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
June 1, 2017
June arrived. Oscar knew what was coming, just as surely as if he had been the target of a bidirectional temporal diffusion spell. He could feel the inevitability of the future, as if pieces of it already loomed over him. Part of himself had similarly been cast forward in time and had already left this neighborhood. Yet signals of the present continued to be accessible to him. One such signal took the animated form of Omar.
The two boys headed for the quarry. Jellybean did not disturb their passage through the vacant lot. The trees overhanging the greenway provided a nearly continuous path of shade. In what had only weeks earlier served as their school backpacks each boy had a bottle of water and granola bars for their trek into the wilderness.
Upon their arrival at one of the quarry pits, they sought out an exposed gap in the rock, leading to an underground spring. Cold air emanated from the vent in the Earth. Oscar watched Omar eat his granola bar. He recalled his own fasting during Lent. Although the abstention had resulted in somewhat ambiguous effects, it had not been completely without worth. "You are not fasting during Ramadan?" Oscar asked.
Omar shrugged. "My mom said I don't have to until I'm twelve. Besides, not every Muslim fasts in America. I'm not sure I will."
Oscar understood his reticence; Omar was a transmuter. Fasting was tied closely to the school of Abjuration, an esoteric practice to which not everyone was well suited.
written while listening to: Nicole Mitchell - Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records, FPE 012, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 2, 2017
Oscar had finally finished reading The Analects. He bicycled downtown and returned the book to Amanita. She had recently dyed her hair a deep burgundy color and wore matching lipstick. Although he tried to act in a nonchalant manner, his gaze kept returning to her hair and lips. It seemed strange to him for there were many piercings in her ears, nose and eyebrow that could have vied equally well for his attention. For her part, the librarian commented that he looked thinner than the last time she had seen him, at the party at Agnes' house, but he said nothing, neither of his illness nor of the fiasco at the mosque. Instead, he requested the next reading assignment.
Perhaps the librarian was annoyed with the boy over some unspoken slight for her choice of book was peculiar. Alternatively, perhaps the librarian simply wanted to provide Oscar with a brief respite after his lengthy struggle with The Analects. In any case, she handed Oscar a slim, worn copy of The Book of the Damned, by the American writer and skeptic, Charles Fort. Oscar accepted it unquestioningly. He flipped to the first page to discover the book had been published in 1919, though he held a more recent reprint.
Before parting, Oscar let Amanita know that Omar had rejoined the Registry.
"I'll have to meet him," she said, thinking of her pleasant encounters with the other Renegades, Cybil and Agnes.
"He's a transmuter," Oscar informed her.
"What is he going to change?" she asked.
Oscar replied with a curious expression, for his commitment to the Registry was so complete that he had forgotten that anyone else might not see things as clearly as he did. "The world, of course. The whole world."
written while listening to: Joëlle Léandre, Zlatko Kaučič, Evan Parker & Agustí Fernández - Quartet from A Woman's Work (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016, Poland, cdx8+box+booklet, discogs.com)
June 3, 2017
"They're going to change the world," Amanita said to Rufus. The couple paddled a canoe down the river. Since the dams had been built seventy-five years earlier, there wasn't much current and it was just as easy going upstream as down. They planned to travel to a preserve then alight on a small, familiar island. Amanita had packed a picnic lunch. She had suggested this outing because Rufus was as agitated as he had been since the night in November when it slowly became clear that the president had won the election. The source of his recent distress was the president's withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Accords on climate change.
"There won't be much of a world left to change," Rufus argued.
"Rufus," pleaded Amanita. "Stop it. We are supposed to be out here de-stressing. Don't spoil it." They found themselves in an admittedly beautiful stretch of river, densely forested on both banks. Sycamore and catalpa trees hung over the edges of the river. Rows of turtles sunned themselves on logs protruding from the water's surface. A slight breeze at their backs proved sufficient to propel the canoe upstream.
Rufus ignored her and stubbornly continued his litany of laments. "Nicarauga," he said, paddling from the back of the canoe. "Syria." He took another stroke. "The United States of America." These were the three countries on the planet Earth, which had chosen not to sign the Paris Accords.
Amanita removed her tank top and shorts, exposing her pale, librarian's body to the noon-time sun. In her bathing suit, she leapt from the canoe into the river. From the water, she splashed at Rufus every time he opened his mouth. It took some persistence and repeated swearing on the part of Rufus, but eventually a combination of the placid environs and Amanita's playfulness managed to soothe his ire, at least temporarily. He joined her in the water for a while before continuing to their destination.
written while listening to: New Circle Five - Dreaming Wide Awake (Deep Listening, DL 20, 2003, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 4, 2017
The spell minimal impact (Abjuration) shares some points in common with the better known spell pass without trace (Transmutation). The latter spell, as many know, allows the target of the spell to travel without leaving any footprints, scent or any other sign of passage, regardless of the nature of the terrain. It is particularly useful for those who do not wish to be followed.
Minimal impact takes that same notion and expands it to encompass all activities associated with living. A caster who spends a day under the influence of this spell leaves no sign of their existence, not in the record of the physical reality nor in the memories of those with whom they came into contact. Thus, great men eschew this spell for they measure the significance of their lives in terms of the breadth of their effect and the number of lives touched. It takes a lonely soul, who has abandoned the pursuit of matters of consequence, to find succor in minimal impact.
On a societal level, the fundamental concept of intergenerational equity motivates the conservation efforts of some human beings. They strive to leave the Earth for future generations in no worse shape than they found it. In this context, a communal version of minimal impact is exactly what is needed, though its casting requires the concerted efforts of millions of like-minded individuals. It is said that there is an on-going, underground effort to cast such a spell, though the preponderance of evidence to the contrary casts doubt on this claim.
written while listening to: Maya Homburger & Barry Guy - Tales of Enchantment (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 202, 2012, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
June 5, 2017
Shortly before lunch on Monday, the barbarian paid his first visit to the abjurer since the incident at the mosque. Neither was sure of the reception with which they would be met by the other.
"You survived," said the barbarian, whose last glimpse of Oscar was of him being laid in the back seat of the SUV by Omar's father.
Oscar took the opportunity to explain that it was not the actions of the barbarian that had caused him to faint. Far from it, he found Lamar's determination admirable. "It's just that I had been sick for a few days. I over-exerted myself biking over there." His words contained a great deal of truth.
Satisfied with the explanation, Lamar nodded knowingly. "Not everyone is cut out for the life of a barbarian."
With the preliminary exchange behind them, Oscar invited Lamar inside. They ate lunch, as if they were old friends. Oscar shared the latest spell he had created. The barbarian found minimal impact to be almost completely useless but, to his credit, he kept his candid observations to himself. Then Oscar shared a passage from the first chapter of The Book of the Damned. By its title alone, the book drew the interest of the barbarian.
Nothing has ever been finally found out. Because there is nothing final to find out. It's like looking for a needle that no one ever lost in a haystack that never was--But that all scientific attempts really to find out something, whereas really there is nothing to find out, are attempts, themselves, really to be something. A seeker of Truth. He will never find it. But the dimmest of possibilities--he may himself become Truth.*
The barbarian was pleased. He listened to Oscar read for a while, until he had to go to work. He promised to return tomorrow to hear more.
*Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, Boni and Liveright, Inc., New York, 1919, p. 14. full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Steve Lacy & Mal Waldron - Communiqué (Soul Note, 121298-2, 1987, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
June 6, 2017
On the following day, Lamar did indeed return to Oscar's house to hear more wisdom from The Book of the Damned over lunch.
"You can oppose an absurdity only with some other absurdity."*
"Wonderful!" exclaimed the barbarian.
It was in such high spirits that Oscar's mother found them. She had returned home from work over the lunch hour, because she had forgotten her lunch at home. Only as she entered did the anomalous presence of the bag and thermos sitting on the kitchen counter register with Oscar.
The three corporeal beings gathered in the room wondered if the mother would recognize the guest as one of her elder son's friends, one who had been in his company at the hour of his death. Only White Tito did not wonder, filled with the certainty of what would yet transpire.
An interminable silence filled the kitchen. The barbarian and the mother stared at each other, each failing to communicate that which they were unwilling to vocalize.
Pointing at the door, she whispered, "Out," to the evil creature inhabiting a human form, who had returned, evidently, to steal her second child from her as well.
The barbarian obliged her, rising to his feet. He further bowed to her as he passed her on the way to the door because, of course, one can oppose absurdity only with another absurdity.
Oscar's mother did not return to work as she had intended. She called in sick and, indeed for the rest of the afternoon, she was.
*Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, Boni and Liveright, Inc., New York, 1919, p. 17. full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Sun Ra & His Cosmo Swing Arkestra - Live At Montreux (Saturn Research, MS 87976, 1976, United States, lpx2, discogs.com)
June 7, 2017
Oscar's mother returned to work on Wednesday morning, sunk in a deep despair. She had left Oscar with a strong admonition against seeing the barbarian again. She had extracted from him a concession that he would obey her, but she put little faith in it; she realized that she no longer trusted her son.
The revelation had come when Oscar had admitted that it had been the barbarian whom he had followed to the mosque. Until yesterday, his mother had not known. She had been forced to balance her own ignorance with maintaining a functional relationship with her son. Once the identity of his accomplice was known to her, she had pushed for more information. "Have you been doing drugs with him?"
"Of course not," Oscar had replied but his protest had seemed too weak to her. She wondered whether she could ask the police for a restraining order.
Just before she left, she asked her son, "What are you going to do today?"
He stood in doorway to the kitchen, across the room from his mother, who stood with her hand on the front door. He looked pitiful to her in his outgrown pajamas. He gazed at the floor disconsolately, as if the whole world were conspiring against him. "Amelioration," he mumbled.
"What did you say?"
She stared at him. For a moment, the resemblance to his older brother was too great to ignore. She abruptly closed the door. She failed to hold back tears as she drove to work and had to re-apply her makeup when she arrived.
written while listening to: Annie Gosfield - Lost Signals And Drifting Satellites (Tzadik, TZ 8007, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 8, 2017
Oscar and Omar walked down to Cybil's house but, when her mother answered the door, she told them that Cybil had gone out with friends for the day. Jellybean was loose in the adjacent lot, so Omar and Oscar played with him for a while.
Meteorologists had forecast a late afternoon thunderstorm, but its effect in midday was to keep the skies overcast and the temperature cool. After a spate of chasing and being chased, Omar sat down in the grass. The dog, nearly as big as Omar, plopped himself in the boy's lap, pushing him back and pinning him to the ground. Omar laughed and Oscar joined him. When their laughter subsided, Omar asked, "Is it true you are moving at the end of the month?"
Oscar nodded. He explained the arrangement to Omar. "From Wednesday, June twenty-eighth to Wednesday, July fifth, I am going to see my father. My mother already bought the plane ticket. She said it is my Fourth-of-July vacation. When I get back, everything will be moved to the apartment."
Omar could tell from the tone of Oscar's voice that he was unhappy with the plan in general and the specifics as well. Still, he tried to be optimistic. He extinguished the impulse to say that he would visit Oscar at the new apartment, because he found it very unlikely that either of his parents would agree to drive him. Without them saying anything, he knew that they considered the departure of Oscar from the neighborhood a blessing. All Omar could manage was, "You won't have to deal with the hassle of moving day."
His words did nothing to soothe the great anxiety that swelled in Oscar over the fate of his brother's books. He had yet to tell his mother that it was utterly essential that they be retained in the move.
written while listening to: Mingus - The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse!, A-35, 1963, United States, lp, discogs.com)
June 9, 2017
The Imam received a request from a columnist at the local newspaper who hoped to write an article on how Ramadan was being celebrated by the local community of Muslims. There was only one mosque in this small city so it was natural that the columnist should direct his query to the Imam. For his part, the Imam encouraged all members of his congregation to act as ambassadors for their faith, himself included. They constituted a tiny minority of the city's population and numerous misconceptions continued to circulate regarding their customs and beliefs. First and foremost, it was essential to repeatedly present Islam as a religion of peace, utterly distinct from the perverted teachings of a few misguided individuals who advocated violence. The Imam agreed to the interview thinking especially to thwart the distrust, if not animosity, toward Muslims that the president continued to stoke.
The columnist, a Mr. Otis Gardener, was a lifelong resident of the town. He had been active as a young man in the Civil Rights movement. He was now in his early seventies and, having served in various capacities on the city council and in non-profit organizations, was a respected pillar of the local African-American community. Often his weekly columns were of a historical nature, recalling the experiences of local African-Americans during his lifetime and before, based on available records. He was a devout Baptist, but he counted as friends many converts to Islam.
The two men, though strangers, greeted each other warmly at the mosque. After introductions, the columnist began the interview. "Does anything unusual happen during Ramadan?"
"Ah," said the Imam through a broad smile. "Do I have a curious story to tell you."
Thus was the esteemed Mr. Otis Gardener introduced to the work of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry.
written while listening to: Lauren Newton, Joëlle Léandre & Urs Leimgruber - Out Of Sound (Leo Records, CD LR 337, 2002, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
June 10, 2017
When Omar's father received a telephone call from the Imam, he had no idea as to what the holy man might want with him, but he had a sinking suspicion that it was somehow linked to the events, which had transpired on the opening evening of Ramadan. He wasn't even sure how the Imam had gotten hold of his number; he tried to remember if he had left contact information on one of his early visits to the mosque.
They spoke in English because Omar's father was not fluent in either of the two native languages of the Imam, Darija, a Tunisian dialect of Arabic, and French. The Imam seemed unwilling to come directly to a point. He inquired about Omar and his mother, then opined that he hoped to see them at the mosque soon.
The obliqueness confused Omar's father, though he felt relief that no mention of the Registry was made. Certainly he was unwilling to speak for his wife, who had established herself as an independent woman. That she attended the mosque only rarely was a reflection of her modern, western unease with the separate and wholly unequal side entrance provided for women at the mosque. Women's rights in American Muslim communities was a topic that Omar's father had no interest in discussing with the Imam. He listened quietly while the Imam continued speaking, the conversation meandering through seemingly random topics, each properly punctuated with the praising of Allah. Eventually, Omar's father realized that the Imam wanted to say something that he could not bring himself to say over the phone.
When Omar's father hung up, he found his wife working in her office. "The Imam is coming to dinner tomorrow," he announced.
"What?" she replied, fixing her husband with a bewildered look.
Omar's father did his best imitation of one of his son's shrugs. "It was a strange conversation and, to my surprise, it concluded with an invitation, which he eagerly accepted."
written while listening to: David Murray Octet - Ming (Black Saint, BSR 0045, 1980, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
June 11, 2017
The Imam and his wife arrived late, after sunset and the fasting of Ramadan. His wife was a portly woman, garbed head to do in a sefsari, a long-flowing, cream-colored scarf that had fallen out of favor with younger generations. She said little during the introductions, but greeted Omar with a smile.
Omar's parents had already prepared a meal, in anticipation of their guests' arrival. Both had chosen to devote their effort to honing their professional talents at the expense of their culinary skills. As such they made a simple, traditional Iranian meal of lamb kebab, rice, apricots and a bread, lavash, that Omar's father had spent a good portion of the day baking. They served it in the western style at their dining room table. Despite the late hour, Omar was asked to join them.
Eventually, Omar's parents were made to regret inviting the Imam and his wife to dinner, for he casually mentioned the visit of a columnist from the local paper, with whom he had shared an account of the first night of Ramadan. This writer, he told them, was interested in contemporary experiences of today's youth in the continuing struggle for civil rights. He concluded by telling them that he had agreed to put the columnist in contact with the boys. "Do you know them?" he asked Omar.
"One of them," Omar admitted.
Omar's parents attempted to dissuade the Imam, saying that this was exactly what they had feared. In the current political climate, any media drawing attention to them could jeopardize their pending immigration applications. While their visa situation remained legal, both were seeking ultimately permanent residency, perhaps citizenship.
"I understand your fears. But your situation is relatively secure; others much less so. I have thought long on this matter. I have prayed for guidance. That children should speak out beyond their culture to strive for peace is too great a work to hide simply out of fear of the personal consequences."
written while listening to: Tatsuya Yoshida & Satoko Fujii - Erans (Tzadik, TZ 7247, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 12, 2017
Mr. Otis Gardener met Omar's parents in his mother's office in the molecular biology building at the university, where his father had also gathered. During the summer semester, the traffic on the campus was greatly reduced. The halls were quiet. Faculty were either absent or working with the remaining graduate students, laboring year-round toward their doctorates. The two men sat in plush guest chairs on the far side of Omar's mother's desk. They exchanged greetings. With a smile, Otis described himself in deprecating terms, as an old native of the city upon whom the paper took pity and allowed to write a weekly column, mostly reflections on bygone topics.
"I am Farhad," said Omar's father, "and this is my wife, Azar."
"I understand that your son created the registry as a response to statements made by the president during his campaign."
The parents nodded glumly.
Sensing, their unease, Otis said, "Let me begin by saying that I admire the fine job you have done in raising a boy who not only knows right from wrong, but is willing to act on it. That doesn't happen by accident."
Omar's father frowned. "You have misplaced your praise," he said, glancing over at his wife. "We have done everything in our power to discourage our son from participating in the Renegades."
"The Renegades of the American Muslim Registry," said Omar's mother, "that's what they call themselves."
Otis repeated it several times, allowing the rhythm of the syllables to roll off his tongue. "Beautiful," he said.
"It's hateful to my ears," commented Omar's father.
The trio talked for nearly an hour. Three points emerged from their discussion. First, Otis failed to persuade Omar's parents that the nobility of his effort outweighed the admittedly real threat posed to them. Second, they reluctantly granted the columnist permission to speak to Omar. Third, Otis, contrary to his usual practice, promised not to submit a column to the paper before sharing it first with Omar's parents.
written while listening to: Dave Holland Quintet - Extended Play: Live at Birdland (ECM Records, ECM 1864/65, 2003, Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)
June 13, 2017
On Tuesday evening, Mr. Gardener interviewed Omar in the living room of his parents' house. Omar's mother passed through the room twice during the conversation, not listening to it word for word but keeping loose track of it.
"Why did you create the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry?" asked the columnist.
Omar replied, "Because during the campaign, the president talked about making a database of all Muslims in America. If the government has a list of where all the people of a certain kind live, it makes it much easier if they decide to do round up those people or do something else bad to them."
"Was the registry your idea or your parents?"
Omar rolled his eyes and whispered, "My parents forbid it. I was grounded for a month."
"I think it is a commendable idea," said the columnist.
"If you like it so much, why don't you join it?" Omar asked.
"Isn't it only for kids?" To the columnist's knowledge, the registry was comprised only Omar and the two boys at the mosque.
"No, where did you get that idea?" Omar explained that Agnes was eighty-something years old and the librarian was an adult too.
The columnist requested a full accounting of the registry. The total came out to five, six if the columnist accepted Omar's invitation. They did not count the barbarian who had elected not to join.
"I would like to talk to them all."
"Oscar lives across the street." Omar pointed through the front window.
In parting, Mr. Gardener asked of Omar, "Are you the only Muslim on the registry?" When Omar nodded in assent, Mr. Gardener said, "You have done an amazing job. Already the Registry is diluted at a four-to-one ratio. Were the president's suggested database to meet with this kind of response, its effectiveness would be greatly diminished."
written while listening to: Illegal Crowns - Illegal Crowns (Rogueart, ROG-0066, 2016, France, cd, discogs.com)
June 14, 2017
When the columnist returned on the following day, Omar had intended to introduce him to Oscar. However, since Mr. Gardener had been unable to arrange permission to speak to Oscar with the boy's mother, Omar instead walked with him over to Cybil's house; her mother was also at home.
Along the way, Mr. Gardener praised the fullness of summer in the numerous, mature trees that provided a canopy over the sidewalks and streets. "This is a lovely neighborhood," he said to Omar. "You are fortunate to live here."
Omar nodded in agreement.
At Cybil's house, Omar introduced the columnist to the girl and her mother, then allowed him to explain in his own words his purpose in requesting an interview with Cybil. Both mother and daughter had read his columns in the paper; they knew him by reputation and were thrilled with the idea of an article describing the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. It seemed a way for them to make their own contribution to the rejection of the politics of division espoused by the president.
"How did you meet Omar?" Mr. Gardener asked Cybil.
"Jellybean chased him right into my house!" She hugged the dog in gratitude. The jubilation evident on her face caused the columnist to laugh, despite his attempts to maintain a professional demeanor. Omar, sitting nearby, blushed, while Cybil's mother looked on with pride.
"What did you say when he asked you to join?"
"I said, 'Yes!' of course, although at the time I thought it was a secret society."
"What do you hope to accomplish as part of the Renegades?"
For just a moment, uncertainty flashed across Cybil's face. Then she remembered a discussion with Oscar. "Amelioration, of course! Isn't that what this is all about?"
written while listening to: Jace Clayton - The Julius Eastman Memory Depot (New Amsterdam Records, NWAM045, 2013, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 15, 2017
Cybil escorted the columnist to Agnes' house on Thursday midmorning. She led him through the gap between the car and the house into the backyard. There they startled a groundhog nibbling at the cat-food remaining in the dish. It scurried off, slipping beneath the chain-link fence into the neighbor's yard and from there into parts unknown.
Agnes met them with lemonade and freshly baked oatmeal-raisin cookies. The aroma of her baking mingled with the odors of age and cats that ordinarily filled the house. The conjurer sat in her usual chair and her guests took seats on the sofa opposite the coffee table.
Their exchange of introductions took nearly ten minutes. Based on peripheral evidence, the conjurer was a decade older than the columnist. Cybil had not informed Agnes that the columnist was African American. Certainly, Agnes considered herself open-minded but she could not remember, in all the years that she had lived here, ever having a black man inside her home. This thought, like any new situation, set her on edge. Her anxiety returned; she half-imagined fantastic scenarios in which she might be forced to leave her home.
As a consequence, the interview was not especially productive. Each time Mr. Gardener asked a question, instead of answering, Agnes conjured a cat. They appeared as if in response to her growing unease. The first one was the tortoiseshell, emerging from the bedroom and coming to rest in her lap. One at a time, the cats appeared, surrounding the conjurer on her chair. She petted them affectionately, in hopes of dissipating her stress. Soon a half dozen purred about her.
When Mr. Gardener had exhausted his questions, he ended the interview, though he had garnered little new information. He thanked Agnes and told her, for the fourth time, how delicious he found her cookies. She smiled uneasily at him; it crossed his mind that she was sinking toward dementia. On his way home, he said a quick prayer for her health.
written while listening to: Louis Sclavis - Napoli's Walls (ECM Records, ECM 1857, 2003, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
June 16, 2017
Cybil had described the librarian as gothic to the columnist, so it was easy for him to identify her when he stepped into the downtown library. She was dressed in a matching blouse and skirt made of black fabric, upon which a pattern of silver, smiling skulls was printed. She was helping a patron and he waited off to the side until she was free.
As arranged, he had come during her break. They talked as she led him to a coffee shop on the bustling downtown square. "Oscar invited me to join the Renegades," said Amanita in response to Mr. Gardener's question. "He had been coming to the library and I had been helping him locate books on the occult."
"Occult?" The columnist raised an eyebrow.
"Oscar," explained Amanita, "is searching for a framework in which he can make sense of the world and his role in it. I am trying to aid him in the least obtrusive manner possible." Amanita added that she thought the idea of a column a good one, but stressed several times that her role in the Renegades was a minor one.
The columnist admitted that he had had trouble scheduling interviews with either of the two boys that had visited the mosque. For her part, Amanita expressed surprise that no one had informed her of the incident at the mosque. This was the first she had heard of it. Mr. Gardener described it as best he was able.
"On the first evening of Ramadan?" Amanita repeated. She covered her mouth.
"The Imam is a good and capable man," said the columnist, reassuring her. "His tact smoothed out the awkward impulsiveness of the boys. It was he who first mentioned the incident to me."
It comes as no surprise that these two intelligent and pleasant individuals shared an enjoyable conversation. When Amanita described the columnist to Rufus later that night, he expressed a keen interest in reading the forthcoming article.
written while listening to: Marilyn Crispell Trio - Storyteller (ECM Records, ECM 1847, 2004, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
June 17, 2017
The columnist visited the fast food restaurant where he had been told that the barbarian worked. He identified someone, whom he suspected to be a manager, as much by his demeanor as by his pressed shirt. Pulling him aside, the columnist indicated that he was working on a story on local social justice and wanted to interview Lamar.
"Yeah, he's working today," said the manager, uninterested in the details. "I'll give you fifteen minutes."
The columnist and the barbarian sat in a booth across from each other. Given the limited time, the columnist quickly introduced himself. "I'm Otis Gardener. I've already talked to most of the members of the Renegades." He explained the nature of the column he hoped to write.
The barbarian nodded. "I'm not a Renegade. They invited me but I said no."
The barbarian seemed conflicted and reticent to speak. Finally, he said, "I don't want this in the story."
"Okay," agreed Mr. Gardener.
The barbarian took a deep breath. "I was there when Oscar's brother died. If I joined that group and his mom got wind of it, she would make him quit." The barbarian frowned. "I don't know what you make of Oscar, but he needs the Renegades more than anyone."
Storing away this information, the columnist admitted that he had yet to speak to Oscar, an admission that caused the barbarian to register surprise; perhaps he had spoken out of turn. The columnist caught the manager glancing at his watch and looking their way. He hurried on. "What prompted you to go with Oscar to the mosque?"
The barbarian fixed him with a steady gaze. "The Renegades needed a push in the right direction. Who better than I, a barbarian, heedless of the personal consequences, to push them?" Lamar rose to his feet.
"One last question. How did Oscar's brother die?"
"Bad luck." When the columnist attempted to verify this cause of death, he found the police report described it in different terms.
written while listening to: Thelonious Monk - Brilliant Corners (Riverside Records, RLP 12-226, 1957, United States, lp, discogs.com)
June 18, 2017
At long last, the columnist sat with Oscar on the front porch of his home. The boy's mother had been present at his arrival, but had left to pick up the week's groceries. Neither was surprised since both Omar and Cybil had alerted Oscar to the fact that the columnist would seek him out and he in turn had let his mother know in advance.
"Why did you join the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry?"
"Amelioration," Oscar answered.
"That's what Cybil said." The columnist received no reply to this comment. "How do you think the Renegades can make the world a better place?"
"Catorthoseis." He said the word with confidence; as if he had been instructed to conceal nothing.
The columnist blinked. "I'm not familiar with that word. What does it mean?"
"It means right acts committed along the right road." The columnist nodded and had Oscar spell it. He added, "It's not my word. Marcus Aurelius coined it."
As the visitor jotted down notes, Oscar asked the columnist, "What do you do?"
Seated on the porch swing, the columnist explained that now-a-days, he wrote a weekly piece for the paper, columns in which he attempted to sway the opinions of its readership on some issue, new or old. "I try to describe things in a way that brings people around to my way of thinking."
"It's a skill," Oscar replied, "from the school of Enchantment, one of the eight disciplines of magic."
It was by this conversation as well as the other interviews, which he had conducted during the course of the week, that Mr. Gardener confirmed his suspicion. As was the case with many organizations, the disparate members of the Renegades had come to a common purpose hoping to satisfy needs at best peripherally related.
written while listening to: Seiichi Yamamoto - Baptism (Tzadik, TZ 7248, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 19, 2017
The columnist experienced difficulty with the column, though it certainly was not due to insufficient material. On the contrary, with all of the interviews that he had conducted, he could have written a week's worth of thousand-word columns. Rather, he struggled to articulate the over-riding narrative that had drawn the Renegades together.
As he often did when he had trouble writing, he went to visit his sister, three years his junior, who lived two houses down from him. He knocked on the door, as a courtesy, before letting himself in.
There he found three women, all quite familiar to him--his sister, his wife, and one of their childhood friends--seated at the kitchen table. They gestured at the fourth, empty chair and he obliged them by taking it. As soon as he sat down, his sister got up to pour him a cup of coffee. He had already had his quota of caffeine this morning, but he allowed himself to be served another.
The women dropped their previous conversation. His sister said, "Having trouble with your column? Elma told me some about it. How do you get yourself wrapped up in these crazy things?"
Otis shrugged, "I just don't have the sense but to poke my nose where it doesn't belong." He sipped at his coffee; it was decaffeinated.
His sister exclaimed, "Renegades of the American Muslim Registry! Lord have mercy, as if we don't already have enough trouble with the president being who he is."
"They may start something good," Otis suggested.
"We need it," said the third woman. She recounted a story in the paper this morning about a man driving a van into a crowd leaving a mosque in London.
Having settled herself back at the table, his sister asked, "What seems to be the problem?"
"I'm just trying to figure out where all their hearts are at."
"If you can't do that, it ain't likely that you'll write the truth."
"Amen," said Elma.
written while listening to: Joe Maneri, Barre Phillips & Matt Maneri - Angles of Repose (ECM Records, ECM 1862, 2004, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
June 20, 2017
Mr. Gardener returned to Oscar's house on Tuesday morning. Oscar's mother had already left for work, so the columnist, out of a sense of propriety, constrained his visit to the front porch.
"What do you know about magic?" the columnist asked.
"Enough to know that you are an enchanter," said the boy.
"You might be right." The columnist smiled warmly. "My mother, God rest her soul, used to always say that I was born with a silver tongue. I was always trying to convince her I was right and, every once in a while, I did. She said I was destined to be a lawyer or a preacher, but that's not how it turned out. She worked hard to raise me so that I would use this talent not for my own wicked gain but rather in the service of the Lord." The columnist glanced at Oscar, thinking again of the librarian's reference to Oscar's study of the occult. "Is there a spiritual motivation behind your membership in the Renegades?"
Oscar's response should be interpreted strictly as a case of poor timing, for he recently had completed Amanita's last reading assignment and the words of Charles Fort lingered in his mind. Had some other text been lodged in his memory, he likely would have answered differently. "As for a theology," he replied, "There is only one crime, in the local sense, and that is not to turn blue, if the gods are blue: but, in the universal sense, the one crime is not to turn the gods themselves green, if you're green."*
*Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, Boni and Liveright, Inc., New York, 1919, p. 174. full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Richard Crandell - Mbira Magic (Tzadik, TZ 8005, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 21, 2017
Otis and Elma attended a midweek prayer service Wednesday evening. Afterward, the couple stood in the parking lot as dusk drew upon them. Elma mentioned in passing to her friends that her husband was struggling with a column. This prompted a request for a preview.
Otis described the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry and there was not a voice among those assembled who did not agree that it was a righteous cause, irrespective of the fact that the president had not yet pursued implementing such a database, nor did it seem likely given his failing support by legislators of his own party that he would be able to accomplish such a task if he so chose. One man, in particular, the nephew of a friend of the family, argued, "It's important because it is one more manifestation of the rejection of the president's race-baiting policies." He turned to Otis, "Have you signed the Registry?"
"They did ask me to join," Otis admitted, "but I haven't committed yet."
The nephew found this hesitancy unacceptable. He strode to his vehicle and returned with a yellow legal pad. On the top of it, he wrote, "The Renegades of the American Muslim Registry". He handed it to Otis and ordered, "You sign first."
A small crowd, which would have otherwise dispersed after the service, had gathered in the parking lot. Otis signed in the failing light. The legal pad was distributed and everyone, without exception, signed it. When they were done, the sheet of signatures was given to Otis with the instructions to deliver it to the other Renegades tomorrow, as a show of support.
Thus it came to pass that the first written document associated with the Registry was comprised of the congregation of a black Baptist church, and contained none of the founding members, not Omar, nor Oscar, nor Cybil, nor Agnes, nor yet Amanita, the Destroying Angel.
written while listening to: Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tribute to Lester (ECM Records, ECM 1808, 2003, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
June 22, 2017
Mr. Gardener attempted to deliver the signatures to Omar on Thursday morning, but no one answered the door. He turned reluctantly and gazed at the house across the street. He found Oscar standing alone on the front porch, watching him. Crossing the street, he explained that he had unintentionally performed a recruiting role for the registry. He handed the list to Oscar, under the condition that he would deliver it to Omar later in the day.
Oscar looked at the first name on the list. "So you have joined the Renegades."
"I have," said the columnist, "but as a man who believes that all people should be treated with dignity, not as an enchanter."
To his surprise, Oscar replied. "I know how you feel. I didn't intend to join as an abjurer."
"The pursuit of justice isn't a fantasy," Otis said gently.
Oscar shrugged. "Martin Luther King had a dream. What's the difference between a dream and a fantasy? Those two words are synonyms."
The mention of King touched a sensitive spot in the columnist, who had been present at the King's speech in Atlanta in August of 1967. In under two months, fifty years would have passed since that day. "What do you know of Dr. King, Oscar?"
"I've read some of his speeches. I know that he said that he was proud to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. Is the good society realized?"
"Not yet," said the columnist, who then repeated it for emphasis. "Not yet."
"Then it's okay for me to be maladjusted."
"Oscar, this struggle is real," said the columnist, "Dr. King didn't cast a magic spell over the world. He worked tirelessly. He was beaten and did not fight back. He was jailed. Although the threat was great, he risked his life to champion equality for all until his life was taken from him."
"He prayed," Oscar said.
"Yes, he prayed for all," agreed Otis.
"A fantasy," insisted the boy. "Beautiful."
written while listening to: George Lewis - Sequel (For Lester Bowie) (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 111, 2006, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
June 23, 2017
As Omar's father read the print-out of the column that was to appear in the Op-Ed section of Saturday's paper, his mother read the list of names on the yellow legal pad, under the heading "Renegades of the American Muslim Registry". Omar, though he was dying to see the contents of the column himself, thought it best to remain standing silently as his parents digested the two documents. After a few minutes, they exchanged them. Omar watched his mother's impassive expression for any sign of how she would react to the column, but she carefully betrayed no emotion.
His father scanned the list of names; none but the first familiar to him. It required all of his self-control to check the impulse to shout at his son, so needless, he thought, was the danger to which they now exposed themselves. He allowed the words of the Imam on behalf of his son's "great work" to echo in his memory.
Omar's mother broke the silence. "Mr. Gardener didn't use the children's last names."
"We could still be identified by the context of the story without too much difficulty," answered the father.
"I suppose," the mother conceded.
"May I see it?" Omar asked.
With a glance at her husband, she handed the print-out to her son, who devoured it eagerly.
"Will you let him publish it?" asked his mother of his father.
He set the pad of paper down on the table. "Is it up to me?"
She smiled at him with a tenderness, which she hoped would soothe the anger certainly boiling within him. "No," she replied, "It seems that it was never up to either of us."
written while listening to: Gaping Maw - Two Improvisations (aRCHIVE, archive 20, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 24, 2017
Of the thousand-word column published on June 24, 2017, the last day of Ramadan, we reproduce only the fragments below.
Children inherently know the difference between right and wrong, even if they observe role-models acting contrary to this knowledge, even when it is the president setting the bad example. That children choose to abandon their better judgment is often a result of nothing more than a lack of viable alternatives. Sometimes, children must resort to creating their own alternative. Locally, a group of three children have founded an organization, the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. Formally established this year on the twenty-first of January, on the first full day of our current president, the Registry was formed in response to the president's threat to create a national database of Muslims living in and visiting the United States. The explicit goal of the Registry is to diminish the effectiveness of any database by filling it with the names of citizens of all faiths. The implicit goal is to bind together Americans of all colors and creeds in the rejection of divisive rhetoric and policies intended to set one American against another, Christian against Muslim, white against black, rich against poor.
The creation of the Registry is an act of civil disobedience. It is a cherished part of our American tradition, articulated in the first amendment, which guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech and assembly. As much as it is a reflection of our past it is also, one hopes, a sign of what is to come, as we continue to become an increasingly diverse society. The source of our future strength will emerge from organizations spanning traditional bounds and promoting our core American values. All of us must join the effort to protect vulnerable minorities not only because even children know that it is the right thing to do but also because, winds change, and we may yet find ourselves one day in need of similar protection.
written while listening to: Raz Mesinai - Cyborg Acoustics (Tzadik, TZ 8003, 2004, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 25, 2017
One consequence of the publication of the column was that Cybil's mother printed out a sheet of paper with "Renegades of the American Muslim Registry" in bold at the top. She prompted Cybil to have the Renegades sign in the order in which they had joined. After mass and family brunch on Sunday, Cybil walked to Omar's house and had him sign it first.
They crossed the street and found Oscar in low spirits. He was privately dreading the week that he was to spend with his father, though he said nothing on this account. Instead, he signed in the second slot, then offered the pen to Cybil who signed with a flourish. Omar and Cybil cajoled Oscar into joining them in a visit with Agnes.
Oscar was fairly sure that he had invited Amanita to join the Renegades before Agnes joined, but he felt the order of signatures was not especially important, so he again said nothing.
The conjurer had also, of course, seen the column in Saturday's paper. She had driven to the grocery store and bought a dozen copies. The three children thus found a stack of columns, neatly clipped from the paper, laid flat and square, each individually sealed inside a gallon-sized ziplock bag. "You will want a copy preserved," Agnes explained. Somewhere in the house she had old newspaper clippings from each time she, her husband or her daughter had chanced to be mentioned in the paper. Agnes signed their document. Before the children left, she arranged to take Cybil to the library tomorrow to get Amanita to sign it.
At this time, they did not speak of "the next step" for the Renegades. It seems unlikely that any of them had a concrete idea of what actions should follow. In Oscar's case, he was consumed by the fear that, when he returned from his father's and his mother had moved them, he would by dint of distance lose his membership as well.
written while listening to: Sylvie Courvoisier - Abaton (ECM Records, ECM 1838/39, 2003, Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)
June 26, 2017
On Monday morning, Mr. Gardener took a deep breath and spent several minutes in silent meditation before he ventured into the inbox of his email account. He knew that serving as the object of readers' ire came with the territory of being a columnist. The more provocative the topic of the column, the greater was the vehemence of the replies. Some readers would compose a letter to be published in the paper. Others preferred the instantaneous satisfaction of sending an email. Many of the emails he received would be littered with racial epithets. Some, apparently ignorant that he was a native son, would suggest that he "go back to Africa". If he could tell by the subject, as was often the case, that the email would neither make his day brighter nor educate him in some way, he would delete it unread. All the same, it would have fulfilled its purpose in letting the reader vent their spleen. One email he misjudged ended with the reader sincerely hoping that "the next act of radical Islamic terrorism targets you and your family."
Of course, supportive readers also emailed him; but from experience he knew that replies from readers with a negative view of the column outweighed the positive by a ratio of about ten to one. He had long ago made the decision to keep these emails to himself; writing the column was a kind of polite invitation to great impoliteness. While many thinkers, writers and readers alike, suggested that the tone of civil discourse had diminished greatly in recent years, Mr. Gardener, who had been writing a long time, recalled receiving hateful, violent letters long before email became a way of communicating. Rather than discourage him, the wellspring of rage that his columns periodically triggered reassured him that he was doing the right thing. There remained great need in today's society for the proclamation not only of the truth but of an optimistic vision not yet realized.
written while listening to: Leroy Jenkins - Themes and Improvisations on the Blues (Composers Recordings Inc., CRI CD 663, 1994, United States, cd, discogs.com)
June 27, 2017
Amanita had signed the registry when Agnes and Cybil visited her at the library yesterday. She had asked to hold onto it for a day or two, promising to deliver it back to Agnes, who was almost always at home. Rufus was out with friends on Monday evening, so she waited to surprise him until after work on Tuesday. Entering his apartment, she said, "Look what I found!"
Rufus heard her enter but did not make out what she said. Instead he initiated a diatribe on the announcement that the Supreme Court had partially reversed a lower court's ruling, which had blocked the president's Muslim ban. "From the same group of people that sold our democracy to the highest corporate bidder with 'Citizens United', we now have given the president reign to officially implement his religious intolerance, just to appease his rightwing base! Do you know what their argument was?"
Amanita had heard the news yesterday evening; she understood the court's ruling applied to an ambiguous but sizable group of individuals with no legal standing to bring the case before the court. However, given Rufus' mood, she allowed him to explain it to her.
"It means," he said, "if a person can be categorized as without rights, then they have no recourse in the courts."
Amanita agreed that the judgment boded ill for immigrant communities in the United States. "I have some good news," she said tentatively, in a moment of relative calm. She was astounded by the change in Rufus' temperament, when she showed him the registry and asked that he put his name below hers. "I put in a good word for you."
That evening, Rufus attended to the comforts of his girlfriend with more alacrity and diligence than usual, so pleased was he with her efforts to have him added to the ranks of the just.
written while listening to: Circle - Paris Concert (ECM Records, ECM 1018/19, 1972, Germany, lpx2, discogs.com)
June 28, 2017
On the day that Oscar was to visit his father, he sat on the edge of his bed and fretted. His mother had already packed a suitcase for him. The flight did not leave until the afternoon, so he had many hours before their departure to the airport to dwell on his misfortune. In midmorning, his mother, who had taken a week of vacation time to accomplish the move, received a lengthy telephone call. Oscar took advantage of her preoccupation to sneak out of the house, grab his bicycle from the garage and race down to Agnes' house; she had offered him refuge in the past. However, when the conjurer understood that Oscar had a flight to catch and was hiding from his mother, her imagination quickly concocted a scenario in which the police were dispatched to locate the missing child. Identified as a kidnapper, she was forcibly removed from her home. Agnes counseled Oscar to return to his mother. When her pleas fell on deaf ears, she ordered Oscar out of her house. Not knowing where else to go, Oscar next bicycled to Lamar's house. By chance, he found him at home. Detecting Oscar's anxiety, the barbarian broke his mother's prohibition against friends in the house and smuggled Oscar into his bedroom, locking the door behind them. The blare of his mother's television echoed past the door into the room. Lamar smoked half a joint while he listened to Oscar tell his tale. When Oscar's purpose became clear, Lamar had a vision similar to that of Agnes: the police burst down his door searching for the boy and, in doing so, seized Lamar's stash. Nevertheless, he let Oscar stay until he had to go to work.
Consequently, Oscar missed his flight. Upon his return, he found his mother strangely subdued; he could not know what she did not tell him, that the phone call this morning had been his father cancelling the visit at the last minute.
written while listening to: Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh - Ears Are Filled With Wonder (Trost Records, TR 147, 2016, Austria, lp, discogs.com)
June 29, 2017
Oscar's mother had hired a local moving company to transfer what furniture could be accommodated in the apartment from the house. Much would be left behind. A house-sale was scheduled on Saturday and Sunday to clear out what wouldn't be moved. As the neighborhood had a reputation for old houses and antiques (not entirely deserved in this particular case), the sale would surely be well attended.
It fell to Oscar to make sure all that which he desired to keep was out of the house before then. Of his own possessions, Oscar felt no special attachment, though he needed a bicycle and the computer that Amanita had given him for practical purposes. The contents of his brother's shrine proved an entirely different matter. Because the apartment had only two bedrooms, the shrine would be destroyed. Every scribbled picture, bent photograph and each plastic trophy called out to be saved. To spare Oscar this anguish, his mother had intended his trip to overlap with the move. Yet here Oscar remained and it was his misfortune to choose which mementos would be retained and which discarded.
Oscar took several pristine cardboard boxes from the back of the moving truck. He carefully unfolded them and taped them into the shape of right parallelipipeds. Into the first box, he arranged his brother's grimoires. When full, the box was so heavy that he could not lift it. The very weight of the box assured Oscar that his brother, insubstantial though he might be, was not being left behind. One of the movers brought a dolly over and, under Oscar's close inspection, loaded the box of books into the truck.
From across the street, Omar observed the proceedings but had not the courage to venture into their midst.
written while listening to: Pauline Oliveros, Roscoe Mitchell, John Tilbury & Wadada Leo Smith - Nessuno (I Dischi Di Angelica, IDA 035, 2016 (originally recorded 2011), Italy, cd, discogs.com)
June 30, 2017
Oscar and his mother spent their last night in the old house. One bed remained in his brother's shrine. Oscar had not slept in that bed since he had surreptitiously snuggled beside his brother as a much younger child. It seemed a gross desecration that he should now sleep in it, deprived as it was of the decorations that had identified the previous occupant. So, of course, that is where he slept.
His mother turned fitfully on the living room couch, which was too large to fit in the apartment. As she lay awake in the darkness, she understood just as well as you or I, that she had reached the apex of whatever prosperity she would know in her life. This night marked an abrupt transition in a decline along the social ladder. Poverty in America was strongly correlated with single-parent households. This argument was one that her husband had often referenced as a motivation for them to move beyond their disagreements. She also understood poverty was closely tied to home ownership; she would no longer build equity through mortgage payments but, as a renter, would instead transfer her income to a landlord. However, the reality of these economic woes was not the cause of her unease.
Her anguish, yes, let us call it by that name, stemmed from her isolation. Her husband had left her. Her older son was dead two years now from a drug overdose. She was losing her remaining son; she could feel it. His behavior appeared increasingly alien to her. It was as if an impenetrable wall was being erected between them, through which the motivations of her son were obscured if not entirely hidden from her. Were she to lose Oscar, she would have lost everyone upon whom her life's purpose was predicated. Unfortunately, what solace Oscar could have provided from his studies, regarding philosophical responses to interpret and mitigate suffering, he was not yet willing to share.
written while listening to: The Frontline - The Frontline of Jazz (Ponycanyon Korea, PCSD-00572, 2010, Korea, cd, discogs.com)
This work is made available to the public, free of charge and on an anonymous basis. However, copyright remains with the author. Reproduction and distribution without the publisher's consent is prohibited. Links to the work should be made to the main page of the novel.