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
November 1, 2017
Some people couldn't care less that the eleventh month of the calendar year retained a name designating it as the ninth month. Others were satisfied with an understanding of the historical events, which gave rise to this mismatch in nomenclature. Still others saw this incongruity as a sign of the pervasive resistance of the physical world to align with a logical and acceptable order.
For Oscar, the misnaming of the months September through December was a minor but perennial irritant. Why, over the millennia since January and February had been added to the calendar, had no one thought to adjust the names of the shifted months accordingly? Of course, this disparity was man-made. Much more problematic for Oscar was the apparent contradiction between the laws of nature and the moral goals of humanity. Survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak and vulnerable might be a fine way to evolve an ecosystem but it seemed a miserable philosophy by which to govern the actions of an individual or a community. That humans so often invoked physical laws in their own behavior and justified it as "only natural" seemed to Oscar a cruel joke.
He preferred to imagine a parallel universe in which the natural laws aligned more closely with a process of amelioration. In that distant realm, the annihilation of the weak was not a prerequisite for improvement of the species, much less survival. The spell that Oscar repeatedly dreamt of possessed the capability to rework the known universe according to this alternate vision. White Tito assured him that such a spell could be achieved only through cataclysm and its pursuit should, therefore, be discouraged.
written while listening to: Myra Melford, Zeena Parkins & Miya Masaoka - M Z M (Infrequent Seams, IS1015, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 2, 2017
The gala planning committee met again at the downtown library on Thursday night. This time the Imam joined them. Before they settled down to business, Mr. Gardener asked the Imam if he had managed to contact Oscar. He informed them that he had met the boy twice, once with a man named Zepha, whom Oscar also wanted on the planning committee.
At this announcement, Omar and Cybil's faces remained impassive. When asked if they knew of Zepha's condition, they both nodded. Cybil explained to the others, "He has Down syndrome."
"What possible objection can you have to him sitting on the committee?" the Imam asked.
"None," they assured him; they were not worried about Zepha. "Someone else," Omar mumbled.
The Imam initially remained silent; he had yet to speak to the second person Oscar wanted on the committee. He promised to do so soon. Then he would convey to Oscar the time and place of their next meeting.
With that, Mr. Gardener announced that he had come to terms with a local jazz band. Keeping their availability in mind, he had checked with several halls for rent as to possible dates. "There was only one date that made sense," he announced. "New Year's Eve."
"New Year's Eve!" Omar exclaimed. "That's almost two months away!" He had thought they were much closer to the gala.
"You're lucky it's that far away; we need time to raise the money for the band and the hall."
"Where will the gala be held?" Amanita asked.
Mr. Gardener had reserved both the large and small gathering rooms of the local black cultural center, a non-profit organization housed in a large Victorian-era house on the grounds of which several substantial additions had been made in years past. As he was a prominent figure in the local African-American community, the director of the center needed little convincing to reserve it for Mr. Gardener.
Having a definite location somewhat mitigated Omar's disappointment with the unexpectedly distant date.
written while listening to: Roscoe Mitchell - Discussions (Wide Hive Records, WH-0339, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 3, 2017
The Imam returned to the library with his wife in the early afternoon on Friday. Amanita had just begun her shift and had a number of items to take care of but she set them aside at the unexpected appearance of the holy man.
He introduced the two women. His wife, though she was conservative in views and reserved in her manner, made no show of reacting to the gothic librarian's appearance, not to the lavender hair, nor the black blouse, nor the matching black leather skirt and boots in which Amanita was adorned. Perhaps, her husband had warned her ahead of time.
The Imam had not come to take advantage of the librarian's services. Instead, he sought information on Oscar, which he had not wanted to solicit in the company of others. His wife stood silently beside him as he expressed this request to Amanita. The Imam further explained that a delicate task lay before him, if, as he suspected, Oscar's other choice for the gala planning committee turned out to be one of those suspected of vandalizing Omar's mother's vehicle. "How can I reason with Oscar?" he asked Amanita.
"Oh, that's easy," she said, her face brightening. "Find the message that you wish to convey in a book and then have him read the book."
The Imam thanked her for this advice. His wife smiled, her face round and pleasant in the outline of her hijab. Amanita watched them depart, side by side, from the library, then turned to the work of the day that lay before her.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Najwa (TUM Records, TUM CD 049, 2017, Finland, cd, discogs.com)
November 4, 2017
There is a philosophical stance that the one-hundred fourteen surahs contained in the Quran cannot be translated from Arabic into any other language. This view holds that any translation is only an approximate representation, which cannot be equated with the divinely inspired original. Nevertheless, the Quran has been translated into many of the world's languages. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, born in Bombay, British India in 1872, was responsible for a notable English translation. It was a pocket-sized edition of this version that the Imam offered to Oscar.
Oscar stood in the doorway of his apartment. He looked at the small black book, adorned with flourishes in gold-colored ink. "I haven't finished reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics," he said, though he had, in truth, given up, having not opened the book in a month.
"Put that one aside," said the Imam, still holding the book out.
Still, Oscar hesitated. "A priest asked me to read the Bible, but there were lots of rules that didn't seem very relevant..."
"It's true," said the Imam, undeterred, "that what you are able to gain from any book, especially a holy book, depends upon your attitude, your willingness to open yourself to its teachings, your patience and, most of all, your opportunities to reflect upon its message in solitude."
The Imam need not have been so eloquent, but his words struck a chord in Oscar who was introspective by nature. The boy accepted the book. "Thank you."
The Imam nodded. "I will come back in a few days. We'll talk about your other friend. We have a little time. The others set the date for the party on New Year's Eve." The boy's euphoric reaction to the announcement of the date provoked in the Imam a swell of joy. He intuited correctly that the boy desperately awaited a happy occasion. He did not understand, at this juncture, the pagan spell at the source of Oscar's rapture.
written while listening to: Richard Youngs - This is Not a Lament (Fourth Dimension Records, FD2CD98, 2017, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
November 5, 2017
Cybil had thought nothing of explaining to her father before they headed to church on Sunday that she intended to ask several members of the congregation, who either owned small businesses or occupied positions of authority within their respective companies, to contribute to defraying the costs of the gala. She was surprised when he did not condone her idea and went so far as to suggest that she make no such requests.
"Why not? They donate money to the church every Sunday."
Her father frowned. "It's not the same."
Cybil did not easily relent. She thought of a recent funding drive at the church for their sister parish. "They donated to repairing the church in Haiti after the earthquake. It was quite a haul. This is also a good cause."
Her father considered how best to state his objection. Finally, he said, "It's a political cause. It could be a source of division." In truth, he was not much concerned about the spiritual unity of the congregation. Rather, he maintained current ties or entertained ideas of future business relationships with many of these men. He did not want his daughter to spuriously jeopardize this network, formed over the course of decades.
She had already promised Mr. Gardener that she would make the pitch to several business owners at her church. He in turn had agreed to extend similar overtures at his own church. She good-naturedly had challenged him to see who garnered more support. She had seen a curious expression flash across the columnist's at the time; perhaps he had anticipated this difficulty where she had not.
written while listening to: Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, Sam Pluta & Peter Evans - Rocket Science (More Is More Records, MIM 133, 2013, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 6, 2017
Oscar wondered again which of the three illusionists would be best suited for the spell they were to cast. Time was running short, for within days the Imam would return and ask to be introduced to one of them.
Of the various spirits who visited Oscar, Douchebag J. Troglodyte took the most interest in this decision. He advocated that Oscar invite the white nationalist into the gala planning committee. Oscar had met the visitor at Lee and Charlotte's apartment but once and then only briefly. However, that encounter had proven sufficient to instill in Oscar a respect for the visitor's command over the School of Illusion.
"He is the most powerful of the three," said Douchebag J. Troglodyte, as if there could be no other criterion of merit.
Oscar nodded in agreement. Certainly, both Lee and Charlotte lacked the discipline of the visitor.
Sensing the boy's uncertainty, the spirit continued, "He is singularly sweeping away the illusions that cloud the eyes of the masses, allowing men to see how they have been betrayed by the lies of those in power. With his contribution, the spell that you seek to cast will not be weakened by misplaced faith."
"I don't like him, though," admitted Oscar. "He creeps me out."
Douchebag J. Troglodyte sneered at him. "So you prefer the manual laborer? Ironic!" The spirit had the advantage of knowing that Lee had thrown the brick. Oscar did not even know that a brick had been thrown; he had not seen Omar or Cybil since the day in September when he had brought Charlotte and Lee to sign the registry.
"Or perhaps you prefer the junkie," mocked the troglodyte. "Good luck getting the idiot's sister to allow them in the same room together."
Oscar accepted everything that the spirit said as truth. Still, he already knew that the task before him would not be easily accomplished. Another obstacle in his path would not deter him.
written while listening to: Michel Doneda, Lê Quan Ninh & Paul Rogers - Open Paper Tree (Free Music Production, FMP CD 68, 1995, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
November 7, 2017
Oscar next consulted the Destroying Angel. This spirit appeared as a dark shadow among lesser shadows in the corner of Oscar's room or the corner of Oscar's mind; there was little reference to distinguish between them. The Destroying Angel said to Oscar, "When everything is impossible, there is no prohibition against doing what seems least likely to succeed."
These words heartened Oscar for he could not see the path to his goal.
The Destroying Angel continued, "Have you not been bidden to perform acts of charity without drawing attention to your virtue? So it is with suffering. The most virtuous form of suffering is that which goes unrecorded."
Oscar frowned for he was uncertain about this point. It seemed to him that suffering only possessed meaning if it spared another. How could suffering have this effect, or any other, if no one knew of it?
His thoughts were revealed to the Destroying Angel, who corrected him, saying, "At the same time, it is true, the most noble suffering, which remains wholly unknown, is also the most meaningless."
Conflating these two ideas led Oscar to the inevitable but counter-intuitive conclusion that, if his purpose was to suffer, then he could only achieve this elusive virtue in meaninglessness.
It seemed a trap he could not hope to navigate.
"Indeed," confirmed the Destroying Angel.
written while listening to: Rudresh Mahanthappa - Bird Calls (ACT Music, ACT 9581-2, 2015, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
November 8, 2017
On Wednesday evening, an unlikely quartet arranged themselves around the unplugged television. The emaciated woman was the only one sitting on the old couch. The man with tattoos up to his neck stood beside her, too uneasy at the unexpected presence of the Muslim holy man to take a seat. The boy and the Imam also stood flanking the television.
The Imam greeted them as members of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry, a title to which they did not visibly respond. In his quiet, patient voice, he described the efforts by the Renegades to host an end-of-the-year gala celebrating the friendships made across many bounds, as a result of the registry. "As members you are, of course, invited." The Imam waited for a reply but neither Charlotte nor Lee spoke.
Charlotte cast her eyes from the Imam to Oscar. She hadn't seen him for a month and a half; his honey-colored hair was shaggier. As their gazes met, he flashed a brief smile, which she returned.
"What's more," continued the Imam, now focusing his full attention on the woman, "Oscar has asked that you participate in the planning of the event."
"Sure," Charlotte replied though her tone betrayed her uncertainty as to how she might help.
"But," said the Imam, "it has come to my attention that you must first make peace with one of the other members of the planning committee."
Charlotte frowned, wondering to whom the Imam referred.
From the corner, Oscar said, "Zepha."
"Oh," said Charlotte. She turned to Lee and explained, "He's the one who saved my life."
written while listening to: Cuong Vu - Vu-Tet (ArtistShare, ACS0073, 2007, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 9, 2017
Saint Jerome attempted to warn Charlotte that she was about to engage in an act of exceedingly poor judgment but she was not attuned to the admonitions of the spirit world in the same way that Oscar was. As a result, in the middle of the day, she arrived at the apartment of Jody and Zepha and knocked at the door. The steady drizzle only served to emphasize the dismal prospects of her endeavor.
Of course, the only person present at this time of day was Zepha. He answered the door and immediately recognized Charlotte. For an unusually long moment, he stood paralyzed in the doorway, uncertain of how to react. His sister's instructions on this matter had been abundantly clear. Under no circumstances was he to allow Charlotte back in their apartment, whether she was accompanied by Oscar or not. He poked his head farther outside to confirm that she was alone. "My sister said you can't come in," he told her.
Charlotte wore a light, cotton jacket with no water-repellent properties of any kind. During her walk over, it had adsorbed the drizzle and now hung heavy on her. Strands of hair were matted to her forehead. "I know," she replied. "I don't want to come in."
Zepha was relieved that they had so easily reached an accord on this point. He preferred to avoid conflict.
"I just wanted to apologize," said the woman, "for overdosing in your bathroom." The words suddenly seemed outrageous to her and a giggle escaped her.
The giggle was apparently infectious, for it drew a smirk from Zepha, followed by his own deep chuckle. "Okay," he said, accepting her apology. "Do you want to come in?"
"Why not?" said Charlotte, who had begun to shiver in the cold. "Just for a moment."
written while listening to: Else Marie Pade - Et Glasperlespil (Dacapo Records, 8.224209, 2001 (originally recorded 1958-1964), Denmark, cd, discogs.com)
November 10, 2017
Oscar read the Quran as he had been instructed to by the Imam. The repetition of the book's over-arching themes began to coalesce like a dream around him. He tried to imagine an ancient people, living in a time of uncertainty, who found guidance in the exhortations to righteousness and fidelity. Sometimes Oscar found a phrase that resonated with him. He would write it down on a piece of paper.
By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give freely of that which ye love.*
At this same time, his mother returned, without explanation, his computer, which she had taken away in September, when he had continued to see Charlotte after she had forbidden him to do so. Oscar was again able to access the internet through a neighbor's unsecured wireless account. He discovered an email from Amanita dated two days earlier. A meeting of the gala planning committee was to be held on Tuesday at seven p.m. in the downtown library. As a member of the planning committee, he was invited. Per the advice of the Imam, two other members of the Renegades, Zepha and Charlotte, were also invited.
This message struck Oscar like a bolt lightning. It was finally happening! The eight schools would gather. The casting of the spell would be initiated.
Oscar had no one with whom to share his excitement. He returned to his reading.
If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others.†
*The Holy Quran, III:92, translated by Yusuf Ali, 1934, full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Tobias Delius Quartet - The Heron (Instant Composers Pool, ICP 033, 1999, Netherlands, cd, discogs.com)
November 11, 2017
On Saturday morning, Oscar bicycled over to tell Charlotte that she needed to be at the library on Tuesday night. In his anticipation he arrived too early. She had not yet returned from her visit to the rehabilitation clinic. Lee had been sleeping late. He did not invite Oscar inside when he answered the door.
An hour later, Oscar returned and found Charlotte at home. He informed her of her obligation.
Charlotte could tell from the boy's voice that this was important to him, but she could not understand why. It was only a meeting to plan a party. She felt she had little to contribute. It wouldn't make any difference one way or another if she didn't show up. Besides, without the persuasive presence of the Imam, she could barely recall why she had agreed to be part of this committee in the first place. "Oh, they don't need me," she said.
"They need you!" Oscar cried, almost in a panic.
Charlotte took a step back. She glanced over her shoulder at the closed bedroom door where Lee remained asleep. She walked Oscar out of the apartment and even then spoke in a lowered voice. "At night the buses only run every hour. It'll be a hassle to get there and get home."
"Lee can drive you," Oscar argued.
"Maybe," Charlotte agreed, uncertainly.
"You have to promise me that you'll be there," Oscar pleaded.
Charlotte shrugged. "You should know better than to rely on a druggie, even a recovering druggie." The shadows cast by the sun in the hollows of her gaunt face struck Oscar with an unaccountable loveliness.
"No," said Oscar, "you don't understand. It's exactly because of who you are that I need you to be there."
Oscar made his case one more time before departing. He left with a sinking feeling in his stomach that Charlotte had already decided not to attend.
written while listening to: Eyvind Kang - Virginal Co-ordinates (I Dischi Di Angelica, IDA 016, 2003, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
November 12, 2017
On Sunday, Oscar planned his visit to Zepha's house when he felt sure that the evoker's sister would be home, for he needed not only permission but her participation to get Zepha to the library.
It seemed strange to Oscar, arriving at the apartment seeking Jody rather than Zepha. When she opened the door, it was as if he saw her for the first time. He felt a pang of guilt that she had not previously registered in his mind as an individual entity. Rather, she had strictly been a faceless, supporting element of the surrounding architecture. "Jody," he said.
"Oscar..." She led him into the apartment and came to a stop beside Zepha, standing silently in the living room.
Oscar noted that Jody bore almost no physical resemblance to her brother. She did not share his short, graying hair, nor his narrow eyes, nor skin ailment, nor pinched ears, nor lack of musculature. Where his scraggly beard betrayed an indifference to the niceties of convention, Jody was very neatly coiffed and dressed. She was several inches taller and somewhat thinner. Yet she was undeniably his sister. It seemed clear to Oscar that living in close proximity to Zepha had influenced Jody; it showed in the natural, unperturbed expression of her face. Her brown hair was pulled back in a no-frills ponytail and her face was free of make-up. "Oscar?" she called again, reminded of the first time she had met him, an absent-minded boy wandering in the parking lot.
"You have to get Zepha to the downtown library at seven Tuesday night," he blurted out. "There a Renegades party planning meeting."
"We'll see," Jody replied casually, as she returned to the kitchen.
"No really," Oscar continued. "If you are busy, maybe my mom can take us both."
"Don't worry," she called cheerfully, sensing but not understanding his anxiety. "We've got a couple days to figure it out."
written while listening to: Lukas Ligeti & Thollem McDonas - Imaginary Images (Leo Records, CD LR 709, 2014, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
November 13, 2017
Oscar remained most concerned that Charlotte would not appear at the planning meeting, so, after school on Monday, he made another visit to her apartment to remind her. Before she had the opportunity to provide a single excuse, he pleaded with her to show up.
"Why's it so important to you?" she asked. They sat in the borrowed lawn chairs outside the apartment. Charlotte pulled her jacket tight around her skinny frame.
Oscar perceived no other recourse; the time had come to lay bare his plans. He explained to Charlotte, in no less detail than he had provided to Zepha, the manner of the spell that he intended to cast. He made it abundantly clear that such a spell required practitioners of all eight schools of magic. She was his chosen representative of the School of Illusion. Her presence was no less essential than any of the others.
Rather than question the practicality of magic, Charlotte asked, "What is the spell supposed to do?"
"Like what?" Charlotte wanted a specific example.
Pressed for details, Oscar said, "Like making the world a better place." Observing the dissatisfied expression on Charlotte's face, he finally said it. It seemed the only way to convince her to come. "Like my father will come and my mother will come and they will see each other and make up and get back together."
Charlotte heard these words with perfect clarity. She absorbed them and then she laughed. "And once your parents are back together, they'll move you out of your apartment back to a big house in your old, fancy neighborhood, where you'll eat bon-bons every day!" She laughed derisively again and seemed unable to stop.
Oscar was stung with a hurt he had not thought possible through mere words. What saved him from despair was only the recollection of the following verse, provided courtesy of the Imam.
If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others.*
*The Holy Quran, III:140, translated by Yusuf Ali, 1934, full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Alice Coltrane featuring Pharoah Sanders - Journey In Satchidananda (Impulse!/ABC Records, AS-9203, 1971, United States, lp, discogs.com)
November 14, 2017
The planning committee of the Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry met at the downtown library on Tuesday night. Because the full complement of members was expected, Amanita reserved the reference room. There were two main items on the agenda--fundraising and sending out invitations, the latter of which was complicated by the fact that they had only names without contact information for many of those who had signed the registry.
Mr. Gardener arrived first and was pleased when Amanita showed him the glass-walled meeting room. From within the chamber, he watched Agnes being led impatiently by Cybil and Omar. Soon after Jody and Zepha arrived. Those who did not know each other introduced themselves. Zepha made a point to express to his sister his delight with the strawberry-colored hair of Amanita. The two women exchanged smiles.
They waited a few minutes for the last two members. Through the glass, Omar and Cybil watched Lee and Charlotte appear from behind an aisle of books. Lee did not follow Charlotte inside the room, choosing to occupy himself with automotive magazines elsewhere in the library. By the time Jody realized that Charlotte was joining them, the woman was already seated, albeit at the far end of the table. Jody was of a mind to grab Zepha by the hand and leave immediately, but Mr. Gardener's welcoming of Charlotte expressed such warmth that she, reticent to diminish his good intentions, resisted her initial impulse.
As for Oscar, he had been so preoccupied with ensuring that Charlotte attended, that he had not paid sufficient attention to the on-going discussion between his mother and Jody over which of the two of them was going to bring him and Zepha. Somewhere, their wires got crossed; each thought the other was bringing Oscar. By the time Oscar realized his mother wasn't coming home to take him, Jody and Zepha were already gone. To be sure, great was Oscar's dismay at missing this opportunity.
written while listening to: Misha Feigin & Susan Alcorn - The Crossing (Dreaming People Records, DPR 015, 2015, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 15, 2017
For those occasions when an individual sought respite from the daily onslaught of mundane setbacks, each separately too trivial to be taken seriously but collectively presenting an overwhelming burden, the Destroying Angel had composed a spell, which she called song of ephemeral annihilation (Abjuration). This spell provided temporary relief to the target by allowing them to experience a period of oblivion during which time passed normally for all others. Once an individual emerged from the effects of the spell, he found, as often as not, that the rest of the world had moved on with their lives. Those obstacles that had seemed so tiresome had now been rendered utterly inconsequential by a common miracle alternately known as timeliness or missed deadlines.
This spell possessed the added advantage of being able to distinguish between associates who valued the individual for their person from those who were merely seeking a transactional advantage. This trick was often difficult to accomplish any other way.
The Destroying Angel cast just this spell upon Oscar, whose disappointment seemed bottomless. To her surprise, when Oscar emerged, he remained unchanged. She cast it a second time, again waiting for the duration of the spell before finding Oscar still deeply under the effects of a despair that would not release him. Although she was tempted, the Destroying Angel did not cast the spell a third time. To do so would have risked overlapping with a far more durable spell, song of eternal annihilation (Abjuration), the effects of which are self-explanatory.
written while listening to: Brian Eno - Music for Airports (EG/Polydor, AMB 001, 1978, United Kingdom, lp, discogs.com)
November 16, 2017
Although it was neither Lent nor Ramadan, Oscar had begun to fast again. He perceived that he required a purification of the body and mind. Having given his lunch away, he was a little light-headed when he paid a visit to Zepha after school.
It was unclear what activity Zepha had been engaged in prior to opening the door. The television was not on. Perhaps, Oscar mused, Zepha had been meditating on secrets of the arcane.
Oscar poured them both a cup of milk from the refrigerator. "How was the planning meeting?" he asked.
Zepha looked confused for a moment.
"At the library," Oscar prompted him.
"Oh." Zepha nodded. "The librarian's hair was red!" He grinned at the memory.
Gradually Oscar coaxed a little more information from Zepha. He understood that the committee needed money and was sending out invitations.
Time passed easily and before he knew it Jody stepped in the doorway. She greeted her brother cheerfully then noted Oscar in the apartment. Her expression immediately darkened. "You knew!" she shouted.
Oscar blanched but his reaction did not forestall the barrage to come.
"You knew Charlotte would be there and you hid it from me," Jody accused him.
Oscar did not bother to confirm her statement. He stood stock still, saying nothing but not averting his gaze. He seemed very much the sacrificial lamb offered for slaughter.
Jody took a deep breath. "Go home, Oscar," she said quietly.
Oscar brushed past her as he quickly stepped from the apartment.
An hour later, Jody's evening took a turn for the worse when a recording from the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities called to inform her that her interview regarding the incident of September 28, 2017 was scheduled for tomorrow at eleven a.m. Supposedly, she could have spoken to a live representative by navigating the automated phone menu, but midway through the process, the call was disconnected.
written while listening to: Konstrukt & Keiji Haino - A Philosophy Warping, Little By Little That Way Lies A Quagmire (Karlrecords, KR043, 2017, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
November 17, 2017
The DIDD contractor arrived punctually, pleased with this assignment. Often she was given cases located at rural addresses, where it took her up to ninety minutes just to drive there. To add insult to injury, the company had a policy of not reimbursing employees for fuel or mileage wear on their personal vehicles. Still, as a social worker, she had to take enough cases to fill her docket. Under these circumstances, to be handed a case in the center of the city was a boon.
Jody greeted the social worker cordially. She made every attempt to hide her irritation with the fact that over six weeks had passed since the incident without a word from DIDD, then, suddenly last night, she had to call in to work and take a sick day for this interview. Jody hadn't felt the need to rehearse anything with Zepha; she had an unshakeable confidence that she was providing the best life for him. Thus, she considered this interview a formality, necessary to bring an end to an unpleasant episode.
During the interview, the social worker had some difficulty understanding Zepha's answers. They were not always delivered in complete sentences or with sufficient context. Once or twice, Jody tried to act as interpreter but was waved off. Since Zepha often relied on his sister to serve in this role, suddenly being deprived of her, when she sat right beside him, caused him no small agitation.
When given the chance, Jody explained, "It was a one-time accident. It won't happen again."
"You haven't seen the woman, Charlotte, since then?" the social worker asked Zepha.
Zepha clarified, truthfully, that he had seen Charlotte at the library just a couple days ago.
"We ran into her unexpectedly," Jody hastily explained.
Zepha added, much to his sister's surprise, that Charlotte had also come to visit him alone a few days before that, when Jody was at work. "Yes," he answered, "she came inside. It was raining."
written while listening to: Gábor Szabó - Dreams (Skye Records, SK-7, 1968, United States, lp, discogs.com)
November 18, 2017
Jody had unsuccessfully attempted to communicate to the social worker that the situation was now under control. The social worker had explained that, because there was a police report, a collaborative investigation between DIDD and law enforcement was required. Her visit was only the first step. That Zepha had continued to have multiple interactions with a known drug user warranted further investigation. The social worker had remained impervious to any further arguments.
Jody saw no other path than to confront Charlotte directly and to demand that she stay away from her brother. Only Oscar knew where Charlotte lived. Therefore, on Saturday, Jody and Zepha visited Oscar's mother, where Jody recounted yesterday's interview in detail. She found Oscar's mother fully sympathetic, for she was well acquainted with the dangers of drug abuse.
Of her elder son, Oscar's mother said nothing. Instead, she said all the things that Jody had wished to say to the DIDD contractor, but had not. "Why did they wait so long? If they were really worried about Zepha, why would they allow a month and a half to go by before doing anything?"
Jody shrugged. "It's the government, I guess."
Oscar's mother was not satisfied. "Didn't they see that Zepha is happy and healthy? Didn't they see that he's well fed and your apartment is immaculate?" Oscar's mother looked embarrassedly at her own comparatively lackluster efforts.
Jody replied, "She said they've got to follow procedures once the police are involved." Jody did not know that the social worker had possessed the authority to dismiss the case after the initial visit, but had chosen not to because of the convenient proximity of their address, buttressed by, what might have been under other conditions, the understandable inconsistency between caretaker and charge. "I need Oscar to take me to Charlotte."
"I have asked him not to see her anymore," said Oscar's mother. "But he has ignored my advice. I don't know why. I don't understand him."
written while listening to: Hiroshi Yoshimura - Music for Nine Post Cards (Sound Process, WN 001, 1982, Japan, lp, discogs.com)
November 19, 2017
Oscar's fasting was strengthening his will, though, as luck would have it, the first opportunity to demonstrate this strength was provided by Jody, against whom he held no grudge.
One must remember, Gentle Reader, that when last Oscar and Jody had spoken, three days earlier, she had shouted at him, before collecting herself and asking him to leave the apartment in a calmer voice. While any residual acoustic reverberations had long since dissipated, the psychic echoes of that shouting continued to resonate within Oscar. In the presence of his mother, he listened quietly to Jody explain that she needed to visit Charlotte. He imagined her standing beside the unplugged television shouting at Charlotte.
Oscar understood that Jody, in her role as Zepha's primary caregiver, played an important role in making the world a better place. At the same time, Oscar did not desire to be shouted at again. It seemed a very easy alternative to simply tell Jody where Charlotte lived. There was no reason for him to witness the exchange. Still, as the Destroying Angel had recently reminded him, when everything was impossible, there was no prohibition against doing what seemed least likely to help.
When Jody was finished speaking, he just looked at her blankly. His mother's exhortations to cooperate had no effect on him.
The interrogation ended when Jody asked heatedly, "Do you think that I can't find her without you?" At that point, all present realized that any purpose in this gathering had been lost.
written while listening to: Yumiko Tanaka - Music Performance "Kiyoh" (Meenna, meenna-986dvd, 2017, Japan, dvd, discogs.com)
November 20, 2017
Oscar wanted to warn Charlotte, but at the same time he felt that he could not approach her, for had she not mocked him mercilessly at their last encounter? On Monday morning, he did not wait at the bus stop but wandered aimlessly for a while until his mother had left for work. He returned to the apartment and closed himself up in his room. He lowered the shade on the window. He neither ate nor drank.
Oscar did not leave his bed. For short periods, he slept restlessly. Various spirits attempted to approach him but he warded them off with well-chosen words of abjuration for he sought the company of one spirit in particular.
Oscar called out in a whisper for his brother to appear. He felt sure that from the impassive perspective of the land of the dead, his brother would see through the haze that clouded his own judgment. He called and he waited, but his brother refused his invitation or was placed in some distant sphere where the summons did not reach him or, worse yet, was troubled by some restraint that did not allow him freedom of movement.
Later in the day, Oscar continued his progress in the Quran, where he came upon this verse.
If it were His Will, He could destroy you, O mankind, and create another race; for He hath power this to do.*
Of course, Oscar had no desire for the annihilation of mankind. Already, he had encountered the prospect in the Book of Zephaniah, where it had appeared no more palatable. However, here, accompanied by the offer of a replacement race, it seemed tempting. Oscar imagined just such a race, formed impossibly from a process utterly at odds with survival of the fittest. All those poor creatures would die out; they were not made to be. Only one would survive. One replacement would survive because Oscar would willingly relinquish his place in the world for this alien to better occupy.
*The Holy Quran, IV:133, translated by Yusuf Ali, 1934, full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: William Basinski - Watermusic II (2062, 2062 0302, 2003, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 21, 2017
There was an unexplained delay at the outpatient clinic on Tuesday morning. Charlotte waited more than ninety minutes for her methadone dose. A familiar hospital orderly made the rounds of the waiting room, chatting with each patient. The middle-aged woman stopped beside Charlotte who was absently watching the television. "Anything new with you, honey?"
Charlotte turned to the attendant and proved unable to come up with an appropriate response to the question.
The woman did not wait for her to answer, asking a second question instead. "Has your boyfriend asked you to marry him yet?" This orderly knew Charlotte well enough to know that she had been with Lee for a long time but not well enough to remember his name.
Charlotte attempted to ascertain to what extent the woman was motivated by kindness, as opposed to congenial but ultimately disinterested politeness. She couldn't tell. "No," Charlotte replied. "But I am part of a group that's planning a big party."
"Oh really," said the orderly. "what kind of party?"
"It's a party for the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
"I don't know them," the woman admitted. "What do they do?"
Charlotte shook her head. She was about to admit that she wasn't sure but then reconsidered. Her thoughts turned to Oscar. "Amelioration," she said. "They are making the world a better place by promoting peace between different kinds of people."
A look of surprise came across the orderly's face; it was not the reply she had expected. "Wonderful. What're you doing for the preparations?"
"Hmm." Charlotte pursed her lips. "I'm raising money to rent the hall and see that the band gets paid." At least that was one of the tasks with which all the members of the planning committee had been charged.
"Good luck!" said the orderly, before shuffling off to another patient.
written while listening to: Omri Ziegele & Yves Theiler - Inside Innocence (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 218, 2013, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
November 22, 2017
For the local schools, both public and private, the holiday began the day before Thanksgiving Day. Omar and Cybil arrived in Agnes' living room promptly at nine a.m. She was ready for them. The trio got in her car and drove downtown. They had a plan to visit several banks in order to present their fundraising appeal for the Renegades gala.
They had not made appointments, so they learned at the first bank, a large, national chain, that they would be made to wait for the manager. After half an hour, a man appeared in formal business attire. He sized up the two children and the old woman as he ushered them into a separate room. He was unfamiliar with the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry as an organization. He listened politely as Omar explained its origin in the campaign promises of their president. At these words, the banker looked at his expensive watch and began to make plans for terminating the meeting at the earliest possible juncture. Two ideas reinforced his intention to have nothing to do with the proposal. First, he was a staunch Republican; he professed a belief in self-reliance and the acquisition of privilege through the exercise of responsibility. He was not philosophically inclined to support an individual or group based on their minority status, even if they bore claims of persecution or discrimination. Second, the bank manager was keenly aware of the volatility of the president. Should the bank's support of an organization formed in response to his anti-immigrant stance come to his attention, perhaps through social media, the president could likely make a public spectacle, unnecessarily damaging the reputation of the bank. Neither of these thoughts did the banker share with the Renegades, before he apologized for being unable to help them and escorted them back into the lobby.
In fact, the trio experienced no success at any of the several banks they visited that day.
written while listening to: Susumu Yokota - Sakura (Skintone, STR03, 2000, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
November 23, 2017
A month ago Cybil's parents had decided to stay home for Thanksgiving Day. Her mother had resisted the suggestion made by her father to invite a prospective business associate and his family over for a traditional turkey dinner. However, she immediately agreed to Cybil's recommendation, made a week later, to invite Omar and his family for the holiday feast. Cybil and Omar had recently spent much time in the company of Agnes, the cat-conjurer; when they discovered that she was not traveling south to spend the day with her daughter, she was added to the invitation by default.
Although she had been expressly forbidden from bringing anything, Omar's mother prepared ranginak, a kind of pie from Iran. It had the advantage of being a relatively quick recipe, especially when Omar had helped her stuff a walnut inside each of the dates. Cybil's mother accepted it graciously and set it next to the pumpkin pie on the buffet.
Agnes also arrived with a homemade dessert, which she described as shoofly pie. "It's crumb cake with dark treacle baked in a pie crust." Although some of the others had heard the word, treacle, before, none of them were sure just what it was.
In any case, the Thanksgiving Day feast was not a meal in which one saved space for dessert. As a result, all at the table were already full by the time the three pies circulated. Even though each individual took a thin sliver of each pie, the cumulative result was substantial.
After the meal, Cybil and Omar's fathers sat on the couch to watch some of the Dallas Cowboys football game. Prompted by the lull of a hard-at-work digestive system, Cybil's father quickly fell asleep. Omar's father, judging that on this occasion such ordinarily anti-social behavior might be acceptable, followed suit. They snored as the commentators excitedly called the game.
written while listening to: Shahid Parvez - Sitar Sublime (Super Cassette Industries, siclp 01/9, 1991, India, lp, discogs.com)
November 24, 2017
A Puerto Rican friend sent Amanita an email containing an invitation to a fundraiser to be held at the local museum of art. The event was hosted by a local group of professionals and students with family in Puerto Rico, who sought to help, from a distance, the continuing humanitarian crisis. Since Hurricane Maria had struck the island on September 20, 2017, more than half the island remained without power.
The downtown library operated on holiday hours on Friday, closing at five-thirty. Amanita left work directly for Rufus' apartment. She showed him the invitation and they each spent fifty dollars purchasing a ticket for the concert that was to be held a week from today.
As she sat beside Rufus on the couch, Amanita studied the website on her tablet, for she too was thinking of how to raise money for the Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. The purposes of the two events were not identical. One sought to generate as much money as possible, in order to support charitable work elsewhere. Their own event had much more modest goals, simply to defray, if not cover, the costs of the gala, with the understanding that the event itself would raise awareness of their purpose.
"Rufus," she said, "we need a website like this." She handed him the tablet.
Rufus glanced at the site. It had a couple images and conveyed a simple message with the important time, date and location. It also allowed the direct purchase of tickets or larger donations to appear in the program as a silver, gold or platinum level sponsor. "Okay," said Rufus, unimpressed. "I can whip up something like this in an hour or two, but I'm not doing it tonight. Besides, do the Renegades even have a bank account to hold the donations?"
One of the traits that Amanita loved in Rufus was his ability to blithely solve technical matters without recognizing the difficulty they posed to others.
written while listening to: Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude (Pi Recordings, PI170, 2017, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 25, 2017
Oscar dared to visit the apartment of Jody and Zepha on Saturday but found that they had out-of-town guests visiting them for the day. Their apartment was filled with laughter. In the presence of these guests, Jody did not chastise Oscar for his many errors, an unearned boon it seemed to him. Yet, at the same time, Zepha gave no recognition of Oscar, so taken up with the new guests was he. Oscar returned to his apartment in low spirits.
He got on his bike and traveled an unprecedented distance along roads that had been forbidden to him by his mother until he reached the restaurant where the barbarian labored. He tarried near the dumpsters, waiting for the barbarian. When another worker appeared, Oscar asked him if Lamar was inside.
Within ten minutes, the barbarian emerged, pushing a half full can of garbage, as if he needed some excuse to visit Oscar. "Happy Thanksgiving," he said to the friend he had not seen in months.
Oscar smiled but remained silent, as if he had nothing to say and had arrived here only by accident.
In the awkward moment, the barbarian asked, "You got a new book?" He had always enjoyed Oscar's readings.
"Yeah." Oscar pulled out the pocket Quran and showed it to the barbarian.
"What's it say?" he asked.
"All kinds of stuff," Oscar replied. "There's a lot about the difference between earthly and divine laws."
"Like what?" asked the barbarian impatiently; soon his absence would be noted.
"Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal." But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself.*
This much was already known to the barbarian. Before Oscar left, he informed Lamar of the time and place of the gala. "Will you come?"
"Hard to tell," the barbarian replied, before disappearing inside.
*The Holy Quran, V:45, translated by Yusuf Ali, 1934, full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Hafez Modirzadeh - Post-Chromodal Out! (Pi Recordings, PI44, 2012, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 26, 2017
Mr. Gardener and his wife, Elma, attended church service on Sunday. Since it was the last day of the Thanksgiving holiday, the preacher's sermon centered on gratitude. They all had much for which to be thankful, did they not? "Amen," the congregation assented. Had they done anything to deserve this bounty? No, they had not. Such beneficence flowed directly from the divine without regard for merit, without demanding justification, without requesting documentation or papers of any kind.
Elma knew that her husband had intended to mention, casually, the monetary needs of the gala to several members of the congregation, all of whom were signees of the registry. Still, she sensed that he would not, for he had been unusually quiet as he put on his suit and tied his tie that morning. Her premonition proved correct. After the service, he made no mention of the gala, though it seemed to her that there had been several opportunities to do so.
As seemed almost inevitable these days, while gathered in the parking lot, church-goers lamented the state of affairs in Washington. Among other topics of disillusionment, one noted that the Alabama judge, Roy Moore, remained on the Senate ballot after numerous, substantiated allegations of sexual impropriety with teenage girls, one as young as fourteen. Elma thought for sure that her husband would mention, as he had to her just days ago, that this was the same Roy Moore, who, a decade earlier, had advocated that Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected to the United States Congress, should be barred from serving based on his religion.* To her surprise, Otis allowed the moment to pass. Elma worried that her husband was feeling under the weather.
*"Muslim Ellison Should Not Sit In Congress", Moore, Roy, Judge, worldnetdaily.com, December 13, 2006, full text: worldnetdaily.com.
written while listening to: Steve Coleman and Five Elements - Functional Arrhythmias (Pi Recordings, PI47, 2013, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 27, 2017
Many people often state, especially after enduring sudden tragedy, "Everything happens for a reason." The psychological motivation behind such a statement stems from the nearly universal desire to frame one's life as a narrative in order to provide it with meaning. In a narrative, the protagonist endures misfortune as a rite of passage and is afterward rewarded in spirit if not in body.
In contrast to the experience of abrupt tragedy, those who endure prolonged hardship are less likely to invoke this cliché. To be clear, their reluctance does not serve as evidence that they eschew a narrative. Like almost everyone else, such people also desire to attribute meaning to the events in their lives. The drive toward social justice is but one positive attribute that results from extended tribulation. Even among those who hold no hope for themselves, suffering can be imbued with meaning by working to reduce the burden for their children and others who come after them.
Charlotte sat in the clinic on Monday morning, where she did not believe that everything happened for a reason. Rather, much, she believed, happened as a result of chronically poor judgment.
When the hospital orderly told her that she had convinced the administration of the clinic to contribute two hundred dollars toward the gala, Charlotte did not immediately reply. She sat in surprised silence while the orderly explained that she could not hand her a check today. The administration preferred to wire the money to the account of the charity. Although they were pleased that one of their patients had engaged in a meaningful activity, they were of no mind to put two hundred dollars in the hands of a former junkie, no matter how far along the road to rehabilitation she might be.
written while listening to: Steve Lehman Octet - Mise en Abîme (Pi Recordings, PI54, 2014, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 28, 2017
After conferring with Mr. Gardener, Amanita sent out an email calling for another meeting on Thursday night at the library. December would soon be upon them. They needed to meet again to update each other on their progress. Everyone in the planning committee had an email account except for Agnes and Charlotte. Zepha's email was sent to Jody's address. Cybil and Omar alerted Agnes, who agreed to drive the three of them to the meeting. It was left to Oscar to convey news of the meeting to Charlotte.
Having bungled the last meeting, Oscar again received this news with enthusiasm because it would be another opportunity to bring representatives of all eight schools of magic together. Thus, before the sunset on Tuesday night, Oscar hurried over to Charlotte's house. It was a pleasant bicycle ride as the temperature was still in the high fifties.
By the time Oscar arrived, Lee was already at home. For the first time it seemed to Oscar that Lee's truck was in worse shape than he had seen it before. It never crossed Oscar's mind that the streaks of black paint along the crumpled side of the vehicle matched the paint of the SUV belonging to Omar's mother.
Lee was irascible as usual, but somehow Oscar had grown accustomed to the thin layer of civility beneath which his temper lurked. Oscar greeted him cheerfully, perhaps prompted by the knowledge of the favor he would yet ask.
Charlotte expressed excitement; she had great news to share regarding the donation from the out-patient clinic. However, she refused to let Oscar in on the secret prematurely. Lee reluctantly and tentatively agreed to take her. When Oscar told him that he needed a ride too, Lee rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Be here at quarter to seven or you get left."
written while listening to: Henry Threadgill & Make a Move - Everybodys Mouth's A Book (Pi Recordings, PI01, 2001, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 29, 2017
Jody waited a day before sending her reply to Amanita's email. She wanted to sleep on it overnight. She made sure that she was in a calm frame of mind before she hit the send button. She chose not to reply to all of the recipients of the previous email, opting instead to direct her words exclusively to the adults, Amanita and Mr. Gardener.
In the email, she explained to them that she and Zepha would no longer be attending any of the gala planning committee meetings. She felt that she owed them some explanation. As a result, she briefly recounted the episode in which Charlotte overdosed in her bathroom, when no one but Zepha was home. This news came as quite a shock to both the librarian and the columnist. Oscar had not shared the information with anyone but the Imam, who had needed the information in his role as facilitator, and who had, in turn, kept it to himself.
Jody went on to describe the sequence of events that followed. Because a police report had been filed, the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities had eventually gotten involved. At this point, Jody informed Amanita and Mr. Gardener that they were now subject to a caseworker coming to visit them twice a week. The caseworker naturally frowned on any additional contact between Zepha and Charlotte. And, as chance would have it, the weekly home visits were scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday evening, making it impossible for her to attend the meetings. Jody closed with her apologies.
written while listening to: Liberty Ellman - Ophiuchus Butterfly (Pi Recordings, PI19, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)
November 30, 2017
Lee delivered Charlotte and Oscar to the library a few minutes late. The two hurried to the reference room, where the others, save Zepha, were already assembled. Through the glass panes, Omar frowned as he watched them approach. He had not seen Oscar since he had shown up, over two months ago, with Charlotte and Lee in tow to add their names to the registry. It brought him no comfort to see Oscar now in the same company. Cybil shared a discreet, sympathetic glance.
Amanita had intended to start the meeting by noting that Jody and Zepha had decided not to participate further, but she could not restrain Charlotte, who exclaimed, "I have good news!"
Charlotte then told them of the hospital's donation of two hundred dollars toward the gala fund-raising effort. She just needed a bank account number. This news took both Cybil and Mr. Gardener by surprise, for they had each thought Charlotte would contribute little to the task. That she had succeeded where they had thus far failed humbled them both. Amanita congratulated Charlotte and shared with all present the news that Rufus had put together a website and that she had secured a bank account for online donations. Cybil and Omar quickly pulled up the site on their cellphones, then passed them around to Agnes and Oscar.
As the meeting drew on, Oscar began to worry that not all eight schools would be present. "Where's Zepha and Jody?" he wondered aloud.
Amanita explained that the siblings were not joining them. Despite herself, she glanced over toward Charlotte. Those that knew of the Charlotte's overdose instantly understood the reason for Zepha's absence. Of course, Charlotte too understood. Oscar was crestfallen because the juxtaposition of the eight schools had failed again. The momentary sense of triumph that Charlotte had felt at being able to make a meaningful contribution to the Renegades was lost in the realization that her actions had also splintered their group.
written while listening to: Deep Tones For Peace - Jerusalem - NYC - Tel-Aviv - 2009 (Kadima Collective, Triptych #2, 2010, Israel, cd+dvd+booklet, discogs.com)
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