Media

V – The Hierophant

Note: The following is from rough drafts of a project me and Neuchowski are working on.

hierophant-thoth

The Hierophant can be read several ways, but primarily they stand for an ascended figure of wisdom. Oftentimes The Hierophant represents a figure who initiates others into an esoteric tradition; a keeper of higher knowledge who ferries neophytes to the shores of wisdom, a Guru.

Conversely, The Hierophant embodies the knowledge, power and ascended position of the Established Wisdom. The Hierophant may represent an entire cultural ethos, with all the entrenched power and influence of a long-standing and unquestioned tradition that the practitioner may find repellent.

The Hierophant is the Shaman who teaches the younger tribesmen about when and where to hunt, which herbs are medicinal, how long the crops will take to grow and how to harvest them, and why the moon changes shape. 
The Hierophant is also the Pope, armoured in all the history, grandeur and authority of the Vatican and the Holy See, a master of esoteric knowledge you do not fully understand but that you already know you find disagreeable, leaving you forced to acknowledge that despite the equality of your viewpoints, The Hierophant will always be considered before you due to the weight of their office and the long-trusted tradition they represent.

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Media

Metal Diarrhea #00004 – E-Cigs

I’m surprised we never saw this coming. We have always imagined ways in which future technology was going to elevate us, to enhance the ways in which we live our lives or even just add a touch of novelty and freshness to a long-stagnant aspect of daily life.

“It’s the future, where’s my flying car?” is a phrase you still hear. We’ve reduced the media-intake experience to a digital level, and while we may bemoan the loss of ‘ownership’ in a culture which eschews physical mediums for data which we are effectively licensed, it’s still a kick that Star Trek saw it coming.

There are electronic books with ‘smart ink’ now. Headsets for fully-immersive viewing experiences. And no one needs yet another trite examination of the ubiquitous nature of the smart phone (I’m surprised we’re even using the word ‘phone’ at this point).

But no one saw e-cigs coming, and that surprises me.

I wonder, did we simply think we were going to ‘get over’ smoking before technology stepped in? I’m racking my brains trying to think of sci-fi examples featuring updated, upgraded nicotine-intake-vessels and I’m almost coming up empty. Watchmen has those weird steel balls people smoke through, though it’s still clearly smoke they’re inhaling. Metal Gear Solid 2 features new fangled cigarettes with harmless second-hand smoke. But for all intents and purposes these appear to be slight twists on an old standard. I suppose as far as we were concerned, smoking was here to stay, as bizarre a thought as that was.

Hell, in Thank You For Smoking they go out of their way to try and devise some fantastical technology which would prevent cigarettes igniting a high-oxygen environment for an upcoming sci-fi feature.

Then came the Vape Age, and things changed.

Initially, they were met with scorn. I had an old crusty punk make fun of mine outside a pub when I first got one, and people would look derisively at my metal/plastic apparatus while they rolled up and stepped outside for a fag. But then, that was the first moment where all of a sudden they didn’t seem so ridiculous. I’ve sold e-cigs, have done since they took off, and I did notice that sales shot up right around the time stepping outside the pub for a smoke was a bit of a wind/rain/ice affair.

The e-cig people are onto something quite special; they’ve managed to somewhat bypass the laws concerning the advertisement of tobacco products. While Marlborough can’t slap a logo onto an F1 car or cowboy-oriented billboard anymore, the vape magnates can splash out on big notices about their ‘quitting’ tools. See, that’s the primary fallacy at play here; ostensibly, electronic cigarettes exist to help people give up smoking. It reduces the health drawbacks tremendously, limits how far you need to go out of your way just to inhale some nicotine and draws your attention to the varying strengths of the available oils, encouraging you to gently decrease the potency until you’re nicotine free!

This is, of course, a tremendous lie. Quietly, electronic cigarettes have positioned themselves not just as a means of giving up smoking, but as accessories. The sheer scope of flavours available, the opportunities for customisation that an e-cig provides which you simply can’t get from standard straights and rollies. There are even competing brands (I’m a Kangertech man, myself).

I feel that I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Rachel McAdams’ character using one in season two of True Detective, but I was. And this can only be the beginning; barring some sudden, massive wave of legislation, e-cigs can only grow in popularity.

A dark aspect of the ascendency of vaping can be seen in it’s desirability and accessibility; I’ve lost count of the tweens and teens I’ve turned away trying to buy vape gear. They’re all so surprised too, most of them having been gladly served by less scrupulous traders already, many of them clutching frankly BALLER vape rigs, which I have to try and not appear envious of and ultimately give across a disapproving air.

I feel one of the ways in which e-cigs were able to attain this unexpected platform as The New Smoking is by riding the coattails of marijuana vaping, then ramping straight up into the mainstream. Not to suggest vaping bud is new; people have been doing that since someone first knocked the filament out of a lightbulb, or since the first Australian couldn’t find any rolling papers and so logically put some carving knives on the stovetop. But it has grown in popularity in recent years; I work in a headshop, so I can’t fail to notice these trends. And while traditional vapes may be currently playing second fiddle to that fickle culture’s new favourite toy, the dab rig, many were intensely interested in technology which promises to cut health risks and provide a far more intense high. I suppose it’s not a tremendous leap to assume that people would quickly link the technology to other, less legally-dicey but FAR more habit forming substances they could transmute into thick plumes of cool, sweet steam.

I was playing Mass Effect 2 the other day, and while initially it seemed like a cool character feature for The Illusive Man to be constantly pulling on a tab, it just seems kinda goofy now. Clearly they were going for an X-Files things, Cancer Man sitting in the background pulling on an endless supply of smokes and foiling Mulder and Scully’s investigations. In the past, smoke was a useful visual aid to help depict a character as shrouded in mystery, moral ambiguity and classical style. But things are different now. You can doxx anyone these days, mystery is an illusion. The old-school trappings of noir are going to require a serious rejig if technology keeps this pace, and thanks to vapour having a far less detrimental effect on your lung capacity, it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

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Fiction

Lenny’s Perfect Hit

Lenny worked the dropping bay, and his reputation was one of a conquerer.

A J.E.C artillery platform is something you never want to wake up to see suspended above your colony. Thoughts rush through your head as a cold sweat breaks out; did we not pay our taxes this month? Are we harbouring fugitives? Have they simply decided to ‘redevelop’ this planet?

Whatever the reasons, you’re powerless. All you can do is hope to Christ that the regional government manages to square things with the J.E.C in time. There are stories that the platform has a big red LED clock, counting down to doomsday, which starts the moment it becomes stationary above your world.

These stories, though thoroughly denied by the J.E.C joint chiefs, are in fact true. There are two Doom Clocks. One in the bridge of the platform, and one in Lenny’s dropping bay.

The J.E.C is a scary organisation, and they cultivate such an image intentionally. The J.E.C, or Joint Earth Coalition, is the face of humanity in the galaxy. There’s something very sad about the name, really. Devised to present an image of unity and strength to any alien civilisations we encountered once space exploration got off the ground, we sadly never came across any. Instead, the J.E.C imposes its iron will on its own people; namely the colonists who settle other worlds, asteroids and space stations. The technology required to produce oxygen, water and consumable food on worlds which aren’t suited to human habitation is expensive, the J.E.C owning all the patents and ensuring that the levies are hefty enough to keep those who strike out away from Earth on a pretty short leash.

Should a colony fail to pay their taxes many times, or be suspected of providing shelter to ‘subversive’ elements, or in the event that said colony is simply on top of a rather valuable mineral deposit that the J.E.C desires, the bombing process begins, which starts with the clock. Generally those on the ground are not informed of how long they have; bombings happen unexpectedly and often without announcement. The only warning you receive, really, is that the platform is above your world one morning. From that moment on everyone holds their breath until it begins to slowly creep away again, or doomsday comes.

In the bridge, everything gets very heavy. The acting commander declares “Start the clock,” and a pre-decided time appears, usually twenty-four Earth hours. Everyone starts walking around a lot more stridently, backs straighten, pupils dilate and a few of the more careerist-types get a bit of a hard-on. In this time, messages are passed down the ladder to begin optical analysis of the colony surface, determine the blast zone which will ensure maximum overkill while protecting any valued assets (read: minerals). There are drills and testing runs. Constant communication with the very top brass back on Earth is kept open to ensure continued permission for bombardment. There are a lot of salutes. Supply units will begin moving the ordinance itself through the various channels of classification and testing, until it gets the green-light and is moved to the loading bay.

The bombing material itself is a highly dense radioactive element packed in a massive payload of explosive material, all encased in an armoured chassis. The effect of orbital entry removes the need for thrusting proponents. All you need to do is aim, and drop.

Eventually, it all trickles down to Lenny. Lenny works the dropping bay, the last resting place of the ordinance before it leaves the platform. There is a hole above where Lenny sits, and a hole beneath. Though the chiefs don’t approve, Lenny refers to his work station as ‘The Colon.’ The ordinance is pushed through the ‘sphincter’ above him, and Lenny aims and releases the bombardment from the platform’s ‘anus.’ Lenny’s irreverence has not made him popular with the commander. His accuracy has made him extremely popular with the J.E.C chiefs.

To some on the station, he’s an embarrassing necessity. To others he’s a legend. Whichever, both sides admit that however efficient and orderly the overall process, it all rests on Lenny. Lanky Lenny, they used to call him in the academy. Lanky, spacey, strung-out Lenny.

Eight years ago, Lenny lived a pretty different life. He sold enough smack to support his own habit until a stool pigeon shopped him and he was given a choice: twenty-five years in prison or join a high risk work crew on a five year asteroid mining operation for the J.E.C. Lenny was never really built for prison, so he took the fairly suicidal option and shipped out within a week of his arrest.

Mining asteroids is brutal work for great pay, but as a convict Lenny wasn’t getting paid, so as far as gigs went it was pretty shit. Still, the sights through the barracks viewing port were often breathtaking; nebulas, twin-suns, even the occasional black hole. It beat prison bars, Lenny often thought to himself.

One time, while mining out a rather volatile fuel-source from an asteroid belt, something went very wrong. A drill-beam hit a thick vein, and in seconds hundreds of miners were vaporised by the superheated explosion. Worse, the blast was setting off other asteroids. In deep-space mining this is known as the Worst Case Scenario, a chain event that 96% of the time ends in the total destruction of the asteroid belt and the guaranteed deaths of everyone working the site. When this happens, the chief mining ship (ie: the one holding all the valuable fuel that’s been harvested) hits emergency thrusters to get the fuck out of dodge while firing off coolant pods towards the maelstrom, in the hopes of holding back the blast long enough for the stored fuel to get to a safe distance. It doesn’t tend to work, but there’s got to be a contingency, right?

This time, Lenny was heading back from the mess-hall when the blasts started. He was thrown against the wall by the explosions, and ran to the nearest port to see what was happening. He took in the terrific destruction of the belt, millions of years old, when he noticed that while the thrusters were vainly pushing them slowly away from the blast, too slowly, the coolant pods weren’t firing. Running into the launch bay, he found it empty. The accident had taken everyone by surprise, and no one was manning the launcher. Lenny didn’t think; he just leapt into the rig and grappled with the controls he’d never used before.

From the bridge, the captain watched in horror as the blasts got closer and closer. The escape attempt was unlikely to be successful, and only now were coolant pods being fired towards the blasts. He was thinking about his wife and children when the first pod collided with an asteroid that was showing dark red cracks around its mantle, covering it in cyan coolant, thousands of degrees below freezing. The red cracks, to his shock, began to fade. He then noticed that several other pods had been fired in the space of seconds, each of them striking asteroids far outside the range of the current explosions. While against standard protocol, it seemed to be working. Whoever was manning the launcher was effectively ‘kettling’ the blast, surrounding it in a frozen cage which appeared unlikely to yield to the magnificent heat of the exploding fuel.

In the space of twelve minutes, the blast was over. Thousands of miners had died, but the chief ship and it’s bountiful payload was untouched. The crew universally began to shake with relief, some bursting into tears of fatigue. It was at this moment that the gunner stepped into the bridge; Lenny was pouring with sweat, supporting himself against the bulkhead, and his eyes were distant.

That night the captain wrote a very long report back to headquarters, which was forwarded to J.E.C Command. The next day Lenny was on a shuttle back to Earth, a soldier on either side, his criminal record having mysteriously vanished and with a spot on a massively sought-after military bombardment training course with his name on it.

In his first dropping bay post he bucked heads with the commander almost immediately. Lenny didn’t much care for his uniform, opting instead for a vest or the branded t-shirt the mining company had given him previously. He didn’t stand up straight, he was often tardy, and he was rumoured to smoke in the bay, stood before a bomb which if prematurely triggered would reduce the platform to white-hot smithereens. But his hit rate was unheard of, evidence of a rare ability for gravity-drops which no J.E.C analyst had witnessed yet. This kept him safe for a time, but the commander had Lanky Lenny on his shitlist and didn’t rest until he’d had him temporarily suspended for shabbiness.

The commander’s smugness lasted until their next drop, when Lenny’s replacement eyeballed it wrong and accidentally reduced one of the largest mineral deposits ever discovered by prospectors to useless slag, fucking up so bad that several of the prospectors survived and were able to escape, spreading word of the J.E.C’s skullduggery and tarnishing their reputation irreparably. This led to a massive swell of support for anti-Coalition guerrilla groups.

The commander was never heard from again following a visit from J.E.C Command representatives, and Lenny was quietly reinstated.

When the clock hits zero in the dropping bay, the port above Lenny slides open and a very loud alarm sounds. Slowly, achingly slowly, the ordinance lowers into Lenny’s view. Sometimes some of the younger grunts above have written messages on the bombs; DEATH FROM ABOVE / DON’T FUCK WITH THE J.E.C / A KISS FROM MASSACHUSETTS / etc. Lenny doesn’t really notice the messages, he just leans forward and places his hands against the two release switches on the port below him, which also slides open, revealing the distant surface below. Sensors track Lenny’s eyes and make minute adjustments to the angle of the bomb as he takes in the full view of what lies below.

When the bomb is in the dropping bay, everyone’s thinking about Lenny. Some people say he recites the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety. Some say he sees the face of the universe in that moment when he holds in his hands the most feared weapon in human history. Still others say he masturbates, hitting the release switches at climax. No one knows what Lenny does down there while the bomb hangs, pregnant with possibilities and sublime destructive power. But when the final alarm sounds and the ordinance drops out of the platform, everyone knows; it’s going to be a perfect hit.

Lenny sits back in his chair, the ordinance falling now, plummeting down terminally. It hasn’t even struck yet, and Lenny won’t even know when it has, but he doesn’t care; Lenny bathes in the most euphoric experience imaginable. He has finally found the perfect drug.

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Media

Mental Diarrhea #00003 – An Entertaining Maiming

What is our cultural fixation on romanticising psychopathic behaviour? Grant Morrison touched on this at his drug-addled DisInfocon lecture many years back.
“John Wayne Gacey?” He said, “John Wayne Gacey’s a fucking prick, killed a bunch of innocent people and did some shit paintings.”
And yet people pour over these admittedly shit paintings, hoping to gleam some dark kernel of insight from the artwork of a madman who butchered children. What are they hoping they’ll find?

The human being is predictable. We’ve had about 4000 years of civilisation to get to know the human, and hir behaviours haven’t changed that dramatically. We eat, we sleep, we procreate, and in one of nature’s little flourishes we also developed an advanced consciousness that allows us to consider ourselves and our place in the universe. To pull a quote from True Detective:

“I believe human consciousness was a tragic misstep in our evolution. Nature created an aspect of itself separate from itself.”

Perhaps our fascination with the macabre habits of our darker representatives is rooted in the “unheimlich”, or what we call the uncanny. We’ve gotten so used to the human that it really spooks us when they throw a curveball at us. Did WE do that, we ask ourselves? One of US? Us guys, who painted cathedral ceilings and built nanomachines and discovered that if you tug on pork a little people will pay fucking bank to eat it in a dusty focaccia roll?

We’re horrified/obsessed by our own capacity for inventive cruelty. People describe brutality as “animalistic,” but animals are far more to-the-point in their bloodshed. You won’t find any SS officers among a herd of hippos, and no capuchin monkeys ever formed their own adorable version of the Tonton Macoute. There aren’t any bears performing Mengele-esque experiments in dank operating rooms.

We’re the worst animal, and we love/hate being reminded of such. Perhaps this is why media always paints the psychopath as a cultured artiste. Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan: these are charming, personable eccentrics with an inventive flair. We like to remind ourselves that with all of our potential for expression, beauty and critical thinking, we nevertheless retain a capacity for unimaginable malevolence, and it is this very creative aspect of ourselves which grants us the ability to devise horrific means of violence and torture, both physical and psychological.

There is another potential angle to all this, though. Quick question; do you play video games, reader? If not, congrats, I’m sure your life is very fulfilling. But to anyone who answered “yes,” let me ask you: How many virtual people have you killed? This is a rhetorical question, and I’d be pretty unsettled by anyone who could actually give me a confident answer. If you’ll continue to indulge this tangent, let me ask; how many people were disposed of like so much cannon-fodder in the last action or horror movie you watched?

This is a round-about way of pointing out that ours is a society desensitised to violent death. It’s popcorn stuff, entertainment. Hell, ask any crime reporter: “The gorier the better,” they’ll tell you before getting into a fistfight with the guy from Channel 6 about who gets the closest shot of the crying, blood-drenched students outside the community college.

We’ve had so much blood, gore and war for breakfast that we start to crave something a bit ‘spicier’ for dinner. So we make the killer’s inventive. We give them layered personalities. We give them complex motivations and a modus operandi to die for.

It seems kind of dull, in the long view. A room full of coked-up semi-creatives trying to figure out the most sensational kind of violence for this week’s episode, for this year’s series title. Hopefully we’ll eventually get over our violence-obsession, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Anecdotally, many of my friends are making the shift towards veganism lately. I myself am sort of dabbling with it. I don’t think I’ve eaten meat or dairy in a week, and that’s without even trying. But even within these conscientious, kindly people beat the black hearts of warlords, assassins and and butchers. My girlfriend hasn’t eaten meat in years and won’t even let a balloon fly into the air because it might (read: probably will) suffocate a dolphin one day, but she loves her some Game of Thrones. A good friend of mine is a hardcore vegan with a huge axe to grind against the military-industrial-complex, but during our Dungeons & Dragons campaigns he regularly bathes his dark god’s amulet in the open, sucking chest-wounds of the recently slain.

I’m no different. I’m probably worse, because I’m not even trying to make the world a better place in my day-to-day. It’s just unsettling to think about: we’re so tied to our bloodlust that we can comfortably manage the cognitive dissonance of adopting a position of pacifism while racking up 1000 kills in about 15 minutes in a game of Dynasty Warriors.

An end note: I don’t have any research to back this up, so blow me, but I read somewhere that generally speaking, horror movies and violent media don’t tend to sell well in nations that have recently or are currently experiencing genuine war and upheaval. It brings to mind the part in Girls where Lena Dunham’s character is freaking out about STDs at the clinic, and somehow brainfarts her way into thinking that her obsession with AIDs might be an unconscious desire to contract the virus, which earns her the most withering fucking stare of all time from her doctor, who gravely asserts that “No, you do not want AIDs.”

All this artificial violence. When the real thing suddenly slams down into the street, leaving tattered, bloody rags and shoes that might/might not have feet in them strewn about, will we still want to watch Samuel L. Jackson blow someone’s brains out? It’s been a century since the Great War, which heralded the mechanisation of the war-machine. Up until that point, war was still seen by many as something ‘glorious,’ ‘noble,’ ‘honourable.’ It was only when people received news that “Your son has been chewed up like fucking hamburger by artillery, his death served no purpose, nothing was learnt, God Save The King,” that we realised the terrible corner we’d backed ourselves into.

We learn nothing.

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Fiction

The White City

My dreams all take place in the same location now, if the mental spaces in which we wander nocturnally can be said to have a ‘location’ as such. It is a city, grand in scale but utterly ruined. White stone bricks make up towers, dwellings, sepulchres and vast stretching bridges which end abruptly in mid-air. Water surrounds the city, lays through it, though the canals do not flow and the shores do not ebb or rush. They are achingly placid, like an infinite mirror stretching past the horizon. The sky is eternally locked into a state of either dawn or twilight; it is impossible to tell which. There is no sun or moon suspended above. The city lays almost entirely empty of life.

There is a sense that this is an old place, eldritch and forbidden. It feels older than… anything else there is, to be honest. It started here, whatever it is. Did the spires once tower even higher, each window lit by fantastical lights in colours we have never seen? Did the grand beings who constructed this place once stride proudly across its many huge white plazas, resplendent in finery now forever lost to time? Did the stars ever drape across a night’s sky, the whorls and jewels of Nuit moving through constellations which are not our own?

I cannot say.

Perhaps it was always like this. Perhaps this is the first place, the first eruption of matter in a universe born anew. Perhaps it is the last, the final resting place of that shared hallucination we called “civilisation.” Perhaps it is the ruin of Heaven.

In my dreams I wander across the streets, alleys and walkways of this forsaken place. Occasionally there are others, though none I would consider denizens. I feel that the others I sometimes glance are fellow visitors, projecting to this city from their resting places, same as I. None speak, and I do not attempt to myself.

Many parts of the city appear as through they should be inaccessible, built by either maddened architectural minds or simply constructed for the convenience of a race which does not abide by the same physical laws as my own. However I do not encounter difficulty in scaling the impossibly steep white pathways. I simply will myself there, and I am transported. I have not taken the time yet to look at my own body while I explore this place. I am quietly afraid to do so.

Sometimes, but not every time, there is a strong sense of another presence in this city. While it may sound wildly out of character with everything else I have described, I am occasionally made aware of a dragon which resides here. I have never seen the dragon, not heard its roar or witnessed its flight. Indeed, I cannot in all sureness say that it embodies any of the various images we conjure in our collective human consciousness when we think of a ‘dragon.’ When I become aware of it, it is as though a deep tectonic shift has occurred in the very foundations of the place. Some kind of consciousness stirs deep beneath the city, within the very white stones upon which I stand, and it is wholly omniscient of those who wander it’s lair. Or perhaps it would be better to say those who ‘trespass’. When I become aware of the dragon, I wake shortly after. Perhaps I flee it’s ethereal gaze, perhaps it ejects me, unworthy to stand within this holy land.

I recall a single time that I became conscious of the dragon in the presence of another wanderer. A young woman, clothed in a vest with brown hair pulled back tightly. The moment I became aware of the dragon I could be sure she had as well; her face suddenly creased into a look of fear, panic and horror. Perhaps mine had as well. Perhaps it does every time.

I want to learn how to lucid dream, because I want to grapple with this city more consciously. There is some reason for my constant return there. Am I supposed to find something? Am I experiencing the memories of another? Perhaps I have been called there to rebuild it. Perhaps I have been sent there to destroy what remains.

In a way, it doesn’t seem to matter. Many of the metaphysical things we take for granted in our World and Aeon do not belong there. I do not entertain thoughts of good or evil while there, or even life vs. death. This place resides either long before or after those separations existed.

I want to go back. I want to know whether the tides destroyed this place, or if they simply pushed the great white stones together themselves. I want to know what sights lay at the tops of the highest cracked towers. I want to know if subterranean tunnels lead under the city, beneath the level of the still sea, and what magnificent force might rest there.

Part of me worries, in my waking hours, that this city might drive me mad if I spend too much time there. It is so very alien, so unlike anything I have seen in life or fantasy. Perhaps if I were to spend too much time exploring I might become lost, or lose some connection to the slumbering body which projects my consciousness into that lost place. I remind myself that I have seen no evidence to suggest that any others have become ‘stuck’ in such a way. But still I worry.

In cynical moments, to which I am prone, I wonder if maybe this is all simply an amalgamation of other mythical lost cities: Atlantis, Carcosa, R’Lyeh. But the thought occurs; I am not the only one who has visited this place. Would it not make sense that others, more gifted in poetry and prose than myself might have taken inspiration from their own journeys there and attempted to scribe the things they had seen, to try and convey to others the idea of a city lost amid time, utterly separate from our own assumptions of space, physics, time and law?

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Fiction

Waiting Area

A man sits behind the wheel of a car at night, rain beating against the windshield. On the seat behind him, a massive, overspilling bag of dirty laundry. He passes by several launderettes who are closing for the night, brow furrowed, until his face is illuminated.

The car comes to a stop in front of a small, green but well-lit launderette. The neon sign in the window says “24/7”

The man enters the launderette, lugging his huge messy bag along with him. Despite the apparent lateness, the waiting area is full. Those waiting appear sullen, worn-out, aged. On reaching the counter, a man appears suddenly to greet him.

LAUNDERETTE: Good Evening Sir.

MAN WITH LAUNDRY: Hi, I’m glad your open. I know it’s late, and it looks as though you’re busy, but what kind of time estimate can you give me on…

The man swing his huge bag onto the counter with a straining sound.

MAN WITH LAUNDRY: THESE? *pant pant*

The man behind the counter takes the slightest glance over the amassed washing, and limply lifts a sock with his fingertip.

L: Oh I’m sure we can have your laundry finished in 40 minutes.

The Man With Laundry looks stunned

MWL: Sorry? Can’t of… I thought I heard you say 40 minutes?

L: That’s right, Sir. Feel free to wait here or pop out; we’ll have your laundry washed, dried and ready for you.

The Man With Laundry smiles widely, and reaches for his wallet.

MWL: That’s fantastic, really great. How much do I owe you for that? Do you need to weigh it, or…?

The Launderette smiles his enigmatic smile.

L: Sir, your first laundry session here is of course complimentary.

The Man With Laundry’s smile falters a bit.

MWL: Complimentary? As in… for free?

L: That’s absolutely right, sir.

MWL: Well… what’s the game, then?

L: As a new business in the area, we want to build a… report with our clients, and as such we are offering complimentary cleaning services to any locals on their first visit.

The Launderette suddenly leans forward jerkingly, eyes intense and piercing those of the Man With Laundry.

L: We understand that many are hesitant to leave their laundry with us, after hearing such wild promises. We encourage you to stay in our waiting area; we promise your laundry will be with you presently.

The Man With Laundry is a bit taken aback by the Launderette’s tonal shift, and decides to go ahead with it. He pushes the laundry gently to the Launderette with a slight smile and the Launderette takes his cue to grab the bag and take it to the back.

The Man With Laundry walks to the chairs of the waiting area and takes a seat. He can’t wait to see this; how the hell are they going to wash and dry all that in 40 minutes?

Looking about him, he takes in the others who are waiting in greater detail. They are a pitiable bunch; signs of poverty and hard living etched into their faces, necks and hands. They scratch at themselves absentmindedly or just stare at the floor, some of them mumbling to themselves and drawing their collars up over their withered necks.

Before he knows it, the Launderette is back at the counter, which is topped by a much-better-folded bag of laundry.

L: Sir, your laundry is ready.

Startled, the man checks the clock: 37 minutes since he sat down. Walking up to the counter, he peers into the bag. Yep, these are his bedsheets, it’s definitely his laundry.

MWL: Wow! I can’t believe how quick you were.

L: Do not worry sir, we are very thorough. I hope you enjoy your complimentary cleaning service, and that we see you and your laundry again soon.

MWL: I’m sure you will!

The Man With Laundry walks out, feeling great. As he sets the bag in the back and sits down, the smell of fresh-washed-sheets wafts over to him, and he groans with pleasure.

That night, he and his family sleep the best night’s sleep of their lives. They are warm, snug, undisturbed and visited by colourful, joyous dreams. They awake the next day feeling better than they ever have before. The Man With Laundry tell his wife all about the weird launderette he found, and ruffles his kid’s hair as they play.

The next night, the man and his wife climb into bed, excited at the prospect of a night like last, but instead are plagued by restless sleep, pinwheeling arms, sweats and disturbing dreams. Their boy wakes up three separate times with nightmares.

The next night is similarly unpleasant, worse in fact. The man and his wife’s sheets are drenched with sweat, and their child wets himself. The next day, the Man With Laundry goes back to the Launderette.

MWL: Hello! I was hoping I could get these washed again today.

L: Of course, sir. It’s a pleasure to see you again.

MWL: Do you use a particular softener? Because that first night’s sleep we had…

The Launderette smiles

L: Magical, wasn’t it?

MWL: It really was! The last couple nights, though…

L: Many find ordinary sleep difficult after enjoying a night with a fresh wash from us. We appreciate the compliment.

MWL: No problem! Well, how much is this load going to cost this time?

L: This time it will cost £20

MWL: That’s still quite reasonable, considering the amount.

L: We’re glad you think so, sir.

MWL: Right, I’ll just wait then.

L: Sir, this time your laundry will take 90 minutes.

The Man With Laundry is momentarily annoyed, but then remembers that they probably fast-tracked his last time

MWL: That’s fine! I’ll come back in a bit.

The Man With Laundry goes driving, intending to get a bite to eat, but can think of nothing but his laundry. He checks his watch every few minutes, and when 90 minutes have passed he realises he’s never left sight of the launderette.

Returning, he sees his laundry waiting for him and smiles widely, collecting it.

L: Thank you for your repeat patronage, we hope to see you again soon.

MWL: I’m sure you will!

That night; Heaven. Another incredible night’s sleep, capped with a refreshed and rested morning. The man finds however that he begins to feel fatigued and nauseous at noon, and excuses himself home.

He comes home to find his wife and son there as well, both feeling extreme unwell.

That night no-one sleeps; there is only pain. The man can hear his wife sobbing and his child wailing, and bunches the sheets around his wrists, trying to distract himself with the tension.

The family stays home that day, too sick to go anywhere. The man tries to stay in bed but it’s torture, and has to climb out. Reeking of illness, the man decides the sheets need a wash and heads for the launderette.

Limping in, he carries his bag up to the counter, rough-looking clientele watching him from the waiting area.

L: Good evening sir. Looks like these need cleaning.

The man responds by mumbling weakly.

MWL: Yeah… need these washed. How much?

The man can’t even focus very well, and simply hands his wallet over and takes it back when offered, not having listened. He walks over the the chairs and sits, pulling his coat around himself and scratching at an itch on his neck.

Checking the clock, he notices the time stretching on and on. 40 mintes, an hour. After close to 2 hours he painfully walks up to the counter.

MWL: How much longer do you think it will be?

L: Your laundry will be with you presently, sir.

Dejected, the man goes back to his chair. After two-and-a-half-hours, he notices his laundry waiting for him and goes to collect it, never saying a word.

L: See you again soon, sir.

Sleep that night is better, but not a scratch on what they’ve come to expect from the launderette. The dreams are gone, as is the optimism, but the pain at least goes away while they sleep. By 10am the next day however, it’s back.

Everyone stoops off to bed early that night, hoping to wake well again, but at 2AM the man sits upright and starts tearing the sheets off the bed. His wife tumbles out, screaming.

MWL: LOOK IF I JUST GET THE FUCKING SHEETS CLEANED WE’LL BE ABLE TO SLEEP JUST FUCKING SHUT IT, RIGHT?

Getting to the launderette is hard work, as he keeps skidding and sliding all over the road, arms and legs trembling. He manages to pathetically slouch into the launderette, where the Landerette man still waits, unaging, unsleeping.

It is only with Herculean effort that the man can get the bag on top of the counter, this time.

MWL: Need…. to wash…. these…. family… sick.

L: Of course, sir. Laundry services will cost you £160 tonight.

The Man With Laundry’s eyes go huge.

MWF: £160?! £160?!? That’s insane! That’s ludicrous! You can forget that!

L: Not a worry, sir. I’m sure you’ll find sleep and comfort eventually.

The Man With Laundry sags. Numbly, he pulls out his wallet and hands several notes to the Launderette.

L: Very good sir. Your washing will be ready in 5 hours.

The Man With Laundry doesn’t even complain, just goes to sit. Around him, haggard, gnarled people hug themselves and wretch dryly. Their skin looks like dried paper, their eyes are dull. Catching himself in the reflection of the window, the Man With Laundry is unable to recognize himself for a moment, or tell the difference between him and the tramp beside him.

He comes out of a daze and immediately checks the clock: 3 hours 17 minutes to go. A clean cut man has just come in with a bag of laundry, and seems pleasantly surprised by the complimentary session he’s just been offered.

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The Junky and the Lush – A Buddy Comedy

Burroughs and Waits make for a perfect and leveled sober-media-intake. If those two tortured, haunted, ethically-questionable souls can’t make you take a long, hard stare at your less-than-visible problems then I don’t know who will. James Frey? Maybe.

Junky is still one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, and nothing that terrible even happens in it. There’s nothing quite like Burroughs’ own-brand of nihilism. Junky is an incredibly simplistic, pulpy novel about Burroughs’ self-insert ‘William Lee’ (kind of like Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke) and his decent into opiate addiction.

No… no that’s not quite right. Burroughs doesn’t descend; he’s already at rock-bottom before he learns what junk is. That’s what makes it so striking. Other novels and artistic works of this variety, such as de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream fixate on the pathos of substance abuse; the surrendering of the soul to a bodily bondage of need, relief, and subsequent need. Most often, the primary theme running through all these works is that of ‘lost potential’ or even ‘innocence lost’, if the author is halfway empathetic towards those who have lost some degree of themselves to a substance which imprisons them.

In Junky, Burroughs never once indulges in self-pity. He talks about his rich upbringing casually, never pining after the life he could have lived, and matter-of-factly declares himself a junk addict and career criminal. What is even more fascinating is that Burroughs doesn’t revel in his iniquity, either. He takes no pride from being a junky, nor does he experience shame. He simply; Is.

What makes Burroughs so very unsettling is the unavoidable feeling that he simply doesn’t care about anything at all. Not in an ‘everything is worthless/smash everything’ way though. Burroughs, maybe more than most other writers in his era and perhaps more so then even today’s artists, sees and outlines what he considers the arbitrariness of Western society, the petty gauges by which we measure morality, vitality and importance. What appeals to Burroughs about the junk-life, I think, is the lack of pretense. Living as a junky allows Burroughs to move through life without adopting any of the meaningless rules, judgements and social-contracts that sober society mandates. There is no good or evil in Burroughs world, only different shades of junk-sickness and the necessary actions that must be taken to curb said sickness, regardless of what they might entail.

Waits is a bit less miserable, but not much. I’m not sure how he managed to do it, but Waits succeeded in putting on vinyl what being drunk sounds like, to me at least. The bawdry, masculine, surreal hopelessness of it all. Waits somehow manages to record all of those strange little tales that go in and out of your head when you’ve drunk yourself clopsy. Most forget them, so well done him.

I’ve always found Waits useful for depression. The Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombone and Bone Machine albums have gotten me through more than one long, aching evening, and have succeeded in transforming my sullen mood into a fanciful and imaginative one. It was Waits I think who taught me that my misery could actually be one of my greatest advantages.

I don’t have as much to write about Waits, as I’m less of a nerd about music than I am about books.

Luckily it’s pretty easy to talk about them in the same breath, if only due to The Black Rider, which I would consider to be Waits’ weirdest album, and he’s released some oddballs in his time. A collaboration with William Burroughs, The Black Rider is… well I’m actually not sure, having listened to it several times. Is it a play? Is it a soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist? Is it about junk, or is it going deeper?

Whatever lessons there are to be gleaned from The Black Rider, on a purely aesthetic level it already achieves greatness. It’s a very unsettling album, which is cloaked in a kind of darkly-violent fairytale. Waits has always had a bit of a ‘carnival/circus’ vibe to him, often inhabiting the role of a kind of ringmaster or compare and bellowing camp, vicious declarations from a megaphone. This synchs with Burroughs perfectly.

I think… I think perhaps one of the things which most unites Burroughs and Waits is their perception of archetypes. Characters in Waits’ songs and Burroughs’ books rarely have any touched-upon complexity, and so come to represent their most up-front characteristics, be they booze, wild living or junk addiction. I think the terrible secret Waits and Burroughs share is that past all the introspection and growth and personal developments, we really all are what we eat.

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