December, the news follows a fairly reliable cycle of fear mongering, some
justified, some not. Still the beat is relentless: war and threats of war,
plagues, and poisons (Anthrax! Smallpox! Bubonic Plague!). We see growing
recriminations and rampant patriotism.
Flags have sprouted like spring dandelions and they have spread
everywhere, windows and cars and lapels, all a riot of red, white and blue.
Tri-colored baseball caps proudly proclaim that these colors won't run.
Osama bin Laden gets his own personal face-time, with 'Wanted Dead or Alive'
t-shirts being sold everywhere from Bloomingdale's to the corner Shell
station. Actually, no one has ever been spotted wearing one of these
t-shirts, nor has anyone actually seen the Osama bin Laden urinal cakes or
toilet paper; not away from the store shelves anyway, not in a real
The war has not been very effective at creating memorable villains –
the damn names are far too hard to pronounce. Osama is the only bad guy most
people are really familiar with, although for a long period of time many
people visualize Al Qaeda as a single individual.
John Walker shows up crawling out of a cave - thank goodness, it’s
about time there's an enemy that folks can relate to - and everywhere people
are all hopped up with talk about treason and tribunals, and most
importantly, the firing squad, but within a week or so most people have
become convinced that he's just another kooky California kid from a liberal
household. George Bush has already ruined everyone's fun by calling Walker
'a poor misguided fellow', as deft a job of emasculation as anyone's seen
thus far this year. Walker’s media presence quickly fades, and it is
inevitable that some day in the future people will confuse the American
Taliban with the British guy who used to sing 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any
Suddenly, no one can figure out exactly how, the days have
led to Christmastime. December 24, 2001.
The main story today is about how some gentleman has flown
into Boston airspace wearing an explosive shoe. Sorry if this sounds a bit
like Maxwell Smart, but it really did happen, all those years ago.
Naturally, CHAOS ensued.
young stewardess noticed that there was a smell like sulfur coming from
around row twenty-three. Sulfur! Sulfur is the smell that announces the
arrival of the devil himself!
Old Hooter! Ballsybag!
Pleased to meet you, guess you know my name.
The man - if you wish to call him a man - the man is
traveling on a valid British passport. The fool - many of the travelers on
the flight described him as a Middle Eastern looking fool - the fool tried
to set the tongue of his shoe on fire. With matches! Sucka didn't even have
a lighter. Obviously an agent of the Evil Ones™.
Prince of Darkness! Scratchensniff!
Is this what the oh so powerful Al Qaida is reduced
to, those piteous whimpering jackals? Planting components of mass
destruction devices into their obviously inferior British Nike knock-off
stupid looking high-top basketball shoes? Fahh! Bite me, you
fundamentalist-shit-for-brains-terrorist-son-of-a-bitch! Fahh, Fie, and Foe!
I bite my thumb at you. A man trying to set his f-ing shoes on fire!
The Adler! Satan! HornHead!
These devils are cunning devils. The passenger, the camel-humping
Moslem son-of-a-bitch-middle-eastern-looking-gentleman said 'I'm wired'.
Indeed he was. You wouldn't believe those wires, sticking out all the hell
over the place, some sort of speaker wire looking shit!
Passengers said they had noticed the tall, bearded, ponytailed man
with the big nose and the stupid look on his face, standing alone and
unsuccessfully trying to appear stone-faced before boarding. Several
passengers admitted to giving the fool a disparaging look.
Suddenly, it has become Christmas day.
December 25, 2001. 12:00:15 AM. CNN. Top of the Hour.
"He had a stupid blank look on his face,” said passenger Joey Ramone.
"It was like he was trying to appear stone-faced. You know, he had that sort
of expression that a lot of terrorists seem to have, like his eyebrows hurt.
Me and Markie, we were just waiting for him to try something. When he lit a
match, I was going to get up and kick his ass. You know, smoking's not
allowed on some airplanes? Go figure."
“Anyway, the dude, he ate it, he ate the match as soon as he saw the
stewardess coming. She's like, why are you lighting a match in here? Cause
you know everyone's jumpy, and you're lighting a match."
“Hey, can you buy me a Heineken? Thanks.”
"Are we back on? So, then two more perky stewardesses show up and he
goes and bites one of the stewardesses cause she tries to stop him from
lighting his shoe on fire again. I was thinking, man this is gonna smell big
time. I had to hold Markie back. Markie definitely would've kicked his ass."
does not bite a stewardess!
Bitten by this low-life sand-burglar son-of-a-bitch with a greasy
ponytail, oh, that is the worst.
My names are legion. You can call me anything, just don't call me late
for dinar. What's supposed to happen to the bitten one, Mister Shoe Lighter,
is she supposed to turn into a Talivampire?
Richard Reed, the devil-man called himself. Richard Reed. Authorities
speculate that he has lifted this particular moniker from Reed Richards, the
leader of the crime-fighting, cosmic-ray-inflicted and mutated band of super
heroes, The Fantastic Four. They theorize that he has modeled himself after
the character with the amazing-although-to
most-eyes-relatively-useless-super-power of making himself stretch like a
friggin rubber band. Whatever. In the comic, the arrogant
mutated-son-of-a-bitch actually had the nerve to call himself 'Mister
Fantastic'. The gall. Unbelievable! Just because he could extend his arm
into the next borough.
Richard Reed. Who knows? Maybe that's a code name as well.
Maybe the name's repetition will awaken sleeper cells across America. Or
maybe his parents were too illiterate to properly understand American comic
And Mister C-4-in-the-sole-of-my-shoes, he must really believe that
he is Mister Fantastic, if he thinks he's gonna blow his feet off and
get a free pass to paradise to boot. There must be cloven feet in those
shoes, that's the inescapable conclusion you find yourself reaching.
You take a second look at Mister Omar Fantastic, and no,
those are not the cheap British Nike knock-offs that you had envisioned
earlier, they are even cheaper third-world knock-offs from some place you
can't even pronounce so you might as well bomb the fuck out of it. These are
the type of shoes, say, that an Evil One™ might wear on a date.
Lucifer! Jackie Aphasia!
These are the type of shoes that are being analyzed by the FBI AT THIS
this moron, this geek, he was trying to light his shoe up with a match!
Think about it. You can’t do that. If you are going to go as far as to embed
a bomb in your left shoe, maybe you should have the sense to think about
embedding a lighter in the right one. Loser. To wear shoes such as these?
How can he be so brilliantly cunning and yet so appallingly dumb? Now he is
barefoot. Now his shoes are on the runway at Logan and President Bush is
monitoring the footwear situation. Now the airliner has a pesky military
The word goes out from on high - probably the Justice Department - for
airline security to start checking more shoes. It's not profiling if you're
only targeting bad sneakers. There may be many more feet such as these.
Surely the terrorists would not be so foolish as to stop with the production
of only one pair of exploding shoes!
Americans are more than angry. Now they are amused.
The man becomes another sad case of failed celebrityhood. People
don’t forget his name, they never bother to learn it in the first place. He
is referred to only as 'That guy. The goofy looking one. The Man With the
The Shoe Bomber.
The calendar leads into a new year, 2002, which is just
beautifully balanced when you look at it written down; the way the 2s and
the 0s mirror each other, it looks like a year that you could just fold down
the middle and bring on home with you. On paper it looks like a wonderful
First thing out of the gate, just to add a little New Year's sizzle,
some kid with personal problems takes off in a Sezna and rams the little
plane into a skyscraper in - Atlanta? No one is quite sure where he crashed.
It was down south somewhere. There was no television footage. At least no
money shots. Can't remember the kids name either.
In the Washington Post, it's a page two story, page 3 in the WSJ. Even
after they find a note amongst his remains - it says something along the
lines of 'I love Osama bin Laden', can't remember the exact words - no one
is all that interested. He doesn’t even have a name. In the light of
a sparkling new year, the kid comes off more like an Eddie Haskell than as a
member of The Evil Ones™, and maybe the president said something not too
harsh about the poor misguided youth. Can't quite recall. Anyway, he's dead.
Other than that, things are almost back to normal in America.
It is 1:10 in the morning,
and the late show is starting to wind down. The Chow Sin is more than half
empty. The mood is subdued. Lenny has his own problems these days. He is not
exactly a criminal, but he has become something of a pariah. The
conservative Washington Time's story on his politically incorrect routines
has impacted his drawing power, at least temporarily. Quotes, of course,
were taken out of context, although truth be told, they probably could have
nailed him on these sort of charges without making much of a stretch. Funny,
isn't it, how a few harmless jokes can aid and abet the enemy...
The hipsters still remain, but the lawyers and lobbyists and corporate
conference attendees, they're all staying away, afraid of the possible taint
that their presence might leave on them. A faint odor of disloyalty. Plus,
genuinely offended by Lenny's jabs at the great everyman who is doing his
darndest to steer America through the scary sea of international terrorism.
It is a long journey, quite possibly endless, and there's absolutely nothing
funny that anyone can say about it. This is a matter of our enduring
Besides, there are plenty of other places to go in the Washington area
on a Friday night.
The owner has paid Lenny
in advance and wished him well. "Kid, right now half empty means you're
dying. Look at some of the clubs in the city. They're packin em in. People
are going out again, they want to have a good time. Maybe your material is
just a little too edgy for the people right now, what you think? They want
to have a little fun, you know what I'm saying?"
"Hey Lenny, you're a talented kid, and you had a real good run, okay?
Real good. Maybe take a little time to work on some new routines and we'll
have you back here in the springtime."
Lenny has spent the last twenty minutes boring the audience by
rapping about the cowardice of the press, how they have been twisting his
remarks into something beyond what they are, how they have made him seem
dangerous, when all he really wants to do is to get people to think for
themselves. And maybe laugh a little in the process. No biggie.
In truth, he has not yet received enough press to make the cowardice
charge stick. It doesn't matter. He feels persecuted, just like his namesake
before him, and that makes him feel like he's doing something important.
Sure, his situation is much less precarious than the original Lenny Bruce,
but it's his own heartache, fuck off and let him enjoy it.
"So what happened to the
fucking war?" he asks the audience. "Remember the war? As I recall, we were
supposed to be fighting over there in Afghanistan. I think I've got the name
down. Afghanistan? Right? Anyway, it all seems to have disappeared from
sight. That's great, isn't it? Cool. You only hear the war word now when
Dubya wants to get something out of congress."
"Hey guys, it's important that we present a united face. After all we are in
the middle of a war here. Who knows where the next front may be?'"
Lenny assumes a gunfighter pose and begins wildly pointing around the
room. "'It could be here! Boom! It could be there. Look out, Teddy Boy, it's
gonna bite you on the ass.'"
Lenny scratches his head. He puts on a thoughtful face, but his eyes
are darting. "'I think that the next front just might be here, on American
soil. What you think of that, Dasch Man? I'm the president. I hear a
lot of things.'
'Well why don't you share some of those things with us, Mister President?
Don't the legislative branch also have a need and a responsibility to know?'
'Hold it right there, Barney. You know I'm big on grammar. 'Don't the
legislative branch...' What sort of uneducated talk is that, you homo
hillbilly. I can't even dignify that with a response. You know we only let
you stay in the House so we have a convenient punchline for our
Going off into a little story... "'Yeah, I heard a good one just the
other day... You tell me that one, Trent? It had that purple dinosaur that
was named after you, fatso, Barney the Dinosaur. So there was Barney Frank,
Barney the Dinosaur, and the Pope on a desert island...'"
Snapping to. "'So you wanna know what's going on, do you, Barney?
Think you can handle it? Don't you look at me - I know what's happening
before it ever happens. I can see the box. Why don't you run to the press
with that one. You'll feel like pork sausage in 24 hours."
"Curious, little man? Well open up your ears for this bulletin, Mister
Need-To-Know. Intelligence tells me that we should expect an attack on the
island of Alaska within the next thirty days. That's right. Al Qaeda has
been building weapons of Mass Suction. They plan a sneak attack to suck all
of the oil out of America's soil, starting with Alaska'".
Sad face. "'Then we won't have very much left'".
An idea breaks through. "'We got to let our heroic American oil
companies get up to that island and suck it out of the ground before Osama
and his henchmen have a chance to!'"
"'That's ridiculous, Mister President'"
"'Okay, Dasch Boy, are you saying that you want to be the guy known for
selling out the United States of America to the Evil Ones? Be my guest. Be
my guest. We could put you on a poster with Saddam. Kissing and a-huggin,
sittin in a tree. You like the sound of that?"
Lenny pauses, and scans
the audience. He can't understand. It's not nearly as big as it should be.
The other clubs are doing turnaway business this weekend. So he's been told.
This is his last night. Carrot Top starts a two week run tomorrow.
"Heyyy", he drawls, taking a seat on his stool for the first time
tonight, a somber look on his face. "You know, the Bush man is pushing your
buttons. It's a coup, a silent coup, and no one gives a shit. Look at you.
You're all just fucking sheep. But don't worry about it. Relax. Mellow out.
Let's talk about something nice, let you leave tonight with a few sugarplums
"So. What about those wacky scientists? The big brained ones, working
at the universities, you know those guys really are as free as a bird.
Academia is not like a real job. Those guys get to follow their muse, where
ever it may lead. Maybe publish a paper once or twice a year. Course it can
be a pretty fucked up muse that they're following sometimes... imagine
spending five years studying the mating habit's of the Pungi Mouse. These
are not the kind of guys you want to invite to Lobster Fest."
"Still," he says, unfolding a newspaper clipping that he's pulled out
of his shirt pocket, "Still...". The audience wants to see the funny Lenny,
but he's been giving short shrift to the routines tonight. A few minutes
here, a few minutes there, and the rambling starts back up. Here he goes
again. At several tables, private conversations have broken out.
"You suck!" shouts Lex.
Melinda kicks Lex underneath the table.
"Thanks dad. Thanks for your support. I'm out of work as of tonight
except for a quick gig in Camden next Thursday. By the way, I forgot to
tell you, I'll be moving back into the house this weekend with my
crack-whore girlfriend and her trained monkeys."
Back to thoughtful. "Still, sometimes these scientists do come out
with something that's really interesting, something almost religious in
nature." He looks down at his clipping.
"Dig this. This group of astronomers at John Hopkins cooked up a
little experiment, they decided to figure out what color the universe was.
Okay, that wasn't their real purpose. They were making..." he looks at the
article and begins to read, "a serious attempt to use the light from
thousands of galaxies to assess theories of the history of star formation
and stellar population dynamics."
"Sexy stuff, don't you think?" People are looking up at Lenny,
straining to hear. His voice is just above a whisper.
"The color thing, that's just a side project, a byproduct, a bonus."
"What these astronomers found was, that if they took all of the light
of all of the stars from all of the galaxies in all of the universe and
squeezed it all together, then put it through a prism, it would be green."
"Green. A green universe."
Melinda gazed at Stan and Susan with black liquid eyes. They
reflected the light from a small white candle in a red hurricane glass on
their table. She felt pure and clean.
"Not just any green, either. The nicest shade of green. A
mint green. The universe
is the color of mint chocolate chip ice cream." Lenny lit a cigarette, and
exhaled a stream of smoke into the spotlight. "I just thought you'd like to
"Green is the color of growth and renewal. It's the color of life
returning to the earth after a long hard freeze."
"We could be living in a red universe, you know... That would be a
real drag. Yeah, millions, billions of years from now, the whole thing will
start turning red. Because that's what happens when it's dying out. Stars
are blinking off. 'Hey buddy, you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?' 'Forget
it dude, who cares, we're all going to die'."
"But no, you and I are living in a fresh, mint green universe. We're
going to last for a long, long time. The world can change forever, again and
again. We can live these lives forever, again and again, until we finally
manage to get them right."
"Swords into plowshares,
armies of death into armies of life, no more of this bullshit that we call
God, forever forcing us into wars in the hope of a peaceful kingdom that
"You want to get going?" Stan asks Susan. "You've got to work
Susan whispers to Melinda who whispers to Lex. Lex excuses himself from
joining them and kisses the ladies on the cheek. He's going to stay until
the end of the show, then spend some quality time with his wise and good son
at an after hours club.
"It's all okay. Just a few lifetimes away."
"We're bad. We're Nationwide."
"The future is dead ahead."
Stan, Susan, and Melinda
are on their way to the street when the spotlight, like some future red
star, blinks off. They maneuver to the door and head out into the night.
There is only a smattering of applause in the club after the spotlight
ceases shining. Some of the customers are feeling ripped off. For this they
paid twenty bucks and a two drink minimum?
The spotlight suddenly snaps back on, white light instead of the usual
blue, and there stands Lenny in an oversized sports jacket holding a
"Like the jacket?" he asks.
Much of the audience is already on their feet and on their way out the
door. They stare blankly at the stage for a moment, and most of them proceed
with their departure.
"Goodnight folks," Lenny shouts from the stage. "Drive carefully. Be
sure to tip your waitress."
Lenny lights a smoke and scans the people left in their seats. "Now I
know you guys are hip, cause you're hanging in here with me. Either that, or
you're too wasted to stand up. Which ever, now that the squares are clearing
out of here, I can do my real show."
"The jacket, you know I get to write this off my taxes, it's a
business expense, I'm talking about it, I'm using it as a prop." The jacket
is a neutral color, beige, no styling. It's from a consignment store down on
"I pick up today's paper, and what do you think I see?" He throws the
paper down in a gesture of disgust. "Those John Hopkins guys, the
astronomers, those shmucks, they got the whole thing wrong. They get one
little calculation out of sequence, transposed a couple of numbers, and
BAM!, it turns out that the universe isn't green after all. It's beige!
Exactly the color of this ugly fucking jacket that I'm wearing! Beige!
That's the color of cheap concrete and old newspapers, the color of
cardboard. Beige has no symbolism. Fuck, it's not even a real color. Goddamn
it! I read one inspirational story in the past six months, and it ends up
being nothing but a big green lie."
Lord Rosse and Bevis flag
down the car. Lord Rosse is campaign shouting like a southern democrat.
There are things in this
life that we learn to think of as impossible. Chef Auger's cheesecake is one
such thing. Still famished, Bevis pulls half of a crab from his pocket. The
claw is filled with jewels.
Lord Rosse and Beavis,
their car has finally arrived.
Nadine is riding in a
coffee colored Cadillac.
She cannot be true.
She will never be true.
Here we are, two hundred
years later, and the music never stops. Since the early twentieth century
there have been countless recordings to comb through, copyrights long ago
expired, all the raw material from an exotic global soundtrack. The music is
so plentiful, no one could ever hear it all, so there is little incentive to
create anything new. There is nothing new. In the overload, it's all new.
Here is a band from way back in 1970 - The Stooges. Never very
popular, sold an insignificant amount of records over the years, and
disappeared with only minor traces. Of course, the cognoscenti know that the
band's singer, Mister Iggy Pop, carried on for quite a few more years. To
this very day, the intro to Mister Pop's 'Lust for Life' has been a public
domain sound byte signifying imminent good times to be had. Tribal drums
from across the ages.
Everyone from everywhere and anytime, their recordings still remain,
and people continue to pass them along, hand to hand. One of the places they
often land is in the possession of the glamorous mega-star Rachel Ox. Ox
doesn't really create anything, but she is fabulously well known as someone
who has impeccable taste. TasteMakers are the stars of the current scene.
They glean through the vast array of products from the past, seeking to
pluck out the thrilling tidbits and recontextualize them. So two hundred and
thirty-four years after it's original release, The Stooges get a new debut
as 'Rachel Ox's Fun House, featuring Stan Keaton', and of course it's a huge
Rachel has impeccable taste - if her name is on the label, you really
should give it a listen. Millions do, and the band finally gets the
recognition that they had long ago dreamed of, albeit a bit too late, may
they rest in peace.
The sky is lit with a
thousand stars when Stan, Susan, and Melinda make it down the stairs and
onto the sidewalk. It is a mid-winter's night, but nearly fifty degrees.
Susan spreads her arms and looks to the sky. The air feels delicious against
"Lex's son is really talented, don't you think?" asks Susan. "He's
improved so much from the first time I saw him. I can really see a lot of
Lex in him. A younger, less transgressed Lex."
"Absolutely," says Melinda happily. "He didn't seem to go over very
well tonight, though. He seemed distant. You know, from what Lex told me, he
really will be moving back home for a while. But I do like him. He makes me
laugh. I don't know why he gets painted as such a bad guy."
"Yeah, I've got to admit he's pretty good," says Stan. "He does a
little too much political material for my taste, but his Bush imitation is
right on. But let me tell you, you know what I really liked tonight? The
last little bit, the green universe rap. I don't want to sound like a
cornball, but I found it kind of inspirational. Almost personal. It somehow
seemed to sum up what I've learned about life in the past few months."
"I think that was very nice," agrees Melinda.
The three walk in silence.
Visualizing himself in the
far distant future, Stan is so sorry to see it all end. What a wonderful
time. What a wonderful life.
"We're green" says