Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas, Evening

Harvest Moon

Who would have thought that the rain would hold off,
But the storm clouds are holding their breath,
Together we walk past the puddles in the street
And we're ready to fall off the edge

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon,
And your being here is scaring me to death

I can't believe the good luck that we've had,
We've had nothing to fear but the cold
And holding you tight makes me tremble in the night
I'm not ready to watch as you go

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon
And your being here is scaring me to death

Maybe it's only the wine or the beer,
But the sound of your laughter is pulling me near,
It's the only voice left that I can still hear,
It's delightful, and it's getting very weird

I have your picture, I have your name,
And now you have the key to my heart,
I know when I see you, you will give me a smile,
And I know that it's only a start

The harvest moon is rising on a chilly afternoon,
And your loving me is scaring me to death

Many-Troubled Heart

In the green light of the river,
In the misty mountain wind
That blows down in late November,
I think that's where I'd begin

If I tried to tell the story
Of my many-troubled heart
And my hopes that you might heal me,
I know just where I might start

Would you hold me in the darkness
When you think that you should go,
Would you keep me warm in spite of
What you couldn't ever know?

And I know I don't deserve it
But I'm trying to be cool,
If I try to make you happy
Would you make me happy too?

Would you stay with me this evening
If the sky should start to snow,
Would you keep me warm in spite of
What you couldn't ever know?

The Den

Come into the den and sleep
Beneath the TV set with me,
Though I haven't slept in there in years,
I want to go back there with you
And show you what I've missed,
And what you've been missing too

Friday night we'll stay awake,
We'll talk, and as we stay up late
We will feel as though we're kids again,
And we won't notice when we sleep
What shows that we have missed,
And who cares in all this heat?

Little Window

The lights are on a million feet beneath our wings,
All shining like a Christmas box of colors;
The headlights on the interstate, the stoplight greens,
Your hand in mine, my blood is beating faster

And everything is slower on the city streets,
Before we touch the ground with one another;
The Christmas bulbs are dancing on the midnight sea,
The lights are bobbing red and blue together

Oh, you, say you see the pretty things
Outside your little window,
Oh do say you see the pretty sights
That I have seen a thousand times before

The cars are circling miles around in endless streams,
Reflecting a continuum of color;
Your glove is warm like something from a winter's dream,
We're breathing in a breathless sea of wonder

Oh, you, say you see the pretty things
Outside your little window,
Oh do say you see the pretty sights
That I have dreamed a thousand times before

Oh, please, tell me you can see the lights
Outside our little window,
Oh do tell me what you're seeing now
So I can see it too.

Not a Word

I don't know what you're thinking
And you haven't said a word;
I think we're having fun but
If you haven't said a word
I can't be sure if you are happy
Or you'd rather be alone,
Now my pulse is pounding out and
I don't want to take you home,
But you're going to have to leave me here tonight
And I only hope tomorrow everything will be alright

I think it's much too quiet
But I haven't said a word;
I haven't even whispered
Since you haven't said a word,
And I don't want to push you
If you'd rather be alone,
But my brain is breaking down and
Now I feel so alone,
And you said you'll have to leave me here tonight,
And tomorrow and the next night, and the next one after that,
And I only hope the next time everything will be alright


There's something in my cup
And I can't say I like it much,
But for some strange reason
That I can't explain,
I drink it every year and I regret it every time;
They call it a tradition, but I see a wasted night

There's nothing on my mind
Because there's nothing in my eyes,
And for some strange reason
That I've come to accept,
I cannot feel the emptiness that's growing in my head;
I can't remember why I didn't want to go to bed

I can't imagine anything
Except what's in my cup
I drink it slowly
Until I've had enough

What a Lovely Dream

I had a dream
That I was lost in San Francisco city lights,
Up all night
Watching Charlie Chaplin films on silent nights,
City Lights,
With a smile across my face I dreamed a happy dream,
What a lovely dream it would have been with you

I closed my eyes
And still they followed me like summer fire flies,
And they took flight
Across the harbor as the stars fell from the sky,
Such great heights,
Reflections danced upon the bridge and then I had a thought,
What a lovely dream it would have been with you

Christmas, Evening

At the end of the evening when the party is done,
Will you cry for the joy
Or just look forward to the next one?

When the sun's going down, and the windows are red,
Once the music is stilled
Will you hear what I have said?

Because the Lord is not returning for another billion years,
And the world will keep on spinning while you're fearing all your fears
Until there's nothing left to fear for and the sun will just explode
And there'll be nothing left of anything but ash and melted snow

If you're lying with me and you would like to be saved,
Well, then we should sleep in
And dream our troubles all away,

At the end of the day, there will still be the lights
On the rooftops and the lampposts
To illuminate the nights,

When you're flying in an airplane over city streets and see
All the wonders of the world are lit up like Christmas Eve,
You can rest upon your pillow and be sure that you won't fall,
When the distance takes the buildings, we'll be seven miles tall

'Till the end of our days, until the end of the night,
In the light of this love,
I really think that we'll be alright.

Happy New Year

Happy new year, it's the last one you'll remember,
Just like last year, and the ones that came before;
Time is almost up
So hold on tight and say good night,
When you wake up you'll be older,
You'll be new

Happy new year, it's the last one you'll remember,
You can be whatever you would like to be;
The clock is winding down
And you're as free as free is free,
When you wake up you'll be no one,
You'll be you

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sid Meier's Civilization V

After many years of trying, I believe it is safe to say that I am just not put together properly for strategy games.  It's not that I'm a poor strategist.  Or maybe it is.  Really, I don't know what it is.  All I know is that without cheat codes, I might never have seen the end of just about any campaign mode I've come across.  Strategy games that I participate in have a way of ending in tears, as my carefully polished Tier One swordsmen are trampled under the wings of rampaging zombie-dragons.  This scenario assumes, of course, that my opponent is sadistic enough to upgrade that far: my childlike defenses can usually be undone by much less.

Yet I continue to play them; worse, I continue to love them.  There are few things that are more satisfying to me than assembling a well-run base: building your impenetrable wall of turrets, researching all the shiniest technologies, and marching your orderly squadrons out to face their destinies at the appointed time.  And there are few things more horribly frustrating than having the whole thing turned upside down when your opponent sneaks a unit in, wrecks your whole resource-gathering apparatus, and comes charging in on wings of fiery death before you have time to pump out more than a few defenders.

So it's really very easy to understand why I got turned on to Civilization IV a while back.  Unlike the strategy games I was used to, it was turn-based, so I could afford to turn my head away every once in a while.  It also featured a semi-quasi-almost realistic simulation of world history, brimming with historical people, historical monuments, and a wealth of edifying historical quotes delivered by Leonard Nimoy.  Most importantly, it could be set to a difficulty level low enough for me to play the way I wanted to: I could avoid fighting wars as long as I wanted and focus on the simple sandbox joys of building, building, building. 

And now history has granted me Civilization V, a reinvention of the series with all the beautiful elements that made me love its predecessor.  Nimoy's out, but Morgan Sheppard is in, dispensing an even greater array poetry, scripture, and classic prose in a suitably wizened baritone.  The World Wonders are more varied, with suitably epic newcomers like the Brandenburg Gate and the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing.  There are even features that seem expressly designed to tickle my nerd bones: every Civilization's leader actually speaks aloud in his or her native language.  So much do I love this game's presentation, I'd be sorely tempted to give it perfect marks on that basis alone.

I also find the gameplay to be a more relaxing, enjoyable experience than in Civ IV.  I developed some bad habits in that game, such as restarting whenever I failed to claim a holy city or major monument, and tedious behaviors like that have a way of killing some of the fun.  Civ V no longer has holy cities, and the process of building monuments is more user-friendly; besides, their sheer number is solace enough when someone beats you to constructing a few. It's nice to concentrate on some of the more creative aspects of civilization building, rather than engage in neurotic races to try and found Hinduism in New York City, a thousand years ahead of schedule.

The graphics are quite beautiful; almost too beautiful, actually.  I suspect it operates in the upper regions of my graphics card's ability to cope, and I get some pretty heavy slowdown on large maps, especially late in the game.  But there's lots of pretty animations, and the transition from various elevations and perspectives is smooth.  As long as I can keep the laptop from exploding, a little chugging hardly dims what is otherwise a lovely view.

Much as I love this new Civ, I feel like I don't really understand it yet.  The basics all seem to be there, and I've picked up on some of the more obvious changes and integrated them into my playing style.  But my sloppy performances at easy difficulty levels leads me to believe there are subtler changes that I have not mastered.  I'd be lying if I said I'd "mastered" Civ IV, but this really is a beast of a different color, and my bewilderment seems to hint at a really profound alteration of the principles at stake.  Then again, I am quite easily bewildered, so it may be just a trick of all the shiny new buttons.  But I'm willing to give Civilization the benefit of the doubt.

If there's one complaint I have to make, it must be in relation to the game's diplomacy system.  I had it all worked out to my satisfaction in Civ IV, but in Civ V it seems as though half of the time my actions have nothing to do with the AI players' responses.  When you can go three hundred years without snubbing or even looking askance at someone and still wind up on their shit list, it sort of invalidates the whole concept of diplomacy.  Is that really the message we want to be sending to the children?

The Civilization series is perhaps the paragon of the "timesink" as a gameplay model: a methodically played game can last the better part of a day (or night), and the hours have a way of slipping quietly past as you routinely tell yourself "just one more turn..." until, finally, you find yourself bleary eyed at three in the morning.  There may be something a little surreptitious about this model of game design (outsiders call it "addiction," but isn't that a loaded word?), but its magnetism is undeniable.  More than just a strategy game, it's like an intelligently managed, interactive ant farm: you know exactly what the little guys are going to do next, and you want to take them there right away.  If it takes a few hours of my life away, I consider them well paid for.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day Revealed!

We Americans have a tendency to go all-in on our holidays, single-mindedly hyping their approach, feasting ourselves into a stupor, and spending several subsequent days in a state of recovery.  Put too many celebrations too close together, and you're liable to send the average American into an acute state of holiday toxicity.  And so it was, with the abnormal proliferation of holidays in the waning days of the year, that Americans at last recognized their limits, and drew a line in the sand.  Unlike the bulk of the Anglophone world, we do not celebrate Boxing Day; indeed, we scarcely know what it is.  As a seeker of truth, I find these conditions unacceptable.  After consulting a series of historical, sociological, and alchemical texts, I have put together a brief history of Boxing Day, the sort of frank, accurate description you might get if you would just ask a Canadian "what's up with Boxing Day?"  Probably even better!

Boxing Day occurs on December 26th, which is pretty risky business: as the desperate me-too! status of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa attest, Christmas will suffer no serious competition.  Nevertheless, Boxing Day has a long and rich tradition of playing second fiddle, dating back to the Middle Ages.  In those days it was known as the Feast of St. Stephen, and it still is if you're that special kind of Catholic who knows when all the Feast Days are.  St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, having been stoned to death by an angry mob led by Saul of Tarsus, who would later convert to Christianity and become known as St. Paul.  How Sts. Stephen and Paul get along in heaven is not presently known, but one can safely assume they attend different holiday parties.

St. Stephen carries the title of protomartyr, which sounds very impressive until you remember that the first person to actually die in the name of the faith was Jesus himself, who of course outranks Stephen according to every conceivable metric.  And of course, while stoning is undoubtedly an unpleasant way to go, it is perhaps a step or two in wrenching agony and terror from crucifixion.  Christian hagiography is chock full of creative tortures and executions: upside-down crucifixions, flayings, spiked wheels, and even a burning, brazen bull.  Compared to these, stoning seems almost humane.  Almost.

Nevertheless, for centuries Christians gave props to Stephen for having the stones, as it were, to be the first man to follow Christ down the path of death for the cause of God, and decided that he should likewise follow Jesus in perpetuity.  That they chose to celebrate his martyrdom on the day after the Savior's birth, rather than the day after his death, may not make a whole lot of sense on the surface.  Presumably it all comes together after a couple of egg nogs.  In any event, St. Stephen is still given his due in countries such as Ireland, Catalonia, and Hungary; even Americans are vaguely aware of his feast day, at least those who know the lyrics to "Good King Wenceslas."  Sadly, most Americans cannot even bother to remember the words of their own national anthem, and so Stephen's last shot at trivial relevance in American culture is a pathetic misfire.

Today, St. Stephen's Day is celebrated in Britain, Canada, Australia, and other commonwealth lands as Boxing Day.  The Christological elements of Christmas were long ago usurped by commercial interests, and so Stephen dutifully follows Christ once more: the "boxes" are filled with material goods, and Boxing Day is "celebrated" by relentless, bloodthirsty consumerism.  In effect, Boxing Day is a parasitic interloper, a Black Friday variant that has replaced St. Stephen in the hearts of an increasingly irreligious public.  Much as the early Christians commandeered pagan feasts to mark their own liturgical calendars, capitalism has taken hold of Christianity's most sacred days and used them to sell appliances and consumer electronics.  Stephen, for his part, is probably just happy that the 26th of December is still marked off at all.

This year, however, Boxing Day does NOT fall on December 26th.  Because Christmas and Boxing Day are both bank holidays, their observation is shifted when either should fall on a weekend.  With Christmas on a Saturday this year, the corresponding bank holiday will be tomorrow, the 27th.  Likewise, Boxing Day will be held on the 28th.  The 26th will presumably be known to most people simply as "Sunday."

Next year, Stephen.  Next year...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Great Moments in WTF: Yard Dogs Road Show

I don't go to very many live shows.  Attending most shows requires knowing about them well in advance, remembering to buy tickets for them, and not falling asleep that afternoon (all mistakes I've been known to make).  If you do manage to make it there, you've got to put up with hordes of fellow-show-goers who haven't showered and are probably going to start smoking pot at some point or another (at least in Eugene, anyway), while your ears sit at the mercy of the sound engineer and his own unusual ideas about the proper volume levels of various microphones.  When you've got three hundred and forty hours of recorded music at your fingertips, going out to watch some local punks can just seem so unnecessary.

But then again, there are some times in a young man's life when he must do something weird for no particular reason.  Governed fitfully as I am by this ethos, I perused the web pages of a few venues and, on the basis of a bizarre name (Yard Dogs Road Show) and about twenty seconds of eccentric music from their MySpace page, selected a Friday eight o'clock show at the historic W.O.W. Hall.  I gave my girlfriend a call and made the date, with only the vaguest idea of what hijinx I'd gotten us into.

After forgetting the name of the band at the ticket vendor ("Radio Dogs?") and realizing on site that the concert didn't actually start until nine, I began to wonder if my lack of serious research had been a mistake.  The fates were aligned with us, however, and gave us a handful of intriguing opening acts: a merry band of street performers outside the venue, a folk duo called The Dela Project (who really love their multi-track recording), and Luminessa, which turned out not to be a band but a trio of improvisational belly dancers.  We managed to get close to front row seats for all of this; the seats were on the floor, but in the front nonetheless.

I had very little idea of what was going to happen next, but the combination of Luminessa's gyrations and the circus-style stage art should have given me a hint or two.  Yard Dogs Road Show, it turns out, is a colorful troupe of thirteen modern-day vaudevillians who incorporate comedy and magic tricks into what is, for all concerned, a mesmerizing evening of WTF.

The Yard Dogs, in classic cabaret style, don't really have breaks between their songs, or at least not very many.  The bulk of the band stopped playing only three or four times, including once at the start to cordially invite the audience to bum-rush the stage.  Other small breaks allowed for changes of instruments or costumes (there were a lot of these), or the introduction of new characters into their fantastical human menagerie.  Featured repeatedly throughout were the Black and Blue Burlesque Girls, Tobias the Mystic Man, and the hair metal hero "Guitar Boy," fresh out of his five hundredth-plus stay in rehab and visibly high on something much like life.

It was difficult to pin down the Yard Dogs, because as steeped as they were in kitsch and nostalgia, they were also genuinely anarchic and surprising.  Three numbers in, as four performers left the stage to remove their wind-up doll costumes, guitarist EEnor Wild Boar (I swear to God that's how they spell it), who had previously hung back and quietly played rhythm, strode forward and asked if we'd like to go to space.  Receiving a favorable response, he proceeded to take us on the most psychedelic launch sequence this side of Syd Barrett, before removing his pants to reveal an even shinier pair of pants.

Mere moments later we were apparently back on Earth, or wherever the hell Pineapple Land is, to be introduced to the Pineapple Queen and her all-encompassing benevolence.  Tobias the Mystic Man later emerged from behind his eccentric percussion and sound effect stand to completely swallow the following: a thirty seven inch sword, a chair leg(!?!), and a glowing red rod.  Upon his eventual return he swallowed an entire circus balloon, then proceeded to remove from his mouth an enormous strand of ribbons, cotton balls, and eventually a live chicken.  Whether Tobias' mystic powers extend beyond his mouth was not revealed.

With the distinct smell of certain banned substances in the air, I had to wonder if I was imagining some of this; but it was all there, ten feet from my face in a furious swirl of color.  And to sweeten all the spectacle even further, the music was good; not merely adequate to the occasion, but enhancing it seamlessly and beautifully.  The lead vocalists (a good mix of males and females) are all very strong and unique, and most importantly they are playful, gleefully interacting with the sounds and characters surrounding them.  The whole show was very funny, sometimes without even trying in its explicitly comedic bits: it simply overflowed with joy.

The band came out for an encore (because bands always come out for an encore, and between you and me  it's really kind of silly for them to always pretend that they're done when they're not) and played two songs. The last of these featured an extended rap/exhortation from erstwhile bassist Micah D-Liscious, calling on the entire audience to begin making love to one another immediately, and then shooting off on a rant about how dirty-minded we were as a society for taking a beautiful phrase like "making love" and reducing it to base sexuality.  He concluded his paean to universal love by inviting the entire audience to line up single-file for a chance to "sit next to" him in the back of the hall after the show.  We decided it would probably be better just to leave.

The Yard Dogs have an album, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend buying it for its own sake.  These guys put on a consummate stage show, and listening to the music without its corresponding visuals seems almost criminal.  If they should ever put out a DVD, I would definitely recommend that, but the viewer would still be missing some of that frenetic music-hall style.  For pure entertainment, you can't do much better than to go completely bananas with a band like the Yard Dogs.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sanity: Restored?

Thanks to the magic of live internet streaming, I managed to catch the back half of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which was if nothing else an entertaining romp.  Voices emanating from the haunted electronic boxes we call the media have been suggesting for weeks that this rally might be deeply significant in some way.  Of course, "deeply significant" means, in the minds of the media, "having a substantial impact on the election next Tuesday."  The two dominant themes both seem to proceed from the left, and they are at odds: either the rally will re-excite the Democratic base and give the incumbent party one last shot at life, or the comedians will have idiotically drawn the most activist liberals away from the all-important business of bothering people in their homes on Halloween weekend (and without so much as a costume to justify it!).

Whatever happens on Tuesday, amidst all the gloating and hand-wringing, someone out there is going to assign a portion of responsibility to Jon Stewart and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Colbert.  This is silly, because we already know what's going to happen on Tuesday: Republicans are going to gain control of the House, Democrats will just barely hold on to the Senate, and the Tea Party will descend into new depths of delusion by claiming that they have a mandate to privatize everything, before realizing they've been suckered by the Republican leadership.  The voters' choices, I suspect, will not be strongly affected by having watched Stewart's reasonableness symbolically vanquish Colbert and his fear-mongering giant puppet.

What this rally really amounted to, as I saw it, was an attempt to make explicit before a huge audience what The Daily Show and The Colbert Report imply four nights every week: that our basic assumptions about how politics and the media work are deeply flawed.  Everybody knows there's bias in the media, but they assume it either boils down to a liberal or conservative one.  While these biases do exist, there's actually an overwhelming bias that overrides and subsumes them both.  There is a bias in the media that favors drama and abhors good sense, refusing to just tell the truth when a suitable lie can be found to contradict it.

So kudos to Jon Stewart for rejecting the narrative of conflict.  Kudos as well, for anticipating what his own detractors would say:

"But now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity.  If that’s OK.  I know there are boundaries for a comedian pundit talker guy, and I’m sure I’ll find out tomorrow how I have violated them."

There's an argument that's often made, to the effect that comedians, musicians, and other eminent men and women of our culture have no business speaking out about politics in an earnest and meaningful way.  We call them "entertainers," and we say that the moment they do anything controversial, they are no longer "entertaining."  Presumably, this delegitimizes the offender's very essence and allows us to ignore them and their messages with impunity.

Meanwhile, we openly tolerate, consume, and regurgitate the most hateful, childish, insincere, illogical, and disgraceful words from men and women who we have every right to expect should be earnest and truthful.  This is not a caste society, and speaking of politics is no special province of politicians.  If anything, the bulk of the members of the House of Representatives (and many members of the Senate as well) are egregiously less qualified to speak about public policy than Jon Stewart is.  This is to say nothing of the people who circulate through the media, preaching stuff and nonsense dressed as gospel, and treated seriously on the sole basis that no one in their right mind would ever pay to see them entertain.

Jon Stewart got up on stage, told some jokes, did some really bad* singing, and then he told us the truth.  That alone made the whole experience worthwhile.  The whole episode made reasonable people feel better about themselves, and even offered a little hope that the tide may turn again.  It didn't change the dynamics of the election in any measurable way, so the media should spare themselves the trouble of trying to figure out what that change might have been.  It was only a fine example of what a person with a conscience, an education, and a sense of humor can do to brighten our prospects.

* The bit was funny, but watching Jon reach for a string of high notes is like watching a fish breathe air.

Was our sanity restored?  America never really was a sane place.  But maybe, at least for the weekend, we can be a more positive country.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Burning Daylight: GO SEE IT!

Sometimes, living on the internet is hardly akin to living at all: more like an endlessly futile attempt at stimulation complicated by a brutal combination of meta-cognition and oblivion.  But sometimes it's not.  Really!

Sometimes you meet people on the internet who may not seem like much at first.  Eventually, you discover they have a wicked sense of humor and sharp intelligence.  Later on, they reveal a level of creativity that leaves you jealous, and you begin to secretly plot their destruction.  Then one day, you find your plans of violence have entered the realm of insignificance, because your friend has transcended mortality and is now acting in movies.

Acting in freaking movies!

Ladies and Gentlemans, I give you Burning Daylight, starring Chris DeMeo and some other dudes:

How about that?

I'm not going to attempt to analyze this critically, because the fact that my friend is in it instantly makes me think it is the single most incredible thing that has ever been done by anyone who ever did anything.  But I'm generally pretty on the ball about those sorts of things anyway.

Now, you've already been commanded to see this movie.  Unfortunately, it's not out for a while.  According to the Official Facebook Page, the release date is July 1st, 2010, which is utter poppycock because this is freaking October.  Not even Chris knows when the damn thing will see wide release.  However, the premiere of the film will take place in New York City at Webster Hall, on November 14th of this year.  After that, it'll probably play at Indie festivals for a while before finally seeing the mainstream approbation it (probably) richly deserves.  So if you're in town...GO SEE IT!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Poetry Jam #5

Here it comes again, Ladies and Gentlemen: a partial selection of my poetical output.  While the most terrible of my poems are routinely filed under "Recycling Bin," even those I see fit to keep in my archive are not necessarily worthy of being placed here.  So what you see here is la crème de la crème (as selected by a person with, admittedly, a spotty taste in crème).

I write poems for a lot of reasons, from boredom to deep emotion.  I wouldn't assign a consistent theme to any of them, though someone who is well qualified in such matters may see it.  Some of these are quite meaningful to me, others not so much; in any case, I like them enough to share.  These poems are from the spring of 2009, with the exception of Footsteps, which is from the fall, and is included here as a tribute to Kirk Rankin, who inspired it.


It's a Riddle

My world comes to my home through the wall
Courtesy of a modern ghost;
Sophisticated, enervated
Face upon the wall,
His body is not to be seen at all.

He always looks surprised to see
That he can even see
Without a proper set of eyes
From nearly every wall.

The Guitar

Tonight I prayed to the guitar,
Invoking on its singing strings
The sound of what I wanted most,
The woman of my wildest dreams.

I strummed it with my every skill,
And plucked it with my clumsy hands
And tried to make her come to life,
But still, she did not come to life,
Her nylon strings remained the things
Of which my wildest dreams are made.

Gold is Love

Gold is love, is falling in the sea,
It's nowhere to be seen,
Until a trawler comes along
And raises it to me.

Gold is love, is buried underground,
And it cannot be found,
Until my shovel strikes a vein,
And makes a ringing sound.

Gold is love, has fallen to the side
And makes no move to hide,
So now it sparkles in the sun
To catch my searching eyes.


It's warm outside,
And things are looking sunny
For the first time in a while,
For the first time in a while
The girls are bathing on the grass,
They're soaking in the sun
And everybody's having lots of fun
Because the sky is blue again,
And I will say hooray,
Hip-hip-hooray for mild weather
'cause it makes me feel best,
And right at home I am again
Though nowhere near my house;
The river shines reflected light,
The silver rays obscure my sight.

As I walk across the bridge
And wave at rafters down below
I see the goslings on the shore,
Picking through the grass for more of
What will make them big and strong,
Just like the geese that guard them,
As graceful as a swan;
And there's just one thing
That I want to know,
Where did the showers go?

My Ship is Coming In

You don't think you hurt me, but you did,
And it's true that I've been taking this a little bit too far.
'Cuz I've been hurt before, and it kills
Me to think that you're going to keep on talking, talking,
Talking, talking, talking, talking over
Everything I say to make you stop.

But my ship is coming in,
And it's going to carry me
Where I can only hear your praise,
And I only have to see you
On those rare and special days
When everything turns out my way,
Because my ship is almost here,
And the rest of you will have to talk
Amongst yourselves and I
Won't have to hear it,

Wouldn't we all be better for it?

The View

A man sits in a little room
Beneath the branches of a tree
And out the window, sees a sky,
As grey and cloudy as a sea
That's sailed upon by lonely birds
Who are, above else, wild and free,
While man is bound by roof and walls
(Which seems a bit unfair to me)
And orders up another tea.

The Mottle-Breasted Sparrow

The Mottle-Breasted Sparrow wandered in the coffee shop
And nibbled at the cookie crumbs that lay upon the floor;
He was the only Sparrow to have wandered through the door.

The Coffee Man said "Sparrow, you will have to pay for those,"
And gestured to the register above the sparrow's head;
The hungry little sparrow flew away at what was said,
And fed upon the cookie crumbs outside.

The Ants

The ants are walking single file
With leaves over their heads,
To keep the rain from falling on
Their tiny little bodies,
Even though the sun above their heads is shining;
They're too small to see the sky,
And it could turn at any moment,
So they'd better be prepared.


The climate brings a change in those
Who work without security,
And losing hope, they would propose
To watch the world burn.

The summer and the endless drought
That forces inactivity
And leaves the people down and out,
What else to do but do without?

When shortages subvert the case
For notions of morality
And wages cannot keep their pace
It's time to make the world burn.

Authority cannot contain
The passion of the raging sea
Or douse the bright and furious flame
That boils the ocean into steam.

And from the fire comes new life,
Doomed to make the same mistakes,
Until the world burns.

Footsteps: His, and Yours, and Mine

Wherever footsteps pass, they pass forever
Forever dissipating, never fading into dust
In such a way to disappear completely;
Beneath the earth are the tremors of a memory,
And they are always shaking
And we never cease in making fresher footprints,
All the planet is a-quake, the planet trembles.

And as long as there are feet there will be footprints
Though even that is not to say forever,
When then there will be no one to remember;
Yet the memory still vibrates under mountains

By the waters of the muddy lake
I see the footprints rippling by
In incandescent waves,
And they cannot be forgotten
And they cannot be ignored,
So when my own life is over
They'll continue to be felt forever more.

To Live Is

Socrates has drunk a magic potion,
In doing so he learned the final truth,
He was deceived no more by the illusion,
And has no further questions left to ask.

Alchemists have sought the panacea,
But never found it, and they never will,
Until the day there's nothing left to heal,
Not even an equation still to solve.

Every child a creature of creation,
Growing old and understanding less,
Waiting for the final resolution,
And finding little 'til the bitter end.

Mephistopheles has promised wisdom,
Faust has foolishly ignored the price,
For if he sought an end to his confusion,
He would never have to pay a cent.


Did you figure out the riddle?  If you didn't, don't worry.  It's really not very clever.  I just like the way the words turned out (though I cannot for the world remember why I chose the word "enervated").

The Guitar actually has a companion poem, written on the same night, entitled The Girl in the Shining Green Dress.  I had intended to share it here as well, until I actually read it again, and's a little out there.  I guess I was feeling lonely that night?  I recall I was at a party, and parties often do that to me.

Gold is Love has kind of an odd meter pattern: five beats, three beats, four beats, three beats.  That adds up to fifteen beats per stanza, which means I could have re-written each stanza as three lines of iambic pentameter, if I were so inclined.  This is, as far as I can tell, the most interesting thing about this poem.

Springtime doesn't make a lot of sense.  It's kind of a stream-of-consciousness thing that I composed in bits in my head while I was walking home from school one day.  You see things, you feel things, you throw them in a poem, you try to pay minimal attention to meter.  Not great work, perhaps.

My Ship is Coming In is some pretty emo stuff, I'm not going to deny it.  Something must have set me off, but I can't remember what it was.  I'll chalk it up to graduation stress.

View, Sparrow, and Ants were all written when I made a habit of spending a few hours each week in a coffee shop near the corner of 6th and High Street called Gary's Coffee.  Sparrow is actually based on a true story, which may interest you, or may not.  I just realized it's in perfect iambic septameter, which is a pretty cool meter.  Other poems were written under the same circumstances, but most of them are  pretty dumb.

I definitely had fires on the brain when I wrote Incendiary, because I was researching for my Senior paper at the time.  The topic was arson in 18th century England,and well, yeah. That's about all there is to be said about this one.

I wrote Footsteps in my Aunt and Uncle's house on the shore of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  My cousin Kirk had died recently, and the family had all come for the funeral.  It happens that this weekend is the anniversary of his passing, and so I thought it best to include it now, rather than keep holding it in the queue.  I worked very hard on it, so I hope it came out alright.

To Live Is is sort of a cliche poem.  Death is the meaning of life?  Relentless classical allusions?  I forgive you if you're bored.  But you may have noticed the rhyme scheme, which goes "ABAC," rather than the more conventional "ABAB" or "ABCB." Nobody does that!  It defies your expectations as a reader!  OK, so the second stanza is sort of a cheat, but I don't care.  I still think it's kind of cool.  I also think it's cool how it goes back and forth from iambic to trochaic meter, but other people will probably think I just screwed it up.

Anecdotal Providence

Presumably, some people have a strong sense of purpose that animates them and propels them into their life's work.  I say presumably, because people have told this to me and I am generally a trusting sort.  I'm inclined to believe it because the alternative (the idea that nobody has a particularly compelling reason for doing anything) is so damningly depressing that if I bought into that, I'd probably spend my days eating cookies or counting pennies, or just sobbing inwardly about the dreadful atmosphere of supermarket checkout lines.

But I'm also acutely aware that until this point in my life, I haven't felt that powerful motivating impulse.  I have often wanted to do things, and sometimes I have even done them.  Occasionally, you might even say I had to do them.  But when have I really, truly, needed to do something?  Maybe somewhere, some time along the path of my life; but if I had, the moment passed before I could act on it, or even recognize it for what it was.

Not that I haven't been looking, or wondering (which is what I do when I'm too lazy to look).  If I have a purpose in life, I'd like to think I'd recognize that purpose when it crossed my path.  Perhaps I'd find myself doing something, for no particular reason, and inspiration would strike.  A choir of angels singing something pretty, or a magic sword embedded in a possibly-yet-irrelevantly magic stone; or maybe I'd just feel really, really good for a while.  Any one of these things would be an acceptable sign, if such signs were ever actually given to unmotivated slackers.

I wouldn't say I felt divinely moved to consider a career in education.  It seemed like something I could do (given practice and training), something I might enjoy doing, and something that could actually benefit humanity in some way, all of which are perfectly acceptable reasons to do anything.  It also seemed like it would be hard, but there's no getting around that in life: better to pick something hard than waste time forever on what's easy.  Maybe, I told myself, I could even pretend it was my purpose in life.

This past Thursday I was student teaching, or rather I was listening as my mentor taught a law studies elective class, waiting for my last period of the day to start.  The subject that day was compensation and restitution, and the students were assigned a number of case studies to examine and determine how much was to be awarded to the victims under certain circumstances.  Most of these cases involved murders or other serious injuries, and some were quite tragic, but I listened to the discussion with a sort of intellectual detachment.

One of these case studies was the story of a woman who, after going to a bar and becoming intoxicated, brought a man home, and was promptly raped and stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife.  She barely survived, and applied for restitution for (among other things) medical expenses and lost wages.  The question was put to the students: how much of her claim was to be awarded?

A male student raised his hand and confidently declared, "Nothing.  It was her fault that it happened, because she took a man home who she only met two hours before."  Shocked at the boldness of this answer, I looked to my mentor for a response: he asked the student if he believed the woman had intended anything like that to happen to her, and the student responded with a a somewhat evasive answer that essentially affirmed his previous statement.  My mentor then tried to move the conversation into less controversial territory, but as I turned my eyes away from the student (whom I had already begun to dislike), I heard a male voice say "maybe I'd award her twenty bucks for the cab ride home."

I don't know how many people in the room heard that comment, but as my head snapped up I could see that everyone in that corner certainly had.  The five boys who sat there were all laughing under their breath; a girl who sat near them was laughing too, but also looking down at her desk.  My mentor did not seem to have noticed.

At that moment, I was extremely confused and conflicted.  I had not been participating as a teacher that period, and did not particularly want to go over my mentor's head and derail the lesson in progress. I am not, in any case, fond of inserting myself needlessly into a confrontational situation.  But my training at grad school had been very clear on the matter, that offensive comments of that sort were supposed to be addressed quickly and unambiguously.  Even more than that, I was angry.  When I looked at those boys (who could have been anywhere from sixteen to eighteen for all I knew), with their overgrown physiques, self-satisfied smirks, football jerseys and jock-ish condescension, I felt more hate and wrath toward them than I knew what to do with.  It soon transcended the shock I felt at those comments: I hated them just for being who they were, and thinking how they thought.  My internal conflict boiled down to a very simple question: how, while fulfilling my ethical and professional obligations, do I tell these kids to go fuck themselves?

And then something different happened: my supervisor from the university showed up, and waved for me to meet him outside.  He'd come to observe me teaching my seventh period Freshman Career Ed class, which I knew was happening but had forgotten in my moment of passion.  I put the whole incident out of my mind, briefed him on my lesson plan and did my duty; afterward, I rushed home to prepare for class at the university, to share with my classmates my ongoing experience in student teaching.

During the class discussion period, I was suddenly struck once more with the full impact of the incident.  Although it was basically off topic, I offered the story for discussion, and recounted the maddening tale to my cohorts.  As I spoke, I became very emotional, and my voice trembled even as I searched for the words (profane and otherwise) to describe my feelings toward the miserable little meat-heads.  The resulting discussion lasted, I believe, about thirty to forty minutes.  I received a lot of advice, some of it contradictory, but a consensus emerged that I should discuss the issue with the kids the next day after I'd had time to cool my head and think rationally.  I felt better having a plan of action, but I couldn't get the incident out of my head for the rest of the night.  I thought of writing something, but I was too emotionally drained and tired, so I just went to sleep.

The next morning I got a text from my mentor, and he told me he would be out for the day, but a sub would be around to teach his share of the classes and keep an eye on me.  I knew that it was all on me to carry the big discussion, and I got nervous.  Fortunately, the substitute was an experienced teacher who was wholly sympathetic to what I wanted to do, and he told me I could have fifteen minutes to say whatever I wanted to them at the start of class.

Five periods went by, and I didn't think very much about it.  The truth was, I had calmed down a lot from the previous night.  I still felt just as strongly about the wrongness of what had been said, but my anger was dissipated, and I felt more strongly moved by a desire to set aside ignorant misconceptions than to punish the wicked.  Also, I had become a nervous wreck, having never been in the position of lecturing complete strangers about morality (at least as a genuine authority figure). 

When the time came, I addressed the class from behind the podium in order to compensate somewhat for the weakness creeping back into my voice.  The kid who made the original statement fessed up, with a sheepish sort of smile, but denied being the author of the "cab fare" comment.  I assumed one of his buddies was responsible, but decided to move forward without pressing the issue.  In any case, seeing them once more in the flesh had reminded me of their humanity, and helped me in finding the right words.

I told them first of all that I thought Law Studies was a wonderful class to have offered at the high school level; that law was an endlessly fascinating subject, infinitely rewarding both for those who thought they might make a career out of it, as well as for the average citizen.  But commentary that shifted the blame of criminal activity from perpetrator to victim, I insisted, was simply not worthy of that class.  Commentary like that perverts the true spirit of the law, which is to protect those who have been hurt, injured, and wronged.  It is a spirit as old as the Code of Hammurabi, which promised "to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land... so that the strong should not harm the weak."*

*It didn't occur to me to quote Hammurabi at the time, but I really wish it had.

I told them that regardless of the wisdom of her choice, a woman had as much right as a man to go looking for a one night stand at a bar, and could never be held responsible for a crime committed against her by a man who had malice in his heart from the beginning.  Antiquated gender norms, I said, have no business turning the law away from the cause of helping those in need.  Judgment in a case like that should not rest on some one's idea about how a woman should act, but upon the magnitude of harm she suffers at the hands of a brutal criminal.

The substitute then joined in, principally to emphasize that rape was among the most heinous of crimes, and that we should never allow ourselves to be desensitized to it and fail to empathize with the victims.  When he had finished speaking, I asked if any of the students had anything to say about the matter.  One boy did, but he had not been present the day before and seemed slightly confused about what, exactly, the implications of the original comment had been.  I set him straight, but nobody else had anything to add, so I turned the class over to the sub and started mentally prepping for my last class.  The boys, who earlier I had written off as sub-human, quietly turned to the task of reviewing for their upcoming test.

I might have felt relieved about having faced my challenge and passed, but I suppose I had lingering doubts about my effectiveness in communicating my message.  I still felt anxious enough to grow irritated with my Freshmen, more quickly than I usually do.  In fairness, they were especially rowdy that afternoon because it was Friday and they had a football game, but I believe my nerves were still thoroughly wracked from the previous class.  That seventh period was far from being my finest hour, and my mood was somewhat soured as a result.

But on my drive home, I began to think better of my performance.  I'd followed through on something I meant to do, something that would have been easy enough to forget about, but that I felt just had to be done.  I had done it in a way that kept my emotions in check, and affirmed the better aspects of human nature.  And I had grown a little wiser in my assessment of the intentions and misunderstandings of young minds.  I could have done better, but these were all things that I could be proud of.

It didn't feel like divine inspiration.  I wouldn't say I felt particularly good, and there was certainly no choir of angels in my car.  But I honestly felt, more than at just about any other point in my life, that I'd done the world some good.  If that really is the purpose of my life, it wouldn't be so hard to live with.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Islam in America

A few months ago I bought a copy of the Qur'an, bound in a handsome green cover and gold leaf pages.  One of my softer ambitions is to read the holy books of every world religion, a task which is going fairly well even at the slow pace I'm taking.  Every couple of weeks I'll open the book and read a few sections, not just the primary text but also the annotations on interpretation, history, and etymology.  This translation was made in 1917, with a "major" revision published in 1951; the author, Maulana Muhammad Ali, presents an Islam that is earnest, benevolent, and universally welcoming.  Ali's Islam is not a rival to Christianity or any other religion, but the final perfection of them all; an audacious claim, but one made by so many other religions as to become unremarkable. 

I mention this because today is September the Eleventh, and nine years ago a series of terrorist attacks were carried out by members of Al-Qaeda, a Muslim organization dedicated to the destruction of Western (and in particular, American and Israeli) power, and the resurgence of Islam and Islamic law as the dominant force in the world.

These are all facts, rendered as objectively as an American conscience will allow: the attacks of September Eleventh were utterly traumatic, and inspired boundless sorrow, anger, and foreboding in a great many hearts.  Because of that day, the United States has committed itself to the destruction of Al-Qaeda, as well as any other organization with similar intentions.  It is a noble goal, because the havoc unleashed that day was beyond comprehension, and it should never be allowed to repeat.

September Eleventh should have been an ennobling experience, one that reminded America of its better nature; its overwhelming desire to see peace, justice, and humanity in the world.  But nine years on, we have seen too little of any of these.  The United States remains a country of divided impulses: eager to do good, it acts imperiously, and regards an indictment of its methods as an indictment of its motives.  It remains a country of arrogant militarism, self-assured in the capability of its armed forces to accomplish any mission, regardless of the utility of guns.  It remains a country of ignorance: in nine years it has failed to capture the one man it swore to find above all others, and has turned its wrath on others with only the barest regard to their affiliation with him.

The United States remains ignorant, because it still has not figured out what it means to have been attacked by Al-Qaeda.  It still hasn't figured out what Al-Qaeda means to Muslims.  America has failed to relate in a meaningful way to either the Muslims abroad or the Muslims at home.  It has yet to determine what, exactly, a Muslim is.

There are over a billion Muslims in this world.  They speak languages that Americans do not understand: they live in countries that Americans cannot find on maps.  They hold a staggering variety of political and religious opinions.  They live in a multitude of classes and conditions, are concerned primarily with the living of their own lives.  In the United States, there are few Muslims.  There are probably fewer Muslims in America than there are Jews, though the demographics are unclear.  Most Americans probably do not know any Muslims; very few even see them on a regular basis. 

For most Americans, a Muslim is either a member of a tiny minority, or a foreigner.  Neither category is liable to draw the attention of an American, unless that attention comes in the form of suspicion.  They are a perfect example of an invisible them, a perpetual class of aliens.  Nine years after September Eleventh, Americans all over this country have banded together to protest the free exercise of their religion.

Every where the story is the same: us versus them.  American protesters will defend freedom of religion, but not for them.  Americans will extol the virtues of tolerance, but not for them.  Not after what they did.

But who are we, and who are theyWe; well that's too obvious to go into.  As for they, they are the minority, the foreigner.  Though they may not be terrorists themselves, they belong to the same they, and they shall not have their way in this country again.

The chief problem is that it never occurs to most Americans that Muslims are as diverse a group as Christians.  Most Americans are familiar with at least ten Christian denominations, such as Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Mormons, Methodists, Evangelicals, Orthodox, Quakers, and, Pentecostals; not to mention all of their countless splinter-sects.  

Muslims are not seen in the same way.  Those who actually follow the news may have heard that there exist such things as Sunni and Shi'a, but have little appreciation for their distinction.  As to the distinctions between all the various schools and sects appended to these branches, they are clueless.  To an American a Christian may be one of many things, but a Muslim is a Muslim.  Most Americans would not judge Christianity by the tenets of a minor denomination or the actions of its adherents.  In addition, most Americans would never hold a member of most Christian denominations as responsible for the actions of his coreligionists.  But they will judge the Muslims, because they are foreigners, because they are a minority.

A so-called pastor in Florida has been running rings around the media this week by threatening to hold a public burning of the Qur'an today.  The last I'd heard, his event has been canceled (or put on hold), but in a country as large as this it is certain that paper and ink will burn somewhere today.  The Qur'an will be desecrated to "honor" the memory of thousands of innocent people who died nine years ago; among them, Muslims.  The men and women who burn these books will feel satisfied, patriotic, and justified in their intentions.  They will be too busy with these feelings to appreciate the offense they have caused to innocent people, and too immature to see why that should matter. 

September Eleventh no longer belongs to Americans who wish for a better, more peaceful world.  It has been appropriated by those who seek moral validation through opposition and strife.  It is being reforged into a weapon of intolerance.  This is a great moral tragedy, and must be reversed.  If it is a hallowed day, then it must be a day reserved for good deeds and kind hearts.  It is not a day for talk of us and them.  

In Chapter 60, verse 8, the Qur'an says "Allah forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly.  Surely, Allah loves the doers of justice."  Surely, God does not love injustice, or religious persecution.  Surely, God does not love to see people made unwelcome in the cities in which they reside.  Surely, God does not love to see people dissemble from their principles because of baseless fear.

I encourage those of you who wish to honor those who died and suffered on September Eleventh to transcend petty nationalism and bigotry, reach out to their fellow human beings, and encourage the closer integration of Islam into the greater American community of religions.  Your neighbors are not your enemies, and your enemies are powerless in the face of such cooperation.  Fundamentalism is strong because it draws its strength from division and dissatisfaction.  In a world where Islam is practiced freely in America, and where America regards the people of Muslim countries as friends, fundamentalism can have no strength. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

WFJ Book Club # 5: Scott Pilgrim

I don't remember when I first noticed Scott Pilgrim in the comic book section of the book store, peering out at me with his oddly-proportioned eyes.  Somewhere in my head, I was aware that it was critically acclaimed, moderately popular, and artistically significant, labels which are generally good predictors of things that I will find to be awesome.  But lacking any testimonials from friends, actually reading it barely even crossed my mind.

That is, until Edgar Wright descended on Comic-Con with his enormous banners, and flooded all the internets and televisions with the unbelievably excellent trailers for his big-budget film adaptation.  The combined attraction of the movie's imminent release, as well as the release of the sixth and final volume of the comic book, proved too strong for me to resist, so I resolved to sample the source material and take the measure of Scott and his creator, Mr. Bryan Lee O'Malley.

What followed were several weeks of obsessive delving into a fantastical land of romance, rivalry, and rock n' roll, the Pilgrim-verse.  Or as it is more commonly known, Canada.

There's far too much plot for a simple synopsis, but I'll try my best in any case.  Twenty three-year-old Scott is on a quest to earn the love of one Ramona Flowers, a mysterious young woman from the mysterious land known as the United States, who possesses the crazy Sci-Fi ability to travel through a sub-space highway that just happens to pass through Scott's brain.  Standing in his way are her Seven Evil Exes, who in addition to being bitter and self-righteous about having been dumped by Ramona, also have super powers and a burning desire to destroy any one who wants to date her.  Scott must defeat each Ex in mortal kombat (emphasis on the "k") to make the world safe for his new love, all while trying to come to terms with his own old flames: the lead singer of a successful art-rock band, the drummer of Scott's own (unsuccessful) band, and a hyperactive seventeen-year-old named Knives.  Knives.

Scott Pilgrim is such a candy-coated pleasure to read that it takes a certain amount of reflection to get at its real merits.  The easiest thing would be to latch onto its central gimmick: Scott lives the life of a video game hero, his successes and failures measured in experience points, his skills and talents dependent largely on context and moxie. He may live in a terrible apartment, play bass in a terrible band, and show astonishingly terrible judgment (dating a seventeen-year-old girl is essentially par for this guy's course), but his exuberance and general indestructibility make his life seem enviably exciting.  It is also thoroughly hilarious, combining a wide range of references with a slacker sensibility and a good deal of old-fashioned cartoon slapstick.

The next obvious step, of course, would be to point out that Scott's video game existence is a metaphor for his development and maturation as an adult.  Scott plays games so much that he frequently dreams about them, but his gradual assumption of responsibilities and self-awareness doesn't diminish the relevance of games in his life.  The concepts of stats, leveling up, and achievements are integral to his understanding of life, the universe, and everything; and if it's occasionally an over-simplification, he can always expand his perspective by advancing to the next level.

I'm going to take it even further, however, because what struck me hardest after all those pages was the incredible level of subtext.  Apart from Watchmen, there is more to read between the lines of this series than just about any comic I've ever read (and I'll grant I haven't read as many as I should).  Scott's video game life exists side-by-side with a world that is as real as fiction gets, often within the same panels.  Most of what the reader sees is casually implied to all be (more or less) in Scott's head, but there isn't any reliable divider between his imagination and real life.  The book's world is full of outrageous and seemingly one-dimensional characters, but their actions and feelings become deeper and more human when viewed and considered outside of Scott's point of view.  Scott's efforts to reconcile his perspective of the people in his life with their living, breathing existences is a major focus of the last third of the series, but the contradiction is strongly apparent much earlier on.

Even more interesting are the efforts of Scott and Ramona to accept themselves, as events conspire to tear down the facades they use to hide their true selves.  Ramona in particular enters the series as a complete enigma (even her age is initially unknown), but reveals a complex personality over time, one defined as much by jealousy, caprice, and antisocial secrecy as it is by affection.  Scott, for his part, uses a superficial personality to mask his pathological determination to avoid facing up to his faults and mistakes; he's smarter than he looks (which isn't saying much, considering some of his ideas about Italy), and it hurts.  Ramona and Scott are both ultimately exposed as hypocrites on the run from their pasts, but also as a couple hopelessly in love with each other, and one another's best chance at a fresh start.

So the books are outstanding, a deadly combination of humor, romance, and adventure.  The movie is, unsurprisingly, an inferior adaptation, limited by the conventions of the medium as well as the volume of material.  Visually it is a masterful representation of O'Malley's artwork, as well as a the best example to date of the use of effects from video games and comic books in cinema.  It's amazing to look at, and it moves very fast (which is probably enough to put off some older viewers), so that every scene is packed with unpredictable energy.  The script is mostly very good as well, though it suffers near the end: Ramona's fifth and sixth Evil Exes are barely developed at all, and her behavior with regard to the seventh is both widely divergent from the original plot and has the effect of making her character appear more unlikeable.  A more faithful script would have made for a longer and more satisfying movie for the fans, but probably a less watchable one for everyone else, with too many big climactic battles in too short a time frame.

As a general rule, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (which is the title of the movie, and also the title of Volume 2 of the series, which is kind of weird) captures the really fun parts of the books perfectly, with fantastic comedic acting from the whole cast (yes, even Michael Cera) and a delightful sense of immersion into Scott's mental world of classic Nintendo games and three-chord garage rock.  It tends to either dispense, condense, or simplify the deeper elements of subtext from the source material, leaving behind a fantastically entertaining movie with just a little something missing, that something that holds it back from real greatness.

One of the best elements of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is its soundtrack, a kaleidoscope of musical styles that embraces indie rock, punk, and classic rock in varying degrees.  Older tunes share the program with a score by Nigel Godrich, and new songs composed by Beck, Broken Social Scene, and Metric (and often "performed" by the fictional bands in the movie).  These songs are not merely background noise, but an integral part of the film's world, where music drives the plot as often as games and romantic melodrama.  A particular high point is "Black Sheep," a song by Metric and performed in the movie by the Clash at Demonhead, a group led by Scott's ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams.  Scott's realization that Envy's new boyfriend and bass player is one of Ramona's ex-boyfriends is a classic moment, and Envy's triumphant performance is a real window into the minds of everyone involved; just the sort of thing the movie could have done with more of.

As I type this, Scott Pilgrim is pulling a highly respectable 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audience enthusiasm is reportedly high.  Unfortunately, the audience is also exceedingly small, as its pitiful box office earnings show.  America has once again let me down, preferring to waste its money to watch Sylvester Stallone blow shit up, or Julia Roberts eat Indian food, while letting poor Scott bomb on stage like some kind of chump.  Take it from me, everybody: Scott Pilgrim may be obscure, off-beat, and unconventional, but it is exactly the sort of story that deserves to be discovered and treasured out of obscurity.  Go see it.  Better yet, read the books and then go see it.  And then buy the DVD.  Or maybe just the books; reading them is the surest way to find the franchise's appeal.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Wolf of Albright: Part One

Note: the following story contains disturbing language.

"It's all rotting, like the stench of sweet gasoline, mingled with acid rain and slimy grey sludge.  In a decade, or a thousand years, the whole Earth will rot: a crumbing house on a corrupted foundation."  Mina Cardiff was moved to dark poetry by the ugliness of the stately front drive; all the better to stall her entry into that house.

The house was not crumbling, but it was soaked with the rain and looked ready to melt under the slightest pressure into a great pulpy puddle.  The reflections in the windows, flashing lights of candy-red and blue, were the only sign of life.  The mansion was dead from the inside and out, or close enough.

Mina did not want to go inside.  As far as she was concerned, there was enough death to be seen and smelt in the gutters and the siding and the shingles, and whatever was inside was only worse.  The best thing would be to walk away and never return, but the yellow crime-scene tape had fenced her in, and would probably never let her go.  The tape left the inspector with two options: to stand outside forever, risking hypothermia and death, or to seek refuge behind the ghastly blue and red glass.  Duty compelled her against her better judgment, and as she usually did she would regret it soon enough.

Keeping clear of the deeper streams of water, she approached the great front doors, which were not marked by violence but showed their age nonetheless.  Mina was not intimately familiar with the local lore, but it was otherwise widely known that the doors had held the threshold for over a century, since 1887.  The house itself was older still, a relic of the days of Hawthorne and Poe (and still it predated them both).  She did know that in all its days the house had not fallen, and thought it strange that an old house should have such an improbable, futile, and perverse will to live.

An officer met her at those great front doors with a disciplined salute and an utterly nauseated face; he had just come from inside.  "Good evening, Inspector Cardiff."

"Good evening, Officer."

Just inside, a cheery sign was posted on the left hand wall, kindly asking that houseguests place their footwear in the small cubby, for the sake of the carpet.  Mina gave the sign no more than half a thought and trudged forward with muddy boots, broad leaves clinging stubbornly to their sides.  The state of the carpets was the least of anyone's worries, as they were already soaked with crusting blood, along with the walls, furniture, and the corpses of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Harfelt.  Their bodies were tucked away in a dark corner of the foyer, hidden from sight by shadow and a white sheet, itself stained through with muddy patches of crimson.

Mina Cardiff removed the hood of her trench coat, and long tresses of dark blonde hair curled around her shoulders.  As she surveyed the room, her slender, pale face was wrenched by the highest and lowest disgust.  She had never been called a shrinking violet, nor squeamish at the sight of blood.  In her line of work it was not exceptionally uncommon to see so much, under the most tragic circumstances.  But all that blood - the bodies, and the sweltering, dimly-lit room - it was the very definition of disgust.

She covered her nose with her fingers to block the all-encompassing reek and cast her eyes about for a master light switch.  When she found it, she realized why none of the officers present had touched it: it was still painted with the victim's gore.

Uniformed policemen and analysts busily measured spots of filth and sketched out notes for their reports.  Near the bodies a window was smashed from the inside, and Mina believed that this was obviously the perpetrator's mode of escape.  He would have fled through the East Wing Garden, and as Mina peered over the crystal shard of glass she saw more men outside, searching vainly amid the flowers for tracks, or blood, or perhaps a shred of clothing.  They were bound to be empty handed, as the rain mixed all incriminating evidence into the stinking mess of mud and topsoil.  This smell Mina also found unbearable: she retreated discreetly to the great hall.

Her job was simple, and it was horrible.  If she had lacked the stomach for it, she wouldn't have made it through an eighth of what she had; sulfur, putrefaction, and the evidence of every form of evil and inhumanity.  Indeed, through her career she had arrived at the belief that she could endure anything, all it would cost her was her sanity.  She had never felt sane in her life, anyway; would a sane person be so resigned to a bargain like that?

At the end of the hall were a pair of opened double doors, modest imitations of their more celebrated antecedents.  From a distance she looked inside, and presently a man stepped under the lintel.  He was large and looked even larger in his padded, rain-soaked overcoat, but his posture was diminished and his face hidden behind clutching fingers.  Nevertheless, Mina recognized him instantly by the gritty, strangled strands of auburn hair that drooped across his forehead.

"Inspector Harfelt..." she said, unsure if he was aware of her approach.

His eyes jerked up suddenly, and they smiled in anguish.  "Mina!  he said, with a voice of paper and glue, "'s you!"  She wished she could not see his eyes.  The irises were not their usual shade of blue, not as blue they ought to have been: they were parched and cracked, longing for desperately needed tears.  His mouth opened slightly and he looked as if he had more to say, but his throat failed him.

Mina glanced down to avoid his eyes, unwilling to contemplate them, and unsure whether it was better to speak or be silent.  Tonight she could do neither well.

"Aaron, are you alright?"

"It's - huh, it's been a bit much," he conceded, as he probed his scalp with his fingers, perhaps digging for the words he needed to set himself straight.  "All of this, a bit too much.  Too much, too much for the senses."  He also averted his eyes, and was lost for a moment in the black wood grain that wormed across the walls.  "I'd trade my senses for, for, some sense.  Do you know?"  The question was more vain than rhetorical; she didn't really know, but he wished to hear her answer.

"Is Michael..?"

"Yeah."  Aaron indicated over his left shoulder into the next room, where Mina finally spied Lieutenant Bayern sitting on the port side of an elongated dining room table.  As he usually was, he was busy making notes in some illegible shorthand on his beaten clipboard.  She knew nothing in her boss's job description that warranted such activity, but it was beside the point: he seemed incapable of lucid conversation if his hands were not busily engaged in scribbling something or other.  If the scribbles were English, or even if they were words, she could never tell.

Aaron Harfelt left and slipped quietly down the hallway as Mina took her seat across from the Lieutenant.  She watched Aaron go with great concern, and it showed upon her face, but the Lieutenant made no show of any kind, only scribbling more, in perfect concentration.

"Michael," Mina began, still watching her colleague's receding back, "why is he here?"

"He insisted."  Lieutenant Bayern's hand slowed as he made eye contact with her, but it could not be entirely stilled.  "Besides, the house is his now: the Harfelts' will makes that plain.  Well, his and his brother's, anyway."

"This is no place for him to be.  He's walking right into the worst of it as we speak -"

"It'll be the third time for him.  You can hardly get him to leave."  His hands were pacing up, independently of any obvious intention of their owner's.  "You wondered what that nasty smell coming from the west windows was didn't you?"

"I honestly didn't notice."  She hadn't: her attention was decidedly focused on the eastern end of the foyer.

"Now I know that's not true."

Mina shifted in the antique wooden chair, uncomfortably elegant in its construction.  The dining room was slightly younger than the rest of the house, and less conscious of age or legacy; it had merely been a place for eating.  Now it was another part of history.

"I must have been distracted by the rest of the room."

"Easy mistake to make."

"Michael, what do we know?"

"We don't know anything," he replied, "except that Mr. and Mrs. Harfelt were attacked and mutilated, and bled to death where they're lying now."

"Attacked how?"

"Judging by the shape of the wounds," he said, scribbling faster and faster, "forensics believes it to have been done with fingers.  Bare fingers."

"You're not serious..."

"I am always serious, Inspector Cardiff.  Particularly in matters of men and women being torn to shreds by the hands of serial killers."  Michael Bayern was not a man without emotion, but he had a way of concealing his real feelings.  He always showed less than he truly felt, or might have been expected to.  At the moment he appeared to be annoyed, and he might have been, but Mina knew that he could easily have boiled with rage.

"...then you think it was the Wolf."  He made no reply to this inquiry, except to look back down at his clipboard.  Mina increasingly regretted answering the call of duty, regretted not calling in sick; the department's investigation was clearly operating outside of her area of expertise, right from the outset.  She could endure anything, she thought, any mind-curdling monstrosity of human nature, but as a matter of principle she preferred to limit her exposure to a necessary minimum.  "You realize it makes no sense."

"The first Wolf attack was in the hills, less than ten miles from here.  The wounds and cause of death are identical to that poor hiker's."

"That poor hiker was an isolated young woman in the wilderness," she retorted.  "These victims are middle-aged, old money, community pillars who were attacked in their own home."

"You couldn't make sense of the first attack, so don't tell me what does or doesn't make sense!"  He paused to collect his breath, and then, "Mina, people do not kill other people by grabbing chunks of flesh and stripping them clean from bone."  That much was true, but the Lieutenant could not help but betray his own uncertainty.  "We don't have any clues to work with.  There's too much contamination to retrieve anything even remotely useful.  We can only assume the two cases are related.  We can only assume it's the Wolf.  Do you hear me?"

"There's no need to shout."

"Just don't tell me that it doesn't make any sense.  It's the only thing that makes the slightest bit of sense.  The whole department's on pins because they expect him to strike again, and there's no way of telling when.  We'd probably be lucky if he did: at least he might leave behind some decent clue.  That's how little any of this makes sense."

Mina smiled.  "I didn't mean anything by it, Michael.  I stopped expecting these cases to make sense a long time ago."

"Is that right?  I thought pulling those sorts of things together was your job, Inspector."

"The world only makes 'sense' when reality backs off long enough to enjoy ourselves.  If we should ever become fully aware of the inhumanity of man, in all of its manifestations, we'd all be caught weeping like children."

"You should have been a poet, Cardiff."  The Lieutenant's hands, for once, were perfectly still.

"I could say the same for you, sir."  She winked, and rose from her seat with every intention of leaving the Harfelt house and never returning.

"It's good to keep a sense of humor, Mina.  But you've got a job to do here."  Lieutenant Bayern now looked painfully serious, and his pen-fingers twitched with anxious purpose.

"If we don't have a suspect, then there's no one for me to interview."

"There is one.  Inspector Harfelt has a brother, who lives in a room in the East Wing of the house.  He's an odd one, and seldom leaves his room for anything but food; seldom even food.  That's what Aaron said, anyway."

"Does he have an alibi?"

"Says he didn't hear a thing.  But it's certain he was in the house at the time of the attack, and a person like him wouldn't have to break in."

The implication was utterly cold, and Mina's heart shook at the notion.  Imagine poor Aaron, she thought, darkly projecting his nightmare onto herself.  She turned her head to look down the hallway, but he was nowhere to be seen.  She couldn't find him anywhere.

"There's still too much we don't know.  This is a big house, and there's zero physical evidence against the guy.  I just want you to find out as much about him as you can."

"That's my job, isn't it?"  She turned and left as the Lieutenant's hand came at last to rest, his mind a refreshing blank.  Thinking under such conditions would be no pleasure.

To be utterly without thought would have been a welcome blessing for Mina Cardiff, whose only notions were unpleasant and self-defeating.  More than most people, she pitied the universe for having to put up with the human race, however briefly.  And yet, she believed the universe must find her and all the rest of humanity to be terribly funny, "to get all distraught, all warped and weepy and inconsolable, at the thought of death: the universe is determined to kill them all anyway."  What a perfectly horrible point of view, she thought.

Mina found Aaron Harfelt at the west end of the foyer, heaving his shoulders and clutching at his right arm.  The limb hung from his shoulder as though it had been disconnected, but it ended in a tightly clenched fist, the hungriest fist that had ever been made.  It had no target, and he was hardly even seeking one; his eyes were so perfectly lank, unfocused.  For a moment, he may have been truly blind, but he saw her approach and returned, for a moment, to himself.

"Aaron," she began, unsure of the proper tone in handling such an unstable situation, "we should go upstairs."

"I'm alright.  I'm alright.  I'm all...right."  He let go of his fist and his arm sprung back to life, but his fingers were white as bones and tingled fiercely.  "I'm alright, Mina.  I'm a forensic scientist.  This is my job, it's just like all the rest."

Only fouler and closer, thought Mina, once again unable to look him in the eye.  "Aaron, please, I need your help.  Let's go upstairs."

"Right.  Of course.  Let's go.  Now."  He meant "in a moment," because his eyes were fixed on the unspeakable eastern corner and his feet could hardly move.  But Mina took hold of his elbow and led him insistently upstairs, as eager to finish her task and leave as she was to rescue him from his perverse fascination.

Whatever the spell that afflicted him, it seemed to pass as they reached the second floor.  He shuddered and took back his arm, and said "I'm sorry.  God help me, I can't stand it.  I really should do better."

"Nobody expects any more of you," she replied.

"I expect it from myself.  They'd expect it.  They -" and he stopped, his hand twitching with an attempted gesticulation, which he prudently kept from realizing.  His breath came a little easier, and he said "I'm sorry.  You need to talk to Henry now, right?"

"Yes, please."

"Alright, he's down this way."

The pair proceeded down the hall into the East Wing, Mina Cardiff following her colleague a few steps behind.  She was glad to be leaving the deathly odors behind, but she found little in the air to relieve her uneasiness.  The walls were narrow, the ceiling disconcertingly low, and each surface was plastered with positively unearthly wallpaper.  In the decent light of day it might have been attractive enough, but in the inevitable evening's gloom it was extremely disconcerting.  Pale flowers crept on pale, thornless vines, wound in parallel lines across a sickly yellow field.  The flowers seemed to emit a hateful fragrance of their own: the stench of dry wood and sawdust, a smell to stifle breath.

The scent hung in the air as the two inspectors turned a corner, and grew only more oppressive as Mina's mind dwelt more and more upon it; how desperately she wanted out of that house!  And then, something else was suddenly filling the air: a string of halting, harrowing chords in frightful syncopation.  It was the resonating sound of an electric piano, growing louder and more distinct with every step.  Mina was entranced, but Aaron stopped abruptly as the tune began to take shape.

"He's playing the Gnomus again," he said in a deadened tone of disapprobation.

"Is something wrong with that?"

"Nothing," he said as he resumed walking.  "Nothing, except that he always plays it in A minor."

The significance of this heresy remained lost on her: in any event the music was odd, grotesque, and increasingly fascinating as she drew closer to its source.  Aaron's words, however, had rendered it less mystical, less menacing, as her untrained ears strained to find fault in it if she could.  She could find no flaw, except that the music was frightening, but this she could certainly deal with.  She could survive the sound, and the smell, and all the dreadful colors: every last bit of it.

They reached at last a brown door, undecorated and  unremarkable apart from the notes that emanated from behind it, because it was the entrance to Henry Harfelt's bedroom.  Mina expected Aaron to open it, or knock; it was his brother after all, and she would not want to be presumptuous.  But he only stood off to one side, head cocked and appearing to listen intently.

"He prefers not to be interrupted while he's playing," he explained, "but don't worry, he's nearly at the end."

Mina nodded, and listened closely to the music, as much out of admiration as for her desire to forget the rest of the hallway's hateful stimuli.  She absent-mindedly curled the end of her hair with her fingers, until she was shocked out complacency by Aaron's sudden burst of irritation.

"Oh, Christ," he mumbled, "he's started it all over again!"  Aaron pounded the door with his fist, shouting out "Henry!  Knock it off!  We need to talk!"

The music halted suddenly, cruelly unresolved, at the sound of the older brother's harsh knocking.  Silence prevailed, and the walls echoed nothingness.  A few seconds later, Aaron Harfelt opened the door to his brother's room, and invited Mina to enter first.

Mina Cardiff could hardly have been astonished by what she found in that room; she'd seen all types of the surreal and the grotesque already.  But for all that experience, she wondered at the scene before her.  It could not have been a bedroom originally; more likely it was a gallery, as it extended a long way in one direction, with windows along the outer wall to allow the starlight in (if there had been any starlight, and not just storm and clouds).  The furniture was sparse and stashed along the most distant wall, an unexceptional assembly of cabinets, bureaus, and a spartan bed.  The room was blindingly well lit, leaving little of its disheveled eccentricity to the imagination.

More than anything, she noticed the pictures, because there were hundreds of them, hanging on the walls and scattered across the hard wood floor.  Many were brightly colored, others merely half-sketched, and appeared in every conceivable medium.  They tended to depict fantastic scenes of angels, elves, naiads, dryads, and ugly, misshapen dwarves; most were dressed in contemporary clothing, though many wore nothing at all.  Some of them held harps and flutes, while others hoisted rusted chains and other unflattering props.  No reason governed their arrangement about the room: they seemed to wander about the space without boundary or ense.

In the center of this sea of perfect madness stood an antique wood-paneled Wurlitzer piano, draped in wired and surrounded by speakers and other devices.  In front of the piano, wearing knee-length denim shorts and an off-white polo shirt, stood Henry Harfelt.  He was bent slightly over the keyboard, seemingly lost in the impenetrable thoughts that had rendered the wondrous scenery around him.  Mina struggled to form an impression of him, but for his part, he hardly seemed to notice her at all.

"Henry!" called his brother, and Henry turned his head in quick response.  "This is Inspector Cardiff.  She needs to talk to you."

"You said we were done last time."  Henry's hands still clutched the sides of his Wurlitzer, his fingers white from the pressure.  He looked reluctant to let it go, lest it should wander off on its own; or worse, some one should take it away.

"I know what I said.  But Inspector Cardiff has some questions that she needs to ask you."  He gestured to introduce her politely, but she recognized a look of distinct agitation in his eyes.  Aaron's presence was not strictly necessary; she had only encouraged him to come for his own sake, to get him out of that stinking foyer and away from his grief.  Now she began to believe she had miscalculated.  For whatever reason, there was little affection to be observed between the brothers; not even the kind that could reveal itself in the shared agony of loss.

Henry sat cross-legged by the piano, the one region of the floor that was mostly uncovered by papers and canvasses.  "He wants us to sit there with him," said Aaron dismissively.  As the room was lacking in chairs, and a change of venue seemed unlikely, she obliged.  The elder brother followed suit, barely containing his resentment; even so, he took pains to avoid stepping on the scattered pictures.

Mina found herself face to face with the great enigma, the man whose existence as a possible suspect in his own parents' murder had prevented her swift exit from the crime scene.  She bore him no ill will for this, and actually wished that she could have met him under better circumstances.  What circumstances those were, she could not imagine, but she disliked having to talk about the incident: she would rather have talked with him about his art, the art that surrounded his person in every sense.  At first she could only consider the family resemblance between the Harfelt brothers.  They looked very similar, with the same auburn hair, though the younger brother's blue eyes were paler, and less focused: Aaron's haggard blues were still cracking under the strain.

"Henry," she began, "I have a few questions I need to ask you, if you please."

"I know."  He did not look straight back at her; his attention wandered periodically to the Wurlitzer piano.

"Henry, are you aware of what happened to your parents last night?"

"Yeah, they died."

The frankness was surprising, but Mina saw in his distracted manners an indication of her subject's nature.  Was he capable of displaying such strong emotions, or was he truly as disinterested as he seemed?  Would he display any emotions at all?

"Do you know how they died?"

"They died.  They died.  They died...he killed them," Henry added, seemingly in response to a sharp look from Aaron, a nasty look which said "hurry up and answer the question."  Mina saw this and placed her hand on her colleague's arm, hoping to dissuade him from further interference.  Aaron bristled in response, and his face blushed deeply red.

"He killed them," Henry continued, "the Wolf killed them.  He killed them last night."

"How do you know it was the Wolf?" she inquired, keeping a neutral tone in spite of her amazement.  "The Wolf" was not publicly know, merely a department name for the perpetrator of an unsolved case.  Ordinary people shouldn't have known about him.

"I heard it.  The police said it."

"When did they say that?"

"When they were searching my room."

"Henry, do you understand why they were searching your room today?"


Aaron shrugged with indifference, offering Mina no explanation for his brother's obliviousness, except to suggest that it was typical.  Her expectation of gleaning useful information from Henry was dropping quickly.  She would endure what she had to and leave, sticking to factual questions with straightforward answers.

"Henry, when did you find out about what happened to your parents?"


"When today?"

"Probably this morning," offered Aaron, who received a cold glance of reproach for his trouble.

"Henry, what were you doing all of last evening?"

"I was in here.  I was painting.  I was painting...I was composing."

"You were composing?"

"Yes, yes, I was composing.  I was writing, I was writing a song.  An elf song."

"Elf song?"  Her eyes glanced upon a painting close at hand, and it happened to depict an elf: a sad, lonesome elf with pointed elf ears and a blue polo short, and a mournful disposition.  She wondered what a song for these sad-eyed paper people might sound like, but brought herself to focus again as she sensed a restless energy from Aaron.  He wanted to say something; that would not have been helpful.

"Henry, did you hear anything unusual last night?"

""No" was his answer, but he did not appear to be listening to her.  The beginnings of a delirious smile were breaking out at the corners of his mouth, as though some private joke had suddenly occupied the whole of his thoughts.

"Did your parents have any guests last night?  Any friends?"


"Do you know that for certain?"


Mina empathized with his lack of certainty, for she had little herself.  But her instincts told her that the useful portion of the interview was over; there was no need to prolong it.

She rose to her feet, and the brothers did as well.  "Thank you for speaking with me, Henry," she said.  "I'm sorry for your loss.  I'll leave get back to your music now."

"Thank you," he said.  It was not really a reply, but it was close enough to finish a conversation.  His eyes drifted back to his keyboard.

As Mina turned to leave the room, Aaron Harfelt could no longer control himself, and she heard him speak behind her.  "It's just as well, you didn't hear a thing," he said with an unbecoming sneer.  "Mom and dad never cared what you did, as long as you were in here, making noise."

"Dad likes my music," Henry said absently.  "He told, he told, he told me..."

"Dad is dead, Henry," the older brother said, "Dead, dead, dead!  I've told you a million times-" he was shouting now "- a million times today, this is real!  It happened!  Mom and dad, mom and dad are dead!  Do you hear me, you miserable cretin!?"

But Henry was not listening.  His smile had grown wild, and his eyes were might have been blind for all they saw.  As Aaron's wrath grew hateful, and insults heaped on insults, Henry spun toward his instrument and let loose an awful sound: an egregious howling fifth, sustained so loud and long that both inspectors clutched at their ears in shock.

"Dead!" Henry called out, to no one in particular, his voice colored with emotions that knew no common description.  "Dead!  Awhooo, whoo-whoo-whoooo!" he howled, as the frightful chord at last began to waver.

"You bastard..."

Aaron took a menacing step toward Henry, but Mina snapped suddenly, "Inspector Harfelt!"  He froze, and could not bring himself to look at her now: he was sweating and nearly in tears.  Henry was silent, lost in faraway thoughts."

Mina's eyes fixed upon a huddled dwarf, a pitiful creature whose twisted misery seemed to cry out loud from the floor.  "Aaron," she said, "I'm going now."  He nodded dully in agreement.

No sooner had they left Henry in his bedroom than the piano began to play again; it was a proper tune now, but that no more comforting for his brother.  It resounded in the upper registers and held to a repetitive melody:

Aaron Harfelt stood silently for a moment, evidently unwilling to listen, yet unable to help himself from doing so.  Mina, for her part, was caught between compassion for one brother, and natural fascination with the other.  but which was which?  In the tumult that preceded she'd lost her purpose for being there, and she felt increasingly uncomfortable next to Aaron, wishing more than ever to leave the rotting house and set her thoughts in order from a distance.

"Listen, Mina," he said straining fitfully for the right words, lest he should appear even more monstrous, "Henry didn't kill...didn't kill our parents.  I led the forensics investigation myself a few hours ago.  There's no indication, there's no...physical evidence that he ever left his room last night.  There's no blood... there's no blood, no mud, no sign he was involved in a struggle with anyone... he must have been up there, just like he said, with his pictures and his... and his damned piano."  His face was ashamed of those words, but he continued, "Please keep this in mind when you submit your report to Michael."

"Aaron, you led the team yourself?"

"Yes, I did."

She sighed, not willing to imagine the the events of that afternoon.  "Aaron, I don't think you should be working on this case.  For your own sake..."

"Michael said the same thing."

"Please Aaron!  You're too upset; any one in the world can see that!  No one would think any less of you if you... took some time off."

"I know," he said, and his drying eyes were cast down.  "I wasn't disagreeing with you.  I, I...Michael's giving me a month, and Ray is taking over my section for the time being.  I just really... I just really needed to be here tonight."

"I understand," she said.  They were walking now, down the yellow hallway that set her so ill at ease, back to the unspeakable foyer.  But she had endured it, just as she knew she would.  At last, she could leave that house of death, decay, and God knows what horrors...

"Listen," she said, "we'll find the one who did this.  Don't worry.  I... we'll take care of it."

"I know you will.  Soon."

He paused as they came to the top of the stairs, and the smell of weather and carnage was rank once more.  Fewer policemen crowded the floor below than before, but the ones who remained were still hard at work collecting evidence and making reports.  The bodies were gone now, off to the morgue (thank God).  The rain was still coming down.

"Listen, Mina, are you busy tomorrow night?"

"I shouldn't be.  Why?"

"Would you like to have dinner with me?"

It wasn't a very unreasonable request, but for half a second she struggled to think of a suitable excuse; he would only want to talk about the case.

"Alright.  Sure."

"Excellent.  I'll meet you at the Raven on Sea Street at eight.  Sound good?"

"It's a date," she smiled.

Aaron did not smile, not perceptibly.  He turned to descend the staircase, his shoulders slumped under the weight of disastrous defeat.  As Mina followed him down, she thought she heard her colleague say something, a murmur she could barely make out.  For all the torrent outside and the chattering men within, she thought she heard him say, "God damn that animal."