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
July 1, 2017
Oscar was forbidden from hanging around during the house sale. He wandered off to Cybil's house, only to find no one home, despite the early hour. He next visited Agnes, who informed him that Cybil's family had gone on vacation. Oscar took it as a slight that no one had bothered to let him know beforehand; it was as if he was already gone. In a spirit of rebelliousness he bicycled to the downtown library. It was too early for the gothic librarian to be working, but she had assigned him, via email, a new book, Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, written in 1899. The library did not have a paper copy but Oscar used one of the public computers (his had already been moved to the apartment) to access it online. Aradia proved to be a grimoire, containing a variety of spells meant to achieve specific tasks, such as bringing the object of one's desire to one's bed, or finding rare tomes at unusually reasonable prices. The spells invoked the power of Aradia, daughter of the incestuous union of Diana and Lucifer, or, in some incantations, Diana directly.
Oscar returned much later in the day as the sale wound down with his head full of magic. The house with its unfamiliar vacant spots and corners was already foreign to him. His mother feared that their first night in the apartment would be traumatic for him. She was astounded and somewhat disturbed that her son showed almost no reaction to his first visit to the apartment, as if he had instantly become accustomed to it or had, without her knowledge, already visited it. This is not an uncommon effect of the exposure to old magic on young people; the vagaries of the physics-based reality lose much of their impact when displayed against the flamboyant background of the supernatural.
written while listening to: John Coltrane - Impressions (Impulse!, A-42, 1963, United States, lp, discogs.com)
July 2, 2017
On Sunday, Oscar rose in predawn darkness while his mother yet lay sleeping, and gathered to him the owl spirit, White Tito, with whom he consecrated their new dwelling, saying,
I, like thee, was instructed when young by priests to worship an invisible god. But an old woman in whom I had great confidence once said to me, "Why worship a deity whom you cannot see, when there is the Moon in all her splendour visible? Worship her. Invoke Diana, the goddess of the Moon, and she will grant your prayers." This shalt thou do, obeying the Vangelo, the Gospel of (the Witches and of) Diana, who is Queen of the Fairies and of the Moon.*
Saint Jerome observed from just outside the apartment, peering through a window. Witnessing the ceremony caused him great injury for he had, millennia ago, sworn off all pagan texts. Still, he felt a twinge of camaraderie with the misguided boy as he too once had wandered, seeking guidance from those in the houses of knowledge and, failing that, had sought direct communication with the spirits.
The spell drew the Destroying Angel to the new location. Listening, she hovered over the roof of the complex, a translucent, black shadow disguised against the night sky.
Douchebag J. Troglodyte also was summoned by the spell, though he had not been expressly bidden. He observed the humble apartments and smiled at the dilapidation already encroaching on the building. He knew what this decay signaled and he was pleased, because he shared with his namesake a love for the poorly educated.†
*Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, edited by Charles G. Leland, London, David Nutt, 1899.
full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
†Donald J. Trump, Reno, Nevada, February 23, 2016.
full text: speech transcript.
written while listening to: Ornette Coleman - Sound Museum - Three Women (Harmolodic, 531 657-2, 1996, United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 3, 2017
Just over a week had passed since the newspaper had printed Mr. Gardener's column on the Renegades. In that time, he had already published another column on the rich history of an aging, local building, recently scheduled for demolition. However, on Monday, Mr. Gardener continued to receive correspondence, both email and, in the early afternoon, letters by post, in reference to the earlier column. These letters differed in detail but were variations on a similar theme. They contained lists of names of people who had seen fit to respond to the column by signing up for the American Muslim Registry. Some of the lists were typed and contained not only names but telephone numbers and email addresses as well. Some were less formal; one letter came from a family of five and contained only the names of the members of that family. Several individuals sent emails with no further instruction than, "Add my name to the Registry." One handwritten list came from a local swimming team and their various friends and family members; the wrinkled paper appeared to have passed through several damp hands.
Mr. Gardener printed out the correspondences that had arrived electronically. He gathered them in a manila folder. All told there were just over fifty names. He thought he would wait a few more days to collect late additions to the Registry, before delivering them to Omar. Flipping through the folder, Mr. Gardener ruminated on the family connections present in the various lists. This line of thinking led him to contemplate the definition of "close family" provided by the president's administration in the wake of the partial implementation of his Muslim travel ban. According to the president, "close family" explicitly did not include "grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés and any other 'extended' family members."*
*"Stepsister, Yes; Grandma, No: U.S. Sets Guidelines for Revised Travel Ban", Gardiner Harris and Ron Nixon, New York Times, June 28, 2017.
full text: New York Times.
written while listening to: Cecil Taylor - Olu Iwa (Soul Note, 121 139-2, 1994, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
July 4, 2017
To Oscar's delight, he discovered that two tenants in the apartment had unsecured wireless internet access. He woke up early on Independence Day and wandered through the internet until he came upon this quote by John Adams,
But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory.*
Later, when the sky had darkened enough for fireworks, Oscar and his mother had intended to visit a spot where they could watch the city display launched from a barge on the river. However, an inebriated man, inspired, if not by patriotic fervor, then by the few bottle rockets being discharged in the parking lot of the apartment complex, chose to celebrate by shooting a pistol in the air. Oscar's mother therefore would not allow him to leave the apartment. Rather, she called the police and, instead of bombs bursting in air, they were treated to the flashing red and blue lights of several squad cars.
*Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration...", Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.
full text: Massachusetts Historical Society.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton - 10+1tet (Knoxville) 2016 (Braxton Bootleg, BL040, 2016, United States, mp3, discogs.com)
July 5, 2017
On the evening after the holiday, Mr. Gardener stopped by Omar's house to drop off the folder of additions to the registry. Omar's parents viewed his appearance at their doorstep with some ambivalence. Perhaps, they had hoped to have seen the last of him--that their son's ill-advised foray into civil disobedience would slowly taper off and disappear, leaving no ill effects in its wake. They were therefore dismayed by the contents of the folder for it undeniably represented the spread of the registry. At the same time, they understood that it was meant as a show of support. They were not immune to the good intentions of the strangers in their city, no matter how misplaced they might be.
Omar on the other hand received the folder ecstatically. "So many names!" He smiled from ear to ear, as he flipped through the pages. Turning to his parents, he announced, "A swimming team signed!"
In parting, Mr. Gardener said that he would continue to accumulate any stragglers to arrive in his mailbox. Based on his experience, columns generated responses that trickled in for weeks afterward. He promised to bring them by periodically, as Omar was the custodian of the registry.
After Mr. Gardener bid the parents farewell, the boy escorted him onto the front porch. A moving truck was unloading across the street. "Oscar's gone," Omar explained. When the columnist asked to where he had moved, Omar provided the name of the complex, adding, "It's like six miles from here. He said he might try to bike it one day."
written while listening to: John Zorn - Cobra (Hat Hut Records, ART 2034, 1987, Switzerland, lpx2, discogs.com)
July 6, 2017
Oscar's mother returned to work on Thursday, making it his first day on his own at the apartment complex. He took the opportunity to investigate the local surroundings. The complex was composed of three long, three-story buildings, designated A, B and C. Each floor contained six one-story apartments, for a total of fifty-four units labeled from A-1 to C-18. Oscar and his mother occupied the last unit on the third floor, C-18. External walkways and stairs provided access to each apartment.
The complex had been constructed adjacent to several acres of land, either too hilly to develop or pitted with sinkholes. Thick woods claimed this space. The buildings were not aligned parallel to each other, but rather had been arranged to correspond to flat tracts in the land. Thus, the backs of building B and C almost formed a "V", with the foot of a sizeable hill extending down into the mouth of the "V".
After the gunfire on Independence Day, Oscar judged that a pacification spell was in order. Such a spell lay within the school of Abjuration as its primary intent was to ward off violence.
The incantation had to be recited as one walked the perimeter of the area to be affected. Researching the limits of the spell, Oscar determined that he could not protect the entire complex. Therefore, he walked only about building C. Part of this circumnavigation forced him to climb through the underbrush of the slope separating building C from building B. While doing so, he stumbled upon two men engaged in an illegal transaction. Neither man recognized Oscar as a tenant, recently arrived as he was. They saw only a boy, mumbling to himself, whom they sent back the way that he had come with a shouted command containing vulgarities that we shall not reprint here. Consequently, the pacification spell failed and no protection was to be granted to the tenants of building C until Oscar worked up the courage to try again.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, Rune 350/351/352/353, 2012, United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
July 7, 2017
Saint Jerome spent the day in Oscar's company. He stood resolutely beside the boy, who had pulled a kitchen chair onto the ledge outside the front door. Over the iron railing, Oscar could see the sporadic activity in the parking lot. For a while, he snaked an extension cord through a crack in the doorway and read on the laptop. Both boy and saint remained vigilant lest the men whom Oscar had disturbed yesterday espied the boy and threatened him further. Oscar calculated that, if he abandoned the chair to its fate, he could jump inside with the laptop in just a few seconds, locking the door behind him. He resisted the urge to rehearse the maneuver. He briefly wondered about the sturdiness of the door; he had no cell phone to call for help if he became trapped inside.
Saint Jerome had a specific lesson in mind to teach Oscar, which surprisingly concerned the spell catorthoseis (Abjuration). "Your external environment appears to have changed," lectured the saint, "though the true nature and extent of the change can only be determined with further exposure." He looked down at the boy, who was still, listening intently.
"You cannot change one external circumstance into another through the application of catorthoseis," he explained to his pupil. "You must come to understand that the intended target of performing right acts along the right road will not be found externally. Rather, the principle subject of the spell catorthoseis has always been the caster."
The lesson did not strike the boy with the force of a revelation but did lodge within him, dormant for the time being. Some readers may find it hard to believe that such a simple truth had not occurred to Oscar, given his penchant for introspection, but many are those who can be counted as late-comers to the cause of wisdom. If nothing else, remember that Oscar was yet a child, soon to enter the seventh grade.
written while listening to: Keith Tippett - Une Croix Dans L'Océan (Les Disques Victo, VICTO cd031, 1995, Canada, cd, discogs.com)
July 8, 2017
On Saturday, Oscar had his mother drop him off at the downtown library. She had other errands to run and intended to return to pick him up in a couple hours. He and Amanita arrived at the same time. It had only been a week since he had moved into the apartment but, in that time, he had not seen another member of the Renegades. He greeted Amanita with an enthusiasm that took her aback. When he told her about his new apartment, she noted that he was now closer to one of the branch libraries than the central downtown library. This news only brought to the fore what Oscar had not yet admitted to himself--that he visited the library as much to see Amanita, with her piercings, variable hair color and other gothic accoutrements, as he did to pick up new books. He tried to explain his lack of interest in the branch library as a result of its undoubtedly smaller holdings, but the lonely truth of the matter was made evident to Amanita all the same.
"I finished Aradia."
"What did you think?" she asked him.
"I liked the spells, but I need more powerful ones if I am going to make the world a better place. Do you have a recommendation?"
The librarian and the boy discussed several potential texts. In the end, she sent him home with a translation of the eighty-one spells of the Tao Te Ching. The ancient document dated from five hundred years or more before Christ. Over the course of millennia, countless individuals had found within that work guidance of a quality not easily discounted. When questioned on the matter, Amanita assured Oscar that he would encounter a due measure of abjuration.
written while listening to: Rodd Keith - Ecstacy to Frenzy (Tzadik, TZ 7406, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 9, 2017
Lamar went to visit Oscar at the house where he no longer lived. The significance of the different vehicles in the driveway did not register with him; the new owner had to tell Lamar at the front door that Oscar had moved. The barbarian recalled that a move had been scheduled, but, if he had ever been told the date, had forgotten it.
Although the barbarian had never met the transmuter (the former having rejected the invitation before the latter was permitted to rejoin), he crossed the street and knocked on his door. Omar's father answered. Luckily, he only felt a vague familiarity with the appearance of the barbarian; he did not, at that moment, recognize him from the mosque.
Lamar and Omar sat on the front porch. "It's nice to finally meet you," said the barbarian. "How goes the Registry?"
Omar informed him that their ranks had swelled since Mr. Gardener's column. He was astounded to discover that Lamar knew nothing of the column, despite having been interviewed.
"We don't get the paper at my house," Lamar explained.
Omar retrieved one of the several copies he had for the barbarian to read. He was waved off and eventually settled on reading it to him. Each word of the column recited in the boy's voice penetrated to the heart of the barbarian. Omar could see that his guest was affected but when he invited Lamar to reconsider his decision to join the Renegades, the barbarian slowly shook his head, saying, "It's not my way."
The barbarian didn't leave empty handed. Omar shared with him the name of the complex to which Oscar's mother had moved him, and the apartment number as well. "Will you go see him?" Omar asked.
The barbarian nodded. But he would have to do it when Oscar's mother was home; he had resolved that there would be no more sneaking around.
written while listening to: Keith Jarrett - Radiance (ECM Records, ECM 1960/61, 2005, Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)
July 10, 2017
The abjurer spent the better part of Monday in his bedroom surrounded by his brother's grimoires. When the books had been kept in a separate shrine, a place he had been forbidden to enter, Oscar had associated his brother's lingering presence with the books themselves. Now that he no longer had the luxury of a separate place and the books were arranged on a shelf within easy reach in his room, they seemed disconnected from his brother. Now they were Oscar's books. He had wrested them from the possession of his brother's spirit. He was the wizard now. Far from filling him with a sense of his own destiny, their acquisition evinced in Oscar a sense of abandonment. He could expect no support from the quarters of the dead. Worse yet, he had no one to blame but himself; his thoughtless desire to seize these books had banished the ghost of his brother. As the day drew on, guilt consumed Oscar. He wanted nothing more than to return the books to their shrine, but it no longer existed. The grimoires lay face-up, spread out on the bed, encircling Oscar. The exposed spells sought to leap from the pages of their own accord and to wreak what magic was borne within them to the detriment of the thief who had stolen them. Oscar succumbed to a deep despair. Such is the fate of many who are ill-prepared to spend untold hours in a physics-based solitude, which hides exquisitely well all avenues of ready escape.
written while listening to: Tomasz Stańko Quartet - Suspended Night (ECM Records, ECM 1868, 2004, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
July 11, 2017
In order to extricate himself from the predicament of his own making, Oscar had no other recourse than to delve deeper into magic. Fortunately, Amanita had assigned him the Tao Te Ching. After his mother departed for work, Oscar read the first of the eighty-one chapters, of which here we reproduce only the conclusion:
Truly, 'Only he that rids himself forever
of desire can see the Secret Essences';
He that has never rid himself of desire
can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould,
but nevertheless are different in name.
This 'same mould' we can call the Mystery,
Or rather the 'Darker than any Mystery',
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.*
Oscar immediately recognized the power of the spell and also accepted his own vastly incomplete understanding of its intricacies. Still, the message was clear. Ridding oneself of desire was an act of abjuration. There could have been no more explicit invitation, to one such as Oscar, to escape the hot, langorous days of July in the ineffable mysteries of The Way.
*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: Steve Lacy Trio - The Window (Soul Note, 121185-2, 1988, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
July 12, 2017
By Wednesday, Oscar's courage had begun to return to him. He ventured further from his apartment during the day. There were brief peaks of activity in the parking lot dispersed between lengthy lulls. Other tenants, confined to the premises either by circumstance or by choice, also observed from the metal and concrete walkways that lined the front of the buildings at each floor.
Oscar had entertained no intention of speaking to any of them, but he had to pass several apartments to leave his own. The door to one of the first-floor units, C-3, was almost always open. Several times, Oscar had quickly glanced inside as he passed. Each time, he found an old man, sitting in a worn lazy boy watching a small, antique, cathode-ray tube television. The man seemed on the precipice of frailty but nonetheless appeared to occupy the apartment alone.
On this day, he called out to Oscar as he passed. Oscar took two steps back to the doorway. The man rose to his feet and walked unevenly to speak to him. Upon closer inspection, Oscar noted that the man's cheeks and jaw were covered in a growth of warts and white stubble; he tried not to stare. Introducing himself as Jacky, the man asked Oscar to take his key and bring him his mail from the stand of boxes located on the opposite side of the street.
"The mail hasn't come yet," Oscar said.
"I haven't checked in a few days."
Oscar accepted the key and collected the mail, thinking about the unusual decoration of the man's apartment. Hung from the wall opposite the front door, reaching from the ceiling to the floor, was an over-sized Confederate flag. For children of Oscar's generation, the flag was a bygone, historical symbol now interpreted largely to convey racial intolerance. He wondered what significance it had to the old man that it deserved such a prominent place in his home. In any case, Oscar dared not ask.
written while listening to: John Abercrombie - Class Trip (ECM Records, ECM 1846, 2004, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
July 13, 2017
Gradually, Oscar came to know his new home. What struck him about apartment living was the density of human activity. It wasn't just that he could hear from time to time the sound generated by an odd movement in the adjacent apartment or the one below, but that he was witness to the various tasks that led people outside their homes, in a way that he had not been in his old neighborhood of well-spaced houses. For example, he often saw his fellow tenants taking out their garbage to the common dumpster in the parking lot. Others too watched him take out the garbage that he and his mother generated. In the old neighborhood, everyone had their own garbage can located in their own backyard. Taking out the garbage had been a much more private affair.
Oscar also discovered that the essence of human communication was laid bare in a manner that he had not imagined possible. Disputes of the most private matters, between husband and wife or mother and daughter, unfolded at volume in the public theater of the external walkways or the parking lot. The audience to these scenes was none other than the assembled tenants. The first time such an outburst broke out in Oscar's presence, he discreetly scanned his neighbors for their reaction. Observing what he considered a range of responses from mild disinterest to a sort of accepting patience at the slow progress of an on-going drama, Oscar quickly adopted this new form of social discretion. He could pass right beside a heated, expletive-filled argument, without showing any external sign that he had heard a word. It seemed to him a kind of magic; one occupied a parallel reality separated from the physics-based reality by a veil through which both acoustic and emotional information were incapable of being transmitted.
written while listening to: Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Barry Guy & Tony Oxley - Nailed (Free Music Production, FMP CD 108, 2000 (originally recorded 1990), Germany, cd, discogs.com)
July 14, 2017
When Oscar's mother arrived home from work on Friday, she forgot to stop at the mailbox stand and pick up the mail. Therefore, when she entered the apartment, she asked him to collect it for her.
"Sure." Oscar had spent too much of the day in the apartment. He climbed down the stairs to the ground floor. He noticed that Jacky's door was open, though the combination of heat and humidity had been sweltering during the day and, even approaching six o'clock, remained uncomfortable. Oscar could not convince himself that the old man preferred this temperature; it seemed most likely that he could not afford to run the air conditioner. It occurred to him to ask if Jacky wanted his mail picked up as well. Oscar leaned his head in the doorway and was about to ask. He observed the man seated in his chair, as always. The television played the news at a gentle volume. On a small folding table next to the chair, the man's dinner remained half-eaten. Beside it stood a half-empty glass bottle of beer. In the chair, the old man had fallen soundly asleep. The scene in the apartment of the sleeping man, his threadbare recliner, the microwave dinner, and the antique television struck Oscar as appropriate for the subject of a still-life painting. There was a kind of solemnity inherent in the arrangement of the individual components, as if an artist had positioned them to capture the early evening light just so. The oddity, of course, in this painting was the red flag crossed with two blue stripes bearing white stars upon which the scene was cast.
Oscar opted not to disturb the sleeper. He collected the mail and said nothing to his mother. He suspected that she would disapprove of any interaction with someone whom she could most favorably describe as "an old country boy".
written while listening to: New Air - Live At Montreal International Jazz Festival (Black Saint, BSR 0084, 1984 , Italy, lp, discogs.com)
July 15, 2017
Lamar knocked on the door of apartment C-18 on Saturday morning. He braced himself for he had planned his visit on the weekend, when he thought Oscar's mother would not be working.
When Oscar opened the door, so glad was he to see a familiar face that he almost rushed forward and hugged Lamar. He managed to restrain himself, knowing that such overt expressions of emotion were not the way of the barbarian. "How'd you get here?"
"I rode my bike."
"Where is it?"
"I wasn't going to carry it up these steps. I left it next to Rebel Dude's apartment. What's up with that?"
"You mean the flag?"
"Yeah. Does he always leave his door open so everyone can see it?"
Oscar nodded. "Always." He shrugged, adding, "I don't know why."
"Maybe there's a hole in his wall," Lamar suggested. He had a poster, hiding a spot from his mother where he had crashed into the drywall in his room. "A big one."
"Maybe," Oscar agreed uncertainly.
"Is your mom home?"
"No." Oscar imagined that this was what the barbarian wanted to hear.
"Have you made the world a better place yet?"
"I'm working on it," Oscar assured him.
Lamar waited for an explanation then asked, "Well, what've you done?"
Oscar seemed reluctant to answer at first. Eventually, in response to this question, Oscar chose to share a quote from the Tao Te Ching with the barbarian.
But from the Sage it is so hard at any price to get a single word
That when his task is accomplished, his work done,
Throughout the country every one says: "It happened of its own accord".
*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: Muhal Richard Abrams - Blues Forever (Black Saint, BSR 0061, 1982 , Italy, lp, discogs.com)
July 16, 2017
Cybil returned home with her parents from their two-week vacation. They arrived late enough that their typical Sunday plans were thrown askew. Instead of church and the family brunch, she ate a quick meal with her parents, who then busied themselves examining the accumulated mail. Jellybean had been left in the house and tended to by a neighbor. Cybil put him on leash and the dog reveled in her attention as he accompanied her over to Omar's house. Along the way Cybil noted the new cars parked in the driveway of what had been Oscar's house.
She turned and climbed the stairs to the porch. Through the door, she could hear Omar practicing the violin. Before knocking, she listened for a while to the muted music. She knelt and scratched Jellybean affectionately behind the ears and under his jaw. Omar's mother must have spotted them through the front window, for soon the music stopped and she appeared behind her son at the door.
Omar greeted Cybil with a hug. Her complexion had darkened noticeably with the prolonged exposure to the sun. With her long, black hair parted in the middle and the joyful way that she responded to the dog's own pleasure at her return, she struck Omar as more lovely than ever.
He ran inside to grab the folder of names of people who had joined the registry, which Mr. Gardener had delivered while Cybil was gone. She was suitably impressed at the number. What amazed Omar was that when he came to sheet with his name at top, he found at the bottom not the name of Rufus, but those of his mother and father, which had been added without his knowledge. He looked over at his mother, kneeling beside Cybil and tending to the dog. She opened her hands as if to convey to her son that she could offer no convincing explanation for how things had come to be this way.
written while listening to: Ellen Fullman - Through Glass Panes (Important Records, Imprec 336, 2011 , United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 17, 2017
When Cybil told her mother, over breakfast, about the additional names that Mr. Gardener's column had generated, she made her daughter immediately walk over to Omar's house and retrieve a page from the folder so that she too could join. Cybil shortly returned with Omar and the folder. Cybil's mother signed just below Omar's parents. Cybil's father had returned to work. They debated whether a wife could register a husband in his absence. "He would want me to," she assured Omar. He shrugged and Cybil's mother proceeded to add her husband's name as well. She seemed very pleased with herself. She positioned the sheet on an end table in a square pane of light entering through a south-facing window. She took a photograph of it with her phone and then posted it to her various social networking sites.
Most of the thousands of people in her social circles had either already forgotten about the column, which had been published almost a month ago, or had never heard of it. Thus the posts generated renewed interest in the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. The controversies surrounding the president continued to be a source of widespread interest, though of late attention had been focused on previously undisclosed meetings of members of his family with agents representing the Russian government. This general current of interest in the president helped circulate the post broadly.
"Is it going viral?" her mother asked Cybil later in the day.
"You can't call it viral until it has a million likes."
Her mother frowned; the post had barely ten thousand likes.
What neither mother nor daughter considered was that the posted list contained the distinctly Middle-Eastern names of Omar and his parents. An intrepid reader could therefore easily identify them as the family referenced in Mr. Gardener's column and, with a nominal amount of internet searching, locate their place of employment and residence.
written while listening to: Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (Columbia Records, GP 26, 1970 , United States, lpx2, discogs.com)
July 18, 2017
The heat remained oppressive. The only way to find relief while outside was to keep to the cover of shade. Cybil led Omar out to the tree-lined greenway behind her house. Through the thin margin of trees that separated the path from the river, they could see the sun reflecting off the ripples caused by a slight breeze blowing upstream. There was never much commercial river traffic, though the various dams did possess locks large enough for barges. Recreational craft appeared almost exclusively on the weekends. Thus, Cybil and Omar observed only waterfowl as they walked--a great blue heron and a snowy egret. Cybil pointed out the vigorous, mechanical rattle of the belted kingfisher that made a home in the trees near Cybil's house, when it called out at their approach.
She told him what there was to tell about her vacation. "My cousins met us there. We just hung out on the beach and went swimming every day. One night we drove down to a turtle sanctuary. We saw sea turtles come to the beach and lay their eggs." She looked over at Omar. "The summer is almost over. Is your family going to take a vacation?"
"My parents had a plan. We had family coming from Tehran. They were going to spend a few days here and then we were all going together to New York City. But the president's travel ban made things uncertain. It's just as well that they didn't purchase tickets because the ban we have now doesn't include cousins as close family. The kids are my cousins so they couldn't have come anyway. My mother says that we waited too long for the courts to decide and now we are not going to New York either."
written while listening to: The Leaders - Out Here Like This (Black Saint, 120119-1, 1988, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
July 19, 2017
Unlike Mr. Gardener, who, through repeated exposure, had become inured to obscene feedback, Cybil's mother had avoided such experiences and therefore never developed an analogous resistance. As a result, she was horrified when she discovered that her post of the registry on social media had triggered a number of virulent replies. Certainly the likes outnumbered the dislikes by a hundred to one, but what the negative comments lacked in number they made up for in the intensity of their vitriol.
When her husband came home from work and Cybil was walking the dog with Omar, she read a few out loud. One poster ended with the statement, "If you don't like it here, go back where you came from!" She looked to her husband, "Go back where I came from? I was born and raised in this town."
Her husband assured her that she could not refute the antagonistic posts with logic because they were not written in reason but in passion and in hate.
She read another comment which began, "America doesn't need murderous traitors like you, you dirty jihadi b..." She trailed off, reading silently. Even then, she encountered too many racial slurs to continue. "Shouldn't we call the police?" she asked her husband.
He took the tablet from her and read through many of the negative comments. He did not find any outright death threats. "As near as I can tell," he concluded, handing the device back, "they are exercising their first amendment right to free speech."
"It's hateful," his wife replied, setting down the tablet.
"Yes," her husband agreed. Eventually he convinced his wife that the angry words were those of downtrodden. futureless men, impotent to act in any other mode. "Be thankful," he told her, "that we are able to live in a different way." Later, Cybil's father went out to the garage and called the police, who confirmed his earlier suspicion that no crime had yet been committed.
written while listening to: Dave Holland Quartet - Conference of the Birds (ECM Records, ECM 1027, 1973, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
July 20, 2017
Following the family vacation, Cybil's mother resumed her routine of socializing, mostly with other mothers, and a few grandmothers as well. Some of the conversations occurred over the phone, but many exchanges took place face to face, at one house or the other. After quickly summarizing the activities of the vacation and concluding that she was glad to be back home again, Cybil's mother brought up her post regarding the Renegades, which continued to trouble her. As she conducted this discussion with a variety of individuals, she gradually discovered that the sympathy which she had sought was generally not forthcoming. Although the sentiment was not always directly expressed, Cybil's mother, who was adept at reading between the lines in social situations, understood that her peers disapproved of her action, despite the fact that several of them had "liked" the post on the internet. It seemed that pushing a like button was as simple and meaningless a gesture as asking, "How are you doing?" without having any expectation of a reply. These conversations in which Cybil's mother probed only a little deeper revealed the truth.
One woman, a generation older, said most clearly what others must have been thinking, "If you stick your hand in a hornet's nest, you shouldn't be surprised when you get stung."
Cybil's mother lived in a deeply conservative state that had voted by a five to three margin for the president. In retrospect, she might have anticipated the prevailing attitudes of her neighbors, though they struck her now as uncharacteristically callous.
written while listening to: Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins - Which Way is East (ECM Records, ECM 1878/79, 2004, Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)
July 21, 2017
Cybil often accompanied her mother on social calls disguised as errands. Typically, the ostensible purpose of the visit was to drop off a recipe or a book, while the real motivation lay in chatting with old friends or, sometimes, exchanging gossip. If the hostess of the gathering had children of a similar age, Cybil was allowed to drift off into another room. If there were no children or, as in the case today, an infant sleeping in its crib, Cybil was expected to remain in the company of the older women. It served as a kind of indoctrination regarding the ways of her people and a rite of passage that would in the future grant her unfettered access to information to which outsiders were not privy.
In addition to her mother and the hostess, two other women were present. One of them, Alice, had gone to elementary school with her mother. Though not especially close, they shared a long, common history. The others, though not native to the city, had arrived a decade or more ago and had gradually become fixtures in the neighborhood.
Cybil's mother felt compelled to bring up the Registry and the scandalous responses it had generated; the discussions at these meetings rarely entertained such provocative subjects. In the course of the conversation, she sensed a growing unease with the topic, culminating with one of the women suggesting that the Registry was--didn't she think?--a rather unfashionable organization and asking her, in an off-handed manner, "How long have you lived here?"
This seemingly innocent question struck Cybil's mother in much the same manner as the post that had told her to go back where she came from. It seemed as if, even among friends, her credentials were being revoked right before her very eyes. She turned to Alice to vouch for her lifelong history but found only sheepish, downcast eyes, offering no support at all. None of the nuances escaped Cybil, who witnessed the entire exchange.
written while listening to: Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM Records, ECM 2494/95, 2017, Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)
July 22, 2017
On Saturday, Oscar felt the world coming apart at its seams, although it could have been just a trick resulting from a temporary imbalance in brain chemistry. Regardless, the feeling of global dissolution threatened to tear him apart as well. He sought a remedy in magic. His instinctive reaction was to invoke catorthoseis, which had taken on the role of a panacea against all malaises, earthly and otherwise. However, he was distracted by a perverse notion to embrace the sensation rather than abjure it. He did not know where the impulse came from but he cast globe of vulnerability upon himself.
As if in a daze, he wandered into the parking lot. The universe did not share its purpose in doing so with Oscar but it nevertheless guided him to a narrow space between two parked cars where he encountered a tenant named Jody, a woman in her mid-thirties employed as a licensed practical nurse in the local hospital. She sensed the befuddlement of the boy and assumed that he was on drugs. She warned him to move away lest he be run over when she backed out her car. He stepped backward wordlessly. Something in the boy's uncertain motions registered with her. Watching him for a few moments, she began to doubt her initial assumption. "Are you okay?" she asked. From this simple query, a short conversation followed, in which Oscar revealed that he was a new tenant in the complex. When asked what he was doing, he replied, "Waiting for school to start." He subsequently revealed that he was left to his own devices during the day. This admission prompted an invitation from the nurse. "My brother is also home alone during the day. You might look him up. You two could keep each other company. His name is Zepha. We live in B-9."
written while listening to: Mary Halvorson Octet - Away with You (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-024, 2016, United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 23, 2017
Oscar spent Sunday with his mother. They ran errands in the morning. The city was in the midst of a heat wave with the temperatures reaching the mid-nineties. In the afternoon, she took him to a local public pool. The apartment complex had its own pool located in the gap between buildings A and B, but it remained empty, covered with a leaf-strewn tarp. Neither had inquired as to the issue with the pool.
Meanwhile, White Tito went to Zepha first. The owl spirit found in Zepha an accommodating soul who pronounced it not at all unusual that a creature of the world beyond should pay him a visit. Of course, it did not take White Tito long to recognize that the man's nonchalance had good reason; he was an accomplished wizard.
White Tito inquired as to the school to which Zepha adhered and learned that it was Evocation, which gave the owl pause. Evocation is often considered the most powerful, or at least dramatic, school of magic because evoking the potential of the elemental world is accompanied frequently by spectacular side-effects. Classic spells such as fireball, lightning bolt and ice storm all hail from the School of Evocation. White Tito was surprised; often evokers let their power go to their head, adorning themselves in star-covered robes that announced to all the magnificence of their vocation. In Zepha, the owl found a quiet, unassuming wizard. In time, he would come to understand that Zepha practiced Evocation of an uncommonly subtle variety.
written while listening to: Ghazal - The Rain (ECM Records, ECM 1840, 2003, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
July 24, 2017
Trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder in which some portion of a third copy of the twenty-first chromosome is present. In the Western World, it is also known as Down syndrome, named after the British physician, John Langdon Down, who described the symptoms in 1866. Historically, about one in one thousand children born to women in their twenties possess this chromosomal abnormality. Individual instances of Trisomy 21 are thought to originate due to chance. However in general the presence of Trisomy 21 and other genetic disorders are a result of the basic system for propagation of the species, in which the underlying recombination of parents' DNA results in a distribution of individuals possessing a range of characteristics within a population. The mixing of DNA is the essential mechanism by which biological evolution occurs and thus by which humans and all other species in their current forms have come into being.
From this point of view, the presence of individuals with Trisomy 21, who are commonly acknowledged to have diminished physical and intellectual capacities, is an essential element of humanity as a whole. Without the process from which they emerged, we too could not emerge. That such individuals are thought of as weak should best be considered a necessary, inverse reflection of those we admire as physically or intellectually strong.
Of course, weakness often goes unappreciated. Weakness requires a commensurate strength of a mother and her family and community to accommodate. Statistical studies indicate that today a majority of pregnancies diagnosed with Trisomy 21 are terminated. We are careful here to offer no moral judgment; the making of such a decision lies outside our experience. We note only that the traits required for proficiency in magic are not those needed for physical prowess or intellectual sophistication. As such, Zepha, a man with thirty-one years of experience living with Trisomy 21, had honed his skills along an avenue in which his individual abilities were best suited.
written while listening to: Ornette Coleman - Change of the Century (Atlantic Records, 1327, 1960, United States, lp, discogs.com)
July 25, 2017
It is indeed a rare individual who can readily set aside a lifetime of indoctrination regarding societal standards for beauty and merit. Some scholars argue that the appeal of certain harmonious traits is in fact ingrained in our DNA. For those who have had limited interaction with individuals lying at the margins of the genetic distribution of our species, our movements may be inhibited. We may tread uneasily not knowing what to expect. Such thoughts subconsciously slowed Oscar's steps as he emerged from the stairs onto the second-floor walkway of building B. He had espied Zepha sitting on a chair outside his apartment, but it was not until he drew close that he recognized the characteristic facial traits of Trisomy 21.
Oscar and Zepha stared at each other across a distance of no more than a dozen feet. It fell to Zepha to break the silence; he had been alerted by his sister two days earlier that she had extended an invitation to a neighbor boy named Oscar to come visit him. He had not forgotten, but had been waiting patiently. "Oscar," said Zepha with certainty.
Oscar nodded. "Yeah. Are you Zepha?"
Zepha pointed with a thumb toward his chest and confirmed, "Zephaniah."
Oscar took a few steps forward. "Zephaniah," he repeated. "That's a funny name."
"Treasure," said Zepha.
"Zephaniah means treasure."
The meaning of names was familiar territory to Oscar. He took another step forward. "Oscar means deer-loving."
Zepha raised his hands above his glasses to his forehead and extended his stubby fingers as if they were antlers. "Deer?"
Oscar nodded again. "I know. It doesn't make any sense to me either."
written while listening to: Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Saturn (Leo Records, CD LR 786, 2017, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
July 26, 2017
The Destroying Angel possessed her own sense of esthetics, which did not coincide with earthly mores. She preferred decomposition to composition and destruction to construction. She found that the wholly natural process of disassembly generated within her a sympathetic response that was lacking in assembly. By extension, she anticipated welcoming perdition rather than salvation at the expiration of her unnaturally long spiritual journey. Thus any judgment made by the Destroying Angel must be taken with a grain of salt.
She found, upon her first visit with Zepha, a harmony of features that pleased her. His sister had done a passable job at cropping short his hair, already sprinkled with gray. The sparse, wiry whiskers that lined his chin and jaw were retained, but trimmed to no more than an inch. Behind the thick lenses of his glasses, he seemed to continuously squint. In patches on his arms, neck and hairline, Zepha displayed dry, crusted skin, which persisted despite his sister's attempts to address it.
His sister also provided him with a set of clean clothes each morning. However, Zepha was not an especially careful eater and often, by the time breakfast had passed, his t-shirt would already be stained. He would therefore pass the day in what others noted to be dirty clothes.
The Destroying Angel found this aggregation of attributes profoundly admirable. It communicated to her an enlightened transcendence beyond the cares of the mortal realm. If such was the case, there existed a greater likelihood that this individual might share other perspectives for which the Destroying Angel found herself without like-minded companions.
written while listening to: Don Cherry - Complete Communion (Blue Note, BLP 4226, 1966, United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 27, 2017
The abjurer and the evoker met again on the walkway outside B-9. A morning shower had come and gone, though the sky remained overcast and thunderstorms were forecast off and on through-out the rest of the day. The evoker took his seat, unconcerned with the rain that had collected on the plastic chair. The abjurer remained standing.
"What do you do all day?" asked the abjurer of the evoker.
The evoker paused for a moment; he possessed a natural talent at creating an agreeable timing in the pace of a conversation. "Sit outside. Watch TV. Eat lunch. Play games." The list was recited with its own rhythm, as if it were a spell of memory of a prediction of things to come. "You?"
The abjurer did not want to be outdone by the evoker. He mentally prepared his own list. "Surf the web. Read a book. Eat lunch. Study magic."
The evoker demonstrated an incredible degree of restraint for he did not immediately pursue the topic of magic. Instead he asked, "What lunch you have?"
"My mom leaves me a lunch. There's an apple and carrots and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cookie."
"What kind of bread?"
"White," answered the abjurer.
The evoker nodded sagely then inquired, "Want to have lunch with me?"
Shortly before noon, the abjurer returned to B-9. He entered for the first time and ate lunch with the evoker at a plain, wooden table. The evoker's sister had prepared her brother a lunch, which also included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sandwich of the abjurer was indeed on white bread while the sandwich of the evoker contained whole wheat. When asked if he wanted to trade sandwiches, the abjurer acquiesced.
They ate mostly in silence. The evoker, obviously a powerful mage of considerable cunning, impressed the abjurer greatly with what seemed an endless spring of humility.
written while listening to: Christian Wolff - Ten Exercises (New World Records, 80658-2, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 28, 2017
As is the case with many holy persons of the church, both recognized and anonymous, Saint Jerome fashioned his life after the teachings of Christ. When Jesus preached the parable of the vineyard workers, he said, "So shall the last be first, and the first last."* As he stood beside the seated Zepha, Saint Jerome understood this parable well. The saint accepted the essential role of widows and orphans and all who are needy in the world. For without the vulnerable, there would be no opportunity for charity. Existing in a world in which one was deprived of the exercise of virtue could mistakenly convince someone that there was no need for charity or, worse yet, that one had, through lack of practice, lost the capacity for it. Still, Saint Jerome maintained some reservations about Zepha, who seemed possessed of an extraordinary surety.
Zepha folded his arms across his chest and rocked ever so slightly back and forth. If any of the musings of Saint Jerome had penetrated his thinking, he chose not to give any indication of it.
*Matthew 20:16, Douay-Rheims Bible, full text: biblehub.com.
written while listening to: Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble - Memory / Vision (ECM Records, ECM 1852, 2003, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
July 29, 2017
On Saturday, when Oscar was halfway out the door, his mother asked him where he was headed. He told her that he was going to visit the tenant in B-9. This was the first she had heard of Zepha.
"What kind of name is Zepha?" she asked.
"It's from the Bible," Oscar replied.
"Is he from a religious family?"
"I don't know," Oscar admitted. "We haven't discussed it. Must be." He let the apartment door close behind him and his mother did not pursue him.
At Zepha's apartment, Jody answered the door. "Oh, hi Oscar!" she said cheerfully. "Zepha's getting cleaned up. He won't be ready for a half hour."
Oscar had no desire to return home, so he sat at their wooden table. Jody stopped whatever she had been doing and sat down as well. "Zepha told me that he saw you almost every day this week."
"He's good company," Jody said, as if nothing could be more natural. "He's a good listener."
"He prefers white bread for his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over whole wheat," Oscar informed her.
The comment struck her as peculiar but she replied, "I'll take that under advisement." She scrutinized the boy. As was the case when she first met him in the parking lot, he seemed ill at ease and out of place in her apartment. "What do you boys talk about?"
Oscar looked her in the eye. He had no intention of speaking anything but the truth. "The only thing there is to talk about."
"And what's that?"
"What does that mean?"
"Making the world a better place."
"In that case," said Jody, breaking into a smile, "you have come to the right place. There's nobody better at that in the whole world than my little brother!"
written while listening to: Andrew Hill - Andrew!!! (Blue Note, 0946 3 11437 2 4, 2005 (originally recorded 1964 and released 1968), United States, cd, discogs.com)
July 30, 2017
As if obligated by something as absurd as a sense of destiny, Douchebag J. Troglodyte was the last of the incorporeal council to see fit to visit apartment B-9. He shuffled along petulantly, making it clear that he had better things to do. The spirit even went so far as to study his glamorous watch, which was frozen in time at the instant of his inception as an insubstantial being. He saddled up to Zepha, who momentarily glanced up at him before returning his attention to the human activity in the parking lot.
Douchebag J. Troglodyte had nothing new to say so he repeated old lies. That his statements would have no impact on Zepha seemed either impossible or irrelevant to him. "Last week a brand-new coal mine just opened in the state of Pennsylvania, first time in decades, decades."* He raised his hand acknowledging the echoes of thunderous applause of an adoring crowd from his victorious campaign.
The troglodyte observed a family speaking Spanish in the parking lot. He boasted to Zepha, saying, "Between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote."* He was annoyed that the injustice of these words too seemed not to sway Zepha. He became more irritated and noted the overflowing dumpster at the corner of the lot, which would not be emptied until Monday. "...the murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years."*
Zepha engaged in a familiar habit when he had something to say but the person to whom he wished to speak was unavailable for one reason or another; often they just innocently ignored him, thinking that one such as he could have nothing to say. He said the words to himself. His lips moved. A faint mumble emerged. To the uninitiated, the stream of muffled, unintelligible syllables could easily be mistaken for an incantation, in this case, one of banishment.
*"Trump's Lies", David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson, New York Times, June 23, 2017, updated July 21, 2017, full text: nytimes.com.
written while listening to: Vandermark 5 - Beat Reader (Atavistic, ALP184CD-X, 2008, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
July 31, 2017
"It's the last day of July," Omar said to Cybil.
"Summer's almost over," Cybil agreed.
The two children sat on Omar's front porch. His parents had hung a hummingbird feeder and three ruby-throated hummingbirds were buzzing each other in an attempt to establish control over the nectar within. The conversation was punctuated by the static of the high frequency beating of their wings.
"I told Oscar I would visit him at his new apartment," Omar said, "but every time I ask my mom to take me, she is too busy."
Cybil thought for a moment. "Agnes will take us." She rose to her feet. "Come on," she urged Omar.
"What? Right now?"
They walked to Agnes' house and found her idly occupied with two cats. It took little work for Cybil to convince her to drive them the few miles to see Oscar.
It was just past ten o'clock in the morning when they pulled into the parking lot. The dumpster had yet to be emptied. "C-18," Omar said as they slowly passed the first two buildings.
From a distance, they did not identify Oscar crouching beside Zepha on the second-floor walkway of building B. However, he recognized Agnes and her car. Omar sat behind the driver. Although he could not see her face, Oscar knew it was Cybil in the front passenger seat. He watched the car park in front of building C. All three exited the vehicle. Because the buildings were arranged like a "V", as the trio approached building C, they disappeared from Oscar's view.
They walked past Jacky's open door and said nothing of the flag. Agnes labored up the two flights of stairs. No one answered the door.
"Is this the right place?" Agnes asked Omar.
"It's what he told me," Omar said, though he couldn't be certain. After five minutes, they left.
From the walkway, Oscar watched the car circle and leave the parking lot.
"You know them?" Zepha asked.
"I used to."
written while listening to: Urs Leimgruber, Jacques Demierre & Barre Phillips - LDP - Cologne (Psi, psi 05.03, 2005, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
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