This is the first Hellenic city I have reached And yonder started dances with my ritual, To prove my god-head in the eyes of mortal men. -Dionysus, from Euripides’ Bacchae TXT: (Advt)> Air filters half off at Filterhouse! Click hear for deals!…TXT: (Advt)> Fresh water any day, all day! Water purification specialists! Even during drought days! Respond to this text to order! At your door the next day!…TXT: (Advt)> Sexpro introduces simulated sex partners! Look real, act real, FEEL REAL! Now with Skinsoft latex technology, you’ll swear it’s the real thing! They don’t talk back, they don’t cry, and no in-laws! We have men, women and even transvestites! Just click here to order today!…TXT:> (CHAD) Ralph? Awake? I can’t sleep. Ran out of D. Coming to work tomorrow? Miss you at the office…TXT: (Advt)> Need some love? Tired of online parties? Need real contact? Come downtown to the Love Lounge. Eighth and Broadway, 22nd floor. Our women will spend time with you, get to know you, and remember your name the next time you come back. It’s worth the traffic – trust us!…

Dream: Walking down a path in the woods. Down a hill. A river at the bottom. Fragrant flowers all around. Beautiful pathway. Feeling of peace. Flowers brushing my face. I get to the river and there’s a boat on the shore waiting for me. I don’t want to look back because something terrible behind. I get in the boat and look at the house on the hill. It’s all ruined. Broken windows, sagging roof. Empty, empty, empty house. Down the river there is a city of gold and light and flowers, so I lie down in the boat. I will sleep and wake up in the peaceful city. Then the dream ends. Do not know what this means.


I was out of Dormapril. I didn’t know what to do, so I ordered another box to be delivered the next day. Ever since the government started that program it’s helped a lot of people, I guess it’s funny that they have to give out antidepressants to everyone nowadays. It’s gotten that bad? Whatever the reason it’s damned lucky I have the stuff or I’d go insane with the voices the ads the songs the jingles the people the traffic the news the images and shopping the everything. Well I had to go to Joe’s without my pharmaceutical friend - I’d left the house without it before, wasn’t too nervous. Walked out of my place and Glendale Boulevard was packed with cars, not even moving, so I walked up to the monorail platform and waited. Should be one in five or six minutes. I could barely hear them from my apartment, even though they were practically feet away from my bedroom. With the soft and almost animal-like woosh, woosh…I love the things. The screen above me flashed the location of the next Southbound in Glendale approaching rapidly. “Next train in three minutes,” said the computerized woman’s voice. My computer girlfriend I called her. I went to the fingerprint ID, flashed my thumb, waited for the reply. “Thank you and have a nice trip.” Woosh. I walked in. Some cholos were sitting there writing graffiti and sucking down their iced cappucinos next to a business man glued to the news on his TVpod. At the other end of the train the Starbucks was open so I went to get a drink, passing literally hundreds of advertisements flashing on the porta-screens on each chair - you could buy a TV show or songs or whatever you wanted, download it to your pod and trip the light

3 fantastic all day long with your head stuck in your digi-pod but it was a complete rip off so I tried not to. We careened over the hills of Silverlake, stopping and letting some bohemians on, scarves and everything. One of them was carrying an acoustic guitar and sat down to play an old Bob Dylan song. One of the cholos laughed. “Check out the fuckin’ hippie, fool.” I had read about hippies in history class. There was a neo-hippie movement going on apparently and hipsters were sitting around playing old protest songs in old-fashioned coffee shops around town. In a few minutes we were at La Brea. I got off and looked up at the skyscrapers. Traffic was a godawful inhuman mess, people sitting in their cars, honking, honking, honking, honking. The sky was full of the usual floating ad screens and ad balloons, music and TV blaring at me from TV screens along the sidewalk, telling me to buy buy buy things. Hook your pod into the jack, it’ll be at your home when you get back. I forgot what highrise Joe lived in so I got out my pod. “Joe,” I said, and waited for it to connect. “Hey man,” came his voice. “Where’s your place?” “Dude, you’re always forgetting.” “All these building are the same.” “It’s 4300 Sunset. I’m on the 81st floor.” I walked up to Sunset, past crack dealers, men in suits, transvestites, taco carts, guys selling incense, high school students cutting class, smoking weed. Car horns blared on the street. Joe didn’t even own a car. You couldn’t really get anywhere anymore in a car. The freeways were parking lots and finding parking was a joke. The mind-numbing

4 city was like New York but ten times as wide – skyscrapers from the ocean to East LA, from Orange County to the Valley. A giant bed of high-rises and people sitting in traffic and waiting to drive. Every last inch of space had been built upon. I finally got to his place and went into the elevator. “Joe Lexington,” I called out. “Thank you,” the voice said pleasantly, and in about ten seconds the doors opened up to a hallway. I walked down to his apartment. I had finally arrived for the party. It was a retro style party, like in the old days when people would get together in the same room instead of just hooking up their pods like nowadays. It’s all pod parties now. I guess the reason is that space is so scarce that no one has room in their apartments to get more than five people together. I walked in to his place and saw a room full of people. I had pod-partied with a lot of them before but never actually met most of them face to face. Joe was one of the few friends I actually hung out with in person. I worked from home, partied from home, shopped from home, ordered coffee to be delivered from home, got my groceries, bought books…you get the point. There’s just no point in leaving your house these days. It’s too easy to stay in. And the world is too crowded out there. I guess that’s what the neohippies are all about – getting people out of their apartments and into social gatherings like they had in the sixties. The party was pretty fun, but I was feeling weird being away from my apartment for so long. I took the monorail home and bought some groceries on the way. When I got home they were waiting outside my door. I went in and looked out the window. All I could see was the building next to me, an eighty-story high-rise. It had just gone up a month ago and it was already full. It had a several schools, some businesses and a lot of

5 apartments. I used to be able to see the Silverlake reservoir from my window, but now it was just another skyscraper.

Near Death Experience: Crossing Sunset Boulevard at a legal crosswalk. Truck barreling down with a vengeance, honking, forcing me to run to save my own life.

BREAKING NEWS> Woman raped and murdered downtown, assailant on the loose. Short hispanic man with a mustache, reportedly wearing a black sweatshirt and a tattoo of a snake on his neck. House burglary on the westside, owners were tied up and shot. Neighbors report two men, unknown ethnicity. Backup on the 101 freeway in Hollywood, a gas tanker overturned. Two other vehicles involved in crash, ten fatalities reported. Fire in apartment complex in Downey, firefighters are still fighting. No word on casualties. Popular movie star David Johns found dead in his Beverly Hills home, of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Johns was most well-known from his role as the tough cop Lieutenant Jack Salvage from the Salvage movies.

TXT: > You have requested a chat with Janeane. Please hold for connection…. TXT:> Hello? Is this Ralph? What’s up, cute stuff? What are you into? TXT: < Want to see a pic. TXT: > Trade? I want to see who I’m chatting with. TXT: < When I get yours. TXT: > What’s a matter? Shy? Come on, don’t be that way. Let’s do a video chat. TXT: < My video is broken. How long have you been on this service?

6 TXT: > Couple months. Haven’t met the right guy yet. You? TXT: < Just started. TXT: > How are we gonna get to know each other if I can’t see your face? TXT:< You read my profile? TXT:> Of course, that’s why I added you.  You’re funny. You seem really cool. TXT: < Can I just get a pic and then I’ll send you one? TXT:> Naughty or nice? TXT:< Naughty. TXT: > I usually don’t this so soon. Enjoy. TXT: < Thanks. TXT: > It should be in your mail box. Did you get it? TXT:> Hello? Ralph? Come on, don’t be a scammer. Are you there? Hello? Hellooooo? Jesus. I’m leaving, I don’t know why I do this.

It was another no-water day. The drought had gotten so bad that sometimes there were no-water weeks now. Luckily I had some stored in my fridge. I had learned to ration my water so I didn’t get fined. I was only allowed a gallon a day. To add to that it was a Smog Emergency Day– that meant no going outside. It was for my own good, I know. I looked out my window and saw the brown smog ring hovering at eye level. It was strange to look down on the freeway and not see any cars. You could be arrested and thrown in jail for at least a month if you went outside on a Smog Emergency Day. If you drove it was worse. The few exceptions were delivery trucks and cops. They could drive. I was getting cabin fever sitting inside. My air purifier

7 was broken, so I had the windows open and a fan blowing. But the air was so dirty I was coughing and my sinuses were all backed up. I took a laser shower. Then I couldn’t take it so I put on some clothes and went downstairs to the lobby. If I could hail down a truck quickly I could maybe get out of town where I could get a hotel somewhere for a few days, until the smog emergency passed. The lobby was empty and the security guard was off duty for some reason. I walked calmly out onto the street. No cars, no cops, no pedestrians. Then I noticed a giant corn syrup delivery truck barreling down the street. That was what most people drank on no-water days, and it was where all the country’s water went – the corn farmers. I waved frantically. The driver saw me, made a bewildered face, and slowly pulled over. “You ain’t supposed to be outside, my friend.” “I know, I’m trying to get out of town, can you give me a ride?” “Alright, but I’m going to Bakersfield.” “That’s fine.” “Hop in.” I got up and sat down and we drove away, just as a cop pulled around the corner and cruised down my street. “Thank you so much,” I gasped. The air had me wheezing. Most people in the city had asthma and died early from it. “No problem, pal. Gets boring without company. Want some jerky?” He handed me a bag of dried meat. “Is this beef?” “Sure is.”

8 “How did you get this? It must’ve been two hundred dollars a bag!” “My cousin sends it down from Canada. He buys it for cheap, in bulk.” “Jesus. I haven’t had beef in years.” I took a bite. It was the taste I remembered from my childhood, before the beef crisis. I would go get burgers or steaks with my mom at the fast food places. “How can you get it cheaper from Canada?” “They can feed their cows. We can’t. It’s that simple.” “Yeah.” “All the water we have goes to corn, and all the corn goes into our food. It’s either we eat, or the cows eat. There ain’t food enough or water enough for the two of us in this country.” Since no cars were on the freeway we got out of the city limits pretty quickly. “Are there any little towns around here I could stay in for a few days?” “Not unless you like prisons.” “What?” I hadn’t left Los Angeles in so many years I didn’t know what the rest of the state even looked like. “See all this?” He waved at the Central Valley, which we had a nice view of from the top of the Grapevine. It was a bed of giant gray buildings, offset by a few farms here and there. “This is all prisons. I make most of my deliveries to prisons nowadays. This whole state is covered north to south with prisons. There’s only a few farms left.” “You deliver corn syrup?” “Corn syrup, corn meal, corn mush, soy meal, potato meal.”

9 “Are there any little towns anywhere that aren’t so hot this time of year?” “The one place that comes to mind is Las Placitas. It’s real nice. Beach town. Some nice places to sit on the beach and drink a margarita.” “Where is it?” “Out on the coast. North of Santa Barbara. If you can get there.” “How do I get there?” “Train. But it don’t run too often. Most times it’s broke.” “Where do I get the train?” “Up here,” he nodded at an old disused train station by the side of the road. A sign said “Las Placitas-Sacramento.” “This is it?” I asked, incredulous. “Are you sure it still runs?” “I’ve seen it. Not too often, but I’ve seen it.” “Can you let me off here?” “Are you sure? It’s about a hunnerd degrees out there.” “I don’t care. I have to get to that town.” He pulled over. “You might be waitin’ a long time.” “That’s okay. Thanks for the ride.” Jesus Christ it was hot out there. I sat on the bench in the station by myself the whole afternoon. Eventually an old Mexican woman showed up, old and wrinkled. “When does the train come?” I asked her. “Train?” “The train - when does it come?” “Train come…soon.”

10 She smiled. After awhile the train appeared far in the distance.

BREAKING NEWS> A convalescent home in Reseda has burned to the ground, killing an estimated fifty residents and twenty staff-members. Arson is suspected. A man in Culver City has turned himself in to the police after killing his wife and his two-yearold daughter. Juan Gonzalez, 26, said that the victims “wouldn’t leave him alone.” Mayor Garcia has admitted to his second affair since taking office and says he and his third wife, Esmeralda, are now seeking a divorce. There is little surprise from critics, citing his frequent marital problems of the past. Mayor Garcia is still under federal investigation for his alleged embezzlement of city funds for personal uses, including massages, a two-thousand dollar haircut, marijuana, prostitutes, a leather jacket, and a vacation to Miami.

(Dark freight. A vanished life.)

Near Death Experience: Crossing intersection of Glendale and Earl, a little glassy-eyed plastic-faced blonde bitch talking on her pod almost kills me, looking left as she pulls up to the intersection. I almost wish she would knock me over so she would have to deal with the trauma of harming and potentially killing another human being with her carelessness.

The train was almost empty but I didn’t mind as I sat on a dusty plastic seat and looked at the hazy central valley air. Prisons and warehouses passed by the window, dead concrete erected on the desert floor. I fell asleep to the soothing hum of the slow train.

11 When I woke up it was dark and the ocean was on the right of me. I panicked for a second. Where was I? It had been so long since I’d seen the ocean it scared me. Did I miss my stop? Where was a porter when you needed one? I looked around and saw no one on the train with me. Then an old man in a train uniform came walking down the aisle slowly. “Sir! Where are we? Have we passed the town, Las…Las…” “Las Placitas is next stop,” he droned without looking at me. “Half an hour.” The ocean was dark and it rippled gracefully next to me. Why weren’t more people on this train? We entered a curved bay and I saw, on a small peninsula, the sparkling lights of a little town up ahead. My heart pounded as we approached a tiny train station. “Last stop, Las Placitas,” the conductor said over the PA. I got up and bounded down the stairs and into the warm night air. The sea breeze was fresh and clean and the smell of the sea mingled with some desert sagebrush. I walked through the station and found myself in a town that sloped down towards the sea. I walked down the street, past houses, towards the ocean, maybe ten blocks away. An old man sat on a porch, rocking back and forth as he looked at me strangely. Old-fashioned televisions blared in old people’s homes. It must be a retirement community, I thought. These people probably don’t even have pods or email! They probably still have radios! It was comforting. Like being in a place that was preserved before the world went crazy. Down at the beach there was a main street packed with restaurants and bars. Teenagers were making out on the beach and old people walked slowly down the street. At the end of the downtown area there was a small hotel with a courtyard that opened

12 onto the beach, directly facing the waves. An empty, glistening swimming pool sat unused in the middle of the courtyard. My room was small, but it faced the ocean and I could lay there listening to the waves crashing. It was amazing to hear something natural, instead of helicopters and the constant beeping of my pod with messages, news alerts, advertisements, advertisements, advertisements…it was all too much for me. I must’ve fallen asleep because I woke up to the sound of a mariachi band playing in the courtyard. I went out and found the other guests dancing by the pool, drinking margaritas. The hotel was serving free margaritas, so I had one and started dancing when a young Mexican woman came up to me to dance. She was an employee of the hotel and she smiled as I did my ridiculous white man’s dance. Now I was really living, unfettered by the freeways and the smog, the skyscrapers and the traffic. I remember falling asleep in my room, listening to the ocean, wishing I could live at that hotel and never go back to my regular life.

DREAM: Staying at a cabin by a lake. I want to go out of the cabin to look at the lake and go swimming but every time I open the door it won’t open. I go to look out the window and there is nothing out there. I know there is supposed to be a lake out there because I heard waves, but it’s all blank. Then I realize I’m dreaming and try to imagine a lake anyways, but nothing happens and I wake up.

TXT: (ROBARDS) Ralph, they need the La Brea/Wilshire plans finalized ASAP. All that’s left is the bathrooms, which you’ve been working on, and the hallways, which I have at the office. So let’s get together and synthesize this thing, then we have the client meeting

13 next Tuesday, which we can do from home….TXT: (Advt) > Sick of ads on your pods? Get ad filter PLUS, that means extra strong, at Electromax, click to order…Out of Dormapril? Tired of weak government pills? Try Lotus, the everything drug – works faster and stronger than…ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO END SESSION? NOT ADVISABLE TO END SESSION> System shutting down…system shutting down…to cancel click here…system shutting down...ARE YOU SURE?..system shutting down…

I found an old painting of that town at an antique shop. It was one of those tourism posters from the 1940’s or something. It said “Summer in Las Placitas” and there was a picture of a little hotel on the beach like the one I had stayed at. A nice white family was playing on the beach and the sun was setting on the ocean, in golden ripples. In between pod-meetings for work I would stand and gaze at the painting, wondering. The mythic visions of California. Work was heating up because of the real estate boom. Since our firm does interior design for all those big apartments we would have to tour the empty buildings before tenants went in there. So I went around with my boss taking notes while he brainstormed. We were in some building, the Versailles I think it was called. God, what a horrible name. They all had those names – Southampton, Ragazzi, Tuscany, and all sorts of faux European words. Mr. Robards was walking through the Versailles and I was following with my pod, writing furiously as he threw out ideas. “Twentieth floor. Lobby. Fireplace and ferns, faux marble floors, faded stucco, European-style walls. You getting this? This place is designing itself.” We got to a window, which he gazed through seriously.

14 “It would be great to have some imitation ivy hanging along these windows.” “Weren’t you talking about the faux views before?” “Yes! You’re a genius, Ralph. You remembered. Write that down – imitation digitized view of French countryside.” “And the music, right?” “Yes! European music, pumped into all the hallways and apartments. Opera, classical. Nothing too complicated. Really atmospheric. Tenants are starting to demand that, you know.” “They can’t stand silence?” “Can’t stand their own thoughts. Gotta drown ‘em out. And no mirrors, no one likes to look at themselves. But pod connections in the hallways and all the apartments.” And then my boss said something that stuck out in my mind. “Ralph, we have to make this place a living experience in which you never have to think about the unpleasant facts of life.” “Okay. I’m writing this down.” “Good. You’ll go far in this business if you remember that. And remember this: people do not want to reflect on themselves or their place in society. They need constant distractions, diversions, entertainment. That’s what we provide.” I walked up to the window while he brooded on the color-shifting wall diagrams. The sun filtered through the two mega-buildings next to this one. They were both a hundred stories tall. I looked down at Wilshire Boulevard below me and had a sudden fear of heights. It felt so wrong being so high off the ground. “Mr. Robards, can I go back to the office? I’m feeling sick to my stomach.” Dark freight, a vanished life.

15 “Sure, Ralph. I’ll take it from here. Almost done here.” On the monorail back to the office I took a detour to Griffith Park. I don’t know why. I had a lot of things to do at the office, but something made me transfer into Los Feliz. The monorail cruised over the Los Feliz hills and stopped at the park. I got out and breathed in deeply. The trees and the dirt had such an unfamiliar smell. I walked up some trail until I was close to the observatory. The hills were so dry and hot and dusty. I came to a small meadow off the path where a patch of grass sat in the shade. It was cool and soft on my skin, so I lay down on my back to look up at the sky. My Grandfather took me out up into the mountains on a hike when I was very young. And I remember getting to the summit of the hill we were climbing. He surveyed the valley below us, which at that time was nothing but trees and a few streams. “Someday,” he said, “this will all be gone. And God save you when that happens. Thank the lord I won’t be around to see it.” the shadow sits and waits for me I thought he was a cranky old man, but maybe he was some kind of prophet. Well, we all want to believe our ancestors were prophets, I guess. We want to think our parents and our grandparents saw the future and adequately prepared us for it. The clouds were thin, drifting slowly across the Los Angeles sky. The sun sank down slowly to the sea. a looming bastion fringed with fire I could barely hear the traffic from down below and the smog wasn’t so bad that day. I pretended it was long ago, before the town had risen around this place. The warm, dry air blew across me with the scent of sagebrush. The sun was waning and the buildings downtown were getting that orange-yellow hue on their western sides. I closed

16 my eyes for awhile and imagined I was in the Los Angeles of the 1890’s, before the car. Downtown was a calm neighborhood of Victorian houses and Bunker Hill was the home of the rich, who rode in beautiful carriages down First Street in the dusty California sun. Maybe the train would come through town, bringing immigrants from the east and supplies to feed the growing city. Maybe there would be a little Japanese ghetto and a Mexican neighborhood of adobe houses and tortilla shops. I woke up and my pod was buzzing. It was Chad, from the office. I groaned and looked at the message. Where you at? Come to a show tonight? Meet some ladies, oldfashioned style? Dancing and drinking like our grandparents used to do. What a freak. What the hell was he talking about, dancing? I walked down the hill, rubbing my eyes, and waited for the monorail. It occurred to me that I hadn’t dated a woman in a long time. I sat by the window and looked out the window, waiting to get home. I wanted to lie on my couch and watch a podcast or some cablevision, then drink a corn beer and go to sleep.

TXT: > Where have you been? The message woke me up at ten o’clock. Jesus, it was Chad again! TXT: I think you have apartmentitis. Maybe you should come into the office today. I texted back: I am working very hard. You can ask Mr. Robards. He wouldn’t let up. His next text was a little creepy, coming through the digital ether like an omen: We should get a beer sometime.

17 Well, it looked like another smog emergency day, so that was a perfect excuse. I couldn’t go outside anyway. I would get some work done. I worked on the floor plans for the Versailles, and then a proposal for a new building going up in Manhattan Beach that we were working on. I sat in my apartment with the air-conditioning on, which I wasn’t supposed to use because of the energy crisis, but I did not care. They could fine me if they wanted. That night I was sitting there in the dark, trying to conserve energy, and I was drifting in and out of sleep on the couch. I didn’t feel like watching a show or listening to music so I had turned off my pod and my screens. I just didn’t want to hear the advertisements or the messages or the calls from people asking where I was. Who cared I was at home, where everyone else was. Where the rest of the digital nation was spending their time – in front of a screen, basking in the dim bluish glow of our sycophantic, servile little modern lives. Spending their time figuring out shortcuts to receive entertainment faster. There wasn’t even a cave left, or a forest left to go to escape it. All the caves, all the forests had been converted to convenient retail locations and prime real estate; there was a grid on top of a grid on top of a grid, delivering the overburdened internet, electricity and diminishing water and food supplies to our increasing appetites, our increasing lust for a passive existence, a life of receiving gratification, a vicarious life of watching and waiting and observing in our little cells, of being told that this was the future and this was finally the perfection, of merely existing in our structured prefabricated manmade holes, of being told our technology was good for us, of being told that we needed the pods and the products, of being convinced that we couldn’t live any other way, of being subdued into a life of purchasing and purchasing and purchasing…

18 I took a dormapril. This was precisely what they were for. This was the one stroke of genius the government had come up with – free anti-depressants. However they paid for it, I didn’t care. I don’t think anyone else minded paying taxes so they could get those things. They single-handedly made life bearable. Someone knocked at my door. Oh God. It was the police. “Ralph! It’s Chad! What the hell, man?” How did he know where I lived? KNOCK! “What -? How do you know?” He burst in past me. “YOU, my friend, need to learn how to operate your portable communication device. Are you having an attack of agoraphobia?” He sat down, unwelcomed, on my very expensive couch. “Chad, I did not invite you here. How do you know where I live?” “Looked it up. Want some?” He pulled a bottle of whiskey out of a bag. “This is Irish. It was brewed, fermented, aged in wooden barrels, and bottled in Ireland, the old country, the home of fair maidens who do not have tattoos, who do not use a pod, who do not work in the real estate business or have a haircut that looks like a cancerous growth coming from the head. Home of old men who sit in bars and have conversations, face to face, with each other, about things that go on in their little village, about gossip, about so-and-so is sleeping with so-and-so, and local politics-” “You’re already irritating me.” “Alright, I’ll shut up. But have some. Please.”

19 I took the bottle and poured a cup with some ice. “Is this how you’re supposed to have it?” “Absolutely.” “So why are you here? And why aren’t you leaving?” I put the drink down and didn’t touch it. “Because you and I are going out tonight. And I’m driving.” “That’s funny. No thanks. And besides, aren’t you drunk?” “Uh…are you aware that we have automated vehicles now?” “Jesus. I haven’t been in a car in months.” “They’ve been around for years. I can be completely shitted on Irish whiskey and my baby will take me anywhere I want. That’s how I got here. All I need is the address.” I turned on a program, it was some shopping network. My whole system came on, with old saved messages and pre-recorded programs, and old advertisements I hadn’t responded to yet. I just wanted to distract myself from the debilitating task of conversing with him. “You’re getting laid tonight, Ralph.” I watched the program, pretending to be interested in a hundred-dollar knife that could cut a shoe in half. “We’re going to the Libra. Have you heard of it? It’s new.” “What is it, a bar? Don’t you have to make a reservation for one of those places?” “Not this one. It’s a new concept in out-of-home entertainment. You just go.” “Isn’t it full of assholes?” “No. It’s new. No one knows about it yet.”

20 So we were in his car with the whiskey and he kept drinking. I tried to get him to stop because he was gonna do something ridiculous but he was too happy to get me out of the house. The car was doing fine in spite of its idiotic owner, who kept singing old sea chanties and slapping me on the back. I just watched and listened to the traffic and the neon and the people and the oceanic wave of man and machine crashing forward, the thumping, the grinding, the wheezing of gears and blinking of brilliant lights, advertisements, advertisements, advertisements, for shoes, mail-order brides from Russia, cars, Coke, houses, vacations, trips to outer space, larger breasts, larger penises, in-home strippers and escort services, Las Vegas, burgers, pizzas, corn-beer, high-end Canadian beef, real estate… “You know I’m off Dormapril?” “What?” “I’m going off Dormapril,” he said. “It’s no good. It was destroying my sex drive. And it was making me constipated.” “So what do you take?” “Nothing. I don’t need it. I’d rather be alive than in your little pharmaceutical haze.” “That’s fine. You can judge me if you want. Have fun with the withdrawals.” “I just drink now, it takes care of everything. You know the government puts things in those pills to kill your sex drive because they’re trying to control the population.” “Well, that’s good. There’s too many damn people anyway.” “You want to go your whole life without having sexual intimacy?”

21 “Look, Chad.” I was getting pissed – he always got self-righteous and judgmental with me, and everyone else, come to think of it; he always had some monumental discovery that would blow our minds and if we weren’t outraged we weren’t paying attention. “It’s working fine for me. Maybe I don’t want to be intimate. We’re not supposed to have sex anyways. Maybe I’m trying to do my part for society.” “They have medication.” “I’m not taking ten pills a day just so I can have sexual intercourse. And I think intimacy is a kind of hell.” “What?? You know, sometimes I think about my parents, Ralph. I remember how close they were, how much they loved each other. I’m not going to live my life without that. I don’t care how many pills I have to take, or what the government says, I don’t even care if I get an STD. I’m not going to live my life alone. Don’t you remember how your parents were?” “I was raised by my grandparents.” “Well, their generation is even older! Remember how intimate they were?” “I’m not discussing my grandparents’ sexual life-” “Wait - what happened to your parents? How could you not tell me about this? “I’ve told you. They died when I was little.” “So don’t you remember your grandparents, how close they were?” “I guess.” I looked at the hookers on Sunset Boulevard as we sat in traffic. There were fat ones, black ones, young ones, you want it you got it at a cheap price. At my grandpa’s cabin there was a big painting of my grandma and after she died he took it down because he couldn’t stand to look at it – he would sit out on the porch in the evenings and I would

22 hear him mumbling to himself, sometimes having imaginary conversations with her, and after he sold the place and moved into the home he asked me one day, when he was going senile, what had happened to the painting and I had told him it was thrown away with all the other stuff he told me to trash, and shortly thereafter he lost his ability to recognize me or anyone else, which was probably good in the long run although I had to stop visiting him because it was like a slow death to watch the end of a life, watching what will be your own death someday.

“I don’t think your friend is wearing the appropriate clothes.” “Come on, man, I thought this wasn’t one of those places. We just want to have a drink. It’s only eight o’clock. We’ll leave before the pretty people get here.” “Look, Chad, let’s go.” “No! We are going to this bar, Ralph.” “You leave before ten, or I throw you out.” “Thank you.” And we were in, sitting at an actual bar drinking beer made from barley, hops and malt. “Okay, there should be some women in here pretty soon.” “Yeah. I can’t wait.” “You need a better attitude,” Chad said, and got up to go to the bathroom. I sat and enjoyed a beer that for once didn’t taste like corn syrup. It tasted like things that had been taken right from the ground, aged, and then put in a bottle, simple as that. I wanted something more simple… some girls were in the corner were glaring at me

23 and laughing. They were tattooed, pierced and really muscular, some of those superbitches I heard about. They were even uglier in real life. “Another beer?” “No, let me have a…whiskey.” “With what?” “God, I don’t even know. I haven’t had the stuff since I was seventeen.” “It’s good with soda water.” “Is there any corn syrup in it?” “Just water, my friend.” “Can I get some lime?” “Yes.” I had finished my beer so fast. I loved this place. This was heaven. But how could they afford the pure water? And the real alcohol? I drank my whiskey-soda and felt like a cool breeze was blowing upon me from the ocean – the water bubbled and sparkled on my tongue while the lime sweetened the bitter graininess of the whiskey, and all of it warmed my throat and my stomach. Something came back to me from a long time ago, something forgotten. A sense of the world and its latent possibilities, a sense of abundance. I was drinking the earth – water from the ground, whiskey from grains grown in the soil, and lime from a plant grown in the very earth beneath my feet. Oh, the earth, the beautiful earth. When Chad got back I was on my second whiskey-soda. He saw the gleam in my eyes. “That’s what I want to see! You’re finally enjoying yourself!” “That’s right,” I said, but it sounded like somebody else talking.

24 “Ralph is finally getting his get-up-and-go back.” By ten we hadn’t talked to any girls but the bouncer came in to get us. “Time to leave, boys.” Outside by the car the downtown lights were yellow, orange, pink, green, red… they bounced and rolled and blinked into my blurred vision as I sat against the car, Chad looking for his keys in his drunkenness. The city was a being, breathing around me. It was present everywhere with countless unperceived subtleties. Every ugly thing– the dominance of cars, the oppressive buildings, the hideous odor of the unwashed homeless, the indifferent masses and the extraneous humanity – also was very beautiful, in that each quality carries its inherent opposite. Every ugly thing was just the lack of a certain kind of beauty expected by the viewer, so the beholder must change radically in order to see what is really beautiful. At least that’s what I tell myself. Chad’s car maneuvered us through relatively uncrowded neon orange-lit streets to my apartment, where I bid him a slurred farewell and stumbled into my building. The security guy glared at me when the elevator failed to recognize my drunken voice. After a couple of tries it whooshed open and ran me up to the apartment. I felt alive and warm when I stumbled in and the lights turned themselves on for me. I saw the wonderful ease of life with technology – music that played automatically, TV screens that turned on in every room I walked into, tuning themselves to stations I enjoyed. What a thing is modern man – a creature with no natural enemies and an unlimited capacity for entertaining himself. I felt for several moments in my drunken haze like my apartment was really a friend to me. It might actually be conscious, at least in a very subdued sense. Robards was right –we needed to be diverted from the unpleasant facts of life. If a man could sufficiently do this he would be a God of his own little world.

25 I fell asleep with the pod playing old repeats of Andy Griffith.

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Near Death Experience: Wilshire and La Brea, a city bus barrels through a red light, blaring its thunderous honking horn as I am about to step out into the intersection to cross.

The playground was one of the last, in Beverly Hills where money demanded such luxuries. I guess I was just walking by and happened to see it. Maybe part of me remembered that it was there – I’m not sure. I was one of those guys you should worry about, I suppose, just standing alone by a playground and watching the children. There just aren’t any families in my building, and they sure don’t have playgrounds where I live. The mothers were these rich Beverly Hills women that have their whole days to waste away chatting with each other and watching their kids play. Anyway, I don’t think they know how amazing it is to watch children at play, to see the utter abandon with

27 which they apply their unstoppable imaginations to the world around them, to see the force of their innocence, to see the strength of their understanding of kindness, to see these things that put an adult to shame with the lengths to which he has fallen and to see how much he has forgotten. And so this little girl came up to me with a flower she had picked, she must’ve been two years old, and she was this little blonde Beverly Hills girl, and she didn’t even know how pretty she was or how trusting she was. She held the flower up to me and said, “Here,” and I took it from her. She smiled and walked away from me, and I wanted to tell her so many things: don’t forget, just remember this, the way you are – try with all your strength to remember that feeling, because it is so hard to be a grown-up and to carry these things around with you. It is so hard to bring yourself to a place where you can trust other people, knowing what people can do and how bad people can be, and it is so hard to remember to try to love real other people, not just the way you want people to be, but real other people with all their grating little flaws and to let yourself be judged by them, to leave yourself open to interpretation and an unbelievable amount of hurt and betrayal by those people, to trust them…don’t forget how easily you loved and told others how you needed to be loved, don’t forget how loudly you cried when you were hurt or how you laughed when you were happy, please try not to forget these things because it’s so easy to forget. To forget how to be a good person, a happy person. That night it was one of the hottest August nights of the year, the city sweating and stewing in its juices. I went outside to walk around late that night because I couldn’t sleep, but things were not safe for anyone. I saw a man breaking into a car and stealing the satellite system. I heard strange screams from people’s apartments, little boiler rooms collecting heat and madness. I heard a gunshot a block away and a car screeching off, and

28 I heard Armenian couples fighting in their apartments. Marijuana smoke drifted from cars and buses roared down the street, pregnant with passengers, the city panting in the sweltering night.

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The rain was loud. The tropic summer rain, the residuals of a storm in Mexico. Loud splatters hitting the windows and the streets down below. I sat in the kitchen after I finished the presentation with Robards, I think the clients were happy though you can never tell with these things the way they respond so neutrally – “That’s doable, that could be done, that’s feasible.” Jesus, corporate America was killing the English language as we knew it. I scarcely had the words to fucking explain myself to other people half the time, and it didn’t help we were raised in a world in which language was used for the purpose of facilitating business transactions and to exchange money, and little else. I went outside because the air was clean and the night was completely dark without any remnant of sun. Down at the reservoir the rain made a million droplets in the water and the streetlights reflected on the lake in orange ripples. The rain kept coming and it felt as if everything was finally being cleansed.


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We were at the new building downtown – the Viceroy. Robards and I were brainstorming on the top floor, one hundred and twelve. I thought he was really starting to see me as a kind of confidante. He would burst into personal confessions in the middle of the job. We’d be looking at an empty wall, making design diagrams, and he’d say “I think my wife is tired if having sex with me,” or “I think maybe I’ve been drinking too much,” and I wouldn’t know what to say. And then he would completely run out of ideas and say, “You’re a smart kid, you think of something.” This was one of those weird moments. The floor we were on was the most important since the richest guy would live here and own the whole floor. He would want really realistic, beautiful shifting holographic images – 3D stuff. This was not an apartment, this was an integrated living entertainment experience. We were looking at the west wall, facing the ocean. The window wouldn’t provide much entertainment, just a view of a bunch of other buildings. I wasn’t really thinking and I just muttered something about the Beach Boys. “What?” “I don’t know, the Beach Boys California Dreamin’ thing comes to mind.” “Elaborate.” I started talking, not knowing what would come out.

30 “Well, you know those old album covers, the images in pastels of the ocean waves and the golden sunset sinking over a lone surfer – that’s the image of freedom, the California Dream.” “We could have moving images, almost a story, and Beach Boys music playing.” “Yes! A surfer goes out to the beach and gets on his board, then he starts surfing, and the waves get bigger and the sun is blazing gloriously…” “And the music swells…” “It could be a repeating image, but you wouldn’t notice it’s repeating. Maybe the background changes slightly. So it’s really relaxing.” “And the images could be really huge and cover the whole wall. I like the way you think, Ralph. You’re a genius.” “Well, if the guy is gonna pay all this money, he’ll want the all-consuming experience, as you put it.” “You’ve been listening to my lectures during those meetings!” “Well, I can understand where you’re coming from.” “These people, Ralph, they want an overwhelming feeling of comfort, beauty, tranquility, and the constant presence of an aesthetic sensibility.” “To fend off the loneliness?” He laughed. “Whatever their reason, we have to deliver it. And it has to be three-dimensional.” “Have we ever done any desert scenes?” “Desert doesn’t always work well. People feel depressed by the idea of a desert. They want water. That’s why beaches, lakes, rivers, and streams are so popular. And the water sound has to be absolutely realistic.”

31 “Of course.” “We still need a soothing night scene for this wall.” “Well, maybe the surfing scene could merge into a campfire scene in the woods. Like a camping scene, with crickets and owls hooting. A crackling fire.” “Perfect. Let’s take this over to the graphics department.” “They better not have any attitude about this.” He turned to me, shaking his head. “Those guys act like they’re all Andy Warhol, with their egos. Can you come with me? They don’t respect their elders. They listen to you.” “Sure. I guess I speak their language.” On the elevator going down we talked about our typical elevator motif. Going up you would get the sensation of rising into the clouds – below you the earth got smaller and you’d feel the wind and the sun would get brighter. On the top floor it would look like a heavenly paradise, harps playing and everything. And of course going down would be the opposite – you’d go through the clouds and see the earth getting closer. Overall you’d get the impression of going up or down at least a mile. It was a big hit in the other buildings.

Dream: I’m leading an old man down a rocky beach to a boat that’s all black and waiting on the shore for him, and I help him in the boat. He lies down, his old gray beard blowing in the wind. Three queens sit in the boat crying and holding him. He tells me something but I can’t understand it, and I think I’m supposed to be listening but I can’t hear it…some old power is passing away and it will never return, just fading memories of

32 his reign of goodness and purity and loyalty, but he dies a sad and broken man, betrayed. The boat leaves and floats off into the sea, disappearing.

I was sitting in Chad’s automaticar again, and he was taking me to some Mexican place. “The Mexicans still know how to party. See, party is a word your greatgrandparents would have used to describe a social gathering in which people would go out of their homes to a previously decided place and enjoy each other’s physical presence. You’ll see the Mexicans act like there is no such thing as a computer. And the other thing about them is that they still have regular communication with their families. They’ll live with their parents until they’re married, or they’ll live in the same neighborhood.” “Well, that’s really special.” “You know, you could benefit from the cultural education I’m giving you. You should be grateful for all I’m doing for you. Do you ever go to church?” “Church??” “Don’t scoff. Yes, it’s still something people do. Ever been?” “I don’t believe.” “Well, maybe it would cheer you up to believe in something larger than yourself.” “What makes you think I need cheering up?” “Please. You’re miserable. Everyone at work can tell.” “Well, that’s none of their business. And for the record I think there was a time when it would be easy for me to be religious. Maybe if I was raised in some medieval

33 village where the church was the center of the cultural life of the town, and everyone else believed it, it would be a simpler thing.” “That doesn’t have anything to do with it. No matter where or when you live, there has to be some beauty in life. Where does it come from if not from God? If there’s no reason for all of this, where does the meaning in your life come from?” “Look, it’s more important for me to only believe things that seem feasible and that make sense. All we really have in this life is the mythologies of our forefathers.” “So you believe in, what, Zeus? Paul Bunyan?” “No. I don’t believe in things like you do, I don’t practice a religion or any system of belief. But what we have is a great body of mythology created by humans to give beauty and meaning to our world. The California mythology of the Beach Boys is a perfect example of this.” “All of that stuff is from the past. It’s not active, you can’t practice it. It’s just a historical relic.” “Well, it’s all we have.” “But what if, let’s just say, that you would be happier if you actively practiced a commonly accepted religion and chose to accept it on faith, forgetting your little arrogant rationality and admitting that there are some things you can only know through intuition. What if you would be happier if you just accepted a divine force into your life?” “Is that what you do, Chad?” “Yes.” “And it makes you happy?” “Very happy.” “Well, good. Where is this Mexican place?”

34 “Right around the corner. You’ll love this.” It was bright and alive, crowded with talkative Mexican families, a Mariachi band playing old ranchero songs in the corner. The chips and salsa came and the margaritas came and pretty soon we were both pretty drunk. “Hey,” he said, “you should come to this party with me tomorrow. It’s Friday, so you don’t have an excuse.” The bastard. He got me drunk and then he told me about a party, knowing my will was broken. “Sure. Where is it?” “Manhattan Beach. A friend of mine is graduating from art school and she got a really good digital arts job. So she rented a place and all of her friends are going to be there, right by the beach.” “Yeah, man. Sounds good.” “We can take a pod-car. They go down there now. This is good, you can meet some girls. Hey, have you ever had a girlfriend?” She sits by the window of our place, bland sunlight on her vacant face, vacant in that mysterious way I found so innocent and pensive but now makes me sick in that dread sickness of knowing someone has maybe stopped loving you before you have had the chance to fall out of love with them – pills, pills pills – the dormapril and now the somnabul, and the coke, just compounded and changed what I knew as a person I knew, someone to trust, to trust –“what are we doing tonight?” she says in a very impatient and annoyed fashion that has come to dominate her tone, and the stomach sickness returns, oh I have made a terrible mistake, oh I am trapped here “can we do something?” and then there is the killer “this is boring,” and I am a post, dumb as a post, the snow covering me

35 and I am mute for explanations but I feel nothing inside me anymore but the dread sickness I can’t believe I expected so much I needed so much and I wanted so much from someone, needed things I couldn’t possibly get from someone so ultimately indifferent, and ultimately everyone is indifferent, the final confirmation of this fact I have felt for so long but didn’t want to believe. The final confirmation of the indisputable fact. The knowledge. The snow and the silence. “I’ll look for a new place.” The words, dead in the air as I speak them. Indifferent. The suitcases, boxes and the apartment search. She didn’t waste a minute. Not a second. Her profile online, all the single chat rooms. Available, available, available. Not a mention of the last several years, not a mention of a broken heart or a former love. Free agent.

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The pod-car swept into the station minutes after I summoned it. It was a small one, for four people only. The red line went directly to Chad’s place. He’d better be on the station waiting for me. I didn’t want to get out and walk around looking for him. Luckily for him he was there.

36 “I am so proud of you, Ralph.” “Thanks, Dad.” “No, this is great. You’re getting out, you’re meeting people.” The car propelled us through the canyons of skyscrapers, past apartment buildings and over clogged streets, over freeways down Wilshire and down the 405, pumping in streaming music from our choice of over 50 stations, thank you for riding. Other pod-cars were crammed with people presumably going to Hollywood clubs or something. There was a kind of beauty to the complexity of this metropolis, the fact that life and technology were hopelessly intertwined above and below me in a chaos of man and machine and lights and darkness. Chad talked about this girl he knew, he had grown up here in LA with her, and he’d been trying to hook up with her for years. Her family was rich and they’d rented a place in Manhattan Beach for the night to celebrate her graduation. She had told him to bring along some guys because there would be mostly girls there. But Chad didn’t actually have many friends so I was the lucky guy. We soared through the night sky on our elevated track over Inglewood, Hawthorne, and Lawndale, arriving at the small pod station in Manhattan Beach, which was still relatively suburban. The air was warm and breezy and the whole city sloped down to a point where pavement met the ocean. We walked down the hill past ocean condos until we got to the party. “This is Ralph, my co-worker. Ralph, this is Sarah.” She gave me a hug. I congratulated her on her graduation from art school. She was definitely a hippie. Her clothes were hand-made and flowing in long ribbons down her legs, and a flower sat in her hair. They had real alcohol drinks and good cheese for

37 hors d'oeuvres, and fancy wines on a wine table. The window showed an unimpeded view of the ocean, dark and silent below. I quickly saw that this crowd was an artsy crowd. I wasn’t an actor or artist, and I didn’t want to stand with some group of people just to listen to them talk about the newest developments in the field of digital art or animation or whatever was going on in the entertainment industry. I liked the old TV shows, from a time when things made sense. Now everything was flash and hoopla. I was sitting with my whiskey and soda by the window when someone suggested that everyone go down to the beach. Good, this was a perfect time to escape unnoticed. After they left I’d go up and catch a pod-car home, then text Chad and tell him I’d left. I watched him leave with Sarah, holding her hand. Good, maybe she would finally give it up to him. I hoped she would after all the time he had been lusting after her. After everyone was gone I was walking towards the door when a red-haired girl came out of the bathroom, cute and fresh-faced and probably about my age. “Where did everyone go?” “Down to the beach.” “Oh great, let’s go!” “Oh, I have to leave actually.” She looked at me with harsh disapproval. “Come on. Where do you have to be at this hour?” “Uh, there’s another party in my neighborhood-” “Is it by a beach?” “Ha, no…” “You’re coming to the beach with me, sir.”

38 She was very pretty, with red freckles and blue eyes that had a certain kind of laughter in them. She pushed me out the door and we walked down the hill towards the beach, several blocks behind everyone else. “Where are you from?” she asked. “I live on the eastside, actually. I work at an interior design firm, my friend Chad brought me here. He’s friends with Sarah.” She smiled and talked about what a nice night it was. I said it was really nice, and it felt so insanely awkward and strange to be walking down to that beach with her, a really nice and very pretty young woman. Very surreal, to feel the night air on my skin and a good-looking warm-blooded stranger next to me. When we got to the beach she started running. Not wanting to be a wet blanket I ran after her. We were in a remote part of the beach a ways away from the rest of the party, who were all taking their clothes off to run into the ocean. Shocked, I turned my eyes away from them, only to see her taking off her shirt. “You have to come swimming!” “Oh my God,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything else. I watched unbelievingly as she stripped to her bare skin. She ran into the water naked, and I took off my clothes slowly as she shouted for me to come and swim. I eventually got them off and ran into the cold water. Everyone’s shouts sounded barbaric in the water. It was the sound of a relief of an immense burden, the burden of being civilized, an invasion to the marrow of our beings. An assault merciless and constant. I fell into the tumbling waves, feeling the hard cold sting of the great primitive waters. She was laughing in the waves and the moonlight, and I could see her bare beautiful skin and face smiling at me, knowing what I knew, feeling

39 the release of the confines at last, a release even from desire, since I didn’t want her or anyone else at that moment, but I wanted to remember the sensation of nature washing over me and surrendering to it with abandon, and I wanted to remember the feeling of communion with another human, seeing and being seen, naked and unclothed, not hiding behind a portable communication device and not presenting a screened, partitioned, digitized version of oneself. We walked back to our clothes, naked, laughing insanely to each other. It was a feeling I did not remember having before. And when we got back to our clothes we didn’t put them on, but we laid down on the sand, feeling it on our bare skin and feeling the air on our naked bodies, not touching each other and not wanting to. We talked about what a wonderful night it was, how everyone should do this more often. The moon was large and the beach was lit in a pale blue light.

DREAM: I am walking in an orange grove in the sun. I am alone. The breeze is blowing. Big bright oranges all around me, suspended from trees, waiting to be picked. I know somehow that I am in California. I wake up with a feeling of unbearable loss. Tears on my face. I want something that is gone forever, or maybe never really existed.

TXT>: (CHAD) So you think there’s no heaven? TXT<: No. I don’t think it makes sense. TXT>: But scripture tells us there is. TXT<: What am I supposed to say to that? I don’t believe in your scripture.

40 TXT>: But how could this world be all there is? There must be an eternal resolution to everything, all the striving and the conflicts and the frustrations of sex, greed, war, politics etc. What is it all for if it doesn’t get resolved in the afterlife? TXT<: The resolution is death, Chad. Nothingness. A total lack of consciousness. And I don’t see how it could be heaven if there’s no conflict. Pleasure only comes from tension and release, conflict and resolution.

Why was Robards calling me? Was I in trouble? “Hi, Mr. Robards?” “Ralph, great news. I showed them the plans, the Beach Boys thing you came up with, they loved it. They want us to do the Grand Avenue building, you know I’ve wanted that job for a year!” “That’s good.” “So you know what? I owe you a token of appreciation. It was partly your genius that got us this job. I want to take you to a very special place tonight…” So I was standing outside the neon-flashed and noise-polluted streets of downtown a block from city hall, among the muck and glory, waiting for my boss to join me at the Joy Fuck Club, a name that made me nervous because I didn’t feel in the mood for either. But I couldn’t let my boss down and he was a lonely old guy, strangely since he had a couple kids and a wife and a very busy job, and I sometimes got the feeling that I was the only person who didn’t depend on him and maybe that was why he felt endlessly comfortable with me. He stepped off the monorail platform and walked towards me with a giant smile and a paper bag, which he handed to me. “It’s yours. Well, open it up.”

41 It was a bottle of some strange liquor called Salvacion. “You’ll like this. I had to order it from Mexico. It’s made from a plant that gives you hallucinations. It’s really great stuff, but you have to go easy on it. Well, let’s go in and have some fun!” The place was bathed in a dark red light. We had a corner booth, roped off from the noise of the bar and the strippers, and we were looking through the digital catalogue of available talent which was intimidating and unbelievably diverse. They had black girls, white girls, Asians, Hispanics, Eastern Europeans, Armenians, and a special section for women with huge breasts. I chose a red-haired girl who wouldn’t look out of place in a little Alpine village, and another one with brown hair and a very cute face. He chose a black woman with huge breasts and a petite little Asian. I had no idea what we were supposed to do when they got here. Robards leaned over to me with a smile. “In this place, anything goes. So don’t be shy.” I felt an attack of panic. This was incredibly strange. The redhead arrived first, and she looked exactly like her picture. She was wearing a t-shirt and jeans. My heart sped up rapidly. “Ralph? Did you request me?” I felt that schoolboy fear of being singled out for doing something naughty in class. I nodded. She went over to the wall and took down a fold-out cot, gesturing to it like a doctor, so I laid down. “Enjoy,” Robards said wickedly. “Just relax.” “Would you like me to take off my shirt, Ralph?” “Yeah, okay.”

42 (The way she sat on the corner of the bed, combing her hair. The way she used to sit and comb her hair.) She took off her shirt and had no bra, just plain white breasts that were ample and soft. She began to take off my shirt. Robards went over to the music console and put on some music. Soon I was in nothing more than underwear and lying on my stomach. She was massaging my back with oils when the black and the Asian arrived. I listened as he groaned with pleasure and they teased and laughed with him. They obviously knew this man well. He probably requested them every time. The brunette walked into our little tent and she was very pretty. I was put on my back and both of the girls I had selected were in their panties and petting and cooing over me. I didn’t know how to feel or what to do – was this sexy or not? Then my underwear was down and they were taking turns on me with their hands and mouths, and I was grabbing them and putting their wonderful breasts in my face to hold like a pillow. I finished into a towel and they cleaned me up, then they both sat around and played with me, still nude. Tickling, kissing, cuddling. It must be a policy to stay with the guys after they finished because they wanted to feel the emotional connection. I was exhausted and I appreciated their company, just looking at them, their beautiful faces. Robards was groaning ridiculously next to me and I had no clue what they were doing to him. Didn’t want to know. “Is there anything more we can do for you?” asked the brunette, bending down to me like a nurse. I felt my arms reaching up to embrace her, which she obliged me. “You’re so beautiful,” I said. “Thank you, thank you, you are so wonderful…” The redhead kissed me on the lips and I felt pampered, loved, taken care of, adored…Then they were gone and I was putting on my clothes. Robards finished with a

43 groaning climax and a long sigh, and then he started thanking them profusely. They giggled and doted on him. “Wasn’t that great, Ralph?” “Thank you, Mr. Robards. That was terrific.” When the ladies left us we were relaxing on our cots with our clothes on. He looked so fulfilled, drinking the tea he’d requested. “Aren’t you going to try some of your Salvacion?” “Oh, sure.” I reached over and took the bottle off the ground, then took a little sip of the beverage. It was strongly fermented, smoky, woody and bitter. I coughed several times and felt the warmth grow in my stomach and throat. As we were walking out of the place my head was spinning in the night air and Robards leaned over to me to give some more of his advice. “Loneliness can find a man anywhere he goes, any time of the day or night, Ralph. But if you’re busy and you’re occupied it might skip over you and go to the next guy. You follow me?” I nodded. He walked off to get his monorail and I stood there watching the traffic. He was right, he was right. One had to stay busy. This society had wisely given us a million ways of staying busy.

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44 smog behind. Small towns, quaint villages and cozy hamlets throughout the west. No smog, no noise, no crime, no poverty. You know you’ve thought about it… BREAKING NEWS> Movie star and model Jane Newport has been convicted of giving drugs to minors, in a strange case that has everyone buzzing on the net. Reportedly the beautiful young star gave cocaine, heroin, and other prescription drugs to a sixteenyear-old high school student in return for sexual favors. Ms. Newport is currently awaiting trial for an unrelated case stemming from allegations last year that she kidnapped, sexually molested, and enslaved a fifteen-year-old girl.

Riding home on the monorail with my head against the window. A bottle in my hand. The city blurred.

My grandfather against the window. The rain on the window and the smoke curling up from the pipe. Always happy when he smokes. Lucky to have even him. Mountain rain and fog. He knew it would be tough, the world changing. Land disappears. Without the land, he said, without the land. What are we. What do we have. The window and the rocking chair, Grandpa’s chair. “Raised by his grandparents.” The way they talk, I know the way they talk at school at the PTA the kids the sad story, the pity looks, the girls. The way she looked in the afternoon, lounging in the bed. She loved to do it in the afternoon, and lounging after. She stayed that way, naked all afternoon with her pot smoking languid afternoon sun the smoke just rises and stays shadowed against white walls. Looking out the window, smiling at something.

45 Walking late at night in the city, new kid from nowhere, he’s a new kid at the library I know they’re talking talking talking look at the country boy. Late nights walking in the heat and the smoke and the grime. I know they want to rip me off. I want them to try. I want them to think they can. Want to kill them all. Perfect excuse to be attacked. To kill someone.

I sat in the apartment and turned on the system, and all five screens came on with stored up advertisements and messages and recorded shows…the headache. Might as well drink some of the Salvacion. I poured a tall cup with ice. Its warm fire liquid flowed into my throat and stomach as my song list started with the visuals on the digi-light display. The first was some Greek folk song and the display gave me a show of circling funnel-shaped lights that pricked my interest. The shapes and the fractal patterns twisted. With weary steps I loiter on. When would the hallucinations a boat arriving at a dock crowded with awaiters and loiterers and watchers myself awaiting always awaiting the syrup works inside me my mind afire the giant sea rippling and darkening beneath the heavy cargo dark freight a vanished life I am tied to the mast passing an island with the sound of two beautiful women singing I cannot go lovely carols of death the two sit beyond the rocky shore and I am alone on a giant boat a great treachery of rocks separates me forever a shadow cloaked from head to foot sitting and waiting for me eyes are burning blue orbs, growing larger and eternal always watching me a beast with head of man and body of lion twisting in the desert los angeles in the distance a tower on the sea-cliff pelted by wind and rain an old man crying at the elements in his rage and fury spiritus mundi shackled to the cliff the daughters of the

46 ocean come with feet unsandaled they come to weep and see for me to await the punishment eternal the prey of the infuriated new god waiting on the porch outside our house in the mountains and jumping off feeling of free-fall the dread of falling without the landing falling in suspended motion the ground approaching brian wilson went back to the hawthorne house with his mother after he lost his mind on the airplane and had to abandon the tour and they sat there the old house and he broke into tears adult and horrified because of the pressure of being who he was supposed to be in this world and the expectations and the past indifferent knowing how hard it would be for him it never meant to come back to remind him this old house so innocent his mother holding him in the car while he shook and cried a young man with a great burden charlie brown laying in bed awake the perennial curse shultz the man behind the veil a lonely bard of childhood and fear lincoln saddest of the kings of earth laconic master a face ancient and serene sad for what he knew teacher with the stoniest of patience king arthur died betrayed an age of glory passed away his deeds swept away and passed into myth these fragments I have shored against my ruins my words will never pass away the electric window passing through dividing digital and alone the caves of wonder and the modern technosphere the private world interior world the desires mulholland on the bank staring at ruined st. francis towering before him water having rushed and pushed through the dam until it killed four hundred and the prometheus of los angeles was punished retired and went to his grave not knowing why the dam failed “he brought water to this city” robards said to me in reverence “two hundred miles through the desert they tried to stop him they accused him of everything but he did the impossible anyway why? because it was his job that’s all he was the water commissioner and what did they give him for it they demonized him and when the dam broke nature took away what it had given so many

47 years ago” nature gives and it takes mother nature hardly a friend to man according to robinson jeffers in his tower on carmel and if he could see it now his precious coastline and his unspoiled nature – condos golf courses high-rises airports boats if mulholland could see it now And then I was on my couch with the bottle next to me, half empty. Mind exhausted. I am dying, Egypt, dying.

JOE>: I need some help picking out a full system for my house. You know about these things. Meet at the mall? So I was at the mall at the seventeenth floor waiting for Joe who came sauntering up the walkway with his concerned furrowed brow. “What I need is pretty much like the system you have.” “Internet, TV, text, five screens, vocal commands in every room?” “Yes. I want the whole thing.” “Well, mine is Sony. I think that’s the best deal.” “No, I heard Microsoft has a cheap thing now. And they’ll install it free.” “Joe, I have a question before you get into this - do you want to be in the shower receiving ads? I mean a non-stop stream of them that you can’t turn off?” He thought. “If it means I can be in the shower and say the word ‘news’ and hear the latest info from an earthquake in Bangladesh, then yes.” “Okay, my friend. Will you accept some fatherly words of advice?” “Make it short.”

48 “Okay. The thing about being fully connected is that you can’t go back. Okay? It’s like jumping off a cliff. You’re connected and then they’ve gotten their hooks into you. The ads get aggressive and more and more frequent. The purchase quota gets higher every month.” “The women get hotter. Your life gets easier.” “Yes, that’s true. But-” “Ralph, you can say a couple of words into your vocal box, without lifting a finger, and get a bottle of beer in your hand in minutes.” “Sometimes it’s a lot longer. This is a busy network, you know. And those delivery guys are not well paid.” “So you’re saying the Sony is the one to go with?” We were in the store now, surrounded with flashing, jumping visual entertainment and music thundering across the store out of tremendous speakers. “The Sony system doesn’t crash as often. That’s just what I’ve heard.” “Has yours crashed?” “Once. The worst night of my life.” “That must have been so hard for you.” “Like a slow death.” He laughed and we looked at the various systems, Joe deciding on one that would track his movement through the apartment and tailor its ads to meet his interests of the day. In the morning there would be breakfast and coffee advertisements, at lunch ads for sandwiches etc., in the evening dating services and alcohol delivery. He wanted six touch-screens, voice recognition and five thousand radio and movie channels with the satellite system. The internet, or the system as people were calling it now, would be a

49 constant presence in his happy life. He insisted on the worldwide channels because he “might be in the mood to watch a Russian talk show someday,” and God bless him, I hope he enjoys that Russian talk show. The system would be delivered later that day. “Want to go to the beach?” I asked him when we were done. “What? Man, I haven’t been to the beach in years.” “Good reason to go.” So later we were getting off the pod-car by Venice and making our way to the crowded beach, the locals on display selling the fruits of their freak-flag-waving lifestyle, tattooed, weight-lifting, drumming in circles, screaming about God, the president, animal rights, abortion, getting high, begging for weed, selling paintings of Jim Morrison and promoting the Dionysian lifestyle at the westernmost edge of our deeply Christian nation. The last fighters for the Greek way, the polytheists, the worshipers of Morrison and the worshipers of nature herself, the unadorned Goddess of primal life, the merciless old Gods. We walked through them all, Joe amused at the strangeness, and I knew I could never be one of these people but needed to know they were out here, needed to know there was something older and more primal than this domesticated Christianity we were given. This kind and easy father son holy ghost that didn’t leave room for the inherent cruelty of nature who gave and took away, gave me life and took away the givers too young before I could know them and before long I couldn’t even remember their faces or the sounds of their voices, just hazy parental visions. I could not remember my grandfather’s voice either as a matter of fact. Could not remember his face sometimes. We sat on the beach the waves approaching. “Hey! I barely recognize you with your clothes on!”

50 The red-haired girl from the party was walking down the beach. I looked at her, embarrassed. “Hey, what’s up? That was a crazy night.” “That was really fun,” she said. “We should do it again sometime.” Joe looked at me, shocked. He thought I was some kind of monk the way I’d been living the past couple of years. “Uh, yeah…I should get your screen name, and we could…” “It’s RedGirl17, but my name is Delia.” “Okay Delia, I’ll jot that down.” “And you are?” “Ralph.” “Look me up, Ralph. I have to go back to my friends now.” She pointed down the beach at a group of girls and walked off. “Okay,” Joe said, “I need an explanation.” “Well, there was this party at Manhattan Beach…” And I told him the story. He listened with amusement and got out his pod, looking her up. “RedGirl17 is quite an attractive young lady, Ralph. Have you seen these pictures? They look professionally done.” He handed me the pod, showing her profile. Raised in San Diego, an actress. There were pictures of her with an arm around some guy. Probably dating three guys right now. Always have a stable of backups in case one of them doesn’t pan out. I knew how they all operated, it was a big game a stupid game. “Yeah, I thought she was an actress. She’s probably a slut.”

51 I gave it back to him and ended it in my mind before it could even start, knowing I would never find her or text her. “You should go after her,” he said. “This is an incredibly good thing for you. She practically fell in your lap.” “You can date her if you want. I’m not interested.” I changed the subject to the old days back in school when I first met Joe. He was a digital studies student, wanted to design digital interfaces, the wave of the future. When you see an ad screen on a monorail or a hovercraft it’s probably something he designed. I was completely directionless and he kind of steered me toward his field, said there were going to be jobs, jobs, jobs, which was completely true, and here I am designing digital interfaces in the real estate market. Or at least spouting off ideas to my boss who strangely held me on a pedestal which caused not a small amount of guilty “fraud” syndrome. I knew I wasn’t very talented at the business and didn’t have half of his enthusiasm but he had decided long ago I would be the son he never had. Then we had to go because Joe’s system was being delivered. Not wanting to sit in my apartment alone I waited with him while the guys came, chattering in Spanish, and set up the system. It was more advanced than mine, an even newer model. When it was finally done Joe tipped the guys and we sat and watched a Russian talk show.

Chad wanted to go to a party in Venice and forcibly dragged me, this time physically threatened me if I didn’t go though I told him repeatedly I did not want to stand around and make awkward conversation with some guy who’s making a movie on shoestring budget or a girl in PR or someone who is the personal assistant to a major film star, or any of the host of people who would bore me to tears and make me feel boring

52 myself…anyway, I was there on the monorail with him going to a place in the canals, right on a mist-filled waterway and I was suddenly glad he had taken me though I dreaded the presence of other people in a strained social situation. If I socialized at all I wanted it to be fairly anonymous, faceless, and I wanted to have all the time in the world to sit and think of my clever reply to my interrogator. The guy’s house was three-story narrow modern architecture and I think he was an art collector, how Chad knew these people I had no idea. I had roughly three people I interacted with regularly. But then again Chad was a child of Los Angeles and knew the city like a well-connected cab driver. On a side note it is said that if you grow up Jewish in LA you grow up with a bounty of film industry connections whether you need them or not. You just have them. Chad’s not Jewish of course but I often wish I had grown up as an LA Jew, if not for the connections than for the sense of history, of community, of culture. I drank a beer by myself in the yard, overhearing someone’s conversation and looking at the misty canal stretching out into the night. Chad came over with some uppers in his hand. “Take one, maybe you’ll feel like interacting.” What an ass. Who cared if I wanted to talk. I took one and felt my heartbeat growing and a strange excited euphoria. I walked into the house through the people towards the bathroom with a sudden intensified desire to pee, and locked myself in the bathroom. My eyes looked red in the mirror and my hands were slightly shaking. As I began to pee I heard a blood-curdling scream from the living room and a sound of chaos and men yelling. Then the sound of pain from a woman, maybe several women. A

53 struggle. I stayed in the bathroom, terrified. My pod started blinking. It was Chad- Where are you? I texted back in the bathroom and he wrote STAY THERE. It wasn’t until a man yelled “HELP!” that my curiosity forced me out. I opened the door just wide enough to see the blood on the floor, then, judging there was no immediate danger, went cautiously into the room where several mangled bodies lay dead on the floor. Blood spread in circles on the white carpet. A wild-eyed man was weeping by the door. “They left! They went out there!” I went outside in the yard where just a few people lingered, talking quietly. “What happened?” I asked, but no one answered. “What happened?” They stood there stupidly, ignoring me. I tugged on a woman’s jacket. “Excuse me – what happened in there?” “Didn’t you see?” She was annoyed. “I was in the bathroom. What happened? What happened?” I tapped her forcefully on the shoulder. “They took some paintings,” a guy intoned dully, not looking at me. “They had knives or something,” the woman finally said. “Where did they go?” The guy nodded off in some direction. I called Chad and walked off onto the pathway that led by the canal, lit with orange streetlights and obscured by heavy sea mist. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m walking along the canal.”

54 “These guys, I think there were four of them, they came in and took a bunch of paintings off the walls and stabbed a bunch of people, then they just left. They just walked away down the canal.” “Jesus! Where did they go?” “I don’t know, I’m out on the street, on Venice Boulevard.” “Okay, I’m headed that way, I’ll find you.” The uppers started to wear off, a grating feeling that left me tired and hollow as I walked down the orange sidewalk with visions of bloody bodies on white carpet. I heard a noise behind me and whirled around, terrified. It was a boat put-putting down the canal, with four men sitting quietly, dark blood spots on their faces and clothes. Several large sacks were in the boat, the square outlines of paintings. One of the men looked at me as they passed. Our eyes met and I knew what they had done and they knew I was there, but they moved on in the still dark water. I walked on towards the street, frozen inside, having seen into the heart of the badness, the reckless meanness of greed. Chad was on the street and we walked quietly to the monorail station. A gunshot thundered on the street ahead of us, echoing and moving upward, ricocheting off the towering skyscrapers. In the distance no police siren wailed and no caped crusader was on his way.

Susan, we are so glad to have you back on the show after your last weight loss. The last time you came on you were 613 pounds, correct? Yes, Sharla, I was. And now you are down to 410 pounds? Yes, I am very proud of myself…

55 How did you lose the weight? The laser surgery got me down to 300, but I did gain a lot of it back through eating and low activity. Then I had the stomach staple and got down to 250, but I gained about a hundred pounds from eating again, and then I got depressed and went into a spiral of out of control eating and eating and eating, and I am currently having an electrode experiment performed. And that is where they put electrodes on your brain to make you stop craving certain foods. Yes it is. I have been having trouble withYou! I know you are sitting in front of your pod screen with five different ads blaring at you, but right now I want you to look down at the floor! Yes, look at the carpet under your feet! Not so clean, is it? That’s because you haven’t tried Zippy! The only cleaner that gets rid of germs for good! For good! Repeat it after me! Zippy gets rid for good! Zippy gets rid for good! You’re young! You’re horny! You’re hot! I know you’ve tried all the other hot sex and dating sights online but this one is completely different. Why? Because we force you to go on dates – if you don’t, we charge you more. We know you need to be pushed out the door. We know you won’t do it on your own. So that’s why we will not only find the right person, but we’ll send a driver over to your house, take you out to meet that special someone, and provide condoms, lubes, alcohol, anxiety meds, STD meds, erectile assistance, and all the feminine hygiene productsHere at Pizza Boys, we know your appetites are big. We know the same old pizza won’t fill you up like it used to. Pizza Boys presents the all new meatty meat pie, with

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Mildew of summer. Tired of looking at singles pics – browsing with no intent of contact. Couldn’t sleep again and completely out of dormapril so I went walking in the grime and heat. The paved pantheon of the homeless and the destitute and the runaways. Down on the street they lived in elaborately constructed boxes, tents and bush-disguised hideaways. They sat together and drank from dark and dirty bottles. A woman in a car sat in front of an apartment complex and honked repeatedly, waiting for someone. Beeeep. One one thousand, two one thousand. Beeeep. One one thousand, two one thousand. Beeeeep. Ad nauseum. I walked and walked through grey streets, tired of the box, too dumbly in my being pent. My limbs were sore with inactivity, my mind swimming with torpor. I passed a little Armenian café and stopped. Inside a small group of old Armenian men were drinking coffee out of little espresso cups and talking loudly with great

58 animation while a TV showed a soccer game on the wall. A hookah stood in the middle of the table and one of them took a deep drag out of its long winding hose. Then he put it down, eyes glazed over happily, with the mouth-piece facing away from him, and leaned back in his chair smiling. An old Mexican woman with a grocery cart walked slowly down the sidewalk, bathed in semi-orange light and intermittent car-beams from the passing whoosh of the traffic. Her face was canyoned and notched with time, skin leathered and parched. She turned a crazed face up to me and smiled. I stopped in front of an old Ukrainian Church where music emanated. Walking up the steps I heard the sound of a woman singing a sad old Russian song. Several old women and a family sat in the pews reverently bowing their heads or gazing straight ahead. I sat on the steps outside the church and listened. Maybe I would call that redhaired girl. Delia. It required a great deal of energy to live one’s life alone.

“The suspect is now going south on the 5 towards the 210 freeway and we’re up above with the sky cam. Now Lisa, what do you think is going through his head right now?” “Well, Frank, let’s keep in mind that he has been on the run for about forty-five minutes now. I have covered over fifty of these and typically there is a pattern for these kinds of suspects. In the first ten to twenty minutes they are frantically driving around, running stop lights, going down alleys, changing directions rapidly, there’s probably only one police car behind them, and they’re really trying to escape. But here we have him in the forty to fifty minute point, and he’s on the freeway. He’s really in the middle

59 period of this chase now, there are at least ten patrol cars behind him, he’s settled into a steady speed and the helicopters of course tracking his moves-” “And just to remind our viewers, the suspect has allegedly stolen this vehicle.” “That is correct, and here he is going east on the 210 heading towards Pasadena.” “That should be relatively light traffic at this time of night, on a Sunday evening.” “Absolutely correct, Frank – he would have had a lot of trouble staying on the 5, because there is really a lot of traffic down there towards downtown.” “We still have no idea whether he is armed or not.” “No, but it does look like there are two of them in the automobile. Oh, now it seems as if shots are being fired by the passenger towards the police.” “We seem to be having trouble with our satellite feed, so we will come back to this story when we get that back. But now returning to our original story of the hostage situation in South Los Angeles. To remind our viewers, this is a man who had taken his estranged daughter and wife hostage in their home several hours ago. We have John Doberman on the ground covering this incident. John?” “I’m here, Frank. And we have an unfortunate ending to this situation. According to police, negotiations broke down and the man became violent, shouting and generally acting in an unstable manner. Much to the horror of the police and family members, when the police entered the house they found-” “John? John, we’ve lost you. Alright, we will continue to track this situation and we will bring viewers up to speed as soon as we have information. But now, a word from our sponsors...”


Robards was having a staff party at his house. I caught a ride with Chad because it was off the grid, in a part of Beverly Hills inaccessible to mass transport. We entered a gated community which was the only place anyone with a house ever lived anymore, a place I would most likely never reside. Chad flashed his thumbprint and the recognition took a couple minutes, during which time cars piled on behind us, waiting impatiently. Probably doctors and lawyers coming home to their mansions. Once in the compound we rolled alongside house after house of old Beverly Hills glamour, a fantasy world. I was happy for them. They had managed to successfully shut out the real world and I hoped they could keep it up as long as possible, because once it came in it wouldn’t go away. I bet a lot of these older residents didn’t have the media systems and the pods. They had their servants and they played bridge and drank iced tea by the pool. It sounded like a nice life. I should’ve found a way to work as a pool boy or a house sitter for one of these families. Mexicans mowed immaculate lawns and planted flowers on their hands and knees while Security Guards traversed the community’s streets slowly in private cars. The sky was blue. The grass was green. I rolled down the window just to smell the green of the grass. When we pulled into Robards’ house he was standing out in front with a beer. “Great to see you guys!” The valet took the car and drove off. Robards extended a big hand to me as I approached. We shook and he led us inside. The space was cavernous and decadent, white walls leading up to a twenty-foot-high ceiling, 3D images of sunsets, ocean waves, flowery meadows, and desert islands shifting on his walls. Tasteful piano music played

61 softly through an invisible and ubiquitous stereo system. A stairway led up to a second floor balcony. “Everybody’s out in back,” Robards gestured. Chad went out there and I was left with the boss, who asked me if I wanted a tour. “Is it as nice as some of our apartments?” “I hope it’s nicer! Want to see my favorite room?” “Yes.” He bounded up the stairs with the strength of a man half his age and led me down a long semi-lit hallway past several bedrooms and bathrooms to a pantry at the end of the hall. We got in and he flipped on the lights. There was a screen encircling us and stereo speakers lining the walls. He went over to a small control panel and turned a few levers. A desert island arose around us, with moving waves and the sounds of birds chirping. The image was even below us on the floor, which functioned as a screen. The ceiling screen showed the boundless blue above, flecked with clouds. A dolphin jumped languidly out of the glistening waves and birds flew by us in holographic 3D, so real I almost ducked. Even the warm desert wind blew softly upon our faces. “How about some ladies?” he grinned. “That sounds nice. I’d like that.” “Go get that remote in the wall.” I followed his gaze to the control panel and took the remote out of its little cradle and gave it to him. “This,” he said, holding it up like the holy grail, “is a machine of beauty. Watch.” He pulled up a menu on the opposite wall and scrolled down the “women” section, then added two.

62 “One for each of us!” Two women appeared, one blonde and one brunette, lounging in beach chairs next to us, in very skimpy bikinis. They were totally lifelike, without any of that digital sheen of the primitive digi-technology. They looked over at us and giggled like schoolgirls. They oiled each other up with suntan lotion, then the brunette reached back and untied her bikini top, letting it fall to the sand. Her breasts shone in the sun, arching and leaping skyward. “Wow. I’ve never been in one of these rooms. This is amazing, Mr. Robards.” “And they answer to voice commands. Watch this. Hey ladies!” “Yes, Mr. Robards?” the blonde answered. “Do you want to dance with my friend?” “Sure!” “How about some music?” Some calypso music began to play and they both got up and approached me, gyrating their hips and shoulders to the music. “Dance, Ralph! They’ll get insulted if you don’t.” I danced but it felt strange in front of Robards. Being alone would be okay, but this was my boss. “Alright, maybe we should join the party.” “Thanks for showing me that.” “It cost me a fortune, so if you ever want to come over and use it, feel free. I need to get my money’s worth.”

63 He turned off the whole program with one click and we walked into the hallway towards the horror of real life. I passed a room where a woman was laying on a couch with a mask wrapped around her eyes and ears. “That’s Cheryl,” he said. “She loves the Fantasy Mask.” “Yeah, I’ve seen those in the stores.” Down at the barbecue conversation was dull, work-oriented and dominated by Becca, a loud overweight woman in her mid-forties I rarely saw because I usually work from home. She eventually got around to the subject of her ex-husband, a favorite topic (along with pets) of fat office rats in their forties who live in studio apartments in airconditioned buildings where they’ve lived at least a decade and spent all their time on the web looking for animals to adopt or cruising singles sites eyeing prospective mates with incredibly high standards, rejecting most of them on sight for being too much like an annoying guy they dated five years ago who rode a motorcycle or had a teenage son or wanted to move in too fast, and eventually settling on the comfort of animals who don’t speak and rely on their owner for their very existence, amounting to a life of semisolitude and an inability to accurately judge their own faults because they are never contradicted or judged by a living being in their home lives. I looked at Becca with quiet loathing as she yapped and yipped and squawked on and on and on – “then he wanted to have kids and I’m like why do you want kids when you can’t even get off the couch and take out the trash, so I stopped having sex because he got into this mood where he only wanted to have sex, and never do anything else, and he criticized me for gaining weight, but I was like look at you, dude, you have a beer gut, that is a beer gut and you want to know why? because you don’t do nothin’ besides sittin’ around watchin’ the net…”

64 And she went on. People flipped burgers on the barbecue and fished beers out of the ice chest, pretending to laugh at Becca’s stories, and I saw Robards by himself over by the pool, holding a beer and staring off into nothingness, Gatsby-esque and sad, bathed in rippling blue pool light, disconnected or disinterested, and I felt very sad for him, sad for all of us, because we didn’t even know how to get together and have fun and do something real or even communicate. And the worst of all was that if Robards couldn’t be happy than who of us could? With all of his money and his gadgets, what went wrong? And if our culture couldn’t make us happy and fulfill our needs, whatever they were, whose culture would do that for us? It was impossible, near horrifying that we were stuck where we were and there was no escape, even in a gated community there was no escape from the emptiness, the hollowness.

that he has been on the run for. story of the over We seem to be having daughter and wife trouble fifty of these and typically there is a pattern for. In the first ten to twenty minutes when the police entered the house in an unstable manner Well, Frank, let’s keep in mind running stop lights, in the middle period hostage situation going down alleys, with our satellite feed, so we will come back to hostage this story. John? But now returning when we get that back in they’re really trying to escape

Quick News Alert!>: Sex slave probed in Ventura County. Thirteen-year-old girl trapped in mobile home with older man for two years, raped repeatedly…More news later!

65 I was downtown looking for the place Robards had recommended, down in the underground mall. This place was surreal –a labyrinth of shopping pods that were movable and interchangeable and open twenty-four hours a day, not to mention completely removed from sunlight so one never had an idea what time of the day it was. It was crowded this day and I passed the coffee pod that I liked to order my drinks from, a long line snaking out of it with business men like sardines waiting for the caffeine fix. A little grocery place, quaint, sat in a rented pod hole selling the increasingly rare fresh oranges, bananas, and apples, along with sandwiches and corn syrup beverages. It wouldn’t be in business long, since people just didn’t eat fruit anymore. For a long time people complained about the lack of fresh fruit but they just got used to flavored corn syrup soda as a fruit-like replacement. Simulation had so thoroughly replaced authenticity that no one remembered anymore what it was to taste a fresh apple and probably didn’t much desire the sensation either. I passed a hot food producer/delivery place, a large one that fed much of the downtown and outlying areas, and recognized one of the delivery guys that had brought me the occasional burrito. Eventually I made it to the place Robards had recommended – Simulations Inc. Apparently they had anything you wanted and their virtual worlds were more realistic than the other places. I went in and signed my name and waited like it was a doctor’s office. The whole thing was supposed to feel clinical, like a necessary experience for one’s personal health. And who knows, maybe it was just as important as a checkup. Meanwhile I looked at the catalogue with the available virtuals – there was a preponderance of tropical locations and a large number of simulated people available. I wasn’t interested in the sexy side of things, and besides there were better places to go if that’s what you were into. Finally I found what I wanted and filled out the form, dropping

66 it in the slot. I went back to my seat and waited. When the girl at the counter called my name I followed her down the hallway into a comfortable room where I sat in a chair with straps on my hands and feet – sensation straps they call them. I drank the powerful intoxicant fluid she gave me and felt nice and relaxed. It was mandatory, to make sure you experience the pleasant. Then the girl put the head mask on me and asked if I had any questions before my session started. No questions, thank you. Enjoy your session…I had signed up for the half hour and wondered if I would get bored. Robards assured me the time flew by. As soon as the girl left the whole thing started. I was where I had pictured myself – the mountains green and misty, sloping downwards to a lake. It wasn’t exactly like the real thing, but it was as close as I would ever get. The place I had grown up didn’t exist, at least not in any form I would recognize. It was a private condominium community now, and my grandfather’s mountain house was long since torn down. The smell was earthy and wet and I felt the ground soft under my feet as I walked down to the lake. Fog was spreading through the woods silently and the birds flapped and chirped above me in the trees. It was totally absent of human residue. I got to the lake and sat on a log listening to the present silence; not just an absence of sound but the presence of silent things– trees, earth, grass, the lake. The water lapped against the shore while I gazed. A few ducks floated on the quiet glassy surface. For several moments I was transported home again. When the session ended I sat in my chair, unable to move, wanting more than life itself to go back into the world I had come from. Wanting to immerse myself again. When I took off the mask I noticed my face was wet, and how about that I’d been crying for the first time in how long? That was the thing about dormapril, that it was supposed to

67 take care of those messy emotions that got in the way of happiness. Sometimes, though, the drug wasn’t strong enough to stop what came up from the recesses. All it took was a reasonable facsimile of a place from long ago that wasn’t there anymore. It was probably good, I reasoned, walking out into the crowded stream of shoppers. It was most likely healthy to go through this, to exercise those parts of my mind to make sure they were still there.

when she sleeps, the way she breathes…rising with each breath, eyes closed, unconscious, dark hair on white skin. She sleeps so deep… the way she sleeps when she breathes and the way she breathes so quiet

My mind exhausted from a project with Robards, correcting and redoing the plans at client’s request, and listening to ads and ads and ads, cruising the webcams, eating too much delivered pizza and seriously contemplating going to a digi-sex place downtown. Neighbors having a party or something, don’t they know the fucking rules in this place? They know it’s professionals only, if they want to have a social life they can go live in one of the hippie communal places in Hollywood that Joe was telling me about. Muscles in torpor again I decided to meet Joe at his place, arriving quietly and sitting while he told stories. “So after Shelley, which I told you about, I started fucking around with-” “How did it end with Shelley?” “I told you, man. She had two other fuckfriends, one was a guy I knew and the other was a girl.” “That was the agreement, right? You were both doing that.”

68 “I know, but there are a few unwritten rules about this, that everyone should know, and if they don’t, they shouldn’t cruise with multiple partners. One of them is you do not fuck within social groups, meaning no one I am friends with or work with, or anything like that. And secondly, you don’t tell the person repeatedly about the other partners. She would be all ‘Jed screwed my brains out last night’ or she’d be like ‘Mona ate me out so nice, I was in fuckin’ heaven.’ That’s not classy, that’s not cool.” “Maybe you shouldn’t be in this kind of situation if it just upsets you.” “It usually doesn’t upset me, dad. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. I’ve never actually had a steady girlfriend.” The words hung in the air until he broke the silence. “So I told Shelley it was getting too weird and I didn’t want to know what Jed was doing to her, because I had to see him at work. So then I met this fine little latina girl Marina, she’s Guatemalan or something. You should see her ass. I’ll introduce you sometime.” I suggested we go to a bar, and he looked at me like I wanted to touch his genitals, so I had to defend the idea – “don’t interesting people sometimes hang out at bars?” “Why would we do that? You want people, here you go…” He turned on his brand new network he was so proud of, and pulled up his social system. “This is cool, check this out…you go to the girls, and you can see fifteen of them at a time. You can see who else they’re talking to also. How about this blonde chick, Jess? She looks nice.” He clicked on Jess and it pulled up her stats – single, 24, ad clerk, and she was talking to a guy named Geoffrey and two girls.

69 “I think I know this guy Geoffrey,” he said, and pulled up his picture. “Yeah, that’s him! He’s a friend of my cousin’s, I got drunk at my cousin’s wedding with that guy. He’s cool. Let’s request a chat with Jess.” He requested it and a minute later she came up on the screen, on a sofa looking at us. “Hi, Joe, welcome to the party. Say hi to my friends Geoffrey, Jen and Cynthia.” “Hey guys, what’s up? I’m here with Ralph – get in the picture, Ralph, it doesn’t pick you up over there.” I went over to the couch with him and waved hello. “What’s up Geoffrey, remember me? We hung out at Tony’s wedding, that’s my cousin.” “Dude – what’s up? How you been?” Pleasantries were exchanged and the conversation never really got too stimulating, until Geoffrey took out a little glass pipe and started smoking something out of it. “Whoa!” Jen said. “Is that weed, Geoffrey?” “Yes it is. It’s a shame you couldn’t be here to have some of it.” “I don’t see why we couldn’t all be there,” Jen said, against all acceptable rules of net discourse. When talking to strangers it was never okay to suggest physically meeting up with someone. It was too hard and it was creepy, and it implied you wanted some form of inappropriate sexual contact. “What are you suggesting, Jen?” Joe asked, obviously hoping to add her to his roster. “Maybe we should get together. Where do you live, Geoffrey?”

70 “Over here in Marina del Rey. It’s right off the pod car Beach line, stop 32. I can save some for you guys.” “I think that’s a great idea,” Jess said, and pretty soon we were all arranging a love-fest on the beach. Joe and I went out and grabbed a pod car and pretty soon we were sailing over the city lights, past the little boxes where the sad little men and women lived their lives of quiet desperation. But we were young and by God we would go out of our homes to touch the earth and the sea and make love with beautiful young women. For some reason I didn’t do this sort of thing until someone dragged me. The world was too full of things that would break you down, I knew, and it couldn’t get you if you were hiding. But as long as Joe was going on a ridiculous quest to meet some strangers on a beach, I would be a loyal friend and humor him. Geoffrey lived in a flat on the beach, backyard up against the sand, and the girls were there soon and smelled like sex and heartbreak and the sea wind blew strong against us as we moved silently towards the crashing ancient throb of ocean, the smoke hit my lungs and burned and the sand was soft as everything disappeared, and a few stars were visible here on the perimeter to my ignorant civilized eyes, and Joe was off with one of the girls walking, and I ran up to get him to tell him I was leaving, looking ridiculous like I had to tell my chaperone, I told him I had to work in the morning, perfect excuse, and he looked like he was worried about me…riding home at last, escaped at last. Going home, orange-lit streets and buildings half-disguised in sea-mist, gray and sleeping city. I waited at the mid-city transfer station looking down on an empty parking lot, and there’s something much lonelier in an empty lot than, say, an empty forest, because it’s nothing but cement, and nothing growing or alive at all, and this is where the modern emptiness comes from, that my screens and the system and the network are

71 vacant of life, no ghost in the machine. There is nothing there behind the touch-screens or the digitized voices or the automated responses – just a computer code, a sequence of numbers and commands, but always a human need for original response, not just man’s own love back in copy-speech, not just a mere mocking echo in digital 3D stereo surround sound. The terrible solipsism, the hall of mirrors.

Holding me as I shook and wet her shirt the salt-stained cheeks, cried away the time, the loss. Holding my head mother-like, a terrible need in me. The ugly grief, the horrid void inside. Her hands on my hair and my face, the healing hands. My presence, clown-like, a three-ring circus, an expendable residence.

Few days later I was at the beach, the great last stand of nature before she falls to the bulldozers. The sun was sinking blazing orange red and bleeding over the western sky, the maternal orb over maternal waters. Hiking with my Grandfather at the crest of the mountain, sun setting over the canyon, his face placid and saintlike in the evening, not many years left, and he looked like Lincoln. The beach was dark soon, and the ad screens had flown home for the night along with the people, gone to the safety of their air-conditioned homes. I sat, long and long, gazing at the vasty deep.

Dream: I am on a boat, looking over the side, above a swirling ocean far from land. Something calls me to jump into the water and I feel my fear drifting away. Nothing

72 to stop me from making the leap because I know I’ll be able to swim forever, as I am filled with endless strength.

Chad wanted to hang out at the magnificent LA River which had undergone renovations, the result of a concerted municipal effort towards Europeanizing the waterfront. The restaurants along the river were crowded with outdoor diners and the walkways were strolling along nicely with the young and the restless. Chad and I got good and drunk at a bar overlooking the water since the serious gray-haired bartender kept giving us free shots and Chad kept calling him “Good Sir” like a British aristocrat until I started laughing from the alcohol and the silliness of the whole thing. He filled our shot-glasses with Jagermeister time and time again while making amazing sloe gin fizzes in a blender that were frothy and infused with fruit. I looked around drunkenly after about an hour and saw that the place was full of fit, well-dressed, well-groomed men. Oh my God, my thought process finally took into account – this is a gay bar and this guy thinks we’re just a couple of happy gay guys out on a date. Is this what they do in gay bars? Give out free shots? “Chad, if you look around you will notice an absence of women.” He did. “Oh wow, oh that is absolutely true…Good sir!” While I doubled over in laughter the bartender came over to us. “Yes?” the bartender replied, sounding gay now that I thought about it. He leaned two arms on the counter, looking directly into Chad’s eyes, which was more than I could handle, so I stumbled, giggling to myself, to the bathroom where two young men were snorting something off a mirror. “You caught us! Oh my God. Now we’ll have to give you some.”

73 “Alright. What is it?” “Special K.” “Yeah, let’s have it…” I snorted the stuff and felt great, forgetting they were gay and getting comfortable. “This is good stuff, guys.” “You’re cute, you know. You want to do a train ride?” “Uh…what’s that?” They laughed mockingly. “No thanks, it’s fine. I have to be going.” I walked through the increasingly menacing bar to Chad, where he was sitting and having a conversation with the bartender, presumably flirting to get more drinks. “Let’s go.” “What?” His look was one of outrage. How could I make him leave this wonderful place of free alcohol? “We’re leaving, okay? Let’s find somewhere else.” Walking out of the bar I tried to explain to him that these men, these homosexuals, wanted to do a train ride, whatever that was, and they gave me drugs to seduce me, but my words started getting tangled and the syntax got scrambled until he looked at me like I had turned into a locust. Then he wanted to take a boat ride down the river so we went to the dock my feet not touching the ground feeling light as a feather. “Chad,” tapping his shoulder. “They gave me some drugs. That’s why I’m acting weird.” “We should get some booze before we get on the boat.” “Yes. That’s a good idea.”

74 So we went to a booze cart to get some highballs as they were called in the old days, I believe something with lime and gin and soda water, and I told Chad of my experience in the bathroom to which he replied that I needed some soothing time on the Los Angeles River. We went on the boat, really nothing more than a booze cruise that made strategic stops at all the major bars on the river. We were on the boat with a midwest family and some Mexican teenagers making out with their girlfriends. The river started to make shapes at me and I found it incredibly amusing, so I turned away to do my laughing while Chad was on the phone with someone making plans to meet on the boat. “Yeah, just get on the boat at the Senor Fred’s Cantina.” At our next stop two Indian girls got on the boat, friends of Chad, and sat down with us, smoking a joint. “Ralph, these are my friends Anisha and Maya.” They shook my hand graciously. “My friend snorted some drugs with some gays in a bathroom,” he said. “So he might start laughing for no reason.” “I wish you’d saved some for us,” Maya said with devilish humor. She then passed the joint around to us all. The night air was breezy and warm and delicious, the scent of sage coming from somewhere. The girls, sisters, chatted lightly with us, pleasant and unassuming. I was entirely comforted so when they asked us to come back to their apartment I wholeheartedly agreed. Chad looked at me unbelievingly. We got off the boat down by their apartment and got in the elevator going up to the twenty-second floor, where their apartment sat next to a monorail station, neon orange lights flashing into their windows. The walls were rife with Hindu paintings, old-fashioned non-digital prints of

75 Shiva meditating calmly and garden scenes of ancient Hindu priests walking around… incense filled up the small apartment and drifted out the open windows. They had a large bed in the studio apartment that I sat on as they put some Indian marijuana in a pipe to pass around. They didn’t have a system at all, so I didn’t know what they did for entertainment. They lived by the river and they went down to the river all the time to hang out and laugh at the river trash and the weirdoes and they had met Chad at some charity event they both did, which was strange because charity events were something I had no understanding of. They gave us tea and good things to smoke and they were both very beautiful, but Chad and I got tired and got up to leave eventually. Standing at the monorail station I felt warm and good, and I knew that people were all around me, living and sleeping and drinking and having sex or arguing or eating popcorn or whatever they did. It was a fine feeling. I fell asleep easily that night and forgot to take my dormapril, and the next morning I couldn’t find it. I decided rather hastily to not look for it and see what happened if I stopped. This was a major life decision, but I suddenly had the feeling that maybe I didn’t need it anymore.

Dream: The women are dancing on the mountain top. I have followed the king to the tree where he looks out at the wine-fueled madness. He has banished the new God from his kingdom but there will be vengeance. The king’s own mother and his aunt tear him to pieces, thinking he is an animal. The new God laughs. The king dies on the field for denying the divinity. Denying the divinity.

76 I went out walking in the late night to get some air and contact with other humans, and found myself on a corner by a bus stop where a bunch of Mexicans were crowded by a food cart, the smell of roasting meat rising in the warm air. I stood a head above them and waited my turn, then ordered some of what everyone else was eating, which turned out to be a taco of some sort, with a pile of juicy seared beast-flesh sending heat vapors up into the air. I went to a table of red and green sauces, onions and cilantro, limes, peppers, salt, and poured some of everything on my tacos. I sat on an egg-crate next to an old leathery man in a cowboy hat and ate my concoction, the sauces dripping out of my mouth onto my chin and burning my lips and tongue. It was a beautiful burn.

After I unplugged the system I sat in my apartment for awhile, listening to the hum of the air-conditioner and the lights. No sound. My pod was off, sitting on the table in the living room. I left the apartment and walked to the monorail in the warm autumn afternoon of the LA Indian summer. Some fires were burning up in the valley where there was still grass and shrubbery to burn, so the sky was orange and the air was oven-like. I sat in the air-conditioned monorail as we flew over the Silverlake hills and down towards Koreatown, in the canyons of the skyscrapers. The sun slowly sank in the west while we took our flight to the ocean and the sky was a brilliant, glowing dream. On the beach I took off my shoes and put my feet in the sand. The last of the sun melted on the flat, gray Pacific. I walked to the waves and felt calm and aware, washing my feet in the sweet forgetful water.

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