27 April 2015

Baltimore Mourns

Baltimore, Maryland. . .a community unites to mourn America's latest victim of police terror.  Freddie Gray was laid to rest today, and his funeral cast a somber pall over a heartbroken city.  Residents of the blue collar harbor town struggled to overcome their grief as they remembered the short, hopeless life of the young housing project resident who somehow had his spinal cord severed while in the custody ('the act of protecting or taking care of something') of the Baltimore police department.  Just 25 years old, but with a poisoned past (literally, as the hapless Gray was disabled from lead poisoning suffered in the shabby Maryland council flat he grew up in) and with nothing to look forward to, Gray lived and died as untold millions of other red, white or black American bottom feeders: human litter.  Being colored, Gray's death had a particularly sobering effect on Baltimore's black population, who recognized in the senseless demise yet another reminder of the grim legacy of the African diaspora in America, a land where, at its best, Africans were valued at sixty percent of regular human beings.  Weeping bitter tears as they gazed upon Gray's lifeless body in its white casket in the New Shiloh Baptist Church, Baltimore's beleaguered blacks prayed for a fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8:

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it.

And then, in a seeming stunning answer to prayer, just moments after Gray was lowered into the grave, the sorrowful faces of a suffering city were turned to joy, as the wealth of the sinners was laid up for the just. . .   

21 April 2015

French Connection II

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One of the great mistakes in the history of film criticism is the prevailing view that French Connection II is a failed movie. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In fact, John Frankenheimer's FC II is a masterpiece, and far superior to William Friedkin's grossly over-rated The French Connection. The interesting thing is, if TFC hadn't been so run-of-the-mill, FC II wouldn't have been so great. Just as Shakespeare gutted other authors' mediocre work and rewrote the muck into classics of the English language, Frankenheimer removed the only decent part of Friedkin's TFC, the character Popeye Doyle, a crank-kOOk NYPD narcotics detective (a showy Gene Hackman performance), and crafted one of film's greatest character studies in FC II. To explain how Frankenheimer did this, we must first look at TFC:

The French Connection (barely) told the story, in a fill-in-the-huge-gaps plot, of Popeye Doyle and his partner (played by the anorexic Roy Scheider) stumbling onto an international heroin smuggling operation run by a Frenchman named Alain Charnier (or, in Doyle's provincial vernacular, Frog 1). TFC has all the tired cliches we see in 21st century American cop/action movies: a renegade detective with a personnel file full of write-ups who alternately begs and brow-beats his lieutenant to convince him he's onto the Big One, and after finally getting the OK to work the case, he, of course, must work with the feds, who, of course, he butts heads with, and the resulting frustration of this, and his shitty life in general, drives him, of course, to drink and whore a lot, which, of course, his whiny partner disapproves of. The movie plods along with its head-scratching plot, broken-up with frequent fights and chases, until the final big shoot-out. The End (though TFC's end is an abrupt question mark).

It's not simply the case that 40 years of cop/action movies later TFC seems tired, trust me, the cop/action film genre was already tired back in 1971 when TFC was first released. And TFC's action was pretty inert by today's standards, excepting the famous car/elevated train chase, as most of the rest of the *action* consisted of Doyle and assorted other cops trying hard not to be spotted while following the heroin smugglers as they walked at a snail's pace through *the gritty mean streets* of New York. Anyway, what wasn't tired back in '71 was Hackman's star turn. Hackman took a cardboard cut-out cop character and breathed new life into it. Hackman was so hammy good, his Popeye relentless both in his violence and verbal tomfoolery, he tricked people into thinking TFC was a great movie. But trust me, it's not. I guarantee if you've never seen TFC, but you've heard it won the Academy Award and is supposedly an American classic, you'd be disappointed if you watched it today.

And as great as Hackman was in TFC, he was still just a one-trick pony, a porkpie Mad Hatter. There are only about 20 seconds of screen time when Popeye isn't drinking, fighting, chasing or cracking-wise. We see two quick shots of him staring at leggy young women in go-go boots, with this boot fetish being the only psychological depth to his character. . .

This leads us to:

French Connection II, in which John Frankenheimer asks, who the Hell is this crazy fucker Popeye Doyle? The answer he gave monumentally disappointed the critics. Why? Because Frankenhemier puts Popeye on trial in FC II, a I Corinthians 3:13 trial:

Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.

Critic after critic wept bitter tears to see the great TFC's Popeye Doyle tried by fire in FC II. Here's a representative example of the critics anguish at Popeye's fate in FC II, from the late-this-time-not-so-great Roger Ebert:

Popeye was something unique among film characters, and Hackman deserved the Oscar he won for the performance in The French Connection. But whatever Popeye was, he wasn't a clown, and that's what he comes disturbingly close to looking like in French Connection II. . .Here's a guy whose competence, whose ability to function at a gut level, whose street instincts made him a new and original kind of movie cop. And now he's being used for comic relief and stripped of his dignity.

Total misreading of the movie and the character, because Ebert, like most of the critics, refused to believe Doyle could be anything other than the simplistic one-dimensional hero TFC painted him as. But he was a cartoon character in TFC, for crying out loud! It's not for nothing he was called Popeye!

In FC II, Frankenheimer shows us a *real* Popeye Doyle, *real* in the sense we are shown a psychologically valid character, and not just a cocky, demented, funnily unfunny robocop. . . 

How did FC II accomplish this?  Very early in FC II Popeye barks to a French cop I'd rather be a lamppost in New York than the President of France.  But that's precisely because Popeye was far more than a lamppost in his New York.  In his New York, the New York of the mythical *gritty mean streets,* Popeye was more than a President, he was the Law, and could do as he pleased.  In TFC, Popeye is a perpetual motion cop, unimpeded (excepting an occasional empty threat from his lieutenant) by any external force, free to exercise his own questionable judgment, and, if that questionable judgment resulted in a dead body or two, he nonetheless remained equally free to just stampede into the next crime scene, never having to stop and be questioned, and, more significantly, never having to stop and question himself.  But in FC II, Popeye is relocated to Marseilles, where he is not the Law. . .or even a lamppost.  Not allowed to carry a gun, and facing a language barrier that disarms his verbal violence, he's left naked and clueless at how to proceed.  By taking the one-dimensional Popeye of TFC out of his element, and placing him as a stranger in the strange land of Marseilles in FC II, Frankenheimer forces Popeye to slow down, and in one masterful, shattering segment, to come to a complete stop.  In FC II, we see Popeye alone with himself, and he's forced to do something we never see in TFC: examine himself.  FC II is Popeye's *dark night of the soul,* and it's as riveting an action film as has ever been shot, even though the action is almost all psychological.

One way in which FC II resembles TFC is in its thin, fill-in-the-gaps plot.  Popeye believes the NYPD sends him to Marseilles because he's the one guy who can identity Frog 1 (though it's eventually revealed it's the other way around, Popeye's been betrayed by the home team). The French cops, of course, don't want him around, and pack him off to a dirty corner next to the shitter.  Meanwhile, Frog 1 is working on another big heroin deal, this one somehow connected to the US military.  Frog 1, by chance, spots a forlorn Popeye killing time watching hot French girls in a beach volleyball game, and, of course, becomes alarmed.  Frog 1 has his goons kidnap Popeye, and in an attempt to discover what Popeye has learned (nothing) about his latest deal, gets the indefatigable hero of TFC strung out on heroin. . .which leads to:

French Connection II's infamous *intermission,* a 35 minute sequence in the middle of the film displaying, in often agonizing detail, Popeye's addiction and cold turkey recovery. Popeye, who had been a one man action movie unto himself in TFC, is now brought to a standstill, forced to face his own limitations.  The heroin breaks Popeye down, reducing him to an almost infantile state, weeping and crying out for help.  As he s-l-o-w-l-y recovers, he reveals just enough about his childhood and young adulthood to the French cop who nurses him back to health to let the viewer know he's been surveying his whole life.  

His trial by the fire of heroin reveals to Popeye his life and his work, neither of which look quite as grand in Marseilles as they did in New York.  It's a baptism-by-needle, from which Popeye emerges reborn, wiser about himself and the world around him.  He remains as relentless as ever in his pursuit of Charnier, but has had just enough of his rough edge smoothed away to be able to work with the French police, enabling him one last chance to chase down Frog 1.

And what a chase it is (actually, for all the moaning and groaning from critics about the pace of FC II, the movie never drags, and the action scenes are far superior to those of TFC), parts of it shot from Popeye's increasingly fevered point of view.  It seems like Popeye runs across half of Marseilles, chasing Frog 1's trolley car, then his yacht.  Popeye runs and runs, sweating, panting, grunting and groaning, his run turning into a trot, then a stumble, and then, on the point of collapse, he finally gets Frog 1 in his sights. . .and FC II comes to an even abrupter end than TFC

Hackman is even better in FC II than he was in TFC, as this Popeye is far more complex.  Popeye arrives in Marseilles a *hero* American cop, crashes to rock bottom, then pulls himself back up, in the process becoming a more genuine heroic character.  Hackman's portrayal of Popeye's psychological and physical rehabilitation is always completely believable.  

TFC featured New York's *gritty mean streets,* whereas FC II gives us ratty Marseilles, with the night scenes especially seedy, Marseilles seems to glow with the same kind of human ruin as Van Gogh's Night Cafe, a fitting setting for Popeye's heroin nightmare.

There is no question about it, the critics totally missed FC II. . .because they wanted another two hours of the Popeye of TFC, an invincible keystone kop.  Critics such as Ebert felt the Popeye character was betrayed by FC II's script (as Popeye in the script is betrayed by the NYPD), and they could not stand to see TFC's beloved hero reduced to tears of regret, as he is in the great cold turkey scene.  As for Ebert's charge Popeye is almost a clown, a figure of comic relief, if he is a clown, he is a sad clown, and the comic relief is always discomforting.  Frankenheimer has Popeye broken down in Marseilles so Popeye (and the viewer) can understand how empty he had become, just a 24/7 badge.  Popeye will leave Marseilles and return to New York as a healed man.  Thus, the historical negative critical assessment of FC II is juvenile, reflecting the childish awe and uncritical embrace of TFC's unthinking violence, which, of course, is a hallmark of the American character.  Though completely misunderstood in its native country, French Connection II is an American masterpiece. 
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I See Men As Trees, Walking

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Probably what happened is some nearsighted white cop was patrolling the park after dark, and he saw what he thought was a skinny black kid waving his arms around all crazy, like he was on bath salts or something.  Naturally the white cop feared for his life, and ordered the skinny black kid to get down on the ground.  When the black kid *resisted,* the white cop, in fear for his life, pulled out his gun and shot the skinny black kid, he had to fire off 6 rounds before the kid finally dropped.  The nearsighted white cop then cautiously approached the body, whereupon he discovered it was just a tree that he had shot, a skinny little tree that had been waving in the wind, and not a skinny black kid high on bath salts.   The white cop then saw the Michael Brown memorial plaque.  "Oh, shit!  What do I do?  What do I do?  Maybe if I take the plaque, nobody will notice?"

America, where more trees get killed by cops than by terrorists. . .

14 April 2015

OBEY

Ha ha ha ha. . .

Oh, man. . .

I canceled my cable about 15 years ago. . .FOX was crap back then, and judging from this clip, it must be even worse, now.

First of all, who is the talking head?  She looks half-an-Afrikan, herself, and here she is blaming all these murders-by-cop on the "minority" victims.  Is she some Uncle Tom Sowell sell-out with a cunt?  Or just some shit-tinted white?

But anyways. . .

Look at that demonic flag waving in the background while the mudperson talking head demands we OBEY the po-lice.  Can you imagine the (brain-damaged) minds of the sheeple who voluntarily watch this shit?  The unthinking sheeple who automatically believe the po-lice and the state are always justified in their use of violence?  Who don't give a shit if some raggedy-ass "minority" is shot and killed over some trivial traffic violation, because the "minority" didn't OBEY, like they do?  And the sheeple unashamedly admit they need to be TRAINED by their masters, as some nitwit named "Larry" (probably watching FOX with his buddies Curly and Moe) does with his *instapol* comment:

The general public needs to be trained to be more sensitive to the police and show them the respect they deserve. . .

If "Larry" is real, and not some government social media bot sent to tweet to the American lemmings, then he cannot be in control of his own mind. . .he's one of the tens upon tens of millions of Americans living in an altered state of consciousness, submitting to the will of the government, and thinking and acting against his own best interest.

The general public needs to be trained to be more sensitive to the police and show them the respect they deserve. . .

Ha ha ha. . .

If the po-lice were shown the respect they deserve, some of these murders-by-cop might actually be done by po-lice who genuinely "feared for their life."

How many millions voluntarily watch FOX, with the demonic flag waving in their face and the talking head/state propagandist demanding they OBEY?

If Thomas Jefferson were to come out of his grave and watch the above video, he'd take out his pen and write something like this:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants and propagandists.  It is its natural manure. . . 

08 April 2015

The *Singularity*

The Daily Star, 4 April 2015: An increasing number of low income Japanese men and women are permanently living in tiny dark cubicles at internet cafes where they play video games in their spare time while saving on rent. Known as 'internet cafe refugees', they spend every night washing, sleeping and eating at the gaming centres in between what is usually low-paid and menial employment, the People's Daily Online reported. The trend started in the 1990s with some young men spending a growing amount of their time playing video games, and then graduating into low paid mindless jobs, which occupied the space in between going back to the cafe.

Eventually they moved permanently into the 24-hour cafes, which have cubicles where the computer user can fall asleep as well as bathrooms where they can freshen up before heading off to work. One such refugee is 26-year-old Fumiya, who works as a security guard on a construction site in between spending the rest of his time at the internet cafe. He is spotted in the documentary chain-smoking and using the computer. He said, “I originally wanted an apartment of course but it was expensive here in the city, so I decided to just live at the Internet cafe. I spent most of my time there anyway hanging out, so it wasn't really much of a step to spend the rest of my time there. I must admit it is not that easy to sleep here, you never feel rested because there's always noises and disturbances going on around but it's got great facilities. I had hoped I'd be able to save some money but it doesn't really work out like that. It's just getting me from one day to the next.”


The Prophets of the twin modern gods Science and Technology herald the coming of the *Singularity,* the Great Day when the power of computers, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence surpass the human ability to comprehend it. Not only will the world be fundamentally changed, say the Prophets, but mankind, also. Machine intelligence will fuse with the human nervous system, nanobots will patrol the circulatory system and human beings will return to the days of Noah, when life spans reached 500+ years. And when the body eventually ceases to function, the human *soul* (our personality and memories, according to the technicians) will be granted an eternity in a software after-life. [Hell, I suppose, will consist of having your soul hacked by a bored 150 year old tween, and downloaded to serve as a sacrifice in a 23rd century update of Crazy Goat.]  Robots will perform most of the work, leaving humans to live their centuries-long lives accepting government handouts.  (If only this were true! Then the greatest single achievement of the *Singularity* would be the disappearance of all republicans from the face of the earth within 20 - 50 years).

But if the essence of the *Singularity* is mankind left disoriented by the scientific and technological gadgets surrounding him, and with no meaningful labor to occupy his time, then the Prophets are wrong, the Great Day of the *Singularity* is not still to come, but is already here, as evidenced in the sepulchral video above. . .

One can look at Japan's forlorn net cafe refugees as tiny seeds which shall grow into the earth-covering garden of the Kingdom of the *Singularity.*  But when the garden is in full bloom, those such as the two misfits in the video will be left to wither, for the world will not be fundamentally changed.  It will still be a world of gross income inequality, with the 1% wearing *Singularity's* new clothes, and the poor left out to die.  Any who imagine the Kingdom of *Singularity* as a friend to the poor, with a benevolent operating system doling out a life support system to billions of useless eaters, must assume the *Singularity* will bring not only a biotechnological change to humanity, but a spiritual change, as well.  Human history unambiguously shows the rich caretake the poor only to keep them tilling their soil, digging their mines and fighting their wars.  With robots and artificial intelligence to maintain their existence, is it reasonable to expect the 1% to keep the poor as house pets?

The Kingdom of the *Singularity* can only mean the final harvest of the poor. . .

[But if we recall Jesus' words for ye have the poor with you always, the rich might not, after all, get to enjoy the fruit they expect from the *Singularity*. . .]

But what of the 1%? Will they be a new creation? The outcome of a New Age of *evolution?*

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. . .The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us.

The four hundred year old homo machina with a microchip in his nose, supposing himself to have transcended the boundary between the temporal and the eternal, will be nothing more than a sci-fi Papuan boy on his first return from the bush, and awarded a bone through the nose to mark his passage from childhood to adulthood. . .

Returning to the here and now, a few remarks on the video's two net cafe refugees.  The young man Fumiya, the 26 year old part-time security guard, doesn't see the hopelessness of his situation.  He imagines a better job paying more money would improve his life. And of what does this *improved life* consist?  An apartment to sleep in.  A larger, quieter cubicle.  He dreams, then, of being a poor American, who can still manage a shabby apartment on Walmart wages.

Fumiya says that prior to having to take up permanent residence in the net cafe, he spent most of his time hanging out there, anyway, so his *quality of life* has remained essentially unchanged. This tells us Fumiya's leisure hours were mainly spent in search of electronic distraction.  The video shows Fumiya isolated in a dark, tiny space, staring blankly at a screen.  Minus the $15-a-night black cubicle, this, of course, is the picture of the entire Western and Pacific Rim millennial generation.  A generation of isolated youth, confining themselves to just enough space to sit hunched over a screen, whether it be in their bedroom, a coffee shop, or the school cafeteria.

This is the *quality of life* the *Singularity* offers the poor from here on out. . .

Not that it's any worse than any past *quality of life,* as we learn from the second net cafe refugee featured in the video, the older gentleman Tadayuki, the former credit card company *salaryman.*  Tadayuki had the kind of *good job* Fumiya thinks could better his life, but, as is commonly said, experience is the best teacher.  Tadayuki had a *good job* for twenty years, and it drained the life out of him, leaving him with the near-universal 21st century diagnosis: depression.

For Tadayuki, still recovering from the trauma of his twenty year *career,* the cramped, stuffy cell of the net cafe is a breath of fresh air.  Is it unreasonable to say Tadayuki had been a fairly typical Western/Pacific Rim worker bee?  If so, what does that tells us about modern man's *quality of life?*

For twenty long years Tadayuki died every day.  A credit card bureaucrat, he performed the *free market's* most esteemed labor, making money out of thin air.  I suppose some would see Tadayuki as a failure, a loser unable to *hack it* at his job.  But in their hearts, don't most Western/Pacific Rim workers know their professions are meaningless?  And yet they return to work day-after-day, year-after-year, decade-after-decade.  Tadayuki had the courage to try to salvage his life.  He tells us: my heart was singing when I quit!  What a hero! The courage to quit!  The courage to try to find life. . .

The Kingdom that has been, is the Kingdom that shall be. . .

The coming Kingdom of the *Singularity* claims to offer a new human creation and a new way of living, but what we can see of it in its already present form doesn't measure up.  The new way of living will be just as deadening as the old way. . .

Tadayuki lives with hope at the moment, believing he may find life outside of Japan. . .but what will happen to him if he leaves Japan and finds life on earth is the same everywhere?  Perhaps then he could take the leap of faith, and look for life in the Kingdom of Heaven. . .

02 April 2015

The Artificial Mouse

All that walk on two legs have forsaken me. . .

I forgive my children.  It is right for them to put me, a relic, aside, and seek their own way to the Truth.  In their day, if they conclude I set them on the right path, then let them bless my memory. . .

All that walk on two legs have forsaken me. . .

In fact, I forgive all, for who am I that I should not be forsaken?

Do they forgive me?

Rico is pretending with his artificial mouse. . .

It is Rico who stands with me, at the end.  Behold the cat.  From the bottom half of his nose down his mouth, chin and front of his neck and chest, he is pure white.  From the top half of his nose back over the eyes and ears, down the back of the neck, he is gray, with black and dark gray stripes, so that it appears he wears a Super Hero's mask. . .

Rico chokes the artificial mouse in his mouth, slinks three slow, proud paces, then jerks his head and tosses the artificial mouse into the air, bats it to the ground with his paws, then pounces on it.  He sits there a few seconds, looks around, then wearily walks away, abandoning the artificial mouse.  He used to pretend with the artificial mouse for much longer, battling it all around the house.  Poor Rico.  Poor Rico.  He must be bored with the artificial mouse.  Like some old time convict, staring at the same pin-up poster girl year-after-year in a cold gray prison cell. . .

I pick up Rico, hold his face close to mine.

"I've done you wrong," I tell him.

There is no condemnation in his lemon-lime eyes, only the serene blank stare of a creature who has accepted what cannot be changed.

I set Rico down.  He climbs into his bed, a cardboard Amazon.com box lined with an old blue towel.

It's a quarter to twelve on a frigid February night. . .

Meijer is open 24 hours. . .

I put on my coat.  Rico lifts his head as I open the front door.

"Sleep on," I tell him.

I have to brush snow off the car windows, and there is frost beneath.  My fingers ache as I scrape the windshield.   As I make my way around the car, my shoes cake with snow.  There's another engine running a few spaces down.  Lights are on in several of the council flats.  So there are other people, still.  I haven't been out in two days. The black sky hangs low, no stars, no moon, nothing but black going on and on and on, the bottomless pit waiting above me.

My old Honda Civic's heater only blows cold air on the short drive to the store.  A few cars pass by heading in the opposite direction, whether that be east, west, north or south.  Where could they possibly be going?  Nothing that has happened makes sense.  I am absolutely certain as I drive to the artificial mouse store nothing in the entire human history has been necessary.  Other than the crucifixion, of course.  All the rest?  Pointless.

There are more shopping carts than cars in the Meijer parking lot.  A bum is panhandling in front of the store.  I blow right by him.  The automatic door shuts behind me before he can even tell me what he needs the *couple bucks* for.  A sandwich? Bus fare?  Or the truth, some intoxicant?  But the truth is, he doesn't need anything.  None of us need anything.  We can just fall into the grave, and it's all the same.

On my way to the pet supplies section, I pass three young women laughing and huddled around a smartphone in the frozen foods aisle.  When was the last time I was with a group of friends?  I was with my two sons often, of course, until a few years ago, but with friends?  Decades.  Decades.  I suppose not since I was the laughing girls age.

There's a fat woman by the cold cuts.  Bologna, ham.  Her cart is loaded with garbage food.  And a little girl in a dirty white parka, munching from a box of animal crackers.  It's past midnight.  For God's sake, it's past midnight.  

I hear it:


Sweet babe, a golden cradle holds thee
Soft a snow-white fleece enfolds thee
Fairest flower all strewn before thee
Birds warble o'er thee
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló

Oh who is this a-lying here
Gently at the door of my heart
To and fro like clouds at night
I softly rock your cradle
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló

A yellow moon lies in the sky
Streaming, falling over the earth
Hush, a leanna, hush, be still
The world is silent and sleeping
Seoithín seo ló, seoithín seo lú la ló


He didn't remember.  My youngest son.  He couldn't fall asleep.  The crib a lake of fire.  Then I found a cd with the cradle song, sung by the angel Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.  I'd put it on repeat on the portable disc player as I carried the little man around his room.  7:45 pm, every night.  At first, fifteen times in a row, the cradle song, in the darkened room.  Every night.  Fifteen times.  Then, a dozen times.  Ten times.  A half-dozen.  After a couple months, once or twice, and he was out.  I asked him, when he was in junior high school, or maybe high school, if he remembered the angel Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and the cradle song.  "Who?  What?"  To carry him around his little room, listening to the angel in the dark, fifteen or twenty minutes a day of peace.  God how I hated it when he fell asleep, and I had to lay him down in his crib, close the door quietly behind me and go back into the world. . .

He doesn't remember.  Of course not, he wasn't even eighteen months old. He'll never know what it meant to me, those few moments in the dark, listening to the angel while he, while we, escaped the world's millstone. . .

What does it matter if anyone forgives me or not?  I live, all the same.

Smarty Cat Skitter Critters
3 pk Catnip Mice

Rico will love these.  Poor bastard.  I grab a pack, and then wander round the rest of the pet supplies, see if there is anything else he would like.  There's a cat bed.  Round.  It looks comfortable.  'Self-Warming Cat Bed.'  I read the tag: "The sleep surface of the bed incorporates a layer of self-warming material that reflects the pet's own body heat. Uses the same technology as 'space blankets.'"  The technological cat bed.  Even the animals must submit to the New Order of the Ages.  $29.99.  Poor Rico.  Poor, poor Rico.  Poor bastard.  He's not a '1%er.'  Well, according to the tradition, even Jesus had to sleep in a   

"What kind have ye?"

I nearly jump.  Out of nowhere an old woman is suddenly standing right next me.  An old, old woman.  Stooped, wrinkled, long dirty gray hair. Where the Hell did she come from?

"What kind have ye?" she asks again, in her hag's voice.

"Uh. . .it's just. . .it's just cardboard."

"Cardboard is it?  Hee hee hee hee!  A cardboard cat!" she sneers.  

"Cat?  No."  I point at the shelves in front of us.  "I thought you meant what kind of cat bed."

She rubs a gnarled hand over her runny crooked nose.

"Want in me bed, do ye?"

Oh God, a lunatick.  A hideous wreck of time.  Creepy and perverse.  Just came out of nowhere.  And materialized right next to me.

"What breed is yourn?"

Breed?  Rico a breed?  Rico a mere breed?  No.  He cannot be reduced to mere breed.  No.  He's more than a cat.  Ha.  There's one for the old bag:

"I got a morethanna."

"Eh?"

Ha.  That's right, old woman.  It's a mystery for me to know.  You are to be left forever outside.

But my God, look at her coat!  An old black wool coat, covered in cat hair.  In the brilliant fluorescent light of the store, I can see cat hairs floating around her.  I'm taken up to her squalid rooms and shown a desolation littered with cat waste, her mattress claw-ripped and stained with urine, human and feline.  Only a lost daughter of Zion, this old bag.  Yes, that's it, isn't it?  In the middle of the night, when only the stores, the servants of mammon, offer refuge. This is the age of 

"Give yourn a pinkie!"

"What?"

"Pinkies is better than them catnip mouses."

What is this poor old demented wretch babbling about?

"What's a pinkie?"

"Pinkies is living mouses.  Living baby mouses.  Naked o' fur."

"Uh. . .ok.  And what do you do with these pinkies?"

"I gives them to me cats."

"You give live mice to your cats?"

She nods.

"Uh. . .so do your cats. . .eat them?"

"No!  Hee hee hee hee!  They just raises Cain with em!"

"Uh-huh.  I guess it would be good exercise for them," I say, trying to be agreeable.  But the old woman doesn't seem to hear me.  It's probably an opportune moment to take my leave.  "Well, you have a nice rest of the night."

"There were one time when Aleister might did eat one.  Or maybe it were Crowley."

"Oh?  Is that right?  Well, uh, it's in their nature, I suppose. Anyway, you have a—"

"One or t'other spit up a mess o' pinkie innards."

"I guess that took a few paper towels, huh?"

"Hee hee hee hee!"

"Well, here's to our cats, ma'am.  And have a good night."

I walk away at a brisk pace, telling myself to not look back. At the self-checkout, paying for the artificial mice, I realize that brief exchange with the old kOOk was the first conversation I've had with another human being in a month, or maybe two months.  And though it was more satisfying than listening to what passes today for a normal person jabbering about a funny video on youtube, I hope to go several more months without talking to anyone.

I leave the store, and there's the panhandler.

"A couple bucks for—"

"You working the graveyard shift?  There's hardly anybody here."

"I missed the last bus.  Can you give something for cab fare?"

A bum calling a cab?  I suppose he has an Obamaphone, but where would he go?

"Cab to where?"

"The shelter."

"They're not going to let you in, this time of night.  You ever read that parable in Matthew Twenty-Five, about the fools who get the door locked on them?"

"You gonna give me some fucking money, or what?"

A filthy talker with sand paper skin and a stubble beard, a dirty stocking cap over greasy hair.  Behold the bum.  Yes, that's it.  Less than human.

"Are you a man or a mouse?" I ask the bum.

"Go fuck yourself!"

"I'll hire you for twenty dollars an hour.  You just have to crawl around the floor and eek like a mouse, while my cat chases you."

The bum takes a step toward me.

"I'll kick your motherfuckin' ass!"

I stand there and look at the bum.  It's cold.  The snow on my shoes melted while I was in the store, and now my shoes and socks are wet, and my toes start to ache. 

"Get the fuck outta here!" the bum says.

The black sky hangs low, no stars, no moon, nothing but black going on and on and on, the bottomless pit waiting above me.  The bum walks away.  I go to my car.

The heater only blows cold air on the short drive home.  A car passes by heading in the opposite direction, whether that be east, west, north or south.  Where could they possibly be going?  There's no point.  What could God be waiting for?

When I open the front door at home, there's Rico, still in his bed, the Amazon.com cardboard box with the old blue towel.  He lifts his head, blinks his drowsy eyes at me, then settles back down to sleep.  I remove the artificial mice from the packaging, place them just outside Rico's box.  He'll be happy when he wakes up.