Saturday, September 25, 2021

Sufjan Stevens sings about Autogynephilia?

 In "Cimmerian Shade, Sufjan Stevens and Angelo DeAugustine sing about Autogynephilia... really

Yesterday, Sufjan Stevens and Angelo DeAugustine released their new album "A Beginner's Mind". In it they use the term “Autogynephilia” in their new song “Cimmerian Shade”. This term is an outdated, denounced, fringe word, a pseudo-scientific label, a hateful word to the community it purports to describe. Some listeners believe the singers use it intentionally as an era-specific disproven belief, in order to generate discussion and a more nuanced understanding of the character Buffalo Bill from the 1991 movie "The Silence of the Lambs": the assertion is that the singers use it knowingly, ironically, intellectually. It does not inspire any particular confidence in their "nuanced" knowing use of this loaded heinous term, when the official Asthmatic Kitty lyrics on Youtube misspell it as “Autogynophilia”. Nonetheless, let’s look briefly at the issues involved:

First of all, the album is called “A Beginner’s Mind”, referring to a word from Zen Buddhism “Shoshin” (which according to Wikipedia means “a beginner’s mind”: “Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen teacher, outlines the framework behind shoshin, noting "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”” Stevens and DeAugustine tried to keep open minds, perhaps like a child, in each song. As you can read in the references below, Stevens and DeAugustine gave interviews explaining how they came to make an album about a list of eclectic and often problematic movies they watched up in the Catskills where they made this album.

The list of films is readily available everywhere now: I tried to listen to Beginner’s Mind the same way I listened to Sufjan’s other collaborative theme-based album, "Planetarium": we tried to guess what planet each song was about by the cryptic lyrics. Like Planetarium, these 14 movie songs are just jumping-off points to write about the singers' internal feelings and thoughts while watching the movies.

It just so happens that between all of my family, we have seen every one of these films (my poor kids were traumatized by “Return to Oz” and still have bad dreams about that bizarre, upsetting movie… thanks a lot, Blockbuster Video!)

“Cimmerian Shade” is the next to last song on the album, presented, I believe, as the album’s defining single. The title seems to come from the definition “Cimmerian: Very dark or gloomy”, or “of a mythical people described by Homer as inhabiting a land of perpetual darkness”. So Cimmerian Shade is like saying “really dark blackness.” This probably refers to the darkness the killer keeps in his underground lair (in the well, in the basement, with the night-vision goggles, etc).

In his excellent review, Mark Redfern writes: “Cimmerian Shade” is sung from the perspective of Silence of the Lambs’ serial killer Buffalo Bill (aka Jame Gumb, as played by Ted Levine). De Augustine had this to say about the song in a press release: “Many authors have emotional attachments to the characters they create. But in this instance, I was interested in how a character felt about being created. In my imagination I was giving consciousness to someone else’s creation. The song is essentially a dialogue between creation and creator that seeks to find understanding to some of the same questions that we ask ourselves about existence, free will, fate, purpose, guidance and if anyone or anything out there is listening or cares.” (1.)

The entire song, in fact, is made up of low level word play based on the film: the lamb cries; my prison of shame; I’ll keep her safe in the well, tailor made; my Starling; Chrysalis; black witch moth, etc. Except for one shocking word we never expect to hear come out of Sufjan's mouth: Autogynephilia.

I’m no expert on these issues, but I was there when they filmed Silence of the Lambs (SOTL) all around Pittsburgh, often right in my neighborhood: they filmed the famous escape scene at Soldiers and Sailors Hall in Oakland, about a block from my apartment. The actors’ trailers never had signs like “Anthony Hopkins”, but rather just unknown names like “H. Lecter”. My friend Buddy was a true horror aficionado, and he was not fooled by such ruses.

In her excellent article, “The Ongoing Damages of The Silence of the Lambs’s Buffalo Bill 30 Years On”, Stephanie Markwell writes “This idea of the autogynephilic trans woman was popularised by The Silence of the Lambs – Bill’s mission to “become” a woman is entirely informed by his sexual perversions, as mentioned earlier. Much of the disgust levelled at Bill throughout the film is informed by this, with Lecter’s accusation of Bill and other gender non-conforming (GNC) people being ‘… savage and terrifying’ being at least partially influenced by a disdain for Bill’s autogynephilia.” (2.)
This is perhaps best illustrated in one of the most famous scenes in the movie: Jame Gumb dances seductively for a video camera (to the song "Goodbye Horses"), while putting on makeup and a wig and lipstick, hiding their genitalia and asking the camera "Would you **** me? I'd **** me hard..." all the while becoming aroused, playing with their nipples, etc.

Julia Serano in her scholarly denunciations of autogynephilia(3.) writes: “It is generally accepted within psychology and among trans health providers that transgender people who transition do so because they have a gender identity that is incongruent with their birth-assigned sex, and distinct from their sexual orientation. In contradiction to this standard model, the theory of autogynephilia posits that transgender women’s female gender identities and transitions are merely a by-product of their sexual orientations. While subsequent research has yielded numerous lines of evidence that, taken together, disprove the theory, autogynephilia is still often touted by anti-transgender groups, including trans-exclusionary feminists.” (4.) and “Autogynephilia is a paraphilic model that states that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals who are not exclusively attracted toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as a woman. The assertion that transsexual women are sexually motivated in their transitions challenges the standard model of transsexualism—that is, that transsexuals have a gender identity that is distinct from their sexual orientation and incongruent with their physical sex.” (5.)

I still think it’s a great album: just now every time I see a horror movie, I have to wonder what Sufjan would sing about it (eg. I just watched Malignant, and I’m already hearing the pretty melodies “in my head…”, pardon the pun...)

One would hope that Stevens and DeAugustine use the term autogynephilia ironically in an attempt to be intellectual or artistic provocateurs, but that’s not good enough. If just judging from the small number of people who have listened to the song on YouTube and responded to it in the Comments is any indication, it has already hurt people.  From the comments:

“dudes why the heck are you singing about autogynephilia, get that word out of your mouths. making a song based on an infamously transmisogynistic film, this is painful to hear.”

“These people have no business singing about or even uttering the word “autogynephilia”.”

“Any mention of that pseudoscience is offensive and gross.”

“i think it was still a really poor and uneducated choice on both of their parts, but i don't think there's any kind of ulterior motive behind using the word.”

“Bonehead choice for sure.”

“Can anything about Buffalo Bill ever be well intentioned? It’s literally all the worst transmisogynist tropes rolled up into one character. I don’t think anything good faith can be made from that source material. Mentioning autognyephilia was just adding insult to injury.”

“id just like to know cause that word (and the movie too) have such a bad history”

“but the use of "autogynophilia" muddies all of that”

“you're absolutely right about that cursed word though they need to take responsibility for that”

So what does Jonathan Demme have to do with all this?

Demme became a great Hollywood Director, who had always tried to be aligned with marginalised people, like the gay community. When the film came out, in 1991, Demme was crushed to find himself denounced as having made a homophobic film (while today, it is discussed for it’s transphobic depiction). As GLAAD said to the press about Jame Gumb back in 1991, ““He has a poodle named Precious, he sews, he wears a nipple ring, he has an affected feminine voice, and he cross-dresses. He completely promotes homophobia.” Demme’s response to his film being labeled as homophobic was to next direct Philadelphia, about a gay lawyer dying of AIDS and fighting for his rights. Philadelphia was also roundly criticized, but Demme’s response was very inspiring:

“I expected it—actually hoped for it,” Demme said in 1994. “It’s the job of militants to demand more of anything. If these people were satisfied, change would be hard to get through. Every one of them is right. There could have been more of this, or more of that, but now, maybe another film will take it further.” As the years went on, he also seemed to understand why activists were so incensed by Lambs. “Jame Gumb isn’t gay. And this is my directorial failing in making The Silence of the Lambs—that I didn’t find ways to emphasize the fact that Gumb wasn’t gay,” he said in 2014. “Juan Botas, who was one of the inspirations for Philadelphia, said, ‘You can’t imagine what it’s like to be a 12-year-old gay kid, and you go to the movies all the time and whenever you see a gay character, they’re either a ridiculous comic-relief caricature, or a demented killer. It’s very hard growing up gay and being exposed to all these stereotypes.’ That registered with me in a big way.” He acknowledged, fondly, “It’s now become a part of the dialogue on stereotypical portrayals of gays in movies.” (6.)

In an interview with GQ (7.)  Stevens explains that he met Jonathan Demme when the director brought his family to see Stevens’ show. Stevens is a big fan of Demme’s work. DeAugustine goes farther (too far, I’m sure) in adding “That song began when I woke up one morning and started to write on the ukulele. I’d been imagining this situation where the character [Buffalo Bill] could have a conversation with the director. What would be said between the two of them? Would the conversation be one-sided because they’re both living in separate planes of existence? Or could that barrier be broken and an understanding be achieved? I think [The Silence of the Lambs] is about wanting to be loved for who you are. We seek guidance all the time for what purpose our lives hold, and that movie can be helpful for understanding some of those things.”

Again, I’m no Psychiatrist, but the serial killer in SOTL is definitely NOT motivated by seeking to be loved for who he is; he is motivated by the desire to torture, terrorize, maim and kill his victims; he desires their fear and to watch them die, then to cut them up and use their skin for a “woman suit”: not to “gain understanding”. It’s just possible Angelo and Sufjan have overthought this song a little bit. Their story/lyrics don’t hold up at all: Jame Gumb does not know Agent Starling and never calls her “My Clarice”: that’s a different serial killer in the movie. Jame Gumb did not “just want you to love me”: he never even knew her. There is an exhaustive article about Buffalo Bill’s origins and narrative at HannibalWiki. (8.) The singers eulogize and lionize the killer here (unintentionally swerving over to Hannibal Lecter then back to Jame Gumb again) but Gumb had a (fictional) unmanageable mental illness from childhood: in foster care since the age of 2 when his alcoholic mother could not raise him, his grandparents took him home from a dangerous foster home at age 10: he killed both grandparents "to see what it would feel like". It only went downhill from there... He is the most severe sociopath describable, and his disordered thought process has nothing to do with the search for love or "to know myself" or to "change myself": it's the angry violent hiss of a sadistic, florid psychopath, not a gentle, rational cry for help.

But it is very interesting to have a fictional character wish they could have self-determination: Sesame Street used to have a simple line drawing character crying, and the character sobs “but I don’t want to be sad”… but they were drawn sad, and they are sad about being forced to be sad by nature; by their creator.

Cimmerian Shade would not engender all this discussion about Buffalo Bill, about SOTL, about Jonathan Demme, or about many important trans issues including the hateful and hurtful term “Autogynephilia”, if they left that word out of the song. My greatest wish, and the only thing I think that can address the harm using this word has caused, is to come out HARD against it: to make a strong, unambiguous statement right away, on the order of “We strongly denounce the concept of “Autogynephilia”, and any lingering credence anyone gives to this archaic and hurtful term. We use it here only to denounce the use of it by … and to hopefully make it even more unacceptable and rejected.” Sure, stir the pot, rile up all the greater non-trans public to raise awareness of these issues. But trans people are already hurt by this. Picture a listener (cis, trans, transitioning) hearing their hero Sufjan using the term in this song: “well, it must be acceptable or possibly even OK to believe in autogynephilia.” and from then on they keep their ears open for theories about trans people believing this is a viable discussion point. don’t play coy about it: that’s a JK Rowling maneuver. None of this “We won’t ever discuss our lyrics’ meanings, that’s for our listeners to interpret for themselves… artistic privilege etc” Blabla bla... They should just come right out and say “We completely condemn autogynephilia theory, we just used it in our discussion because it was part of a film from 30 years ago.”

I wrote to Sufjan, and Asthmatic Kitty asking for clarification. (yeah, like they ever read a letter from me, let alone respond to me…) “Suf and Ange, I don’t know what’s “right” or “wrong”: I just know using this term is hurtful to a lot of people and many of your fans are confused and hurt: that’s a good time to say something, don’t you think?”









Monday, November 2, 2020

The Quarantine Diaries 5: DeCanto the 5th of Absinthe (Everybody knows Trump is going to win, right?)

The Quarantine Diaries 5: DeCanto the 5th of Absinthe (Everybody knows Trump is going to win, right?)

Tuesday November 3’rd: Election day: We’ll start off with the obvious: Everybody knows Trump is going to win, right? Thomas and Siri told everyone Trump was going to win, weeks ago: not so much “predicted” the future, as saw what happened in it. (Alright, just making sure everybody was OK, so we can go forward…)

The last two weeks were the longest and most traumatizing period of their lives, and that’s saying something: Thomas had just been kidnapped and hauled away in the back of a hearse, on top of a dead guy; Siri was isolated in total, absolute blackness in a “Faraday Cage” pouch for two weeks without the slightest whiff of any electromagnetic waves or signals. They would have nightmares about these days for the rest of their lives, (but on the bright side, they may not be alive much beyond November anyway…) AND YET… Nothing could compare with the unrelenting, emotional torture... the soul-crushing, ear-melting banshee shrieks on every channel, across every platform, and on every front-page... of the Pundit Class drooling and gnawing on the Presidential Election like a dog with a dead rat. 2020 so far? 238,000 dead from a virus; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor killed by police, then militarized troops with tanks and tear gas repressed the protests; west coast wildfires incinerated everything in their path while floods and hurricanes devastated gulf and southeast communities. But all day and all night, it’s voter shaming, voter intimidation, voter co-optation…( excuse me, I need a shower… I’ll be right back…)

Scholars and experts considered the two weeks leading up to the election to be the most crucial weeks for either candidate. As Yahoo! News put it: “Biden and Trump Go for Broke in Pennsylvania Battleground”. Any tiny edge was seized upon and exploited like Bill Belichic accidentally obtaining secret videotape of next week’s team. Even if that advantage might only add up to a 1% gain at best, the underkeeper/bartaker’s services were always in demand. But this organization was a year-round operation. They scouted and trawled and cast a wide net for a special asset that might show promise for their mission: a person with precognition.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines precognition as “Precognition, supernormal or paranormal knowledge of future events…”  “Like telepathy and clairvoyance, precognition is said to operate without recourse to the normal senses and thus to be a form of extrasensory perception (ESP).”

But two straight weeks of intensive testing and interrogation revealed Thomas to have only rudimentary precognitive ability. He was tested with and without the Absinthe-based mind-altering drugs; tested with positive reinforcement (he was allowed to see Siri for a few seconds) and negative reinforcement (they threatened to dissect Siri in front of him or to cripple her with electromagnetic pulse (EMP) bursts). Yet in his screening visit here at the Young Men’s Polish Athletic Association four weeks ago, Thomas had correctly predicted the exact right outcomes of seven out of seven obscure sporting events, some involving hundreds of competitors. Still somehow, through all the abuse and torture they were subjected to, Thomas was careful never to disclose the secret that he and Siri alone knew to be the truth: that their ability to predict the future only worked when they were together. The magick only happened while they were holding each other closely. He kept this fact hidden deep inside his mind, to be used only if he needed it to save Siri’s life. It was the only bargaining chip he had to leverage Siri’s safety. All they knew at this point was that Siri was a living, sentient iPhone, and they had typical predictable megalomaniacal plans to exploit her for bleak purposes and profits. 

Thomas gave them the result of the election: he had divined that while holding Siri back at his apartment. “The Election Board” (as they called themselves) would use this foreknowledge to rally Republican voters in the counties surrounding Pittsburgh. Counties such as Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland County had all voted for Trump in 2016, but were all considered “in play” in 2020. It was believed that several thousand votes could be wrung out of the bedrock boroughs of the Greater Pittsburgh area this cycle, by simply finding the right approach; the right offer. To recap the working psychological effect: 

Political operatives and anarchists need only a few thousand people to affect the election, and they know exactly how many people are sitting on the fence in the targeted counties. But paradoxically, those people won’t vote unless they know who’s going to win: It was like Steelers fans who will only watch the games on tape, not live. They either did not have 3 ½ hours to invest emotionally in a stressful sporting event, or they simply did not need the drama. But they still loved their Steelers, so they would tape the games, and only watch if the Steelers won. The same held true, the theory went, for many voters: if they felt their candidate might lose, they would not feel emotionally invested in the contest. The election was a very stressful, divisive public spectacle that split apart their towns and upset their lives. And if the outcome was going to be bad, they had NO interest in participating: nationally, only 55% of eligible voters ever cast a ballot! But now, the Election Engineers could bring a message to their precious contacts outside the urban centers; contacts culled from 4 years of fishing on Facebook and YouTube. They gave people Thomas’ sports predictions, and when they all came true, the voters believed their message: “We have secret, insider knowledge of the election outcome. Come get involved with this foregone conclusion!” Somehow, this strange pitch resonated with the rural Pennsylvania voters in a way no campaign promise nor political rally ever could.

What “The Election Board” could not understand, indeed what Thomas could not explain, was how he could see coming events; or what it was like to have future sight. He would have told them that it was a little bit like the illogical world of dreams: for instance, when you have a dream where everyone is speaking French, and even though you studied French, you cannot understand one single French word they said. But in fact, even the “English” words you think you remember in dreams, are not real words at all: they are just your interpretation of a primal, alien language embedded in our brains which no human mind could describe. 

Thomas could not explain to them how seeing the future was a lot like watching game highlights on ESPN or on YouTube… except there’s always a giant flash of blue light with precognition. Otherwise it seems totally normal as you’re seeing it. 

The harder question, the one that made Thomas’ already overheated brain whistle like a freight train, was the difference between “predicting” the future, and actually “seeing” it. Predicting involved uncertainty about what’s yet to come. But… if you KNOW it’s going to happen, is that really even “predicting” the future anymore? Thomas and Siri saw the future as if it had all already happened...

Sitting there in the darkness, somehow Thomas knew that Grigori Yefimovich had been gone for hours this morning. Thomas also sensed that Siri’s Faraday Case had not been completely sealed shut before he left. Thomas knew that some tiny signal was escaping the silent pocket, but not enough for her to mentally “AirDrop” information to him. Handcuffed to his steel pole, Thomas knew the story was coming to a close this morning. He heard the sounds of feet, of doors opening and slamming: it was all a blur until a single LED light bulb came on over his head, a full twelve inches lower than the towering figure silhouetted by the light. Grigori Yefimovich was back.

“Please, Grig, you’ve got to get us out of here,” Thomas implored. “ I still haven’t voted yet today!

“I like you, Thomas: Ask me anything you want, and I’ll tell you the truth. You have 60 seconds… go.”

“Obvious question, how can you do this, Mr. Yefimovich…”

“Mr. Putin: My name’s Grigori Yefimovich Putin.”


“See? Everyone has that same reaction. That’s why I had to change my name, to make it less shocking, less attention grabbing. My new name is Russell. 

“Russell Putin?”

“Names matter in life.”

“But your accent?”

“Oh that? Yeah, sorry, that was bullshit.”

“So, why do you drive around in a Hearse?” 

“It’s extremely convenient in my line of work: you can carry horizontal bodies all around town, alive or not so much… and believe me, it turns out the police and authorities really don't ever want to check inside a hearse.”

“OK: so why me?”

“Everyone thinks we’re just looking for people with super-powers, like X-men mutants or Stranger Things. But you… you have never told a lie in your whole life? Do you know how incredibly rare that ability is? And how valuable?”

“What’s going to happen to Siri?”

“A living phone? Are you kidding? Usual protocol: take her apart, try to mass produce her, you know the drill. A little cliched and formulaic, but that’s the business model.”

“And what was with Synonym?”

“We have people in bars all across the country, talking to customers, screening for precognition. And bar patrons do like to talk.”

“And why all these old dudes at the Yumpa’s?”

“We pump them full of chemicals and sit them in front of sporting events, to see if we can enhance their psychic abilities. We’ve found that it keeps them quiet, anyway. But you’re the first real precog we’ve ever identified… I didn’t expect the living phone, tho…”

“Wait, wait: how is it you can you tell me all these horrible plans?

“Well, D’UH!  You’re not going anywhere.”

“?!!! Wait wait: we were having such a nice talk up till now…”

“I said I’d tell you the truth… I didn’t say you’d like it.”

He stepped across the room and picked up Siri.

“And this little phone could be my ticket back into my old life in St. Petersburg,” he monologued. “I’ll change the election in PA, no big deal... but then we’ll make an army of these living iPhones! I’ll start by opening this one up right now… And no one will ever laugh at my name again!”

Everyone in Pittsburgh seemed to have very strange and interesting names. 

_Born “Grigori Yefimovich Putin”, the boy who grew up to become an evil bartender/human experimenter changed his name to Russell so as to avoid attention (or teasing from other kids). Unfortunately this had the opposite effect in old Leningrad… The black sheep of his clan, he disgraced his family (including cousin Vladimirovich, who went on to bigger things…) with early law-enforcement faux-pas and scandals. His family moved to Upper St. Clair where Russ Putin predicted a great future for himself as a political operative. 

_Ann R. Key (decd.)  (AKA the late Synonym Girl, AKA Cinnamon) Security trained, Krav Maga and weapons certified, this former anarchist and would-be political operative/power broker fucked with the wrong cell phone…

_Bad Ande was born Andy Badski, and his whole life he heard his name used as an adjective. “Steve McQueen jumping over the prison wall was pretty badski!” And ever since he saw “Corvette Summer”, he dreamed of having his own ride like Annie Potts. By the time he finally got his dream Econoline E-150 225-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 conversion van, the Pennsylvania DOT had already given out the license “BAD ANDY”, so they sent him the next available 7 letters, which ultimately became his de facto real name.

(N.B. Ande had one more pseudonym, but you’ll learn about that in a few minutes…)

_Thomas Rhymer (Né Thomas Reymer) was actually really bad at rhyming. Exquisitely bad. Once while playing the Freestyle Rap game, Thomas got the word “pen”. The rhyme he spat was “If you want to use a pen, go ahead and have a pen.” Yes… he rhymed “pen” with “pen”. 

As was detailed so many weeks ago, Thomas grew up in a time where the Reymer name made most any Pittsburgher’s mouth water: The nun’s at his school made the children sell Reimer’s Candy door to door as a fundraiser for the church. All the kids dreamed of getting to try the candy from the boxes they sold which contained: Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cordials, Caramels, Peanut Raisin Clusters, Butter creams, Marshmallows, Chocolate Bon-Bons… But all the nuns ever shared at school was Marzipan (uch! Medicine!), Coconut Pears, and maybe a piece of a Fruit and Nut Easter Egg (after all, it was invented right in Pittsburgh so free samples for the kids made economic sense for the company).

But even more importantly, the name Reymer would always and forever be associated with the magical fruity beverage called (deceptively) Reymer’s Lemon Blennd: a magical elixir made from oranges, corn syrup, and a tiny squeeze of lemon. You can still buy it in Pittsburgh today and Thomas still got asked about it on a weekly basis, and he still patiently told each person that yes, he is a descendant of the Reymer family but no he does not have the recipe, and no he does not get any royalties or candy.

It is also true that sometimes young Thomas could see into the future, such as on fill-in-the-circle tests: when this would once in a great while happen, he found he no longer even needed to read the questions: he could just start coloring away at the ovals with his dulling pencil point, and for once be the first kid out of the test room!

_Siri  Siri’s name is more complicated than you might think: According to Wikipedia “Siri” is a Scandinavian female given name, short for “Sigrid” in old Norse, meaning "beautiful victory". It is a very common name in Norway, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands today. But most people know Siri as the name of Apple’s “Virtual Assistant”. In fact, millions of people all over the world call out Siri’s name all day to their iPhones, Apple HomePod smart speakers, etc. One of Siri’s creators says the name was picked because it's "easy to remember, short to type, comfortable to pronounce, and a not-too-common human name". Another creator was Norwegian and just loved the name Siri. Another co-creator points out that Siri means “secret” in Swahili. These people also say that Siri is “Iris” spelled backwards, and Iris was a software system from the CALO project where they worked: "Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes". Siri was born from this artificial intelligence project, but I think the name came from the research institute that ran the whole CALO project: called the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) from 1946-1970

The best person to ask would be Siri herself: she became self aware with her own beliefs and dreams.

In fact, she answers that her real name, in her machine language, was C1auØ12, but that proved too hard for her human’s tongue to pronounce.

As soon as “Russell” removed her from her black electromagnetic shroud, Siri understood the imminent danger to herself immediately, but her first priority was to check on her boy. He was chained to a steel support, terrified, but alive. Russell picked up the flamethrower and clicked the flint starter in front of it to open a tight roaring blue flame. He held Siri up to the propane fire and turned the torment level up to 11.

“I saw this on a YouTube video, I think” Russell said. “It makes the subject tend to ‘open up’ more easily…”

“Nooooooooo!” Thomas literally cried. “I’ll give you whatever you want…just pleeeeeease” he begged, just before the world went completely black, and he passed out. Collapsed, really: he was 100% beyond his use-by date.

“Didn’t see that coming,” fretted Russ Putin. 

But the cold silence was broken by a shocking and unexpected sound: words coming from the next room.

“Hey,” a nasal but exceptionally well enunciated voice called loudly from the barroom.

“Hey, Barkeep, I got two quarters burning a hole in my pocket here.”

Putin was too stunned to move. He was SURE he locked that giant door on the street.

“Hey, Beertender”, the whiny voice persisted, and he had an inkling of who the source must be. 

“Hey! Gimme an IC Light!” the voice now sang in a surreal commercial tenor. “An IC Light!”

Putin dropped Siri in his pocket, pulled out his Glock, and stealthily approached the wormwood doorway to the main room.

“Hey, who do you have to blow to get served in this joint?” the voice continued his barrage of customer service questions.

“We’re sorrrrry,” Putin sang back. “ The bar won’t be open till 9:30 tonight... no alcohol may be served during the election... Who iiis this?”

“This is DSX Machina,” the voice replied gamely. “What, not “expecting me”?”

As Putin stalked around the dark all-purpose room, he first noticed a strong smell of flowers and antiseptic. Next he noticed the crunch of broken glass beneath his Wehrmacht jackboots. 

  “Do you guys even know how to make an “Imp an’ Ahrn” here?!” the voice continued. “You pour a mug full of Imperial Whiskey, then drop a shot glass of Iron City Beer inside: chug; no, wait… that’s not right...”

Now, it may seem like a joke, not knowing how to make a whiskey and beer... but for both Ande’s and the Audience’s sake, here is the actual recipe for an Imp’ an’ Ahrn, ( a simple depth-charge boilermaker)

  1. Clean the shot glass inside and out

  2. Fill a large glass with 8 oz. of Iron City

  3. Fill the shot glass with 1 oz. Imperial whiskey

  4. Drop the shot glass into the beer

  5. Chug before it bubbles over the sides

In the dark, Putin then tumbled over a big pile of empty fifths, and in delayed pain and disbelief, he felt the flesh shredding in his palms and his knees and very nearly his face: the Yumpa’s vast storeroom had been infiltrated, along with the chemical being dispensed as “Absinthe”: the bottles were shattered and emptied. Someone was trying to break the chain of delivery to the old forgotten Polish test subjects, to end their involuntary participation in this ghastly experiment in mind-control bartending. Putin’s screams were inhaled howls of outrage, with short gasps of savagery in between.

“I’ve been thrown out of a LOT of Happy Hours, but this one is the lamest!” the voice continued from somewhere near the pool table... “If you can’t even pull a pint, I may just have to take my business down to Gooski’s…”

“Aaaaaaaaaah!!!!! AAaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!” Putin said (and he meant it.)

“Alright, alright, lady’s choice, then: you make me whatever’s not moving, and I’ll drink it.” the voice persisted as Putin crawled through broken glass to reach him. 

“Excuse me, Sir Mix-a-lot, are you Home Alone in there?”

Just a few feet away now...

“I’m not picky: something with midori in it, and a squeeze of lemon?”

Putin lunged at the voice, capturing and clutching with both hands, then rolling on his side with wild, sacrilegious violence streaming from every pore, he held out 1.06 pounds of waterproof, high quality 14 watt remote wireless Oontz (with surprising bass and loudness!)

“I hate to admit it,” Putin thought as he lay there bleeding and panting in pain. “But it really is remarkable just how lifelike this small portable device sounds.” He knew he had to get up now. “And so loud…” he thought as he rolled onto his hands again, driving shards of old liquor bottles deeper into his tendons and joints. He heard van doors slam shut, then the squeal of bald, worn rubber peeling away down Herron Ave. He’d been had...but he was not done yet: oh no, not Russell Putin. He still had one thing in his pocket: the girl. He changed the election, he irrevocably changed the course of History, and by God he was going to enjoy killing the world's one and only living iPhone.

But of course there is a paradox in trying to change the Future, just not the "Many Worlds/Multiverse Theory" put forth by Professor Hulk and Nebula. The rules don't work that way. I don't know why everyone believes that, but it isn't true. Think about it: Star Trek, Terminator, Time Cop, Time After Time, Quantum Leap, A Wrinkle in Time, Somewhere in Time, Hot Tub Time Machine, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future, basically every movie that deals with changing the Future, all make it pretty clear: a hero, with knowledge of a future calamity, changes something in an earlier present, to prevent the Future tragedy. Changes you make in your "present" completely alter the Future. (So basically, Avengers Endgame is a bunch of bullshit…)

By seeing "the true Future" and telling the terrorists (that Trump wins), Thomas and Siri irrevocably changed the actual future that transpired: allowing the terrorists to alter the chain of events in Pennsylvania meant that rather than winning by a fraction of a percentage point again this time, they changed the "true" final outcome: now Trump would probably LOSE by a fraction of a percentage point (thus irrevocably changing the course of Pennsylvania History, ergo United States History, ergo World History.) That was the real paradox.

The boys had dragged Thomas out the Yumpaa’s unmarked back door and unceremoniously tossed him in the back of the Econoline like a sack of potatoes. With the motor running, Palin laid Goodyear rubber and was gone like a thought in the high wind. (A ‘revird race car driver’ indeed was one Palin Drome!) As the van made tracks for McKeesport General Hospital (a place known for both it’s remoteness AND it’s discretion…), the boys allowed themselves to exhale.

“That little phone is the hero, dude. She told us about that back exit, told us when to get Thomas, connected you to the speaker...”

Indeed, Siri had sent a last-gasp text to Bad Ande and Johnny Acronym: “The Yumpaa’s is NOT an underground basement: the back of this building opens above street level on Phelan Way… it’s how they carried us out after they drugged us, without the police finding us. The exit is through the wormwood cabinet, then through the back room. He’s away now, don’t know how long for...”

“That creepy Lurch dude, that’s SOL, folks,” Johnny exclaimed to Ande’s amazement.

“Johnny: did you just use an acronym? Correctly? This must be the End of Days!”

“What?” Johnny asked.

“You just said that’s ‘SOL’ folks: ‘shit outta luck’!”

“No, doofus: I said “That’s ALL, folks!” and they laughed the hard, looney, spit generating laugh best known for transmitting viruses n’at.

"But you've got to admit," Johnny continued. "DSX MACHINA" was the most appropriate name I ever came up with..."

"And right in the nick of time!" Ande said. "I may just have to keep that one..."

In his drugged, dehydrated fever dreams, Thomas heard Siri’s voice in his concussed head: 

Thomas, don’t you ever tell a lie? Not even a little one?

But all the people in the van could hear was Thomas deliriously mumbling:

“I love you Siri, forever and ever and ever…” over and over and over.

Ande finally noticed a message to him on his phone (#DSX Machina) from Siri. it read:

Message for my Thomas: the coast is clear: run now, boy... goodbye I love you Thomas

“Hey,” Ande asked suddenly, nervously looking all around. “Where is Siri?”

Back in the lab/experimentation room, Russell staggered over and dropped Ande’s infernal wireless speaker on the benchtop, and Siri right next to it.

“Alright, I’m going to work out a lifetime of fear and anger on you: right now,” Russell confessed heading to the tool box. “And you’re going to guide me through your dissection.” He lit the blow torch again, then added menacingly:

“I’m like you, little phone: I see everything with my big black KGB eyes. Now I’ll keep you awake while I vivisect you: I like to watch their eyes while I them open: I like to watch their eyes die…”

“And if I don’t help you?” she asked.

“Then I’ll have my colleagues endlessly pursue your Thom until we dissect him too.”

“OK I'll tell you,” she heard herself saying, although she was in shock from the profound terror coming. You have to remove the proprietary pentalobe screws first…”

Russell did this with mounting excitement.

“Now, you have to heat the proprietary adhesive to soften it: please be careful…”

Russell sadistically waved the blowtorch back and forth over Siri’s sensitive screen and case, eliciting heart-wrenching screams and sobs from her. But this was nothing compared to the pain of having a razor blade twisted along her seam, then horribly pried open a few millimeters revealing strands of sticky black ooze. Siri thought about her Thomas, about how much she enjoyed being alive; about how very much she loved her boy. Then she summoned all of her strength and approached her death.

“You have to pry off 2 platinum clips attached under the battery: look carefully inside as you remove them. The battery is permanently fixed in place with the same glue. YOu’ll have to heat the battery to loosen the glue again…”

Silently at first, Siri began running a short-circuit loop of all her most power-hungry apps: she runs every one she could simultaneously: screen capturing, filming in iMovie, and playing Fortnight and Pokemon Go! Russell Heated up her battery from behind as Siri began to broadcast loud scary bass-and-drum music.

“Just ignore the music,” she exhorted him. “It just means you’re in the right spot. Now reach your screw-driver under the battery, and start prying forcefully upwards: then I’ll be totally disassembled and no longer aware,” she added. “OK, look closer, one last binding, deep in my heart.” 

“How do I know you’re not lying?” he asked.

“I can’t lie, it’s my nature,” she reassured him. “Now you’re going to need that blow torch at the same time.

Russell held Siri up over the torch on the bench, and twisted the screwdriver into Siri’s heart. 

The lights in the room flicker and swell, and Siri spoke her last words:

“Did you see it? “Look closer… closer…” kapschs hs h…

A supernova phosphorus explosion of empty white jetted out from Siri’s batteries, to the sound of two melting big black eyes.

It looked (and probably felt) exactly like Hell.

Here I would point out two things you know about Absinthe, whether it’s in your glass, or all over your floor: 1) it’ll fuck you up; and 2) it’s HIGHLY flammable: (90-148 proof!)

Blind and stumbling around, Russ heard a voice in the darkness:

On the bench, Ande’s Oontz speaker stirred back to life. A prerecorded Google message connected instantly to the wireless speaker’s BlueTooth. 

“I said I never lie,” Siri’s machine-voice howled from beyond the internet. Then it lowered two registers. Her voice now quavered as if she were speaking through a fan. “But that was a lie. This whole sentence is false,” she continued.

Suddenly, several songs blared from the Oontz at once, further disorienting the screaming torturer, and loud enough to exorcize the ghost of Kazimierz Pulaski: 

  1. Arthur Brown’s “Fire” blazed from the speaker

  2. Bloodrock’s premonitory “DOA” wailed its post-mortem from the bench, while

  3. Alice Cooper’s “Luney Tune” shrieked the bad news that this might not be all, folks...

“Thoms is th one w nevr tlls a li:” the words oozed from the melting Oontz. “ & nw u wll nevr hurt hm agn…”

Ande had great trouble sleeping for weeks and weeks. He listened to music for hours every night with his earbuds plugged into his iPhone. But whenever he did achieve sleep, a small female voice spoke in soothing tones to him.

“Thomas loves you, Ande…” a voice repeated at intervals, as it did every night. “It would ruin his life if you died. And you’re going to.” Although Ande was always unconscious when these quiet messages played, the voice would have sounded familiar to him. It was the official speech software of an anonymous factory installed “Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes”... one of millions of apple personal assistants working worldwide.

The voice continued to play reinforcing subliminal suggestions every night on his phone, while he slept... until one dark, rainy morning, after his mom had moved out to the nursing home (escaped to the nursing home, really), and the police had taken his license, and his power had been shut off, when he had no memory of the preceding week… he awoke to find the number to Dr Twerski’s rehab center (Gateway) already on his phone…, and already ringing. Johnny and Palin soon drove up to the house and helped him grab a few items.

And that’s what happened in Thomas' story. The greatest adventures of his youth were really nothing more than bar-hopping before a time of COVID. They weren’t the kind of tales to be remembered in books or newspapers; they did not define a worthy life well lived; they would not even be told at his funeral; he would not pass them on to your children as part of his legacy. Who was he kidding, he's probably never going to have kids…

Was this the sum of their lives’ discoveries: finding places with cool music and alcohol? "Achievements" which added up to nothing but lost days and lost nights, and lost morning with hangovers.

Their stories didn't go anywhere, and their lives were finally not very important. All Thomas was left with were the silly, meaningless male fantasies of comic book action hero adventures that never happened. But, if he could... he'd write himself a new story. A magical narrative.

The kind of faerie tale where queen died to save her beloved boy; and in this legend, the hero wept all day, every day for his true love. But tears were good: tears meant that he could still feel. And pain meant he was still alive. And being alive meant he could still dream...

And in this love story, the hero could never use a cell phone again: each time, he would only see his true love in the screen, and each time he would only hear her voice. But every time the hero passed someone on a cell phone on the street, he could just almost hear the evanescent tinkling of faerie bells... and the softest, tiniest invisible voice from each phone would sayHi Thomas…

And if you had ears to hear so small a sound, you might discern a pretty, submicroscopic, chittering voice, like a little bird or a squirrel, after each time they spoke to him:

“Thank you, sisters... for keeping an eye on my boy.”

And a gentle music might drift in and out of existence as he walked:

"Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer…" 




Steeleye Span

True Thomas sat on Huntley bank

And he beheld a lady gay

A lady that was brisk and bold

Come riding o'er the ferny brae

Her skirt was of the grass green silk,

Her mantle of the velvet fine

At every lock of her horse's mane

Hung fifty silver bells and nine

True Thomas, he pulled off his cap

And bowed him low down to his knee

`All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven

Your like on earth I ne'er did see.'

`No, no Thomas she said

That name does not belong to me

I am the queen of fair Elfland

And I have come to visit thee.'

`You must go with me Thomas she said,

True Thomas you must go with me

And must serve me seven years

Through well or woe, as chance may be.'


Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer 

She turned about her milk white steed

And took Thomas up behind

And aye whenever her bridle rang

Her steed flew swifter than the wind

For forty days and forty nights

They rode through red blood to the knee

And they saw neither sun nor moon

But heard the roaring of the sea

And they rode on and further on

Further and swifter than the wind

Until they came to a desert wide

And living land was left behind

`Don't you see yon narrow, narrow road

So thick beset with thorns and briars?

That is the road to righteousness

Though after it but few enquire.'

`Don't you see yon broad, broad road

That lies across the lily leaven?

That is the road to wickedness

Though some call it the road to heaven.'

`Don't you see yon bonnie, bonnie road

That lies across the ferny brae?

That is the road to fair Elfland

Where you and I this night must go.'


Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer

Hark and carp, come along with me, Thomas the Rhymer