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
December 1, 2017
"What's wrong, Charlotte?" It was Friday night and Lee wanted to relax. However, Charlotte had been pensive since leaving the library last night. Lee had a premonition that it had something to do with the Renegades but Charlotte thus far had revealed no details. She continued to maintain her silence, staring into a book she had checked out. It was a novel that had been assigned reading in high school, which she had never read. She had spotted the book by chance yesterday and, on a whim, brought it home, only to discover her lack of interest persisted to this day.
Lee left and returned shortly with a twelve-pack of beer, which he proceeded to drink. Well into the night he asked Charlotte again what was bothering her, although the second time his tone was noticeably less cordial. Even throwing the library book at her did not prompt her to respond. The simple motion of throwing reminded him of the brick he had thrown through the windshield of the SUV. Lee became convinced that Charlotte's sullen mood was a result of something they had said to her at the library. In an inebriated effort to simultaneously infuriate and console her, Lee confided that he had pre-emptively gotten even with them for her.
"You what?" she asked.
He described incoherently a minor act of violence. It was the closest to a confession that the man would ever come.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Noël Akchoté - Close to the Kitchen (Rectangle, REC F, 1996, France, lp, discogs.com)
December 2, 2017
Oscar waited on the walkway outside his apartment, keeping an eye out for the return of Jody and Zepha. They had left early on Saturday, thwarting his intention to approach Jody and to persuade her to return to the gala planning committee. While he waited in the cold, White Tito kept him company. The owl observed that it would take more than mere oratory skills for Oscar to achieve his goals. Was he not asking her to act against the interest of one to whom she had devoted her life? For such a task, the school of Abjuration offered an appropriate suite of tools. Might he not consider such spells as weak will, forgetful purpose or even the more powerful self-rejection? Each of these spells resulted in a diminishing of a trait that seemed in play here.
Oscar was deeply insulted by the owl's suggestion. He explained to White Tito that he was thinking about this the wrong way. Oscar wasn't hoping to weaken Jody's will or to make her forget her commitment to her brother or to rob her of her purpose. None of that was aligned with the grand plan of amelioration. "I just have to make her see that the world is flawed and paths to all destinations have dangers. The reward that waits at the end of the path that I hope she will take is sufficient to justify the perils along the way."
"Good luck with that," said the owl, utterly unconvinced that much of any account could be accomplished in this world without magic.
The owl's words proved prescient. When Jody did return, once she understood the purpose of Oscar's visit, she resolutely shook her head and ushered him out the door. Ever good-natured, Zepha waved to Oscar on his wait out.
"Told you so," said White Tito, who, though he had waited outside, could discern the outcome of the encounter from Oscar's expression.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Cyro Baptista - Derek (Amulet Records, amt 023, 2006 (originally recorded in 2003), United States, cd, discogs.com)
December 3, 2017
Charlotte walked over to Oscar's apartment on Sunday. Oscar's mother opened the door. "Good morning," Charlotte said.
Of all of the possible responses from which Oscar's mother could have selected, she chose one of the least likely possibilities. "Good morning," she replied in kind. She examined the woman only briefly, lest a conspicuous gaze be interpreted as overt staring at the remarkable degree of her emaciation. Even in this momentary inspection, Charlotte appeared nervous.
"Is Oscar home?"
Oscar's mother wanted only to demand, "What do you want with my son?" She could not vocalize these words because, at his departure, her elder son, also a powerful wizard, had cast a very particular spell upon her, a spell which deprived her of any confidence in her better judgment. While it seemed obvious to Oscar's mother that Charlotte was no less dangerous than a tiger in the jungle, she seemed to have doubts that anyone considered tigers a threat anymore. After all, they were a vulnerable species, extinct in most natural habitats and on the edge of extinction in those few that remained to them. They were confined to small enclosures in zoos, trapped behind bars or held in deep pits. Oscar's mother wondered for a moment what harm could come from inviting a tiger into her own home?
Her elder son had been dead for many months. Perhaps the spell was beginning to wear off. Meanwhile, her younger son was closed up in his bedroom poring over the very same grimoires that had so held sway over his brother. In any case, Oscar's mother lied to Charlotte. "No, he's not home. I don't know when he will return."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Carlos Bechegas - Right Off (Numérica, NUM 1100, 2002, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
December 4, 2017
"I'm not really that good at casting spells," Charlotte confided to Oscar. They were sitting on a bench at a small park squeezed onto a corner lot deemed undevelopable due to a drainage creek cutting diagonally across the property before emptying into the sewer system. While the weather was pleasant for December, the playground equipment had failed to attract any children.
"As a general rule," Oscar replied, "people are better at magic than they realize." He wondered why Charlotte had insisted on meeting away from the apartment she shared with Lee. He presumed that she wished to tell him something without possible interruption.
"How did you decide that my magic was from the school of Illusion?"
Oscar examined the empty space between them on the bench. A distance of about eight inches separated their elbows. It was too small a space for another person to occupy. "Each school has its own distinct aura."
After a moment of hesitation, Charlotte asked, "Aren't illusions about tricking people?"
Oscar smiled. "That's a common misconception--that illusion only hides the truth. The reality is much different. If you accept that you live in a physics-based reality in which the natural laws are in opposition to conducting a moral existence, then the only alternative is illusion. You create a framework for living that provides meaning to an unnatural struggle. That the framework is arbitrary and illusory is utterly beside the point, because it is also the most essential element of your existence. From that point of view, Illusion is the most important school of magic."
Charlotte frowned. She had been concerned with a much smaller and more localized truth, namely whether she should continue to hide from Oscar the fact that Lee had done something to Omar's SUV.
written while listening to: Antoine Berthiaume, Fred Frith & Derek Bailey - Soshin (Ambiances Magnétiques, AM 113 CD, 2003, Canada, cd, discogs.com)
December 5, 2017
The DIDD contractor arrived for their Tuesday night session fifteen minutes late. She wore a cheetah print jacket lined with a faux fur collar. Zepha tried to imagine the sort of animal who possessed the spots of a cheetah and the thick fur of a fox. It made him think of The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle, his favorite artist. From this point forward, Zepha intuitively attached the misguided impulses of the mixed-up chameleon to the DIDD contractor.
She surveyed the apartment with meticulous, conscientious movements, as if searching for dust on the picture frames or a junkie hidden in the shadows of the couch. She managed to be officious and to appear concerned at the same time.
Seated about the kitchen table, the contractor began with pleasantries, just as though she was catching up on the week gone by with old friends. Zepha seemed unperturbed by her superficial cordiality, though the same could not be said for his sister.
Jody had revisited the DIDD website earlier in the week. As pleasantly as was possible, she asked the DIDD contractor, which, if any, of the three criteria for DIDD intervention she was in danger of violating.
The contractor made a face as if she had drunk spoiled milk. She did not approve of such rudeness in response her own solicitous manner. "Three criteria?"
"Abuse, neglect and exploitation," Jody reminded her.
"Abuse, neglect and exploitation," repeated the contractor, to the faint tune of 'Lions and tigers and bears!' She smiled sweetly. "Do you mean in addition to his routine exposure to a drug addict?"
"He's not seeing her anymore," Jody replied in a steely voice. Both women looked to Zepha who confirmed that he had not seen Charlotte since the library.
"Good for you!" cheered the mixed-up contractor, resting a hand on Zepha's hand. Her expression made it clear that she took full credit for this wonderful turn of events.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, Tony Bevan, Paul Hession & Otomo Yoshihide - Good Cop Bad Cop (No-Fi Records, NEU011, 2009 (originally recorded 2003), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 6, 2017
Oscar visited Zepha on Wednesday after school let out but before Jody returned home from work. It should surprise no one who has been following this story that the discussion between the abjurer and the evoker focused on arcane topics.
"Originally, I thought the spell, catorthoseis, or right acts along the right road, could be cast upon any target in the near vicinity." Oscar looked meaningfully at Zepha. "Nowhere could I find it written that catorthoseis is intended to be cast inwardly upon the caster. I had to learn that for myself."
Zepha nodded sagely. He too had discovered esoteric secrets but it was not in his nature to share them via spoken language. He preferred the subtle emanations of arcane ionization to speak for him.
Oscar turned to more practical matters. "There is another gala planning meeting at the library tomorrow night. I need to get all eight schools in one place at the same time to cast the spell. I need you to be there."
"Jody said we're not going," Zepha replied. There was no room for negotiation in his statement.
"You have to convince your sister to let you go."
Zepha did not know how to reply.
"Just try!" Oscar urged him.
Zepha thought for a while. His reply initially puzzled Oscar. "Make the mixed-up chameleon let us go." Even after Zepha did his best to explain what he meant--"she's part cheetah, part fox"--Oscar still wasn't entirely clear on the plan.
At midnight, while Oscar lay asleep in bed, White Tito visited him in a dream and deciphered Zepha's message. In the morning, Oscar awoke with the resolve to do a thing he had been afraid to do all year.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, John Butcher & Gino Robair - Scrutables (Weight of Wax, WOW 04, 2011 (originally recorded 2000), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 7, 2017
Representatives of seven of the eight schools of magic gathered in the reference room of the downtown library. Only the evoker was not present and his absence had been anticipated. The abjurer called the meeting to order; he had much to convey during the meeting. Of those assembled, only the illusionist had arrived at the meeting already fully understanding his intention. Others, like the transmuter and diviner, had known as early as February of their titles, but they comprehended neither the specifics nor the immediacy of the deed that lay before them. As for the conjurer, the necromancer and the enchanter, they guessed only vaguely at the purpose to which the abjurer now enlisted their aid.
The abjurer described the spell in all its grandeur. He made them to see that, in the same way that sunlight is composed of all colors in the spectrum, so too did this spell of amelioration require the contributions from all schools of magic. As a result, their most pressing need was the return of the evoker to their company.
When he had finished, an eerie quiet occupied the reference room. The abjurer, having unburdened himself, returned to his seat, exhausted but relieved. The necromancer and the enchanter exchanged glances, each wondering if the other would break the silence.
The enchanter recalled an interview with the abjurer in June, when he had been preparing his column on the Renegades. At that time, the abjurer had first identified him as an enchanter. He spoke now, true to his role. He did not repeat his words from June, that there was more to the Renegades than the indulgence of a childhood fantasy. Instead he said, "All of us here share your hope that the gala will be a magical evening. We also agree that Zepha's participation in this committee was valuable. A week from tonight, we will do our best to help you realize your goal."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Andrea Centazzo - Drops (Ictus Records, ICTUS 0003, 1977, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
December 8, 2017
Cybil's house was already decorated for the holidays. The angel, perched at the top of a perfectly symmetric tree, adorned in lights, glass ornaments and silver tinsel, nearly touched the ceiling. Cybil had helped her mother put up the interior decorations on the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. Later on the same day, she had placed the wreath on the front door and handed strings of lights up to her father, balanced on the ladder.
Cybil's mother considered it essential that the Christmas holiday fill the entire season from Thanksgiving to the Epiphany. She had arranged every decoration just as she pleased. Cybil's stocking hung from the mantle above the fireplace, waiting patiently for Christmas Eve. A few packages had already arrived and were tucked beneath the tree yet to be removed from the boxes in which they had been shipped.
In the dining room, Jellybean wagged his tail as he stood beside Cybil's chair. Her mother reprimanded her with a gentle smile when she clandestinely fed the dog a bite of roast beef.
"It's getting late," her mother warned her. "If you don't tell us what you want for Christmas, it likely won't get here in time to put under the tree."
In previous years, Cybil had experienced little trouble coming up with a Christmas wish list. This year, however, she had hesitated, but had finally made up her mind. She now informed her parents of her decision; she requested that the same amount, which they had intended to spend on a gift for her, be donated to the fund-raising campaign for the Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. After giving them a moment to absorb her request, Cybil added, "I'll text you the URL after dinner."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Eugene Chadbourne - Tout for Tea! (Rectangle, REC L, 1995, France, 10" lp, discogs.com)
December 9, 2017
Rufus and Amanita went out to lunch together on Saturday at an upscale taqueria, which served, to the exclusion of standard fare, tacos that included tofu, walnut and pineapple. It had required from Amanita a little bit of arm-twisting but eventually Rufus had capitulated. Now he stared at the contents of the taco with outright antipathy.
"Just try it," Amanita encouraged him before rolling her eyes.
Someone, presumably the cook, had experimented with mixtures of ingredients until they had found taco combinations that, while unusual, were pleasing to a general palate. Once he gathered the courage to take a bite, Rufus discovered that he found it delicious, all the more so for initially having put him on edge.
Amanita smiled and refrained from chiding Rufus; he sometimes reminded her of a child.
Lunch went well until Rufus checked his phone, across which the output from a stream of twitter accounts continuously scrolled.
"Oh put that away," Amanita urged him. She did not want him to discover some new, random inanity that set him off and spoiled their meal. Only because Rufus kept stealing surreptitious glances at his phone did Amanita chastise him. "You are a twitter junkie."
"I'm fine," he assured her, though even as he said these words, his gaze returned to the screen.
"You shouldn't go looking for things to irritate you."
"Don't worry," Rufus assured her. "As long as the troglodyte hasn't recently retweeted links to right-wing videos titled 'Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!' or something like that, I'll think I'll be alright." In fact, the standard for outrageous presidential xenophobia necessary to rile Rufus had increased beyond that lofty mark, since the president had already done just that a week and a half earlier.*
*"Trump Shares Inflammatory Anti-Muslim Videos, and Britain's Leader Condemns Them", Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan, New York Times, November 29, 2017
full text: New York Times.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Tony Coe - Time (incus records, 34, 1979, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
December 10, 2017
Although she was willing to routinely feed the neighborhood cats from her back porch, Agnes had a standing policy that she would not allow them inside the house willy-nilly. It was certainly true that, on any given day, if a particular visitor presented a compelling argument to her, she would invite it inside for a morning or an afternoon. She always made it abundantly clear that this access was a special privilege and was not to be taken for granted in the future.
A non-negligible portion of Agnes' reluctance to fill her home with cats was her fear, not that they would take over, but that their presence would prompt others to see her as the stereotypical crazy cat widow. Agnes resisted this reputation because she did not want any aspect of her life to suggest that she was no longer competent to remain in her home. She worried that the crazy part of crazy cat widow threatened her independence. Sometimes, Agnes explained this to the cats who had taken advantage of her generosity and overstayed their welcome. "You have to go," she would say as she herded them toward the back door. "If I let you stay, then your friends will want in. If you all come in, I'm afraid my daughter will send me to assisted living where you won't be able to find me. We'll all be in a fine fix then."
On Sunday night, however, when the temperature dropped well below freezing, Agnes abandoned her long-held position and opened her house to a dozen or more cats. She was motivated by several factors: empathy for cats, a shared dislike of the cold and an unlikely streak of defiance. "Am I not a Renegade?" she asked the cats. "Can I not decide for myself whom I invite into my home?"
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Simon H. Fell - The Complete 15th August 2001 (Confront Recordings, ccs 22, 2013 (originally recorded 2001), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 11, 2017
Omar debated whether a handwritten or typed invitation would prove more compelling. He made one of each and laid them flat on the little desk in his room in order to more fairly compare them. The handwritten version communicated a personal touch, while the printed version seemed more professional. Omar had a hard time knowing which style better suited the occasion.
Instinctively he thought of Cybil; she would know exactly which invitation was more appropriate. However, Omar did not want to share his uncertainty with her. What if the invitation was declined? He did not desire to suffer such shame before her. It was a better plan to keep things secret until he met with success.
Another idea dawned on him. Instead of writing the invitation in English, he could write it in Farsi. His parents didn't force him to take those lessons for nothing. Omar pushed the two pages aside. Then he sat down at the desk with his laptop open to the Farsi grammar site, which he used for reference. Certain words, such as 'renegades', were outside his vocabulary, but again, in the year 2017, the internet was virtually inexhaustible in its ability to fill in gaps in information. He would not have been pleased to discover that the same word that he chose for 'renegade' also could be used for 'apostate' and 'abjurer'. Nevertheless, after nearly an hour and a half, he had a passable invitation. By this time, he had decided on a handwritten version.
When called, Omar went downstairs to dinner and, after the meal, presented his parents with their invitation to the Inaugural Gala of the Apostates of the American Muslim Registry. They, of course, had no choice but to accept.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Agustí Fernández - A Silent Dance (Incus Records, CD 58, 2009 (originally recorded 2005), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 12, 2017
The DIDD contractor visited the apartment as scheduled on Tuesday night. She again wore the jacket with the cheetah print and faux fur collar. Jody was unable to conceal her annoyance with the contractor's continued presence. Zepha, on the other hand, was utterly delighted; the contractor had complemented her zoologically themed attire with a thin scarf over her hair. That scarf bore a spotted pattern with an unmistakable resemblance to a giraffe. Zepha sat wide-eyed. The cheetah-fox that he had previously envisioned now had grown an unusually long neck. The contractor appeared to him more mixed up than ever. He smiled.
Jody on the other hand had quite a less amusing experience. In response to Jody's indifferent reception, the contractor began a series of pointed questions regarding the details of the use of Zepha's monthly disability payment. "What is the rent in this apartment? What fraction of the rent comes from Zepha's disability and what fraction do you pay?"
"I am his legal guardian," Jody replied stiffly. She suspected that she was not obligated to share specifics regarding her finances with the contractor, though she recognized that the contractor held some leverage over her. "I spend his disability check in the manner I see best fit to meet his needs."
"Of course," said the contractor dismissively. "I'm just working to understand his situation more clearly." The evening session went downhill from there. Zepha seemed not to pick up on his sister's tension. When her time was up, he waved good-naturedly at the contractor and received a sweet smile in reply.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Milo Fine - Scale Points on the Fever Curve (Emanem, 4099, 2003, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 13, 2017
Cybil had decided that calling Oscar over the telephone was the best way to approach the delicate subject. An email was likely not to convey the nuanced tone necessary to avoid hurting his feelings. Delivering the message in person may have been best, but that would have required enlisting the aid of Agnes or someone else old enough to drive. Cybil had ultimately opted to keep this exchange strictly between the two of them.
She waited until she felt sure that Oscar's mother would be home from work then called her number. His mother answered and was surprised when Cybil identified herself; she hadn't heard from anyone in the old neighborhood. Oscar too seemed taken aback, initially fearing that Cybil was backing out of the plan. Her actual intention proved much more distressing.
"I don't think you should come tomorrow," she said plainly.
"What! We need all eight schools to be present," he protested.
"No," she said, "we need to help Zepha and Jody."
"It was my idea," Oscar stubbornly insisted.
"And it is a good idea," Cybil agreed, "only we don't need you messing it up with another crazy speech about how everything that we're doing is part of a grand magic spell."
To that declaration Oscar did not know how to respond.
"Okay?" Cybil said, asking for nothing less than Oscar's complete concession.
"No, it's not okay. How can you ask me to do this?"
"Am I not the diviner?" Cybil asked. "I predict that this is the only way for our plan to succeed."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Will Gaines - Rappin and Tappin (Incus Records, CD 55, 2003 (originally recorded in 1994), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 14, 2017
The session with the DIDD contractor began very poorly when she suggested to Jody that leaving Zepha alone for nine and a half hours every day bordered on neglect. Before Jody could express her indignation, there was a knock on the door. Jody opened it to find, to her horror, Charlotte. "What are you doing here?"
The contractor rose to her feet so that she could see the visitor. Although she had never met Charlotte, she correctly guessed her identity, based on her emaciated appearance and Jody's ashen complexion. "Let her in."
Charlotte entered, while Jody closed the door behind her. She said to the contractor, "Zepha saved my life. I visited him once to thank him."
"You can thank him by staying away!" Jody said, barely maintaining her composure.
The DIDD contractor seemed to revel in Jody's distress until a second knock at the door. Soon Jody admitted Omar, Cybil and Agnes. Omar described to the contractor the origin of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. He explained how it brought together all interested people regardless of creed or disability or medical history. This information struck the contractor as largely irrelevant to her case.
However, when a third knock on the door resulted in the entrance of Amanita and Mr. Gardener, her opinion changed. Mr. Gardener introduced himself as a columnist from the local paper. He shared with the contractor his thoughts on writing an opinion piece on the impact of DIDD in their local community. He asked her if she would be willing to be interviewed for the column, sharing her role in improving the quality of life of Zepha. Mr. Gardener added, "With Jody's permission of course."
Jody readily nodded her assent. "She was just telling me how she suspects that Zepha's neglected and exploited."
The contractor demurred and ended the session early.
Since Cybil had not told anyone that she had convinced Oscar to stay home, everyone else attributed his absence to a general unreliability.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Frode Gjerstad - Nearly a D (Emanem, 4087, 2002, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 15, 2017
On Friday evening, Oscar's mother arrived home from work, too tired to make dinner. She asked Oscar if he wanted her to order a pizza. He seemed agreeable so, forty minutes later, a pizza was delivered to their door. There was a mix-up in the order and they received a sausage and mushroom pizza rather than the pepperoni pizza they had requested. Discovering the error immediately, Oscar ran out in the cold air without his jacket and, waving his bare arms, hailed the driver before he left the parking lot. The delivery man offered Oscar a free two liter of diet soda pop by way of compensation for the mistake.
Seated across the table from each other, mother and son ate the pizza and drank the soda pop.
"How was your day?" asked the mother.
"Okay," replied the son. He had been waiting for weeks to ask her a particular question and, as there was little else in the way of conversation, decided now was as good a time as any. "Will you come to the new year's eve party?"
"Am I invited?" she asked. "I'm not a member of the Renegades." This much was true. Oscar had never arranged for her to sign the registry and she had not pushed the matter.
"I'm inviting you."
"Sure, I guess so."
"I'm going to invite Dad too." Oscar had already decided to let his mother know of this decision in advance.
"Oh honey," she said gently, "he's not going to be able to come."
"He might," Oscar countered. If the power of all eight schools was properly united, anything was possible.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Christine Jeffrey - Views From 6 Windows (Metalanguage, ML 114, 1981, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
December 16, 2017
Oscar sat with Saint Jerome early Saturday night. The boy had not eaten all day and the raw pangs of hunger thrilled him with the promise that his physical sacrifice would aid his spiritual endeavor. Saint Jerome, who had been known to partake in fasting during that portion of his existence when he relied on physical sustenance, chose not to admonish the boy but still felt some misgivings that something wasn't being done right.
Together they composed a letter to Oscar's father. In it, they began with Oscar's resolution, made on the first day of the year, the same day as his father's departure, to embrace fantasy in order to make the world a better place. Oscar explained the critical role that magic had made in enabling him to contribute to the work of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. Saint Jerome suggested that Oscar replace the word 'magic' with 'divine providence', but the boy stubbornly resisted. They invited the father to come and see for himself the result of Oscar's efforts. When they were done, the pair of scholars reread every word of the note. Numerous emendations were made for clarity and emphasis.
Before hitting the send button, Oscar read the letter aloud in its entirety. He said to Saint Jerome, "It makes me sound like I'm crazy. Just like Cybil said."
"And yet," said the saint, careful not to disagree with the boy, "what noble soul could resist the plea contained within these words?"
As an aside, many people opt to rely on the nobility of the souls of those around them, embracing an inherent, though perhaps unjustified optimism in the human spirit. The alternative, expecting the worst, or at least little, from everyone threatens to make life too unappetizing. Such optimists are not inured to disappointment, but neither are they robbed of their optimism, for most accept that they will be disappointed and have willfully chosen to err on the side of light.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Henry Kaiser - Wireforks (Shanachie, 5011, 1995, United States, cd, discogs.com)
December 17, 2017
By Sunday evening, Oscar had not received any reply from his father, so he consulted with another spirit. White Tito admonished him to be patient but Oscar assured the owl that emails were delivered virtually instantaneously. "He's had twenty-four hours to reply." It had seemed like an eternity to Oscar.
Together, Oscar and White Tito composed a second email, different in tone than the first one. Where Saint Jerome had encouraged the boy to provide a complete factual description of the circumstances, which required his father's presence, White Tito opted for a more fanciful plea.
They imagined the Inaugural Gala as if all of Oscar's dreams for it were to be made manifest. Everyone in attendance was in high spirits. Not a single guest was bothered by a headache, nor stomach upset, nor the lingering arthritis in their hips. As the band played, all worries were forgotten for a time. The stupid argument, which had transpired between two dancers earlier in the day, dissipated into oblivion, as they swayed in each other's arms. The stress of an unpaid bill, anxiety over a forthcoming doctor's appointment and many other apprehensions, large and small, regarding uncertain futures were cast aside amidst the laughter and good cheer.
It was to this party that Oscar invited his father.
"Who in their right mind would not want to go?" asked White Tito.
Such a question buoyed Oscar's confidence.
As an aside, individuals who would refuse such an invitation are not all that hard to find. Some have come, over time, to inhabit spaces and attitudes, from which it is difficult to coax them. They have fought tenaciously to occupy this space, sometimes against their will. The thought of abandoning it, even temporarily, especially temporarily, provokes uneasiness and fear that they might be unable to access it upon their return. Certainly, the spirit White Tito was familiar with such psyches. All the same, he urged Oscar to send the email.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, Julian Kytasty, Roger Turner & Alan Wilkinson - Duos, London 2001 (Incus Records, CD 51, 2002, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 18, 2017
Twenty-four hours later, Oscar had a reply to neither of his emails to his father. He therefore consulted with a third spirit, Douchebag J. Troglodyte, for advise on how to proceed.
It cannot be said that Douchebag J. Troglodyte held oaths sacred. On the contrary, he espoused a more pragmatic approach in which he reminded others of the promises that he had made as a matter of subterfuge. After all, who would keep bringing up oaths they intended to break? "Only a mastermind!" boasted Douchebag J. Troglodyte.
"On the first day of this year," he said to Oscar, "you swore to embrace fantasy to make the world a better place. It was a very, very huge vow. So big. One of the biggest ever."
Oscar nodded warily.
"You have to let your old man know that you're not some broad that he can treat anyway he likes. You have to stand up for yourself. If he doesn't show up at your party, that makes you look like the biggest loser ever. What have you been doing this whole year? He's going to make you look like a bigger fool than Abraham Lincoln, after he went to the movies." Douchebag J. Troglodyte paused in his oratory to make sure Oscar was paying attention. "Which if I was president I would never have done. I like golf courses. I own many of the best. Assassins can't sneak up on you on the fairway." He added unnecessarily, "And my drives always land in the fairway. The longest drives of any president ever."*
Douchebag J. Troglodyte dictated an email expressing these sentiments. Any objective outsider who read the missive would have come to the conclusion that Oscar was beginning to panic.
*"Golfers say Trump has the best game of any president", Jessica Golden and Dominic Chu, CNBC, October 4, 2017.
full text: CNBC.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, Gregg Bendian & Paul Wertico - The Sign of 4 (Knitting Factory Works, KFW197, 1997, United States, cdx3, discogs.com)
December 19, 2017
On Tuesday, the day of Tiw, a god of Heroic Glory, the abjurer sought counsel with the Destroying Angel. The Destroying Angel was of the opinion that much that ailed the world could be remedied by annihilation of the human species. She brought this point up early in the discussion in order to determine if the argument had gained any traction with the abjurer. "Certainly," she reminded him, "extinction is a variety of abjuration."
The abjurer could not deny the allure of the angel's argument. There was an indisputable peace to a world absent of all humankind, a serenity with special appeal to those wandering in the depths of despair with a woeful spirit. Still, other sources had proffered destruction of the human race to the abjurer and he had rejected those offers. "Why should I change my mind now just because I feel bad that my dad won't answer me?"
The Destroying Angel bartered death with many folks of a similar disposition but her relationship with them often proved largely transactional. In fact, she preferred those who declined her wares and stuck around for countless eons of meandering banter in the darkness of her eternal smile.
She guided the abjurer's hand as we wrote a fourth and final missive to his father, in which he described the ephemerality of human relationships and the diminishing probability that an opportunity such as what lay before them in twelve days' time would ever materialize again.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Min Tanaka - Music and Dance (Table of the Elements, 40 Zirconium, 1997, United States, lp, discogs.com)
December 20, 2017
No email arrived on Wednesday but, in truth, Oscar had accepted that no one would reply to an email sent by the Destroying Angel. Still, when a knock resounded on the front door, Oscar's hopes rose. Perhaps, logistics aside, his father had decided to inform him in person that he would attend the gala.
Instead Oscar found Charlotte, standing in a cold, winter rain. Like Zepha before him, Oscar welcomed her inside the apartment. She was soaked and he retrieved a bath towel from the linen closet. Even when she had stopped shivering, she still seemed agitated. "What's wrong?" Oscar asked.
Charlotte gathered her courage and the story, at least the parts that she knew, spilled forth. "Lee did something to Omar's car. From what I gather, he crashed his truck into it accidentally and then he smashed it up some more on purpose."
"What?" Oscar made Charlotte repeat her story. "I don't think that really happened," he surmised. "Omar would have told me."
Charlotte waved him off with a scrawny arm. "When Lee was drunk he bragged about the black paint smeared on the side of his truck. He said it came from Omar's car. I don't know why Omar didn't say nothing."
Oscar had not yet managed to gather all eight schools together and yet now, with time running short, he felt the spell deteriorating faster than he could put the pieces back together. He urged Charlotte to keep this information to herself. When she argued that she could not go to the final planning meeting tomorrow, he simply demanded that she attend. She continued to shake her head.
"Why would he do such a thing?" Oscar asked plaintively.
Charlotte imagined that she knew the answer to that question but it was complicated, composed of alcohol, bad luck, race-baiting and a healthy dose of chronically poor judgment. She could not articulate it concisely, given the limited time she had in Oscar's apartment before his mother arrived home.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Min Xiao-Fen - Viper (Avant Records, AVAN 050, 1998, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
December 21, 2017
The planning committee for the Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry met for last time on the winter solstice. When seven of the eight members (and Jody) were present, the meeting commenced. Jody began by informing the others that, earlier in the week, she had received a letter from DIDD stating the contractor's findings that Zepha was not being abused, exploited or neglected. As a result, the agency now considered the case closed. The committee cheered until Amanita shushed them, reminding them that they were in a library.
"That's so librarian of you," said remarked Cybil, drawing a smile painted in deep purple.
Jody had brought Zepha as a sign of gratitude to the committee for what they had done. Jody especially wanted to thank Charlotte, but she was not present. All eyes turned to Oscar for an explanation since none knew the missing woman better than he. He replied with a shrug. He could not bring himself to embrace the role of destroying the spell. Silently, he lamented Charlotte's absence. The solstice was a particularly auspicious night. This had been their last chance to bring all eight schools together prior to the party. With the holidays upon them, they would not reconvene until new year's eve.
As the meeting progressed, Amanita brought them the somber news that their fund raising efforts had not met their goals. They did not have enough donations to rent the hall, pay the band and the caterers.
Mr. Gardener reassured them, though he too offered gloomy news. He suspected that many who had joined the registry as a response to his first column had not received an invitation to the gala. Still, he told the others not to worry. "I have been incubating one more idea." Mr. Gardener shared his thoughts with them and Omar's expression brightened.
"Brilliant!" said the boy. "I can't wait until tomorrow."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, Louis Moholo & Thebe Lipere - Village Life (Incus Records, CD09, 1992, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 22, 2017
In his Friday column, Mr. Gardener reminded readers that the righteous struggle continued. He asked for their indulgence while he played the role of the maladjusted, for the good society had not yet been realized. The tax plan that had been rushed through Congress and signed into law today was an abomination with permanent benefits for the most wealthy and a few, temporary tokens for everyone else. That the budget would explode the debt was an intentional device of the Republican Party as they were already justifying cuts to social programs to prevent the fiscal avalanche they had just created.
Still, Mr. Gardener urged readers, in the holiday season one should find reasons to celebrate. Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, had been narrowly defeated last week. This was the same man who, in response to a question about the last time he thought America was great, publicly replied, "I think it was great at the time when families were united--even though we had slavery--they cared for one another."* He reminded readers that Roy Moore had argued that no Muslim could serve in Congress. But, even here, all was not well. A week earlier, the Supreme Court had allowed Trump's Muslim travel ban to become law.† Mr. Gardener exhorted his readers to continued resistance against the corruption of our national values.
He hearkened back to his earlier column introducing the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. He shared with readers the organization that had arisen as a result of so many like-minded residents signing the registry. Mr. Gardener concluded with an open invitation to all those who had joined to attend the Inaugural Gala on New Year's Eve. Whether they could be present or not, he directed them to the website to help defray costs. He then broadened the invitation to anyone who chose this moment to join. The Registry would be present at the gala. Anyone who wanted to sign and become a Renegade would be welcomed.
*"Roy Moore's incredible 'even though we had slavery' quote", Z. Byron Wolf, CNN, December 8, 2017.
full text: CNN.
†"Supreme Court lets full Trump travel ban take effect", Ariane de Vogue, CNN, December 4, 2017.
full text: CNN.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Jamie Muir - Dart Drug (Incus Records, CD19, 1993 (originally recorded 1981), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 23, 2017
The abjurer solemnly forswore all future efforts to contact his dead brother, if he should just, this once, pay him a visit. What the abjurer had seemingly forgotten was that his brother, a great wizard in his own right, had also studied abjuration. So, there, on the other side of death, he had renounced all contact with the world of the living.
The two brothers stood face to face, neither seeing the other, separated by nothing but time and circumstance and other flimsy materials from which the physics-based reality is woven.
"Cast your spell," they shouted at each other, though each thought they pleaded only with themselves.
The dead one cast globe of invulnerability for he could no longer be touched. The brother yet living cast globe of vulnerability for he sought the same thing that everyone else was looking for--a framework in which he could come to comfortable terms with the premise of his existence. The two globes met in the aether, annihilating each other like the meeting of a gargantuan, deformed positron and electron.
This was all it took. At last his brother appeared to him through a disruption in the membranous veil separating the spheres. Stepping through, one wrapped the other in a cold embrace. "End your fast," he whispered in his ear. "Let me finish your spell so that you might leave these sorrows behind." He stepped back, though slowly.
This is a spell not recorded in The Grimoire of White Tyto, for the abjurer was not certain that it had actually occurred, nor that he had been responsible for casting it and even more doubtful, should these reservations prove unfounded, that the precise sequence of events could be reproduced in the future.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & DJ Ninj - Guitar Drums 'n' Bass (Avant Records, AVAN 060, 1996, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
December 24, 2017
On Christmas Eve, the ghost of the elder brother wandered in an incorporeal state through the world of the living until it was drawn to the aura of transmutation emanating from a house across the street from one in which it had dwelt prior to his death. There the elder brother encountered the boy, Omar, performing the work of a transmuter.
The spell, Like Nothing Before (Transmutation), is a self-extinguishing spell. Each time it is cast, it manifests in a manner unlike all previous castings. Logically, some scholars of the arcane argue, this leaves a smaller pool of possible manifestations for any subsequent casting. One can extrapolate to the day in the distant future in which all possible realizations of the spell have been expended and the spell no longer can be cast. Other scholars take a different stance and suggest that, as is the case with all transmutative spells, Like Nothing Before, in essence is the same spell every time, embodying nothing more than change. Because change reflects both the unique circumstances at its origin and the particular nuances of the destination, it simply appears to be different to those caught up in its current.
Certainly, on Sunday evening, Omar adopted the latter attitude. While the Christians around them memorialized the birth of Jesus, in ways secular and sacred, he and his parents celebrated the path their shared, familial life had taken since they had moved into this house in January. Much in their first year here had gone well. Omar had received good grades this semester and had made a friend in Cybil.
The elder brother puzzled only briefly over the scene of domestic peace before departing to spend the rest of the night dispersed in the cold night air. It was not the place of the dead to suffer the bewilderment of the living. That the elder brother could not discern the purpose in his brother sending him to this family disturbed him not in the least.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Shaking Ray Levis - Live at Lamar's (Incus Records, INCUS From The Store CDR4, 2003 (originally recorded 1999), United Kingdom, cdr, discogs.com)
December 25, 2017
Cybil's family had attended the Christmas Eve service, so on Sunday they slept in late. At a younger age, Cybil had run down the stairs early to investigate the contents of her stocking. Now, however, she stayed in bed until Jellybean wandered into her room, looking for someone awake. She urged him up onto the blankets where he snuggled against her temporarily, nuzzling against her face in an attempt to rouse her. "Merry Christmas," she mumbled to the dog.
She followed the dog down stairs and let him out back. In the crisp morning air, Jellybean detected a shadow standing as still as a post, alone in the frosted grass of the vacant lot. By no means of communication did the elder brother signal to the dog, but all the same the dog led the ghost inside the house.
There the elder brother found the diviner seated on the sofa. Before her, a bit of pastry and a glass of orange juice rested on a tray placed on the coffee table. Beside her the stocking was slowly being emptied out. She found barrettes, a new shade of nail polish, chocolates and other sundry items. The ghost sat down on the opposite side of the gifts, examining them through that faculty of perception, involving neither touch nor emotional response, which was retained by the dead.
The diviner glanced beneath the Christmas tree. She detected several presents that had not been there the night before. She predicted that, even though her parents had donated her allotted Christmas budget to the inaugural gala, they had picked up other gifts for her all the same. She thought of a jacket she had admired in a store with her mother.
The diviner waited for her parents to descend the stairs. She had every expectation that her forecast for a lovely Christmas would be met. Beside her, the ghost sat helplessly; this one too seemed utterly beyond any need for aid that lay within his capacity.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey - Notes: Solo Guitar Improvisations, Incus Records, 48, 1985, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
December 26, 2017
The ghost of the elder brother was next instructed to haunt the residence of the gothic librarian, who served as the necromancer for the purposes of his younger brother. On the day after Christmas, the library operated on holiday hours and closed early. Afterward, Amanita visited her apartment only briefly, to shower and change clothes before heading back out to join Rufus. She had promised to accompany him for dinner at his parents, an annual rite she did not especially relish as they had made it clear to their son that they were put off by the librarian's unnaturally colored hair, the various piercings of her brow, nose and ears, the (to their tastes) excessive application of her makeup, the preference for black in her wardrobe and her acerbic wit. Despite Rufus' assurances that his parents would warm up to her, they had yet to do so. Of her skills in the arts of necromancy, they remained happily oblivious.
The elder brother perceived none of the material accoutrements of the necromancer so made no mistake identifying her as such immediately. He followed behind her as she maneuvered through the narrow corridors in her apartment. He crowded in beside her as she chose an outfit from the closet, noticeably lowering the temperature in the small space. He admired the manner in which she had absorbed the teachings of thousands of dead writers and, from that morass of conflicting knowledge, assembled a harmonious view of religion, politics, science, economics and the arts as human constructs without intrinsic purpose, but imbued with an arbitrary meaning, a philosophy which struck the ghost at that moment as both undeniably calming and aesthetically appealing. Relishing once again, if only momentarily, sensations from the world of the living, he lingered in her presence until she left the premises.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Robyn Shulkovsky - In Concert & Studio (Incus Records, INCUS From The Store CDR6, 2004 (originally recorded 1998), United Kingdom, cdr, discogs.com)
December 27, 2017
The widow, Agnes de Flores, woke early on Wednesday morning. The paper, usually on her driveway by five-thirty, had yet to be delivered. She rose from her bed and drew a housecoat around her, for the house felt cold. A glance at the thermometer mounted outside the kitchen window, informed her that it was five degrees below freezing. She started a pot of coffee brewing then opened the back door. No fewer than seven cats spotted the sliver of light that appeared in the crack of the door. They hastily made their way from the various makeshift shelters, in which they had withstood the nocturnal chill, into the relative warmth of the conjurer's house. The elder brother who had been huddled in their midst also managed to slip inside before the door was closed.
For the comfort of all, the conjurer turned on an electric space heater beside the small kitchen table. As the heating element warmed up, the cats jockeyed for position. She set out three bowls of kibble and refilled three bowls of water on the other side of the kitchen floor, forcing the cats to temporarily abandon their positions at the heater if they wanted breakfast. She arranged her cup of coffee, the pint of cream and sugar bowl on the table. Once seated, she carefully peeled an orange, leaving the rind in a single piece, as the tails of the various cats absently stroked her calves and shins.
The incomplete presence of the ghost disturbed the conjurer not at all for she was accustomed to absence, having outlived her husband by twenty-eight years. At his place at the table, the conjurer had put nothing, which is the appropriate offering for a strange ghost. From across the wooden table, the ghost returned courtesy for courtesy, explaining to her, in a voice outside the range of human hearing, the various, minor merits she had earned in the afterlife in recognition of her devotion to the care of cats.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey, Jamaaldeen Tacuma & Calvin Weston - Mirakle (Tzadik, TZ 7603, 2000, United States, cd, discogs.com)
December 28, 2017
Mr. Gardener's column, which the newspaper had published on Friday, generated a disproportionate fraction of positive responses, relative to his other columns, in which the letters from irate readers far outweighed any praise. Those few letters in support of the beliefs of Roy Moore or the need for the Muslim travel ban seemed lacking the typical virulence, as if the writers had simply felt obligated to respond but had done so lacking passion.
The ghost of the elder brother stood discreetly behind Mr. Gardener, as he sat in his chair at the desk. Deprived of the ability to read, the ghost made what sense he could of the world through the physiological responses of the columnist--a slightly raised pulse, a reflexive tensing of the muscles, a sigh--to the contents of the various missives as he read them.
Those letters, which contained promises to attend the gala, had a palliative effect on both Mr. Gardener and, through him, the ghost. The world, despite its natural inclination, was not always dead set on destruction of the weak by the powerful. Sometimes people defied the seemingly inevitable odds and rose to a moment of valor.
Mr. Gardener visited the gala fund-raising website. The column had certainly produced the intended effect on this account; the Renegades now had sufficient funds to pay in full the black cultural center for the use of their halls with enough left over to compensate the band and caterers. There might even be something remaining to issue small gifts to those in the community who had volunteered to serve as valets, coat check attendants and the policemen providing security.
Elma walked in the room, startling the enchanter and ghost from their contented reverie. "We did it," the enchanter said to his wife, pointing to the number on the screen.
She leaned over his shoulder, opposite that of the elder brother, and gave him a congratulatory peck on the cheek. "Otis," she said, "I never had a doubt."
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Alex Ward - LOCationAL (Incus Records, CD37, 2000, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 29, 2017
The evoker opened the door and welcomed the ghost inside, though of course, given his incorporeal nature, there was no need for it. Neither could see the other clearly. For the evoker, the ghost appeared only in the mind's eyes, an imagined, shimmering human-shaped form, tentatively entering the apartment. For the ghost, the evoker was consumed within an indistinct source of brilliant light, which rendered the outlines of his physical body ambiguous and active, playing tricks on the ghost's sensory apparatus. The ghost observed the play of gaseous features, extending from the energy source then looping back, like miniature solar prominences.
They did not speak; there was little that could be communicated in words. The ghost performed his assigned task, conveying by his mere presence the need of his brother for the power held at the fingertips of the evoker. It proved uncomfortable for the ghost, a creature without matter, to remain in the confines of the apartment subject to the constant bombardment of the evoker's radiation. He retreated outside to the canopy of stars draped above the parking lot, only to have the evoker follow him. Icicles hung from the eaves of the roof, but the evoker showed no signs of discomfort, protected apparently by the thermal dissipation of his internal energy source.
Beneath the constellations, they devised the finishing touches of the spell that would set the younger brother free--a flourish of the arm here, a particular rhythm to a repeated phrase, a pattern reminiscent of an arabesque in the ionization of the local atmosphere.
Within the breast of the ghost a sensation of regret was kindled; had he been alive, he would have found much to love in the evoker.
The evoker, for his part, a creature of Trisomy 21, perceived the world on slightly different terms. It had always been his privilege to keep the details of this observation to himself and he saw no reason to deviate from this circumspect practice now.
written while listening to: Kaoru Abe, Motoharu Yoshizawa, Toshinori Kondo & Derek Bailey - Aida's Call (Starlight Furniture Co., *9, 1999 (originally recorded 1978), United States, cd, discogs.com)
December 30, 2017
Last but not least, the ghost of the elder brother haunted the apartment of the illusionist. The aura of decrepitude surrounding the domicile impressed him immediately because powerful wizards traditionally hid all signs of their great knowledge and wealth behind illusions of poverty or madness. Whatever admiration the elder brother had for the disguise of the dwelling, it was as nothing compared to his reaction to the illusionist herself, for she appeared utterly broken, her physical body a frail, malnourished shell in which no one would place any confidence. That his brother had managed to pierce her illusion signified the extent to which he had devoted himself to the studies of the arcane.
As the ghost drew closer to the sleeping woman, he discovered another body in the bed beside her. This one too seemed to hail from the school of Illusion, but either his natural talent was inferior or he had never chosen to develop his capabilities, for they were as two pearls in the mouth of the clam, one lustrous and luminous, the other only as beautiful as an ordinary pearl.
The ghost examined the wiring of the woman's brain. It appeared that, in recent history, she had intentionally rearranged the neural network, likely in an attempt to further her studies of illusion. The ghost himself could not untangle the reworked circuitry to perceive the original motivation behind it. He suspected that the illusory powers of the woman were so thorough that she too might have deceived herself and could no longer know the truth of her own being. Such a discovery was, to the ghost, simultaneously a joy and a tragedy.
That he should end his second, briefer sojourn on Earth must as he had his first, much longer visit seemed only appropriate. The ghost mouthed words of praise over the sleeping couple then ascended through the ceiling to disperse in the winter starlight, never to be summoned again.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Ingar Zach - Seven (Incus Records, CD54, 2002, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
December 31, 2017
The Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry was held on the last night of 2017. Because of Mr. Gardener's timely column, the turnout was far greater than expected. With a temperature well below freezing, a number of arrivals were accommodated temporarily in the adjoining library until it had been confirmed that they were not in danger of exceeding the maximum capacity of the halls.
In view of the Muslim prohibition against alcohol, bottles of carbonated grape juice were kept in boxes waiting for the midnight hour. Meanwhile the caterers served hors d'oeuvres and punch. At a separate table, a dozen different types of baklava and treats had been prepared by members of the local mosque expressly for the event. The halls resounded with shouts of greetings and conversation among the assembled throng.
Oscar stood off to one side, observing those in attendance. His father was not numbered among them. Nevertheless, Oscar remained intent on casting the last spell of the year, amelioration (Universal).
At eight-thirty the band, a group of six middle-aged men and one woman, took the stage. The men played their instruments. On some tunes the woman sang with a velvet voice, becoming more glamorous with each passing song.
A space opened in the center of the crowd for dancing. The first dance began with several honorary couples. Otis and Elma Gardener danced together. The Imam and his wife danced. Amanita and Rufus danced. Cybil's mother and father danced as did the parents of Omar. Cybil, the debutante, and Omar, the immigrants' son, danced. Jody danced with a smiling Zepha. Charlotte and Lee danced. Agnes did not take the floor until later in the evening, when invited by Mr. Gardener to dance. As he held her, she confided to him that she had never danced with a black man before. Most amazing of all, the noble barbarian asked Oscar's mother to dance to Stella by Starlight, and she, after a moment's hesitation, agreed.
written while listening to: Derek Bailey & Keiji Haino - Songs (Incus Records, Incus CD 40, 2000 (originally recorded 1996), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
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