had presented a positive report, which she did not fully believe. "He recruited two new Renegades."
"I know," said Omar. "They signed up at my house."
On Sunday, in the produce aisle, between bags of onions and misters keeping parsley fresh, Rufus said to Amanita, apropos of nothing, "Amanita, you are better than I deserve."
She wasn't sure exactly to what he referred but it seemed not the kind of comment for which one requested clarification.
written while listening to: Tiger Trio - Tiger Trio (Rogueart, ROG-0074, 2016, France, cd, discogs.com)
August 28, 2017
Oscar and Charlotte sat beside each other on the worn sofa. She wore shorts and her bare legs rose to bony knees then, after a sharp angle, leaned against each other like two askew poles.
"Charlotte," Oscar explained, "is a feminine form of Charles." He had stopped by the apartment after school for the express purpose of sharing this information.
The woman stared across the room at the television, which, for the time being, sat unplugged. She gave no indication of having heard Oscar, but he nevertheless continued to describe the results of his research on the etymology of her name.
"Charles is derived from the German Karl, which is taken from karlaz, which means 'free man'."
In the silence that followed, Oscar's gaze shifted between the vacant television to the vacant expression on Charlotte's face. Eventually, she smiled, contorting the skin of her face over the hollows of her cheeks. She glanced over at Oscar. "My name means free man?"
"I didn't know that." Another pause followed before she asked, "What am I free to do?" Her gaze returned to the inactive television screen.
"I don't know," Oscar replied, taken aback by the unusual question. "Anything you want, I suppose."
"Anything I want," repeated Charlotte. "Anything I want, except the one thing I most want."
"What's that?" Oscar asked.
"I can't tell you," Charlotte replied. Her dry lips curled in a wry smirk as she folded her arms across her chest. "You're just a kid."
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi, Stefano Pilia & Massimo Pupillo - Aithein (Karlrecords, KR023, 2016, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
August 29, 2017
Oscar continued his study of Nicomachean Ethics at a snail's pace. Aristotle described what he reasoned to be the highest of all goods. Oscar studied the following passage several times.
Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.*
Having been raised in a democratic society, established on the belief that all men are created equal, Oscar instinctively found the distinction between the "general run of men" and "people of superior refinement" to be elitist and offensive. He tried to imagine an ancient culture in which such views could be justified, but lacked knowledge of any context in which to do so.
Nevertheless, having been exposed to a variety of ancient texts, Oscar understood that one had to separate the wheat from the chaff, the persevering wisdom from ancient prejudice. As he was unwilling to dismiss Aristotle entirely, Oscar researched this passage further. In doing so, he discovered that it contained the spell, eudaemonia, or living well by doing well. He suspected that the spell hailed from the school of Abjuration, but he held some doubt. He compared eudaemonia and catorthoseis, rights acts along the right road. Both spells seemed useful for the purposes of amelioration. That catorthoseis seemed to have refined the premise relative to eudaemonia was likely a result of the evolution of the core idea during the more than four centuries separating their respective publication.
*Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Part 4, ca. 350 BC, translated by W.D. Ross.
The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Pauline Oliveros - Accordion & Voice (Lovely Music, Ltd., VR 1901, 1982, United States, lp, discogs.com)
August 30, 2017
At the public school, Oscar rarely had any homework. When he did, he could often finish it during free time in class, meaning he took none of it home. Wednesday was no exception, so as soon as the bus deposited him at the parking lot, Oscar headed directly to Zepha's house, seeking another way to occupy his time.
Zepha had been watching television. He asked if Oscar wanted to watch with him. When Oscar suggested that they do something else, Zepha readily agreed. They talked about magic. In particular, Oscar shared his thoughts regarding the spell he had only recently discovered, eudaemonia. When asked for his opinion on the matter, Zepha gave a noncommittal grunt. Such a lackluster response did not dissuade Oscar from pursuing the discussion further; after all, wizards were notoriously circumspect when asked to share their insight into matters of magic.
The conversation continued far longer than Zepha had anticipated. Pleased with company of any kind, he maintained a facade of polite interest. Oscar's preoccupation with the spell proved so extensive that he was still in the apartment, when Jody arrived home from work. She found an unfathomable scene: the boy reading select passages from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to her brother. Although his patience was nearly inexhaustible, Zepha's expression betrayed some relief at Jody's appearance.
With the excuse that she had to prepare dinner, she ushered Oscar to the door. When they stood outside on the walkway, she gave him some parting advice, in the same pedantic tone a mother might use to remind a child to say 'please' and 'thank you'. In fact, what she said was, "Oscar, it's better to be kind than to be smart."
written while listening to: Taku Sugimoto - Live in Australia (Improvised Music From Japan, IMJ-524/5, 2005, Japan, cdx2, discogs.com)
August 31, 2017
Spirits are drawn by the exercise of magical activities. This was the only explanation for the sporadic presence of the quartet of spirits that visited Oscar. Sometimes, Oscar sought out one or the other, usually St. Jerome or White Tito, for guidance. Often the spirits appeared of their own accord in response to an unspoken need for comfort or companionship.
Douchebag J. Troglodyte saw his opportunity and took it. He hovered out of sight until Oscar was alone at the lunch table in the windowless school cafeteria. He sat down beside him in an adjacent chair. He knew precisely the thought that occupied Oscar's mind. Since yesterday, the boy had dwelt on the words of Zepha's sister, "It's better to be kind than to be smart."
Oscar's natural response was to dismiss it. For a person, adult or child, who had focused their life on the acquisition and processing of knowledge, the idea that intelligence was the single most important attribute was taken for granted. Yet, it seemed that he could not simply forget Jody's statement. He had already tried, but the declaration kept returning unbidden to the forefront of his thoughts.
Douchebag J. Troglodyte tried to help him sort it out. "It's better to be kind than to be smart," he repeated with disdain. "The only people who say things like that are stupid people."
To his shame, Oscar sensed a grain of truth in these words.
Douchebag J. Troglodyte led Oscar down a vacant hallway to a side exit from the school. Through the glass door, they watched the heavy rain, a remnant of hurricane Harvey, which continued to flood Houston while sending waves of rain far north into the interior of the continent. "How," asked Douchebag J. Troglodyte, "can anyone be expected to take what is rightfully theirs without out-smarting those who would take it from them?"
"Yes," Oscar agreed, "the world is a terrible place. I already knew that."
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi - Hubris (Editions Mego, EDITIONS mego 227, 2016, Austria, cd, discogs.com)
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