Wednesday, April 27, 2016

THE DRONES THAT TEND THE GARDENS


























THROUGH THE SLATS of the sagging fence, the quiet white figure periodically appeared. Paying scant attention to the peanut butter sandwich in his hands, the boy took occasional obligatory nibbles as he watched. The exposed end of the banana which his mother had cut in half, already turning color, attracted ants toward the plate placed before him where he sat cross-legged on the lawn. He watched the white figure quietly go about its business, transferring large, heavy-looking bags from a pallet in the driveway into the structure adjacent to the garage. His mother kept an eye on him through the kitchen window. When he turned around to look at her, she waved at him and he waved back. Taking another little bite out of his sandwich, the boy returned his attention to the faceless figure next door.

The head was shaped like an upside-down teardrop, the bulk of the figure a dull uniform white. Smaller parts at the shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, knees, and ankles were dark. His mother called it a drone. The drone, she said, did not have a mind. "That's not a real man," she told him. "That's just someone else's machine."

The boy wished he had someone to play with. His mother said there used to be real people living all around. It used to be a neighborhood, she said. What exactly that meant, the boy did not quite understand. He was too young to remember.

He imagined riding on the back of the drone. He saw himself getting a shoulder ride. He could see himself standing on the shoulders of the drone, telling the drone what to do. Walking around the town, running through the woods.

When his mother came outside to take his plate, she saw that ants had taken over the half of a banana and the crust from the sandwich that the boy did not want.

"You can't leave your food like that for the ants to get," she said.

The boy's attention was fixed on the drone. "Mom, what is all that stuff he's moving?"

His mother frowned. "Potting soil," she said.

"What's that for?" he asked.

"It's for growing plants."

"What kind of plants?"

His mother paused. "Daisies," she said.

He watched while she brushed the ants off the plate and the banana. Peeling back the banana, she pulled away the discolored tip and gave him back the rest. "Don't waste food, sweetie," she said. "She if you can finish this."

The boy took a small, dutiful bite. "Can I have some juice?"

"I'm sorry, sweetie, we don't have any juice. I'll have to bring you out some water."

As his mother went into the house for the water, the boy wondered what it looked like inside the structure adjacent to the garage. He imagined a small drone his size. A quiet little boy with a blank white face. At first the small drone would be shy, but the boy would show the drone around the yard, and together they would be friends.

His mother returned with a glass of water. The boy took a sip and made a face. "It tastes bad," he said.

"I'm sorry," said his mother. "We don't have a new water filter yet."

Holding up the remainder of the banana, the boy said, "Can I be done?"

His mother sighed. "All right," she said. He handed it to her, and the rest of the water as well. She tossed it on a dry spot at the edge of the lawn. "Why don't you come inside and color?"

"Can I color outside?"

His mother looked next door. "All right," she said. "I'll bring out your coloring box. Then I have to get back to work."

"Okay, Mom."

The boy's mother kissed the top of his head. His hair was warm in the morning sun.

"I love you, sweetie."

"I love you too, Mom."

She looked back before going inside. "Don't get too close to the fence," she said.





Monday, April 25, 2016

"AFTERLIFE" REWARDING



















PHILIP K. DICK – A DAY IN THE AFTERLIFE
Starring Philip K. Dick,
Thomas M. Disch,
Brian Aldiss,
Terry Gilliam,
Elvis Costello
Directed by Nicola Roberts


         
Excellent documentary about the visionary writer.
         
Insightful commentary from interviewees including friends, ex-wives, and a variety of artists livens this unique 1994 production from BBC’s “Arena.”
         
According to science fiction writer Brian Aldiss, “Like many a good man, Philip K. Dick went round the bend. Religion got him in the end, and so did all those drugs.”
         
PKD, as he is known, brought to sci-fi a sense of excitement coupled with serious metaphysical questions about the nature of reality. If you’ve seen the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, or The Adjustment Bureau, then you have some familiarity with his work adapted into film.
         
He blurred the lines between people and machines. As the narrator says, “Your toaster just might have an opinion of its own.”
          
 “My stories are attempts at reception, at listening to voices from another place, far away.”
         
Born in 1928, PKD’s twin sister died after less than eight weeks from an allergy to mother’s milk. All his life, PKD felt a strange sense of guilt about that. “I’m two people,” he said. “I’m on two sides of the fence.”
         
None of the forty-two novels he wrote were taken seriously until late in his life, briefly. He wrote for about thirty years, living in poverty. When he was writing in the 1950s, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein were popular optimists. As Aldiss notes, “Now they seem like dinosaurs” and PKD seems “immensely contemporary.”
         
The documentary seamlessly integrates elements from his stories into the production. Filmmaker Terry Gilliam addresses us from within a TV set holding an aerosol container—referencing God in a spray can from the novel Ubik—with the letters PKD prominently displayed on it. “I use PKD to unclog my brains. Why don’t you?”
         
Many of his stories feature tiny figures in universal rubble, loser heroes in a mundane world. This vision was formed, according to narration, by “the changing landscape of California, a rural paradise that he saw bulldozed into submission.” This is why PKD, who died of heart failure after a stroke in 1982 at the age of fifty-three, had mixed feelings about Blade Runner. Visually, director Ridley Scott captured the atmosphere of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with stunning skill. But the dialogue and Harrison Ford as the hero Hollywood-ized the film, and PKD was disappointed.
         
In exploring what makes a human being through writing that Thomas M. Disch calls “the prose equivalent of a drug trip,” PKD could be bitter about what was not human. Disch also notes that regarding PKD’s possible mental imbalance…he loved it. “If you’ve got a sort of paranoid side to you, best use it to write thrillers.”
          
 “The police once told me that I was a crusader, and they had no use for crusaders,” said PKD with a relishing air. “But unfortunately they didn’t tell me what I was crusading for.”
         
Freely available online.



 Stewart Kirby writes for

         

Saturday, April 23, 2016

THE STRONG WOMEN OF CHAPTER TEN













In Humbaba County, people speak in code, and people hide. 





















THEA LIENZ, THE MOTHER OF Brandi’s best friend Staci, and close friend of Heidi as well, accompanied her daughter to Brandi’s party dressed as John Lennon in big black hat with sweeping green feather, black turtleneck with a postage stamp-size bit of metal hanging from a practically invisible necklace, tight black frock-style coat bearing a blank circular badge shining on the left side, black slacks, tan high heel boots, circular lens amber glasses, shoulder-length hair and even a bit of chewing gum.
            Heidi, Sorel, and Heidi’s friend through Sorel, Sitar, recognized Thea’s Lennonness, and this sparked conversation in the kitchen amid the liberal flow of libation and general bustling and jostling marked by music being played incredibly loud. Some Janis Joplin, at the moment—“Try.” None of the four women—all in their late thirties and forties—needed explained the significance of the necklace and badge, which visually suggested priesthood and law enforcement, and all of them understood in a manner amenable to conversation the relation of Thea’s clothes to LowCost in particular and increasingly the area in general. Now the onion rings from the deli there were literally all batter. That was a new way they cut costs for themselves, that and about a million others—none of which in the meat department especially anyone would want to know—and what was anyone to do? Complain? To whom? Some snide clerk, ever-professing robotic desire to prove beneficial to your assistance, like a friend, a genuine neighborly friend, based on the pat repetitive utterances required to remind the shopper of the shopper’s need to shop? What would that do? Authorize phony commiseration? Set in irrevocable motion the wheels of a wiretap? And was it even really about onion rings after all? Wasn’t that just one more straw?
            Brandi, Staci, and Brandi’s friends Autumn and (to a lesser extent) Phoebe, all within earshot, did not know that they did not understand, but knew very well they did not want any of it explained at all. Thea Lienz calling the right-winger incursion the “Red Death,” and adding also that “Right makes blight,” bothered Brandi to the extent that she hadn’t shelled-out for her big bash just so Staci’s mom—who had to be invited, but never was told it was a costume party—could take over everything all me, me, me, when she wasn’t even the one they were supposed to be celebrating. But when she got up on the fireplace bricks with a couple of palm fronds and started moving around to the music in the John Lennon outfit all creepy, Brandi decided to be really nice and just take a break out on the front patio for awhile.
            Staci, Autumn and Phoebe followed. They sat down at the umbrella table sipping wine coolers and looking hot.
            “What time does the dancer get here?” Staci said, being sure to show her private pain over her weird hippie mother’s embarrassing antics.
            “Ten,” Brandi said.
            Equally determined to display the smug gleam on her own face, Phoebe remarked with mustered brightness, like a wrinkled yellow squirt of French’s over a white slice of Wonder, on the niceness of the weather, which was gray as always and looked like it wanted to rain but couldn’t.
            “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten that keg,” Brandi said. “Look at them.” The women inside were dancing. “They act like they think they’re our age.”
            Everybody took a sip.
            A car was coming up.
            The view from where they sat showed the hill sloping down to some fenced areas, oak and madrone sweeping up beyond, streaks of dusklight stretching across the deepening blue of the fading sky. A green VW came around the bend.
            “Hey, it’s India,” Brandi said.
            Jerry Garcia went to India to say hello.
            “Well, here we all are,” Sitar said, boogie-ing out to the patio, literally sloshing, “just a bunch of gorgeous women, all dressed up.”
            “Projecting our images,” Thea added, boogie-ing behind Sitar, negotiating a slice of California roll on a pair of chopsticks, “in voluptuous seclusion.”
            The party being potluck, India added a pan of brownies to the cause. But now it was apparent that the music had stopped. And in the distance, a strange droning sound could not help but be heard.
            Phoebe’s face looked markedly quizzical. “What’s that noise?” she said.
            There was a pause. Then Brandi replied, “That’s my dad.”
            Phoebe’s eyes lit up. “What’s he doing?”
            Another pause.
            “He’s playing his didgeridoo.”

            In fact, Cody was playing his didgeridoo in a hollow redwood stump. There were not many redwoods on the property, and this made the old stump extra sacred in Cody’s eyes, the immediate flesh around which, as well as over most of his body, was daubed with bright red, gold and green extracts from ochre and other natural sources, all in Cody’s best estimation of the Australian aborigine, a peoples with whose concepts of Dream Time and Walkabout he felt an abiding affinity and deep sense of connectedness.
            Wwwaaaauuuuuoooooo….
            He was actually pretty good, having practiced with his didgeridoo off-and-on a considerable deal over the years. A properly sustained note wavered with an electrical hum, the hum of a hundred monks auming in a temple, a mountain hum, the hum of the life of the land. Reverberations emanating from the redwood stump radiated like mist crawling over the ground. It was getting dark now, and he wasn’t forgetting the body of the cow he found. A pistol lay in reach.
            When he told Heidi about the cow, she wasn’t exactly bowled over. Just took it as another hassle, something else to get rid of. Mountain lion, most likely. He told Brandi and Heidi about it that morning, which was when they had agreed she would open up her presents from each of them. Heidi got her season tickets to Fernden Theater. He had already given her a great big homemade dream-catcher of his expertise. “Because he couldn’t afford anything else,” said the look on Heidi’s face. But at breakfast together (and when was the last time they did that?) when he gave her the chess set with Tolkein figures he had carved from antler himself, he thought for a moment Heidi was about to cry. Cody taught Brandi to play when she was very young.
            By now Brandi and friends would be through playing with remote control planes off the deck, munching chunk-style avocado dip with three varieties of chips. It was coming up on eight. Present-time. He promised her at breakfast he would be there to see.

            At that moment Brandi was already opening something Phoebe got her from Holy Smokes. It was a lava lamp. Thea said to Heidi, “Watch out. If she got it from Neal the Narc, it’s probably bugged.”
            “Speaking of bugged,” Sitar said, “how’s Cody? What’s he up to these days?”
            “Yeah,” Sorel added, as she finished her cup, “where is Codes?” They were standing with Heidi at the edge of the living room.
            “Oh, same as ever. He’s around somewhere. He left us his pot-pie. Wow, look at that.”
            Brandi unrolled the present from Sorel that was kept under the blanket in the living room which she knew she was not to inspect but did. “I knew it!” she said. “A Tibetan rug!”
            “You can use that in your new college digs,” Sorel said.
            “Oh,” said Phoebe. “Where are you going? I didn’t know you were going to college.” This last she added with a smirk.
            Brandi continued focusing her attention on her new Tibetan rug. “I’ll probably just be up in Carata. I haven’t really got everything all settled yet.”
            “Look at all this loot,” Thea said. “You’re looking like the prosperous one.”
            Staci handed Brandi the present from India.
            “I don’t know how prosperous I’m going to be this year,” said Heidi. “I think I might have to hit Brandi up for a loan.”
            Sitar shook her head staring into space. “I can’t believe the crop failure I’m seeing.”
            “Look what India gave me,” Brandi said. “Locally-made soap.”
            “She must know what a dirty girl you are,” said Sorel.
            Staci and Autumn looked at Brandi and each other. “You don’t know the half of it,” Staci said.
            Lights from an approaching car traveled across the living room walls.
            “Oh my god,” Brandi said. “That must be him. He’s way early.”
            “Him?” Heidi said. “Him who?”
            They all got up from the living room and watched as Brandi’s exotic dancer, ordered from Thruster’s outside Egeria and sent by Flo, parked behind India’s bug, gathered up a box from the passenger seat keeping a wary eye on Jerry Garcia, came up to the patio area where the women had spilled out and introduced himself as O’Cyrus, Lord of the Underwear.

            Whatever it was that killed the cow could just as well be hunting him. Night was near, and the darkness of the forest hastened the hour as Cody strode with the didgeridoo over a shoulder and the pistol in hand, finger on the trigger. Occasionally he stopped and just held still. Something killed that cow. Trying to find if it would stalk, he listened to the woods talk. But all he heard were the growing sounds of his daughter’s party.
            When the house was in sight, he put the gun back in the holster. He came down the hill from the northeast side and went straight to the back of the house and up the steps to the outside door of the room he added-on a decade earlier, but which still seemed kind of new to him. Cody could hear the hoots and hollers before he even went into his room. Sounded like they were having fun.
            An image suddenly flashed before him. How if there were a God, anyone wanting to see would have to buy a ticket. Then a door would open up and those who paid would get the thrill of seeing some gigantic presence. Millions of viewers in attendance could stay for the rush as long as their tickets allowed. People with really good seats might stick around most of the afternoon. And in the evenings there would be fantastic light shows and dazzling displays, so everybody would go home happy and be sure to keep coming back, not forgetting to stop at any and all of the wide variety of gift and souvenir shops.
            Cody fired up the old lava lamps.
            The hoots and hollers were loud and nonstop. Wow, he thought, what the hell is going on out there?
            Cody stood still next to the inside door for awhile. Then he opened it. And stood in the hall. At first the music sounded almost Egyptian. Then it interrupted into a pulsing techno-beat. The delirious-sounding screams were maddeningly enigmatic. Just what the hell was going on?
            Quietly Cody stalked down the unlit hall to the edge of the wall on his right, where it turned to another hallway with a view of the living off to the right again. But when he looked to the left where he stood at the first corner, he could see in the dark window there the mirror-like reflection of part of the living room, in the foreground of which was Heidi, sitting in a chair next to a lamp. She was looking at something. They all were.
            The hoots and hollers grew. Someone else came into view. It was a guy. Some dude. In a fucking bikini. The little bottom part, anyway. Gyrating, right in front of Heidi.
            Everyone in the room saw Cody emerge from the shadowy hall, still in tribal paint and loin cloth. It was no more lost on Cody than it was on the nine women present that the guy in the bikini looked a lot like Jim Morrison. And although he had just been thinking deeply, not even an hour earlier, on the senselessness of any system, world economic or otherwise, that constantly values and requires competition over cooperation, what he said was, “You’re about two seconds from a broken neck.”
            O’Cyrus, Lord of the Underwear, was no longer dancing. He was backing up with his hands out saying, “Whoa, man, you got the wrong guy.”
            But this could not be heard, and not because most of the nine women were suddenly yelling at Cody—Heidi the loudest—but because Cody was too busy saying, “Don’t fuck with me, bitch! You shut your fucking fuckhole! I’ll beat your little asscheeks black!”
            And now, though arms were upon him seeking to restrain, Cody waded through, out to the patio, where O’Cyrus, completely perplexed, was backing up. Cody was close enough now that his hand shot out and threw O’Cyrus by the neck down backwards over the umbrella table.
            “You don’t come into a man’s house,” Cody hissed, “and insult a man’s wife—”
            “This is not a man’s house!” Heidi suddenly thundered through. “This is mine! And I am not your wife!”
            She had by this time gotten a gun. One of her pistols. The .38. She held it up, cocked, and pointed it at Cody’s face.
            “Let him go.”
            She always had a way of turning the tables on him like that. Cyrus Voyant, now twenty-two and living in Egeria, would go on to co-star in the local underground production of “The Grad You Ate.” Cody let go and went back to his room, finding the next morning, to his glum dismay, that his trusty Pinto had sometime in the night gotten drastically keyed.


 


If you like this chapter from my Grail myth, you'll probably like the other ones, too. 

Thanks for checkin' in.

Monday, April 18, 2016

"WINCHESTER'S HOUSE" LABOR OF LOVE














MRS. WINCHESTER’S HOUSE
Narrated by Lillian Gish
Directed by Dick Williams
Written by R.E. Pusey, Jr., Ray Hubbard
Runtime 29 minutes

         
In 1963 Robert Wise, director of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sound of Music, directed the film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Apparently as a sort of companion piece to The Haunting, that same year Lillian Gish narrated the made-for-TV short documentary Mrs. Winchester’s House.
         
Excellently shot in black and white, the star of the film is the labyrinthine architectural product of an eccentric heiress. Sarah Lockwood Pardee, born circa 1840, give or take five years, was a child prodigy who by age twelve was fluent in five languages. In 1862 she married William Wirt Winchester, himself heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which sold guns to the U.S. Army during the Civil War.
         
In 1866 Sarah gave birth to their only child, Annie Pardee Winchester, who unfortunately lived only forty days. Fifteen years later, in 1881, William died of tuberculosis.
         
According to the film, Sarah had long held a strong interest in the occult. After meeting with a Boston medium, Sarah left New Haven, Connecticut for California. Supposedly, the medium had advised her to build a house for the restless spirits of the Indians, the soldiers, and all those who died by a Winchester rifle.
         
But that’s the mystery—or perhaps puzzle—of Sarah’s house, because beginning in 1884 and continuing unabated literally for the next 38 years nonstop, the house was under construction. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all year every year. And Sarah herself was the architect—perhaps with a bit of help…from beyond.
         
Supposedly she spent a lot of time in a séance room with a planchette, basically a Ouija Board, and communed with William.
         
Dressed in black, wearing a veil, the reclusive Mrs. Winchester ordered bewildering peculiarities in the construction of her ever-mushrooming abode: rooms within rooms, stairways to nowhere. Skylights over skylights and a skylight in the floor. Tiny doors to big places; big doors to tiny places. A door that opens to a brick wall; a door that opens to a sheer drop. Some people find Sarah’s architecture comparable to the etchings of M.C. Escher. Others see Freemasonic-Rosicrucian influences involving the theories of Sir Francis Bacon.
         
Whatever the case, Sarah used a bewildering array of secret passageways to move about and observe unseen her shifts of workers working. There are literally miles of corridors inside. Once seven stories tall in some places, after the 1906 earthquake, the house was reduced down to four stories—and Sarah lived in a houseboat for the next six years. Yet even then, the work still went on.
         
One night, when she had returned, Sarah held a grand ball with rare and amazing food and wine, and a company of musicians. By midnight, the butler announced the names of guests. But as the musicians saw, there were no guests. It was the first and last ball ever held in the ballroom, and it creeped the musicians out completely.
         
You can visit Mrs. Winchester’s House freely on YouTube anytime, and stay there as long as you like.







 Stewart Kirby writes for