Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Pork Soda in a Time of Tremendous Tremendousness

“Art” is malleable. Not only is a work’s meaning derived through the individual’s consciousness (both creator and interpreter), but the same consciousness over time. It is through this subjective-temporal evaluation that a larger appreciation, or contextualization of said work can be realized in its totality.

But as much as the observer is analyzing the work, the “Art” also acts as a tool of analysis on the observer, and as much can be said about the evaluator as the work being evaluated. Not only are the work and viewer being evaluated, both then and now, but the surrounding apparatuses that construct the scenario.

So when we revisit a painting, or novel, film, musical album, etc. we are not only attempting to arrive at a better understanding of the work, its creator’s intention, and all the like, but of ourselves and the extending circumstances we find ourselves in, too. These moments can give way to beautiful, personal intellectual satoris, but also act as wedges to reinforce particular myopias. We may very well emerge from the cage, shackles untethered, only to never realize we are inside a prison.

Not similar but running parallel to this risk of shortsightedness is the misreading of the past: events, works, or people. This type of thinking can be seen in certain opinion articles claiming certain actors in the past (Richard Rorty, David Foster Wallace, or even the Frankfurt Scholars) had predicted the rise of Trump and conditions of 2016 that would precipitate his election. These thoughts are a) flattering to the thinkers they label as prescient minds, b) fun to read and remember the pleasures of said thinkers, and c) completely ahistorical and thus silly.

The anachronism is best dismantled in Andy Seal’s critique from the wonderful USIH blog.

Neither Richard Rorty, David Foster Wallace, nor Adorno, Marcuse, Benjamin and the rest of the Frankfurters were capable of reaching such heights of clairvoyance, no matter how brilliant they all were. To claim otherwise is a dangerous form of closed-mindedness and recklessly treats the past with little reverence, and history as a plaything.

Why. With such logic, one might credit the band Primus’s 1993 album, Pork Soda, as being much more than some “goofy” “amalgam of elements that have no reason to be joined together in a sane universe,” but an artistic cri de cœur against the decline of the human condition in this ever-modern world and a quickening doom at the hands of the 45th President. It would not be difficult to then say that Les Claypool predicted Trump!

trump-soda-3

It starts with a brief overture called, “Pork Chop’s Little Ditty”. A quaint intro of mandolin and faint percussion lulls the listener inward to this unknown world. Like a mixture of Disneyland’s Splash Mountain and the promises of Trump’s slogan, it seems colorful and wholesome until (with the slap of a bass guitar) you nosedive into the macabre of “My Name is Mud”. From that point forward, you experience a wholly different realm, one that feels very much like an alternate reality but in retrospect is a death knell foretold: it signals the undertow of hillbilly malice about to be unleashed.

For Primus is, in many respects, a more apt representation of white working class ethos than the sitting President or any member of his cabinet. It’s unorthodoxy is only matched by its simplicity, and its irreverence for what mainstream pop culture audiences (i.e. typical bourgeois consumers) is indicative in its apoplectic distortion, manic guitar solos, and un-artful lyrics which either offer cheekiness or champion quotidian life. One sees this working class attitude unveiled best in songs like: “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” “John the Fisherman” “Shake Hands with Beef” “Those Damned Blue-Collared Tweekers”: and particularly on this album we find “The Ol’ Diamondback Sturgeon (Fisherman’s Chronicles, Part 3)” and “DMV”. Primus is the soundtrack to white working class id. And in Pork Soda, the band is demonstrating this spirit from the very start.

The song”My Name is Mud” is concerned about a man who has, in the heat of argument (“a common spat”), murdered his friend (“sonsofbitch who lies before me bloated, blue and cold”). It is a chilling representation of the repressed rage of the white working class, who feels marginalized and whose concerns (mainly about their livelihood) are not taken seriously. So they have lashed out, mostly in the form of voting into office the only man who seemed to notice them, but also in the most extreme examples through reified hate (few though they maybe, still terrifying). It is a new reality we find ourselves in, to which Primus says: “Welcome to this World”.

The song perfectly captures the world to come over the next four years: a world of unfettered neoliberal economic policies that will enrich the already wealthy and place an unbridgeable gap of inequality in the void of gutted welfare programs designed to aid the lowliest, and where hardcore rightwing policies suppress goodwill and civil liberties in the name of national strength and homogeneity, cultish adulation, and “pink champagne and swimming pools”. For the sociopolitical atmosphere that will be unleashed on the nation will be tolerated by many for the sake of prosperity. But as the song suggests with its clownish melody, this is a mean joke. The affluence imagined by many but experienced by few cannot resolve the existential dilemmas of what it means to be human in this world. In the absence of meaning, with close to half the nation in a state of nationalist fervor, when the dreams of the left and the attempts of liberalism have failed against outright hostile capitalist hegemony and ruling class power, perhaps the only remaining option is the big fail for some. To excuse themselves from the world completely, which may have been what Claypool and the boys were getting at in the song that immediately follows: “Bob”. A song that tells of a friend “who took a belt and hung himself” in his apartment. A moving dirge of Claypool’s artistic friend “who drew such wondrous pictures in the apartment where he lived” and was found “dangling” by “his woman and his little bro”. It is a cry of pain, not only at the loss of a friend but what Bob represented. The closest expression of what it means to be human can only be found in those “wondrous pictures” or songs of Claypool, or in “Art” at-large. But in an ever-shrinking market world, aided by big data, where algorithms enhance a homogenous culture industry, and someone’s human worth is equivalent to their net worth, the marginalized artist is rendered valueless. For the survivors, like Claypool who learn of Bob’s passing, we are left with the same powerful image looping through our memories and the weight of its meaning, like the chorus that plays out the song until Claypool is reduced to illogical scatting: “I had a friend that took a belt, took a belt and hung himself // Hung himself in the doorway of the apartment where he lived”.

The album is full of these lamentations. It may have been unclear for people of the early nineties to understand or appreciate Pork Soda until now when the true genius can be appreciated some twenty-three-plus years later.

In fact, the fingerprints of 2016 are all over this album.

Look at the song “Nature Boy”—about a man who shelters himself in his room/house, gets naked, and masturbates to bottomless pits of porn, is irritated by the fact that his “genitalia and pectoral muscles aren’t quite what I’d like them to be”, and craves his privacy/secrecy: “But you don’t see me” “No one can/should see me”—which is a clear portrait of hyper-agro men’s rights Internet trolls who scurry through the web to prey on decency and spread their vicious hate-mongering, anesthetized by the veil of faceless avatars, deindividuation, and outright psychopathy. There is also “The Air is Getting Slippery”, a clear nod to the environment spinning radically out of control while Average Joes (portrayed by Claypool here) focus on Pink Floyd and hanging out at the bar, completely oblivious to the creeping doom set upon them. “Air” connotes two other thoughts. There is a nefarious quality to the use of the word “slippery” both used in the title and song. As if, this destructive change slips our grasp of it, or slips by and grows more dangerous by the year without our intervention. Of course, the other side of “Air” only  hinted at is the suppression or outright willful ignorance of vested interests in climate change’s cause. They try their best to evade or silence evidence and knowledge and let humanity rot because they: “don’t give a F***”.

“Pork Soda” addresses the confounding stupidity of modern life and our inability to comprehend it, to which consumer culture can only prescribe more capitalism: “Grab yourself a can of Pork Soda // You’ll be feeling just fine // Ain’t nothin’ quite like sittin’ ’round the house // Swillin’ down them cans of swine”. In one of the least-known songs of Primus, “The Pressman” is certainly a diamond in the rough. Not only does the song relentlessly drive at you with it’s haunting melody (again, simple but effective), hypnotic in its quality, but the lyrics Claypool writes vividly paint the picture of rightwing media in today’s society. A Bannonesque protagonist tells us of his days reporting the news: “I deal with fantasy // I report the facts”. A clear nod to the “alternative facts” we are accosted by daily, an endless spew of disingenuous half-truths, logical fallacies, misrepresentations, misquotes, and outright fabrications from this bile hurricane blazing across our news feeds. For Bannon and his ilk, they have done what hard-right reactionaries are best at: take the humanist logic of liberals or the left and use it as a cudgel for their own purposes. So, the rightwing media takes relativism (which they despise in theory, but use to their advantage in practice) and bludgeons our concepts of “facts” and “truth” until they are unrecognizable only to their own side. They gerrymander the American Mind, cutting out large swaths of the country like Swiss cheese, and build a wholly separate country with their “fountain pen[s]” and “stain” our memories, so that when we use history to look into the past we confuse the victims for the villains and carry this broken translation with us into the future.

Even the instrumental tracks carry this prescient, unwavering grief. How else can one explain the song “Wounded Knee”? Clearly, in the advent of the Dakota Access Pipeline (as it continues to unfold) one must not forget what happened at Wounded Knee. It cannot possibly be a coincidence that this song was released on Pork Soda! In any other year, on any other album, the song makes no sense. Only listening to this album in the context of 2016 can one truly appreciate all the correlations!

But the clearest example of the album’s instrumental disquietude comes in the song “Hamburger Train”. It plays out like a psychedelic jam session, only some joker slipped us a bad dosage of the electric Kool-Aid and we’re having a very bad trip. What better way to explain the emotional, psychological trauma we felt that night?** The song comes towards the end of the album, as did the election in that god-awful interminable year. While you listen, you can almost feel the walls melting around you and world collapsing as you did well into the wee hours of that night, only to realize it is the physiological reaction of your brain when hope partially dies. By the time the distorted guitar comes into focus again, bleating like a stuck sheep, so too does the realization of what is to come—paralyzing you in waves of terror. It summons a sense of cosmic dread to stay henceforth until the song collapses under the exhaustion of its own inertia right into the arms of the second rendition of “Pork Chop’s Little Ditty”. It plays again like a taunt to remind us civilization and barbarism are tied together by the same dialectical rope, and it has just swung quite negatively.

And so it makes perfect sense to close out the album with “Hail Santa”, which for obvious reasons is the band’s darkest, cruelest joke of all: combining imagery of the fascist salute with the personification of capitalist joy. It welcomes us to this new world by leaving with a wave and wink to the amalgamation of these two forces: our 45th President.


** Incidentally, the song for conservatives on November 8th was: “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” 

Mr. Drompf Heads to Swampland, USA

Mr. Drompf was furious. The United States of Animals had become rather curious. And only he could save it. He told all the animals so. Atop a mahogany podium, with his best suit and finest bleached rat’s nest, he told them in a voice strained and low:

mr_drompf2

“You see, and we all know this folks, I’m the only one who can fix Swampland, Swampland, it’s sad to say, is terrible, just terr-i-ble! look at it, it smells, it’s hot, nothing gets done because you have all that brackish water and lily pads, don’t get me started with those lily pads, folks, they can’t support your weight, you get wet, it’s disgusting, I can’t stand it, we deserve better and I’m going to get you better, trust me, you know it, or my name ain’t Tummy Jeronimous Drompf, you know me, you know what I’m capable of, these swamp dwellers, they don’t care, they love it, but we need better and I’m going to get you better, I’m a toad, I don’t live in the swamp, I live on dry land, that means I can fix it, we’re going to do it, folks, send me in, I’m ready, because, and we all know it, we all know it, it’s gonna be great, simply fabulous, I’ve got the best folks in mind to handle it, you got me, the best, you can picture it right now I’m sure, it’s gonna be beautiful after I’m done with it, I know beauty, I’m a toad, vote for me: Tummy Jeronimous Drompf!”

And so on the day, the animal kingdom gathered in the Great Election Hall to begin shouting out the name of the candidate they preferred. Of course, it was not their voices that mattered as much as those of The Chosen Few—a much smaller hand-picked herd. The Chosen Few would ultimately elect the next leader. In truth, this was an antiquated system. One that should have been replaced long ago, but no one had apparently thought to do so. Instead the animals began to yell the name of their candidate, and although most of the animals did not want Mr. Drompf, his supporters were the most adamant. They locked arms and with a gurgling howl began to chant the “Call of the Drompf”…

“DROMPF! … … … DROMPF! … … … Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!

Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!”

The chant was simple enough to cut through the clutter and it grabbed the attention of enough of The Chose Few. Soon they began to chant along with the crowd, too:

“Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf, Drompf: DROMPF! DROMPF!”

The animal kingdom was a bit stunned, including Mr. Drompf himself. But he pulled up his sleeves and began to work hard indeed:

“I have the greatest plans, the best, you’ll see,” he claimed via tweeting bird. “No one knows what I know, no one but me!”

And soon the animal kingdom began to see what Mr. Drompf had in mind:

He hired Mr. V. Russ Mosquito to run the National Blood Bank, the Big Bad Wolf to oversee Housing, a Mr. I.M. Öblverius K. Ostrich as head of the EPA, the seasoned General Kiddo Warhawk as head of the Cabinet for Peace, a Giant Turd for Sanitation Director, and a crypto-fascist pile of nuclear waste as his Chief Strategist. In fact, all of the members of his cabinet were of this merit.

But his genius was not stopped there, though it was all some could bear. For being the great builder that he claimed, he hired construction crews to drain the Swampland he so shamed—using Drompf family-owned bulldozers and Drompf Premium Hosers of course. He drove back the brackish waters and the not-to-be-spoken-of lily pad. Everyone was pleased, and even his critics thought: “He might be all that bad.” He built a giant levee (made of solid gold) to keep it all behind… but only for a short period of time.

By the next day, even more construction workers were brought in to lend a helping hand. Much to the confusion of many, even Mr. Drompf, they started laying pipes that stretched far into dry land. Many animals became uneasy anew, save Mr. Drompf’s supporters who were few. For they mostly lived in silos that insulated them from the outside world.

Then, very suddenly one day, a great roar could be heard. It was no call of the wild; it was not caused by dog, horse, or bird. Someone had released the levee and all the dark putrid waters came rushing through. The swampy water ran down the pipelines with ease, and the horrible roaring sound grew and grew.

Finally, with a great burst! the waters soaked all the animal kingdom, quenching an unwanted thrust.

DET Talks: The GCC Future

(The following transcript comes from the March 5th Democratic Educational Technological Talks—sponsored by the United Bondholders of America for America Coalition (UBAAC)—in the Year of Our Lord, Trump 2019. The speaker, Rannick Hollandaise, founder and CEO of Compassionate Capitalist Solutions LLC, talked about his companies efforts to expand the human genome in new and exciting ways.)

The GCC Future

“I want to start by painting a picture for you. Not literally, I have no skills. [Laughter] But I want you to close your eyes and imagine a mother walking through a store with her son. Let’s say it’s around Christmas time. She makes the mistake of taking a turn down the toy aisle of the store. There the child is inundated with this wide array goods. All the brands, all the action figures, they’re all there. Of course the boy becomes aflutter with all these toys. He wants everything he can possibly get his little hands on. But the mother, of course, cannot afford everything presented in the aisle. She tries to reason with him, but he becomes greatly depressed, and even though they leave the aisle with two toys (which she really shouldn’t be buying for financial reasons and others) the little boy is still upset.

“Imagine now, another mother mistakenly walks her daughter down that same toy aisle… say they rearranged the store overnight so the women are understandably confused, it used to be the cutlery aisle after all. [Laughter] Anyway, mother walks with her daughter, but instead of coveting everything she sees, the daughter simply walks by as if she is observing paint drying. The girl doesn’t care. The two walk on. Nothing happens.

“Now, of course, we all might be thinking: ‘bad parenting’ or ‘greedy childish impulses’ are to blame in the first scenario, and applaud the mother in the second scenario for presumably her better parenting skills. Or we might think this is some sort of gender comment. Boys being impetuous materialists, and girls are not. We of course know that to be empirically untrue. [Laughter] We may even think the products appealed better to the boy than girl for whatever reasons, the mysterious waving of the invisible hand and whatnot.

“Whatever we may be thinking, we might not recognize that both situations present problems. The first is obvious, the child is upset and the mother is in worse-off financial standing for trying to satisfy the boy. The second, the mother and girl seem unharmed, but what about the companies that have made these toys? Won’t they be hurt? And furthermore, won’t the mommies and daddies that work at those companies be negatively effected by the no-sale? Maybe not in this one instance, but extrapolating from there, you can begin to see the larger issue at hand. It is an issue that has plagued economists, business people, politicians, parents, consumers, pretty much every person around the world. The human relation to consumption. What is it? How does it work? What are the components? Who are the actors? And so on.

“We’ve tried for centuries to understand the right balance of and conquer that ineffable social alchemy between survival, consumption, and purpose. But in today’s modern world this seems less and less likely to happen. More companies come out with more goods to satisfy more needs of more people. How could we possibly make any progress in satisfying people’s consumer demands and reach the admirable goal of full-employment? The simple answer is: we can’t. Not as the way things are. We are stuck is a vicious feedback loop of anxiety, consumption, debt, and work. We will likely be stuck in this pattern until we eliminate ourselves from the world theater. And that’s the optimistic point-of-view… [Laughter]

“For centuries, we have been looking outward for answers only to come up empty-handed. But now that’s about to change. At CCS, we’ve been working for years on a completely novel way to alter our behavior in a positive manner for America. And the key to cracking this code is a code itself, located within us. Our very own genetic code. Through a process of—what we call—‘genetic commercialization’ we have been able to go into the human genome and change the DNA in order to create certain favorable characteristics. These characteristics are related to human desire and relationship with consumerism.

“Through our genetic engineering, we are able to construct the human mind to have certain set wants and needs. By simply tinkering with a few chromosomes, we are able to properly effect the human brain so that, even as a baby, the human already craves certain types of goods and products.

“Now, I know what you might be thinking: How do I invest? [Laughter] We’re already working closely with some of the largest corporations in the country, and have received another large grant from the government to continue our research and implementation well into 2025. It’s very exciting for us.

“But I’m not here to gloat. Well, maybe a little. Why I think we’re seeing such support and cooperation is because the future needs to be a little more organized, and genetic commercialization is a necessity. No longer will we be plagued by a sea of goods, for we will already have our genes pre-programmed to enjoy certain things and be opposed to others. Certain percentages of the population will love Disney, Coca-Cola, Hershey’s and Ford Automobiles, where others will prefer Hasbro, Pepsi, Nestle, and GMC. And others more. It will be very much like now, but instead of inter-corporate consuming habits being a burden to us, it will become part of our nature. Buying General Mills products will become as easy as breathing air to us.

“With designated sections of the population genetically devoted to certain brands for their entire lives, companies can always guarantee profits, keep a consistent workforce, which means employees won’t need to stress about keeping their jobs, consumers will never spend too far outside of their income and therefore get into too much credit trouble, and we eliminate a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to handling the market. We will essentially create a predictable consuming world, rich with people consuming American products and boosting American jobs and lifestyles.

“There is no limit to what we can make our DNA do. But there is a catch. It is us. We cannot manipulate DNA of people who are already born. Every one in this room cannot be saved—I mean fixed—I mean genetically perfected—I mean… [Laughter]

“Us ‘old-fashioned’ types will have to keep doing things the way we’ve always known, but the next generation is the key. Fetal manipulation is necessary to properly enacting genetic commercialization. The process is a little too technical and complicated for this seminar, and I’m already running out of time, but to put it simply: we have to remove the fertilized egg from the uterus and perform the patented DNA-swap procedure—humbly called the ‘Hollandaise Maneuver’—to insert the new brand-specific DNA. Then we place the embryo back in the uterus and let nature take its course.

“We already know this works… this is a picture of our very first successful test subject. This is Adam. Last year we performed the Hollandaise Maneuver and Adam was born nine months later, perfectly healthy. Over the course of the last six months, we have been testing out products with Adam. One of the brands we implanted into his DNA was for Procter & Gamble, not Johnson & Johnson or other family goods companies. When we tried to use products belonging to competitive brands, Adam either shied away from the products, or (very interestingly) developed rashes. His body and mind were clearly rejecting the other corporate brands, preferring Procter & Gamble’s products. It was a revolutionary breakthrough. We’ve been testing his other brand-DNA characteristics and so far have been met with success. It’s a very encouraging development.

“And when Adam grows up and decides to have children (because we’ve reinforced the reproductive drive in his DNA, too), he will most likely pass along some of these commercialized genes to his children. Assuming we can implement matters the way we believe we can, Adam will meet an Eve with commercialized genes, too, and they will have children who crave one set of their brands or the other—so in addition to wondering whose eyes their baby has, or whose nose, they’ll also wonder if the baby has their love for Pantene and Cornflakes, or Neutrogena and Cheerios.

“As I mentioned before, we’re already working closely with corporations and the government. There are a few companies that are holding back cautiously, but we are certain they will come around to us. Much like the agricultural revolution, all it takes is one acting group to change the world. We just need one corporate entity to join us and the rest will follow. And we don’t have one, we are already working closely with more than twenty conglomerates. In addition, we are teaming up with the administration towards passing legislation that will make our genetic commercialization a routine part of the circle of life—at least for the latest crop of parents. Then within the next, say, twenty to forty years, we will have implemented our first genetically commercialized generation of Americans, and—might I add—advanced the human species.

“We’re calling this project ‘Genetically Commodified Children’ or  ‘GCC Kids’ for fun. Imagine it, an entire next generation of youths who know exactly what they want to experience and purchase, and an entire world of workers and businesses developed around those consumers, Supply and Demand working together in perfect harmony.

“It’s really not hard to imagine anymore. The future is now.”

[Vehement Applause]

Infinite City: Blue Vandas (Dorcho’s on 139th and N. Vorschein)

I’m sitting at the counter in Dorcho’s on 139th and N Vorschein. It’s been around since the late 20s. The decor clings to the epoch when diners “mattered” (something an arthouse punk I know said to me), which might make it post-war 1950s. The brown floral linoleum peels at the edges, reminiscent of a dried lakebed, or withering bouquet. The entropy is most visible near the entrance, around corners of the booths, and beneath the door to the bathroom, exposing the burgundy-painted concrete lying beneath. The walls are covered in a crude wood panelling, sections of which have warped around the ventilation system of the exposed kitchen. At night, when the room is colored in tungsten, the walls nearest to the storefront windows show how faded they have become from UV radiation. The two-tone quality accentuates the aesthetic binary of the diner, the counter to the front, the booths to the back.

Dead-center, the kitchen consists of one large blackened griddle with sundry knobs and compartments housing various thawing meats and variations of starchy sides. The decades of grease, dirt, fluids, anything transmitted through the conduit of ill-washed hands have formed a thin coagulum. It gives off a certain blue-collar sheen, or in other words: filthy luster. The health inspector’s grade “Q-” hangs alongside the framed pictures of the past: headlines from local newspapers spanning the centuries next to photos of past store owners as they age, their families, a collage of human continuum.

Blue vandas perch on the windowsill facing the street, and on rainy days (like this one) they produce an exquisite sadness, looking almost longingly out at the rain drops as they hit the glass and fall in sporadic patterns. They are well-cared for, the flowers. Their petals environ the white plastic vases that hold them forming a purple canopy (dark blue in the shade of thunderclouds) with starlight pistils at the centers. Their beauty invokes an emotional, intellectual response, some natural provocation similar to staring into flame.

My waitress, Madonna, tells me they’re the current owner’s favorite. She has a garden of them atop the building. “Cuts ’em every Sunday or so and puts new ones down.” That’s a lot of flowers. “You better believe it.” Madonna tells me some other things, opening up as women do once we realize the other isn’t a threat. This impromptu civility transforms from blue vandas, to awful weather, to my order, to Madonna complimenting me on my glasses and necklace, to a brief conversation about cervicoplasty, and then a historical account of the place: It opened the week the market crashed. It changed hands a few times, from one relative to another, but has been under the ownership of this little ole grandma named Barney for the past fifty years. Her father had a heart attack at the griddle and she inherited the business at nineteen.  Flash forward a few decades, add a couple of kids and ex-husbands later, she now spends most of her days sitting in one of the few booths towards the back speaking Portuguese to the Angolan immigrants who live around the area.

Madonna motions and I turn to notice Barney sitting in the back speaking with an Angolan? as she sips on her coffee? tea? from her skylight blue mug.

“A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E. plays. I know now because Madonna tells me—it’s her iPhone playlist.

I steal looks over at the old owner of Dorcho’s. Her eyes are fixed on her interlocutor. Her lips move calmly as she explains? argues? jokes? with the other person. Her face and hands hint to at least four? five? decades of labor. The word “velleity” pops into mind, though I can’t quite imagine why. Then I look back at the photographs and newspaper clippings over the years, all spread across the wall behind me. Customers conversing, eating, ignoring the captured past hanging muted above them. I look at the stories of the pictures and headlines, I follow them from the door, flitting from framed image to article and other, children growing old, interchangeable men and fashions from one frame to the next, “Best Diner” “Best Burger” “Dorcho’s Fights Back” “75 Years and Counting” “Local Diner Does OK”, all the way to the back where Barney sits.

I follow the points and I counter-reference them with Barney. And I wonder about the in-between moments, all the pluses and minuses that make the sum, the production not the product, those ignored or forgotten moments that are almost as important if not more than the important ones. And for a moment, I start to pull away from myself, staring deep into Barney’s sad beauty, overcome and alive, and start to understand something until Madonna sets my meal down in front of me.

“Surf’s up!”

The End of History… (Cubs ed.)

by Francis Fukuyama

 

In the course of watching Game 7 of the World Series, it was hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental was happening in world history. To read some of the recent articles posted after the game seems to point to the end of over a century’s worth of misery and the upcoming of spiritual “peace” throughout the hearts and minds of North Siders. Most of these analyses lack a certain macro-study of what is ultimately of merit and what is analytical rubbish, and thus laughably cursory.

And yet…

These articles nevertheless (poorly, by accident) point towards some grander conceptual apparatus at play, viewed through the praxis of the Cubs playoff run: first with the remnants of a once powerful San Francisco Giants team, then the tinseltown darlings Los Angeles Dodgers, and finally a revamped derelict named the Cleveland Indians that threatened the hopes and dreams of America’s Pastime with the apocalypse. But the beginning of the twentieth century has been bookended by the beginning of the twenty-first in very much the same fashion: the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions.

The triumph of Chicago, of the very idea of the North Side Cubbies, is not only evident in the final tally, the hoisting of the gold-clad trophy, or the deluge of tenth-rate bubbly, but it transcends into the highest form of Western excellence: consumer products. Lakeshore Drive Yuppies and Northwest Suburban Soccer Moms wearing T-shirts, caps, pajamas, and flags all doubled their original markups; post-college bros and dentists alike with their signed baseballs, bats, and jerseys for upwards to $4000; picture frames, bobbleheads, commemorative books or Blu-rays, you name it! found in Belmont as well as Boystown, or Albany, Norwood, and Lincoln Park, and “Go, Cubs! Go!” can be heard on radio waves all across the city; over $70 million dollars-worth of merchandise sold within the first full day alone from buyers all over the country (even the poor children of Laos, Sudan, Afghanistan, Honduras, Haiti, and more, who will wear the over-sized T-shirts intended for hulking adults paid exorbitant salaries so high the gap between the two is as imperceptible as the words “World Series Champions” and “Cleveland” or the beet-faced racist caricature smiling back at them, even these children are a sign of the overwhelming success of the Cubbies excellence).

What we maybe witnessing is not just the end of the century-plus epoch of misery for Cubs fans and thus the exuberance of fans and profiteers in an orgy of commodity exchange, but the millennium of peace and prosperity for all baseball fans at the behest of The Loveable [Winners] and ergo: THE END OF HISTORY.

I

Of course, the concept of the end of history is not original. No. It started over seventy years prior this essay with the deleterious Greek, William Sianis, and his filthy goat: Buckles. Upon being ejected from the World Series game in Wrigley Field on account of either his or his goat’s smell, he used his crypto-gypsy black magic (sacrificing Buckles outside the gates of the historic ballpark) to curse the Cubs, stating: “These Chicago Cubs, they ain’t gonna win. They’re a buncha bums. They ain’t gonna win the World Series. Because they insulted my goat. They ain’t never gonna win a World Series ever again, or my name ain’t William Sianis of 374 South Halsted Street! Mark my woods [sic]. It’s da end of history for d’em!”

Sianis was borrowing this concept of the end of history from a far superior German thinker: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich von Puff’n’Stuff Hegel: whose legacy has been tarnished a bit at the hands of Billy Goat-worshiping descendants of Sianis (and possibly closeted Satanists) who appropriated Hegel for their own anti-Cubbie rhetoric, he now has the misfortune of being seen mainly as a precursor of Sianis goat cursing.

However, there was a man from Wrigleyville who attempted to wrestle Hegel from the claws (or hooves) of the Goaters. He was Harry Carey, and he held a long and prosperous career as a baseball announcer for various clubs, including over a decade and  half with the Cubs until his death in 1998. One fateful day in fall, Carey made the astonishing claim: “…sure as God made green apples, the Cubs are going to be in the World Series,” he spoke of the key ingredients of their success that were already in place, even though the team had only finished in first place twice in a thirty-year period prior and achieved a winning record just five times in that span, went through twenty-two different managers, and would eventually lose ace pitcher Greg Maddux. To peers of Carey’s in 1991, comments calling for a new manager “maybe Jimmy Frey” (who had been fired five years previously) or “this is a veteran team, guys who are young but still are veteran,” must have seen like ramblings of a senile loon, trapped in a quixotic myopia that was the blind love of a perpetually tottering baseball club. To some now, he might seem prescient. But Carey was just a dogmatic Hegelian.

II

Hegel is key to understanding the Cubs triumph and the end of history.

To summarize Hegel’s idealist views in a few pithy sentences would be a disservice to the philosopher and only accentuate the intellectual pratfalls of this essay. But fuck it.

Hegel believed the “real” world could be impacted by the “ideal” world (not necessarily directly, but indirectly), so our historical consciouses guide our human action which influences world behaviors which influence our historical consciouses.

So, when Carey stated twenty-five years prior to the realization that the Cubs would win the World Series, he was merely speaking from the realm of consciousness that all Cubs fans had, and eventually that idea broke through the nebulous of ideas into the world of reality, bringing in the end of history.

III

“But,” some might ask, “are we really at the end of history?”

Well, are the Cubs the World Series champions? Can any other team in Major League Baseball win the 2016 World Series now? Can anyone buy merchandise that claims otherwise?

We need not ask every crackpot fanatic their answer to the above questions. It matters very little what supporters of the Colorado Rockies, or New York Yankees, San Diego Padres or Detroit Tigers have to say about matters for they are not important enough. No. We need only ask these questions from other like-minded Cubbies.

Previously, the two biggest challengers to Chicago Cubs world dominance were the St. Louis Cardinals and goat curses. But as 2016 has shown us, what we always knew would be the case from the start, the Cubs handled the Cardinals (starting back in the 2015 NLDS when they defeated them to advance to the NLCS, but then winning the head-to-head series in 2016 and finishing seventeen and a half games ahead of them in the Central Division), and eventually broke the back of the vicious curse (with the throw from Bryant to Rizzo to capture the last out of the season).

Some may point out the Cardinals were plagued by injuries, suspensions, and other setbacks, and in an already weak Central Division, the Cubs were able to move through an easy schedule, or that they benefitted from a Giants victory over the Mets (a team they had a combined record of 2-9 over the past eleven games) in the Wild Card game, or that if the Cleveland pitching staff and outfielders had not played with comical Little League bungling in Game 6 or were not overwhelmed by the weight of their own being Cleveland-ness in Game 7, the Cubs might not be World Series Champions, and others point out that there are particularly searing issues the clubhouse will have to face in the future (Chapman and Fowler might move on; Heyward was not the player they paid for; no team has won consecutive World Series championships since the New York Yankees at the turn of this century) to ensure the Chicago Cubs hegemony.

With all these accusations flying about like a cherished W, it is possible to forget a simple truth. In 1908, the Cubs won the World Series. The present world seems to have confirmed this fact and stayed relatively close to the fundamental principles that a baseball team should win the World Series, and even though it might have been 108 years between then and now before the Cubs won the championship again, no one can deny they did, in fact, win the World Series, thus not only breaking the curse but establishing the greatness and ubiquity of Cubbie-dom.

IV

What, then, does it mean to be at the end of history?

Ultimately, because the Cubs are World Series champions it means they will remain so for the foreseeable future and thus live at the end of history in their surfeit of celebratory goodies, parades, and glad tidings.

Clearly, teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins still exist in the world, and thus in history, but for any team (or their fans) that want to experience the joy and wonder of being a champion, all they need to do is to stop being them and become a Chicago Cub.

Based off my connections with the front offices in Cleveland and even the South Side the intelligentsia is most likely already starting to make their moves northward.

V

The victory of the Cubs spells the death of the Billy Goat curse. Its passing means the growing “Common Cubbietization” of Major League Baseball, and the unlikely return of any other equal-measured competitor to rise from now till the Rapture.

This does not mean the end of all problems, per se, in Chicago. The river will still need to be dyed a natural color, Jay Cutler will still be the Bears quarterback, and millions of Chicagoans will continue to drink Old Style and eat a glorified bread bowl of meat, cheese, and red sauce they call “pizza”… which might compel one to wonder how significant a Cubs victory is, but… … …

Now and forever, the Cubs will remain the victors valiant, the heroes of the West(ern civilized world), there need not be another champion of the Major Leagues for there is no alternative now to the Chicago Cubs.

The end of history will be sad for many. The struggle for a new identity will be felt. Many Cubbies will have a hard time coming to terms with being winners. The willingness to get piss-drunk and risk arrest for a purely abstract goal of greatness by punching a Brewers fan in the face will be lost. The ethic of “Loveable Loserism”will be replaced by something less adhesive, some cold calculation of victory, an endless sea of championship paraphernalia.

All we will have to look forward to now is this boredom, and perhaps, one day, look back longingly at history.

Barbershop off Main St.

For those who had even the most inchoate appreciation of spatial properties and crudest admiration for aesthetics, the barbershop was an offense to such attuned faculties. The locomotive design impacted all the contents of the room together into this long, strained hallway, without any of the pleasantries afforded by riding transit: mainly a sense of adventure: instead, what remained was the strong feeling of claustrophobia and decorative constipation. Checkerboard tiles spread out across the floor fading off into a blur, some optical deception, as the eyes hit the horizon. When buffered, which was rare, the floor glared back the light reflecting off it, day or night, to suggest a demur attitude towards cleanliness, preferring the soot-rich scrubbing of a years-old mop to crest its battered surface and expose blemishes in the dried remains of dirty water; most often, random marauding tuffets of clipped hair were noticed roaming across the barren plains searching for crevasses to hide in or shoes to fix under. Undusted frames of mass-produced prints hung scattered on the halogen-colored walls: Stuart’s unfinished Athenaeum, a detailed lithograph of Connecticut, bad Impressionists and Sargent’s divisive Gassed, ugly illustrations from obliged school children, a few covers of the Saturday Evening Post ripped straight from the magazine: their selection and level of skilled placement reinforced the banal eclecticism of Main Street. An overused broom and its mop companion leaned in a corner. To stare into the local parlor was similar to falling in it. One could not fight its gravitational pull.

… Conquista Todo

La Silla

Alejandro Francisco Villalba-Peña sat in a white leather chair next to his daughter’s bed. The chair was handcrafted from a Peruvian Almond (though the tree was not from Peru, nor did it produce almonds). As his mother used to tell him, Alejandro’s grandfather walked out into the forest determined to change his life. “There was no work in our village or even in the nearest city, which was not much of a city at all. Your grandparents struggled to feed us six children. One day, your grandfather just left the town. He never told your Abuela where he was going, he just left. He was gone for almost four days. She thought a jaguar ate him, or some bandits killed him. I was just a baby then, but I remember distinctly waking in my mother’s arms as she cried to the policeman and neighbor about how he was missing and they needed to find him. They kept saying there was nothing they could do. Then, in the middle of the night, he returned. Oh! was your grandmother outraged. She beat him with a broom and kicked him out of the house. She was smaller than me, and your grandfather was like you: tall and strong: but she beat him out of the house anyway. He even still had his ax in hand. She did not care! The next morning, though, she had calmed down and let him in. He told her of how he found the biggest tree in the forest, and how he worked on chopping the tree down. At first he didn’t know why he was doing it, maybe sell the wood for some money in the city. It took him all day to chop this tree down, some seventy to one-hundred meters high and almost three meters wide—though the tree grew more when your Papa was drunk,” she would wink.

“When the tree finally fell, the earth shook. He was in awe of this magnificent, huge fallen beast. It was too beautiful to be turned into simple firewood. Plus, when he was chopping it down, he realized he guessed the wrong tree. The wood was so hard, it was perfect for furniture… now… at this point in the story, your Abuela was almost at his throat again. ‘You don’t know how to make any furniture!’ she yelled at him. I don’t remember this, but your Papa always told me it happened. He remembered raising his voice to her, telling her how he would find a way, God willing. Then he stormed out of the house with some other tools and his ax. But these weren’t carpentry tools, no. He took what he had, even stole Abuela’s favorite knife, and disappeared for a week. When he returned, though, he had the most-beautiful chair my mother had ever seen. It was still crude, he needed to sand it and treat it, but it was beautiful. He sold it to a wealthy businessman in the capital. That first chair saved our family, and started the Peña company.” His mother usually sat back in whatever piece of furniture, usually the chair Papa made for Abuela on their anniversary. “He used to tell me, of all the chairs he ever made himself, the ones from that first tree were the greatest, and none better than the first. It was a magnificent work of art, Alejandro. Forged from a most desperate man, in desperate times. The Lord moved through him out there in the forest. He made him more than he ever was.”

Alejandro had additions made to the chair. It was now tufted with white leather and the top rail and arms covered in gold trim. The leather was a gift from the owner of the richest cattle farm in the nation. The gold came from the country’s mines. It had been molded into figures of ancient gods and peoples, long gone but etched into the collective memories of Alejandro’s people. The figures were designed so whenever he sat in the chair he was surrounded by the legends of his country and the people who came before him. The metaphor was lost to Alejandro. He wanted jaguars, the newly christened national animal, roaring and fighting one another all around him. He had dreamed of such things since he was a boy.

He was insulted when his wish was not met. He knew he was unambiguous when he gave his instructions. It was a slight against him. But the jeweler was his brother-in-law, and the work done for free, so he could not reject the final design. Every time he sat in the chair with his daughter, though, he was reminded of this disrespect and furthermore he was indebted to his brother-in-law for it. This was the first chair of the Peña legacy. It was the one his grandfather could not buy back, nor his father will it’s return. No amount of money, or might, could return the chair to his family. It was not until Alejandro became El Padre that the chair was returned to the rightful owners. He was supposed to sit upon it in the Great Room, where he would run the country, but the disrespect was too great for him to ignore. So the chair was moved to his daughter’s room.

 

Time in the Fog: The Farm

(Previously)

THE FARM

 

The dying Virginian summer held on to its intensity in the idiosyncratic fashion of a Southern drawl, languidly carrying on towards fall. The heat hung in the air along with the thick moisture August provides. As the seconds dragged closer to midnight, the temperature still dawdled in the low-nineties. It had been this way for some weeks now, at least ten days. It was hard to keep track of time when each moment was just as oppressively hot as the next, and no degree of vegetation could shield one from the immeasurable radiation pouring down, trapped by the vapors in the air. Day transitioned into night and back again. The weather stayed the same. It became another obstacle for Agent Robins’s re-initiation.

The “field trips” ran some twelve to sixteen hours long for however many days until the mission was completed. The team might have to cover anywhere from eight to twelve miles a day through the heavy terrain. It had been almost fifteen years since she first stepped foot on the Farm to begin her training. Though she still maintained good physical conditioning on her own, returning to the field was a different matter all together. It required not only a special degree of corporeal attention, but cognitive as well.  

Her training returned within the first few hours of her inaugural day, though: how to spot markers of roaming enemies and avoid tripwires or makeshift landmines, the best field techniques for keeping the body temperature low and feet dry, how to stay agile and silent with fifty-pound equipment (most of it unnecessary in the real field, but added in training to antagonize trainees) and sift through the forest’s white noise to tune in on footsteps, and mostly, she remembered the importance of battlefield equanimity.

It was a simple mission: track a group of ELN fighters, maybe six to ten strong, and eliminate them. But the days were cruel. One of the recruits suffered a bad sunburn on his arms and neck, he never slept well as a result. Most were exhausted by the continuous deluge of thick heat and traveling up steep hills and back down into valleys. They never complained, to their credit, but they were too slow. They would never catch the target at their current pace, and they risked being spotted if they moved too slowly—there were always more. Agent Robins knew by the trail size (which also gave away the formation), and few bits of trash left behind, the enemy’s numbers were fluctuating wildly anywhere from ten to twenty or more. The new recruits did not notice. Outnumbered, they would have to use the environment to their advantage.

That night, she encouraged the team leader to press on. Brady Copeland, graduated from Stanford with degrees in International Politics and Botany, former wrestler, admirable IQ, considers himself a gentleman, the typical red-meat All-American attributes that get selected for the agency. “Genetically-Modified Boy Scouts,” her mentor used to say.

 

“But how?” he looked up at her. He was laying down, seconds from sleep.

“We’ll track by moonlight, and perform night raids.”

He thought about it. He looked over to the other team members, some already sleeping. It had been an especially long day, and even though the index was still pushing into the high-eighties, most fell asleep from pure exhaustion. He shook his head. “It’s against the mission guidelines.”’

“There are no guidelines. We need to move. Now. We’re too slow. The rebels heavily outnumber us. If they’re smart, they are routinely splitting up and sending out scouts to ensure they aren’t walking into something or being followed. Based off the trails, they are smart. So, the longer it takes for us to find them is more time we are in the dark, and that increases our vulnerability and likelihood of mission failure.”

That struck a chord. It usually did with types like Brady. She watched his eyes as his brain tried to process the hypothetical scenario of failing, then cross examine the ramifications with breaking protocol and heading out in the middle of the night with a team already depleted of rest and stamina, but his eyelids kept fluttering. He could not focus. He let out a sigh. “I disagree, Agent Robins. Get some sleep.”

 

The following day, over thirty ELN insurgents ambushed the team of five at dusk. She and another recruit, Kerr, were able to stay alive long enough and use the cover of darkness to slip away through a hole in the attack. For the next six days, she pursued the ELN squad. There was a main core of fifteen that would swell upwards to forty and then disband. She kept track of the main group with Kerr until the sixth night when they shrunk to only eight. She had Kerr stationed just on the outskirts of the camp with explicit instructions: “Don’t move.”

Slithering through the ground, she came upon the scout who was keeping watch. His name was Church, but for the purposes of the drill he smeared dark green paint on his face and was a firm believer in focalism. His black ski mask was pulled up on his head and he wore a boonie atop. He was comfortable. It was his mistake.

She snuck up on him and drew her knife. The blade made the lightest breath as it released from its sheath, the killing spirant. He was on his feet taking slow steps around the bivouac. He did not notice his boot almost kissed her knee. She rose behind him and in one muted glimmer had her hand on his mouth and knife on his throat. She whispered: “You’re dead.”

She then woke up the remaining seven in a similar fashion. The last was the team leader, Gibson. She tapped his boots for him. When he woke, he saw the other members of his team sitting around the fire. His combatant stood above.

 

“Evening, Robins,” he stretched out of his waterproof blanket.

“Evening, sir.”

He rolled his eyes as he sat up. He looked at his men. “I assume I’m dead?”

“That would be correct.”

“You all, too?” he asked aloud. The team nodded. He shook his head. “Goddamnit, Church.”

Church said nothing.

Gibson looked at Robins. “Knife?”

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Good work. What about Kerr?”

“He’s securing the perimeter.”

“How is he?”

“Smart enough to stick with me.”

“You cocky bitch.”

“Easy, sir,” Church said. “That’s a real knife she’s wielding.”

The men laughed.

“All right,” Gibson said. “This op is over. I want to thank you, Myra. I was beginning to miss my bed.”

 

The next mission used a mixture of al Qaeda techniques and various tactics from sub-Saharan guerrilla outfits. She was the team leader. The initial testing was over. Now she was being prepared for what was to come.

Ten Dollar Rosé

“Raspberry Beret” is one of Prince’s most well-known and beloved songs off his Around the World in a Day album. But little do people know the history behind the song and what it was originally called.

Back in 1983, while making his breakthrough commercial success, Purple Rain, Prince had already composed the music for “Raspberry.” It was going to be a hidden track on the album after the titular song. “Yeah, he was really jazzed about that song,” recalled Lisa Coleman. “He really liked the idea of burying it in the album as a gift for the fans.”

But the original lyrics for the song made some people less-enthusiastic. “Man. Those lyrics sucked,” laughed Bobby Z. “But of course, you can’t tell Prince that. He’ll go off on you. Dude was so serious about his music, lyrics, everything. Everyone was looking at each other, the music was there. It was a great jam, but the lyrics were so Goddamn lame. No one could say anything. But we all knew it.”

Eventually, as the lore goes, Prince’s father, John L. Nelson, was the one to break it to his son that the lyrics in the song  needed a little more time to mature. When asked how the musical legend took the news, Bobby Z. said: “He was real quiet. Didn’t move. Didn’t even look like he was breathing. Just stared at his old man for like twenty minutes without saying or doing anything. Then a small tear started rolling down his cheek. I’ll never forget it. He told us he needed a minute alone. So we left. A couple hours went by, we expected he’d tell someone to come get us when he was ready. I thought he’d trash the place or something, but nothing happened. Another hour goes by and the studio engineer goes to see how things are, he’s probably worried about his equipment. Dude comes back and is like: ‘Prince has locked himself in the vocal booth and I can’t get him to come out.'” He shook his head. “He was in there for three days. Didn’t let anyone in. Didn’t come out. For three days.” He paused for a moment. “Then he baked a cake and wrote ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’ That was Prince.”

Prince would obviously revisit the song and write some new lyrics, the ones we all know and love to this day.

The original lyrics were forgotten about until recently when they were found stuffed away in Prince’s own 1000-page cookbook for spaghetti recipes. They are as below. The song was titled: “Ten Dollar Rosé”

I was working for a time at a Beer and Wine, trying to buy a color TV
My friends told me repeatedly I was wasting my time
‘Cause I was colorblind, you see

I think I was in Aisle Three stacking pork rinds or something
It couldn’t have been much more
That’s when I spotted her, yeah I saw her
She strolled in across the wet floor, wet floor

(And) she bought a
Ten dollar rosé
The kind you find in a shitty liquor store
Ten dollar rosé
And though it was warm, she bought a little more
Ten dollar rosé
I think I love her

Drunk though she was
She had the nerve to ask me
If I could microwave her chicken parm
So, look here
I put her in my station wagon
And we took a trip
Down to old man Johnson’s farm

I said now, eating small birds never turned me on
Showed her how those hens were treated badly by the hicks
She seemed to see
But I could tell as she looked on
She wanted to eat those chicks

(And) she bought a
Ten dollar rosé
The kind you find in a shitty liquor store
Ten dollar rosé
And though it was warm, she bought a little more
Ten dollar rosé
I think I love her

She kissed me so hard, I think she chipped a tooth
I tried to tell her she went too far
Nothing matters to the birds and bees
She screamed, “I’m a movie star!”

Look
So I won’t say it was the greatest
But I tell ya
If I had the chance to do it all again
I wouldn’t change a stroke
‘Cause chickens they got choked
Because she’s the kind who likes to spend

(Ten dollar rosé)
The kind you find (The kind you find)
The kind you find (In a shitty liquor store)
Oh no no
(Ten dollar rosé)
(And though it was warm)
Where have all the rosé women gone?
Yeah (Ten dollar rosé)

I think I, I think I, I think I love her

(Ten dollar rosé)
No no no
No no no (The kind you find)
(In a shitty liquor store)
(Ten dollar rosé)
Tell me
Where have all the rosé women gone? (And though it was warm)
(She bought a little more)
(Ten dollar rosé)

 

Scenes: The Maestro

My retinas were kissed by the amber-hue of the concert hall as I came out onto the stage. The house lights revealed the more-than-two-thousand seats that environ the orchestral “pit.” Soon, they all would be filled with over-enthused patrons, who have waited years for the return of the maestro. The first show since his… hiatus. People coming from all over the country, as well as Europe, China, Japan, India, to see the opening night of his return. Tickets were sold out in less than ten minutes. I had to personally tell several offices of presidents and kings that there were no more tickets available. Consequently, I am now banned from several of these countries.

The concert hall’s undulating fluidity of walls and ceiling, bleeding concave into convex and back, illustrates a visually inverse reflection of the sound, trapping the acoustics in their place so that no matter where one sits in the hall the experience is audibly the same. When he first stepped out onto the stage (the first time not only on that one, but any in fifteen years) he remarked: “Das Paradox ist im Spiel.” When the chairman and other board of directors asked what he meant, I took it upon myself to translate: “He is thinking about the interplay between the music that will be animating outward and the constructed pieces designed to keep it inward. That struggle is like a playful wrestling.” They looked around the hall and back at me, a hint of confusion in their smiling dumb faces, looking to me for more. So I added: “He likes it.”

Tonight, he’ll be playing Dmitri Shostakovich’s “5th Symphony,” portions of Sergei Prokofiev’s “The Tale of the Stone Flower,” and selected works from Jules Massenet’s “Eve” and Hans Rott’s “Symphony in E-Major” plus, as a surprise encore performance, his latest composition. He wants to “break their hearts, then slowly put them back together after the intermission,” to “show them the whole breadth of the human element.” He is excited. “Oh Camille,” he said the night before last over dinner. “They again have returned. Those wonderful butterflies.” Diese wunderbaren Schmetterlinge. Ich sehe sie wieder.

He was out on the stage. In two hours the doors would open. He was sitting in the third cellist’s wooden chair. He looked concerned, perplexed even, swaying from one side of the seat to the other. Scratching his hair, listening carefully to nothing, he leaned left, then right, back again, looked as if he was almost inspecting the air underneath the seat.

Last night he called me in a panic. “Camille! Darling! It’s impossible. Just simply impossible!” What? I asked. What was the matter? I was trying to remain focused while simultaneously tearing myself from the grips of a deep sleep. “The chairs! They’re simply awful!” Then he proceeded to tell me how he needs to replace all of the orchestra’s chairs. But it was three in the morning. “I don’t care! We can’t have a show with those shit chairs!” He instructed me on what he needed. Wooden chairs. Handcrafted. Preferably with at least ten years of use, and possibly birch wood, but under no circumstances oak.

The board members were not too pleased when in the morning they witnessed the maestro (gently) tossing the concert hall’s chairs out from the pit and placing the wooden replacements down. One looked at me with eyes that seemed to say: “Again?” Various staff at the concert hall were standing about watching the maestro along with the delivery men who had the wooden chairs I was able to find—they came gratis from a local school that was preparing to throw them out.

It was easy to understand the board members frustration, and confusion. The new chairs were ugly, worn, some had crude graffiti written on the seats and sides in marker or etched with pen or pencil: the most common unsavories were the word “Fuck” and phallic images—quite remarkable detail when considering these came from a 4th grade classroom. They were by far inferior to the usual ones. The president came up to me: “You can’t possibly allow this to happen! Those chairs he’s throwing around cost us more than two-hundred dollars each.” They were quite nice to sit in. Padded, stainless steal, coated in a black matte paint, heavy. The maestro was humming Ravel as he picked one chair, then another, and dropped them off the stage into the front row. “Will he stop doing that!?” the president raged. A scuffle broke out between the maestro and an employee of the hall who was following orders. The maestro’s mood changed like a flash as he struggled for control over a chair from the employee. “Du Idiot! Du widerliches Arschloch! Lass los!” An ugliness reverberated throughout the hall for the next minute, so arresting it doubled as a vacuum afterwards leaving the open space as a new muted environment. I did my best to calm all parties, though I was staunchly defending my mentor. After the president made a rather uncouth comment about the maestro’s behavior, I had no other option but to take it upon myself to explain that if the two-hundred dollar chairs were so important to her, she could have them, but there would be no maestro.

After the fight, he disappeared. We were searching for him for more than six hours, but he was nowhere to be found in the building or surrounding area. (I later learned the president had called several conductors in that timeframe to see if they would fill in, but to no avail.) I was in my room, in a state of melancholy, when one of the interns informed me the maestro had returned. He brought me through the back to the stage, and surely there the man of the hour was.

I slowly came upon the maestro while he moved from the cellist’s chair to the first oboist’s. He was in full composer regalia. I wondered how he managed to change, as my room and his were connected and I left the separating door open. How did he sneak in without me knowing? “Maestro,” I called in a gentle manner so as not to startle him. He turned to me with a smile, then back to the matter at hand of sitting in the chair, turning from one side to the other and back, listening, scrutinizing nothing. My heart began to jump. The thought of that board member’s eyes returned. “Again?” I asked him what he was doing. He smiled at me in a sort of paternal affability. “I’m listening.” To what? The reverberation? The silence? The hall? “No, Camille,” he laughed. “To the chair.” I was near tears as he moved to the second oboist’s seat. But why? Why in the name of the heavens would he need to listen to the chairs?

He stopped and briefly sighed. He understood now that I could not see just like the others.

“My darling. The chairs are important. I need the right ones to sing out just a little, so that when Mary,” he pointed to the violinist’s empty spot, “or Henry,” he motioned back to where the tam-tam player sits, “when they move in their chairs the slightest creak will sound. And with any luck, it will happen in the lulls between the triumphs of music.” But what was wrong with the previous chairs? “They were too good. They made no sound. In all the practices, something was amiss. I couldn’t understand why the music felt so hollow to me. Because when I would see these players shift in their seats, no sound would produce. It was haunting. Like I was trapped in some nightmare. Every single sound is part of the orchestra. The beauty is lost if the entirety is not realized. All of this,” he motioned around him, “means nothing if when Yoshino,” he pointed down at his lap, “squirms in her chair as she does, the audience does not hear it.” He smiled at me, so pleased by current events. “Do you see now?”  Siehst du jetzt? Siehst du die kleiner Schmetterlinge?

… I smiled back in silence. What else could I do?