Of Love

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The following essay is excerpted from “50 Card Tricks You Can Do from Beyond the Grave, or Lost Writings of Francis Bacon.” A maelstrom of controversy has surrounded the recently published manuscript, which was claimed to have been discovered by a Chicago butcher, Charles Gorgopopolis, within the entrails of a slaughtered pig.

Since Bacon died in 1626, that would make the pig over 375 years old, and there are other hints that the book may be apocryphal. In several of the essays the English philosopher refers to his readers as “youse guys” or “regular Joes,” and he makes frequent mention of the Sears Tower and microwave ovens. Although the ink was still wet when he brought the pages to the publisher, Gorgopopolis swore they were written by Bacon, or Bacon’s wife, or at the very least Shakespeare, or possibly Shakespeare’s wife — but definitely someone wearing a goatee.

Authentic or not, the book provides remarkable insight into a man described by some as “a genius for all time,” and by others (including the pig) as “a real stinker.”

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“Love hurteth the heart as a dead mackerel doth offend the nostrils.” Thus spake the Greek general Alcibiades after Socrates had utterly refused his advances for that, as the philosopher saith, “They were not cash advances.” Indeed, for some, love and money are one, although love doth not pay quarterly dividends. Heraclitus hath called love, “That which one cannot step in twice without wiping one’s sandals.” Verily, Heraclitus was an ass.

We may distinguish four varieties of love: the love of parents for their children (when properly seasoned); the love of a boy for his dog; the love between two dogs, a lord chancellor and a bishop in garters; and most wondrous rare, the love between man and wife — so long as it be someone else’s wife. One may also speak of the love between a man and a suit of chain mail, but it would be wise to do so in a whisper if there are others present.

Yea, nor should we confound common love with true love. Common love, or as Chaucer hath writ, “a litel on the side, with bosoms,” is fit only for beasts and advertising account executives. True love, it will be seen, is always signaled by a rash upon the tongue and abdomen, to which diverse ointments may be applied without relief. If a man feel love for a lady, or even for his wife, he will not dip her hairpiece in a blood pudding or break a 16-piece stoneware dining set upon her brow, although when no one else is looking he may slap her lightly about the face and neck with his broadsword, in jest as it were.

Lastly is the love of heaven and things holy. As Dante hath made note in his crippled rhyme:

“Before mortals would know their Creator’s heart,

They first must send candy, or a thank-you card.”

Oft hath it been said in truth, Dante was an imbecile, yet he had beautiful handwriting. For God, like the Marines, is looking for a few good men…better men than Tom Cruise, one can but hope. And the love of God will take all good men on a holy pilgrimage, or perhaps a hayride to Hell — the scriptures are not always clear. But if thou shouldst chance to make pilgrimage to Chicago, and if thou hath a taste for fine porklike killing floor remnants, be sure to pay homage to the Gorgopopolis Sausage Emporium.

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Tsk Of The D’Urbervilles

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In the bright, grassy Midlands of England rises the slightly fictional county of Wesson — a dark ink spot of tragedy among the happily blank pages that surround it. The air is heavier there, oppressive with the sense of eternal sadness and inescapable gloom. The sun does not shine on Wesson, for it has been banned by municipal decree. Neither flowers nor any other living things will bloom there, and the plowmen who homeward plod their weary way raise only Druidic stones from their cursed ash-gray fields. These stones their bony wives bake into a rough black bread very good for the soul but very bad for the teeth. Even this hard fare is thought too kingly by some of the sterner natives, who would rather suck an ice cube than eat a pagan meal. The inhabitants of Wesson know it is no use. They have given up.

Birds will not fly over the county, and the Wesson birds themselves don’t fly at all, remaining stoically perched in the bare trees that blight the countryside. Only when pierced by a sudden, ineluctable sorrow will they cry out, and then only with a mournful death-shriek as they plummet heartbroken to the ground. It was just such a luckless fowl that fell upon the brow of Tsk Durbeyfield where she sat weeping beneath a petrified oak. Though partly concussed and no child of fortune herself, Tsk took the rook in her arms and crooned a pitiful prayer into its dead eyes.

But the bird was not yet dead. With amazing alacrity it rallied to her tune and in its dying frenzy fastened its beak on her nose. For the world is as cruel as its maker, and He cares not a fig if a crow should peck a girl’s face off — even so beautiful a one as Tsk.

Without quite knowing why, she was ashamed. She had not sinned, but she was guilty. After all, there was a dead bird hanging from her nose, and that sort of thing simply was not done in Wesson — at least not in polite society. Like a woodland creature, Tsk knew instinctively that she was the living antithesis of Victorian hypocrisy and repression, yet she also sensed dimly, like the House of Lords, that through a succession of historically inevitable degradations her bucolic existence was fated to end in unearned suffering. And it occurred to her what a smashing novel it all would make, if only Sidney Sheldon had published in the 19th century, or Thomas Hardy in the 21st.

Then she thought of her family — of her father, Mr. Durbeyfield, known somewhat enigmatically as “Sir Speedy;” of her mother, known even more enigmatically as “Mrs. Durbeyfield;” and of her four younger sisters, Liza Lu, Little Lulu, Lockjaw and Old Black Joe. How could she face them now? She laughed bitterly when she recalled their despicable poverty. Why, they were so poor they could not even afford to give her a middle name, and she had to use her first name twice: Tsk Tsk. Was it any wonder she had fallen so far from grace? With girlish simplicity she reflected on the combination of socioeconomic factors that had run her like a rabbit into the briar bush of morality. It was all so confusing! Perhaps Lucifer Jones could help her unravel it. Dear Lucifer — so good, so strong…and so deathly dull. She covered her face with her burlap shawl and went to him.

“Tsk!” he exclaimed, “how good to see you at the vernal equinox. Isn’t it grand? I’ve developed a new method of corn blight control. Shall I tell you about it?” He did, and she fell asleep instantly. As he gazed at her veiled charms he felt a reckless impulse to make a new type of feed sack out of her shawl. But when he pulled the coarse cloth back from her face he recoiled in disgust.

“You — you aren’t the woman I loved,” he stammered.

“Then who am I?” Tsk replied huskily, like an ear of corn.

“Another woman in her shape, with a feathered carcass attached to her proboscis.” Though only a simple millionaire’s son, he knew his Latin, and could conjugate dead verbs in a way that melted a girl’s heart. Tsk wept anew as Lucifer strode briskly away from her.

“Where are you going?” she cried.

“To discover some new sort of threshing device made out of human teeth — but also to find a girl who doesn’t consort with dead specimens of any of various large glossy black oscine birds of the family Covidae and especially the genus Corvus. Farewell!”

Tsk, wounded to her soul, took comfort in the knowledge that she was not merely a backward Durbeyfield but an atavistic d’Urberville, one of a long degenerate line of anemic aristocrats whose skeletons rotted in decrepit Wesson tombs. How soothing this secret was! For when all was said and done the d’Urbervilles were only Durbeyfields, and the Durbeyfields only d’Urbervilles, and in the eyes of God neither mattered more than a dead crow.

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Lake Delavan Days

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For others, the word “vacation” evokes idyllic childhood memories of family togetherness and carefree summer days spent at some garden spot by a seashore or lake. For me, “vacation” has always meant a special family time, too — a time where families retreat far from civilization for the express purpose of torturing one another in an enclosed space without distractions. It doesn’t take a $90-an-hour Freudian to trace this feeling directly back to that fateful Luchs family trip to Lake Delavan, Wisconsin.

The year was 1964. Kennedy was freshly planted in Arlington National Cemetery, having been killed (as Oliver Stone has since informed us) by a conspiracy involving 93 percent of the American people and at least two of Donald Duck’s nephews, Huey and Dewey (although there is no direct evidence that Louie helped Oswald pull the trigger, he is now known to have been on a first-name basis with both Jack Ruby and Sirhan Sirhan). The Beatles were continuing their full frontal assault on America’s youth. Viet Nam was becoming the number one vacation spot for draft-age U.S. males.

The Luchses had just purchased a peculiar little foreign car, the Citroen 2CV. This vehicle is several sizes larger than a Tonka Toy and almost as powerful. It’s basically a Volkswagen Bug with an inferiority complex and only two cylinders. The man who sold it to us — a family friend later convicted of extortion and threatening to set off a bomb in the San Francisco Hilton, but that’s another story — fondly described the 2CV as “the perfect desert fighting machine.” He claimed that if you ran out of motor oil, you could always keep a Citroen going by filling the crankcase with ripe bananas. More than once our father caught us attempting to put this intriguing theory to the test.

The 2CV could seat two comfortably. In a pinch, four people could be squeezed in if they were willing to forego minor comforts like breathing. Our car held all nine of us: our parents, Robert and Jeannine, and (in descending order of age and location in the food chain), Hilde, Kurt, Murph, Helmut, Sarah, Rolf and Cara. Then there was our “luggage” (paper bags full of old clothes), the inflatable rubber boat, life preservers, a week’s worth of food and two cats, Leopold and Loeb.

The main excitement on the trip up came when one of the cats leapt from the back seat onto Dad’s back as he was negotiating a left turn. He screamed, “Get it off, get it off!” but this only amused his passengers and caused the cat to dig in its claws, piercing his Goldwater T-shirt and drawing enough blood to simulate a lovely tie-dyed effect. The rest of the ride is a blur to me now, since I spent most of it vomiting into a bag of Hilde’s knitting. Like most healthy American families, ours included both normal vomiters (NVs) and projectile vomiters (PVs). The difference is, if an NV keeps his head in a paper bag most of the time, his fellow travelers will only enjoy his experience vicariously, whereas there is no escape from the PV. Handing a PV a paper bag is like putting a cherry bomb in a coffee can: It simply makes for a messier explosion. I was an NV, but Sarah was a PV, and by the time we reached Delavan the interior of the car looked like a gutted animal.

On first sight Lake Delavan appeared to be North America’s largest mud puddle. At no point could you see bottom. Yet it was so shallow you could wade out for a quarter of a mile and never get your head wet. Not that you really wanted to get your head wet in Lake Delavan. It seemed to have become the final resting place for all the sewage, crumpled gum wrappers, rusty beer cans and broken glass in the tri-state area. Dull, sticky soap bubbles covered everything, bubbles that emitted a sickening stench when popped.

The cabin was owned by an old Polish woman from Chicago and was apparently furnished with cast-offs from the Warsaw ghetto. Before the electricity was turned on we wandered from room to room, weeping like icons at the shabbiness of it all. “What’s that crunching noise?” asked Rolf. “Sounds like Rice Crispies,” said Hilde. When the lights came on we discovered that the cabin was carpeted with dead flies. Helmut got Sarah to eat one by convincing her she would magically acquire the power of flight. She was indeed airborne for several seconds after jumping from the cabin roof, but problems with low visibility and faulty hydraulics forced her to make an emergency landing in some sumac bushes.

The only water sport we encountered at Lake Delavan was trying to get the toilet to flush. We quickly ascertained that any amount of toilet paper, even a single square, would cause an overflow. This more than anything else drove us away. Although we had paid for the entire week, by Thursday we had all had enough. We packed up and left late that afternoon with Dad even more dazed and confused than usual.

Dad was always in a world of his own, and never more so than when he was driving. He was very superstitious. He thought it was bad luck to look at a map before a trip…or during a trip…or at any time, for that matter. He also believed it was poor form to accost strangers with questions like, “Where the hell are we?” And he nursed an instinctive fear of policemen bordering on divine awe. (There must be genes for all these traits, because I regret to say they were passed on to me!)

Unfortunately, when the 2CV was fully locked and loaded with Luches it was unable to exceed 35 miles per hour, 10 miles below the minimum. A state trooper (who probably thought he had stepped into a remake of “The Grapes of Wrath”) soon pulled us over and advised Dad that he would have to leave the main highway and use back roads with lower speed limits the rest of the way. When we turned off the main road we got lost immediately and stayed lost. Mom held the thankless post of navigator. Her pathetic attempts to read the map by flashlight while in motion so infuriated Dad that he snatched the map away from her, wrapped it around the steering wheel with one hand and turned the flashlight on it with the other. This maneuver caused us to narrowly miss an A&W Root Beer truck.

The afternoon wore into twilight. It began to rain. The winter solstice drew near. I don’t remember when — or if — we ever got home, and I don’t want to remember. And I’ll thank you not to mention the word “vacation” again.

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Limestone Luxury Condos

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There’s a new feeling underfoot here in Quagmire, Florida, and the new feeling is…there’s nothing underfoot!

Thanks to a patented process called Irreversible Desiccation, great hollows have opened underneath our former residents to make room for you, and you, and millions more just like you — sleek young professionals with Tennis Elbow and PC Pinky, tender but tough, youthful but useless. Sinkhole & Sons Realty is looking for glistening Caucasian physiques in fishnet underwear just tight enough to hurt. For tanned bodies like yours that pose almost naturally, almost believably in the latest styles driving the latest cars (“The Predator,” “The Quasi-Motors Hunchback”) and drinking the latest drinks (“The Vodka Valium”).

Quagmire used to be the place where everyone with nowhere else to go had to go, but they’re all gone now, all of them. All the pensioners without the strength to endorse their ludicrously insufficient checks. All the unshaven old men and unshaven old women who used to shuffle from trash container to trash container saying “I remember…I remember…” when of course they couldn’t remember anything, not even their next of kin. All gone now. One minute they were standing helplessly in their shallow sandy gardens, propping themselves up with hoes and rakes and saying “I remember…I remember…” The next minute, as if by divine fiat, the earth opened beneath them, and in place of the elder ones stood a new development in modern living from Sinkhole & Sons: Limestone Luxury Condos.

If you’ve ever wanted to live like a blind cave salamander, groping for sightless white grubs in the slimy primordial dark, Limestone Luxury Condos could be for you. Close to Hell yet within praying distance of Heaven, these subterranean cavern units are also convenient to shopping at the ultra-modern Manglers Mall, where you will be treated like an honored prisoner of war by the brightly outfitted security personnel. Whether you eat your heart out at the Self-Serve Organ Surplus Warehouse, or mix metaphors and partners at the First Circle Bar and Grill (“Dante’s Bottomless and Topless Pit Stop”), you’ll appreciate the impersonal air of affluence that washes over you at Manglers Mall.

Get beneath it all. Come to Limestone Luxury Condos and sink out of sight with us into a spectral world where all necessities and toiletries must be lowered by rope. Listen to the mineral-laden water bleeding in from above as it drips endlessly from magnificently contorted ceilings onto pitted prehistoric floors, heedless of human concerns, ignorant of the latest fashions in jogging clothes, seeking only the warmth and quietude at the earth’s core.

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Songs Of The Renaissance

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The recently revealed Da Vinci notebooks have yielded a wealth of information about life in Renaissance Italy. The Da Vinci in question, of course, is not Leonardo but Ricco, the “Amorous Plumber of Rome,” who discovered the cold shower and other milestones in personal hygiene. While most of Ricco’s notebooks contain nothing more than girl’s addresses and sketches saying “Kilroy Was Here,” there are some surprises. He was an avid collector of folk songs and ballads, and filled many pages with lyrics from the popular tunes of his day. Usually they were brief (but not brief enough) and told some sort of story (stop me if you’ve already heard it). Even now, they sound like hits.

 

The Cheese-Seller’s Lament

An old cheese-seller limps down a street in Naples crying, “My cheese is good (gouda), will no one buy it? Unhappy am I, for my boots are full of provolone, and there is no room for my tired feet. My cheese is soft to the touch, like a baby’s brow, and many fine molds grow quietly upon it. Oh, who will purchase the cow’s treasure?” He continues this way for several hours, until he slips on something and cracks his skull on a lamppost.

 

Even My Wig Grows Bald When You Are Near

Pepito, a young gallant, enters the courtyard beneath his loved one’s window. It is early morning, about two a.m. The young man begins to sing, accompanying himself on a lute badly out of tune. He catches his fingers in the strings and yelps with pain the following words: “Even my wig grows bald when you are near, my love. Oh, my fingers! Oh, my poor fingers!” A girl appears at the window and shouts something indistinguishable. The young man smiles and says: “So great is my love, I tip my wig to you,” at which point he pulls out two huge handfuls of his own hair, nearly knocking himself unconscious with the lute. The girl throws down her hand mirror as a symbol of her ardor, but it shatters on the fellow’s head. “Oh, my wig!” he says, alternating this with “Oh, my fingers!” The girl is so touched that she drops a small chair squarely onto the boy’s back where, like his heart, it breaks. He is almost prostrate with passion. “My name is Pepito, my name is Pepito,” he moans. “I think I am dying.” “Shut that damn noise!” chimes a voice from across the way, and a shower of beautiful tableware follows. Several forks and knives apparently find their mark, and for once Pepito is speechless. Only the sound of still-resonating lute strings fills the air. After a brief pause, the girl shoves a maplewood dresser over the balcony, and a moment later Pepito is blotted from view. The clock strikes three. Finally, all is quiet.

 

March of the Maggots

A warm summer evening in Florence. The nightingales sing over the soft a cappella of the crickets as the breeze caresses the olive branches. Soon a horde of maggots crawls into town, drunk and behaving very badly. Their coarse, brutal laughter awakens several residents. A bottle breaks, and another. Who will pick up the glass? The maggots howl their drunken abuse, as if to say, “Not us!” They recite several off-color limericks and fall down a lot, which is hard for a maggot to do because he is not really standing up to begin with. Then, just as day breaks and the east turns pale crimson and blue, they are crushed beneath the heels of a sad old cheese-seller who is not looking where he is going.

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The Lesser Song Of Songs, Which Is Sheba’s
(With Apologies To King James)

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1

Let him not kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy tongue is as a lizard’s tail, which pulled off doth regrow tenfold. Nor yet with the kisses of his nose, for thy nose runneth over. Nor yet with the kisses of his ears: for thou art truly weird to ponder such a thing.

Thine ointments cleave to me, and their savour doth repell insects and anything that breathes; yea, even the Shittites avoid me, and I cannot get a table at the palace cafeteria.

I have compared thee, O my love, to a herd of mountain goats leaping from a cliff: the sound of their skulls when they land is sweet and comely. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant, nay, bland as a potato baked in polyunsaturated fats: also thy concubines are tax-deductible.

A bundle of old clothes for Amvets is my beloved unto me; he shall lie all night bewtixt my breasts, not knowing what to do with them.

2

Stay me with flagstones, comfort me with knockout drops: for I am sick of love. His left hand is under my head, but his right hand doth embrace himself.

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping on toe shoes, skipping like a gigolo, tripping on his hem. Verily, he hath borrowed my eye makeup once too often.

My beloved is like a white, white rat: behold, he standeth behind our wall looking for table scraps, he looketh forth at the windows when I dress, shewing himself through the lattice.

My beloved is mine, and I am his, yea, though we file separately.

3

By night on my bed I sought him whom my purse loveth: I sought him, but I found him not. I sought him under the bed, but I found him not. I sought him in my closet, and there I thought I found him trying on my silks, but it was only a manniken.

I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets carrying a shopping bag full of old bus transfers and speaking to myself. I will seek him whom my purse loveth, for he must cosign my checks.

The watchmen that go about the city beating anything that moves found me; to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my purse loveth? They smiled and pointed to their foreheads, nodding sagely like my beloved.

4

Behold, thou art fair, my love: thou hast a set of Mediterranean bedroom eyes, of simulated walnut, marked down 60 percent for the holidays. Thy hair hath been washed in the blood of the lamb, but thou hast forgot to rinse.

Thy tooth shines in the night like a piece of eggplant on the bald dome of the Pharoah.

The smell of thy garments is like unto the smell of Gary, Indiana with all of the chief spices: oregano, jalapeno and monosodium glutamate.

5

Thy nose is as the tower of Sears which looketh toward Skokie.

6

I try to sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh like a bottle launching a ship, saying, Open to me, my love, for my head is filled with good wine and evil thoughts. But I moved my dresser in front of the door and he went away.

My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, but I slapped it. My drawers were not moved for him, and he went away.

The watchmen that went about the city stomping anything that wriggles found me, they smote me, they pushed me into some sweet-smelling goulash; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. Then they screamed and gave it back.

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Legends Of The Ooh La Las

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Of all the folk legends handed down by Native Americans, surely there are none so rich or so varied — or so utterly pointless — as those of the Ooh La Las.

The Ooh La La Indians were quite similar to their distant cousins the Oglala Sioux, in that both were nomadic societies of hunter-warriors with strong shamanistic beliefs. The Ooh La Las, however, were known to cheat at cards, to file fraudulent tax returns, and to wear socks that clashed terribly with their slacks. Often they fished in sacred lakes without buying permits, and in one surprise war raid several hundred were caught driving with expired licenses.

All this led to the Oglala-Ooh La La War of 1481, in which the Ooh La La’s territory was reduced from an area the size of Wyoming to several square inches on the side of a crumbling mesa in Death Valley. For years afterward the surviving Ooh La Las — all 28 of them — lived there in a state of peace and plenty broken only by starvation and murderous assaults upon their neighbors and one another. Then the white man discovered valuable deposits of sandstone on their land, and their complex culture came to an all-too-timely end.

Fortunately for anthropology teachers, many of their countless “gokiblu” (dirty stories) have survived, transmitted orally or sometimes by a virus. These rambunctious tales were not meant to instruct or even to entertain, but rather to “jibbegawah” (torment) the listener, much like the television programming of today. Judging from the examples below, they must have been eminently successful.

 

The Great Spirit 

Most Ooh La Las professed to believe in a Great Spirit, the First Cause and Prime Mover of all things, an entity they referred to out of respect as “Mel.” Mel was omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient — which made it awfully difficult to plan a surprise party for him. It was common practice to leave food offerings for Mel; say, a dish of salted nuts, or some crackers and onion dip. In times of trouble a 15 percent gratuity would be added. Mel was said to be the son of Ruth and Irving, but Ruth could never prove it in court.

 

How the Snake Lost His Legs 

This was a favorite tale among the Ooh La Las, along with the one about the three Irishmen. Often when sitting around a crackling fire one of them would begin this story, and then the others would wordlessly toss him into the flames.

It seems there was a hapless hunter called Limping Worm who would neither hunt nor fish and spent most of his time trying to catch horseflies in his hands. One day he was visited by Weasel With the Face of a Former President, who was a very wicked but cunning forest creature.

“Listen, oh foolish one,” said Weasel. “If you stand near the edge of the woods at midnight, you will receive an omen that will assure you of good hunting forever.”

“How do I know you’re not lying?” asked Limping Worm as he absent-mindedly popped a horsefly into his mouth.

“I am lying, you twit.”

“Oh. Well, as long as you’re honest about it…”

That night Limping Worm crept to the outskirts of the forest and waited. Slowly the moon set and night deeped around him. He was about to leave when three men in dark medicine masks blocked his way.

“Are you the witless one called Limping Worm?” the biggest of them inquired.

“Why, yes, I am,” he began. “But what –”

Before he could finish they beat and kicked him, stole his popcorn necklace and left him to die. A few minutes later he was eaten by a nearsighted bear with a very poor sense of smell.

And ever since that day, the snake has had no legs.

 

A Vision 

One of the oldest Ooh La La legends (stop me if you’ve heard it) concerns a warrior’s quest for his Power Vision, a way of peering into the spirit world without drugs or corrective lenses. The young tribesman sat alone on a hilltop in the wilderness, naked, with no food but a bag of hard candy. He fasted and prayed and chanted Mel’s name to no avail. At last he reached into a buffalo-skin pouch and produced a spider as large as his own hand. Placing the dark wriggling form on his face, he let out a scream that shook the saguaro cactuses and echoed in the hidden ravines of the desert. Suddenly he heard a high-pitched whine just overhead, and then a deep, booming voice:

“Look, it’s after hours; I’m on straight salary, no overtime. Can it wait until Monday?”

“Oh mighty Mel, give me a vision, that I may know on what path to place my moccasins.”

There was a whirring sound in the young man’s ears, and then a resounding crack as of an oak tree split in two by lightning. Something struck him on the back of the head, and he fell unconscious to the ground. In his fitful sleep he found himself lost in a nightmare world.

He saw great leafless treetrunks coughing a black mist into the air; he saw pale-fleshed strangers in their clinging garments with little alligators embroidered on their chests; he saw some of them hitting their women and torturing their animals; he saw them emerge as one from the hideous square burial mounds where their children sat bewitched by the shifting gray lights from the Box of the Dead Spirits; he saw them willingly swallowed by the Shiny Buffalo That Run Without Hooves, and watched in horror as the growling beasts collided aimlessly and stampeded toward the Village That Eats Its Young, a place of filth and smoke filled with the howls of the dead and the dying.

There the Shiny Buffalo spit up their sickly cargo, and the pale strangers entered the burial towers of their ancestors, which reached into the heavens and must have been crowded with corpses, or so the young warrior thought.

He awoke in a cold sweat and gingerly felt the lump at the base of his skull.

“Oh Mel,” he cried, “what means this evil dream?”

But for once the Great Spirit was silent, and the only sound was of a mournful wind sweeping across the prairie.

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The IMF Good-As-Gold Card

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Dear Third World Dictator or Corrupt, Impotent Figurehead of a Failed Pseudo-Democracy:

Not everyone deserves the IMF Good-As-Gold Card. It’s designed especially for nations that know how to make other people responsible for their debts. Nations that know spending other people’s money is always spending wisely. Nations with a timely, regular record of complete nonpayment. It’s these special nations, like your own, that deserve to be pre-approved and pay less for the card that never stops giving.

Our rate is the lowest in the known universe: a negative 6.9% APR. That’s right — simply by acquiring our card you will start earning money, because any outstanding loans will decrease at the rate of 6.9% a year until Bono manages to convince everyone they should be wiped off the books. And you can be certain that this rate will never change, regardless of changes in the Prime Rate, the global market, or the structure of reality itself.

Your credit line is limited only by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and by your ability to add a string of zeros to the right of a “1” (if you haven’t yet mastered this essential skill of international finance, our trained advisors will be only too glad to show you how).

A credit line of this magnitude allows you to buy what you want when you want it. What is your country’s main need? Transportation (new Mercedes for mistress)? Education (singing coach for mistress)? Infrastructure (facelift for mistress)? Health (penicillin shots for mistress)? Whatever it may be, you’ll find that the IMF Good-As-Gold Card opens a whole world of spending possibilities for you.

With an APR this low, you can save by transferring your countless smaller bad loans into one gigantic consolidated bad loan. Why go through the monthly hassle of defaulting on all those nickel-and-dime debts when you can default on one easy, unimaginably large debt?

Unlike many other gold cards, which charge an annual fee of up to $75, the IMF Good-As-Gold Card has no annual fee. In fact, we’ll pay you $75 million right now just to take it.

Even better are the IMF Good-As-Gold Card’s many other benefits. For instance, our Emergency Next-Day Credit Line Two-For-One Policy, which automatically doubles your credit limit if your card is lost or stolen. And you can call our 24-hour Customer Service Center for help at any time to hear a prerecorded message from Bono about the importance of spending money like a drunken sailor. If it’s an emergency, you can also speak directly to an actual IMF Good-As-Gold Card representative about the vital need to spend money like there’s no tomorrow.

So be sure to take advantage of this extraordinary pre-approved and eternally non-rescindable offer today. An insanely low negative 6.9% APR. A credit line higher than Madonna’s hem. Guaranteed savings that will continue until the heat death of the universe. And the kind of service only a highly motivated, lifelong bureaucratic corps can offer. What does it all add up to? A card only certain nations deserve: The IMF Good-As-Gold Card.

Sincerely,

Daniel P. Frothenmouth

Marketing Manager

International Monetary Fund

P.S. You deserve more, so call now for your pre-approved IMF Good-As-Gold Card with no annual fee (except to the American taxpayer) and a negative 6.9% APR. Please take a moment right now to fill out and return the attached Bank-So-Big-It-Must-Not-Fail Acceptance Agreement, along with the Debt-So-Large-It-Can-Never-Be-Repaid Waiver of Responsibility. Or you could just wait a while. After all, if Bono has his way, this special offer will never expire.

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Los Perros Bravos!
or, Death At Teatime
(With No Apologies Whatsoever To Ernest Hemingway)

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At the first dogfight I ever attended I expected to be horrified and sickened by what I had heard would happen to the horses. I had been told that what happened to the horses would make me cry and spit up like a nino (little child), even though I am not a nino. What happened to the horses, I had been warned, would make my nalgas (buttocks) quiver like those of a maricon (fairy), even though I am not a maricon. I am an hombre (man). Un hombre mucho macho (very masculine) con muchos cojones (many testicles). I lost one or two cojones in the War, but that is another story which is neither here nor there and I will not tell it to you. I will only mention the War in such a way that you will know I was in it, and then I will tell you what I know of the dogfights in Madrid in the spring when the air is clean and cool and an hombre may drink four bottles of wine and only pay for three, for there is no place on earth like Madrid in the spring and the only dogfights worth seeing happen in Madrid and the only time they are worth seeing is in the spring. Comprende?

I had heard about the horses (los caballos we call them in Spain), about the tragedy of their suffering in the plaza de perros (the dog ring to you turistas). I was delighted to discover that nothing more happens to the horses than happened to me during the War. They are merely disemboweled, and the disemboweling is done so cleanly and so coolly and with such an air of good humor that one cannot help but smile as one smiled at the Kaiser. It is the exact opposite of tragedy to see the horses trot into the ring with the picadors on their backs dressed in bright red polka-dot costumes and wearing red rubber noses and carrying pickaxes, and then to see the picadors swing their picks into one another’s horses and the suddenly red horses falling on their riders and the picadors all killed or maimed in a way that makes everyone smile, some of them crushed instantly, others left to die in the sand from their concussions, for that is the sort of thing that happens to one if one happens to be a picador or a horse in Madrid in the spring. Madrid, by the way, is the best place to see the dogfights, unless you wish to go the extra distance to Valencia, where the air is cleaner and so cool that you will have to wear your mittens and the water is so clear that you can see through it and even the natives will bathe in it if you hold a gun to their heads and smile. The dogfights in Valencia make the dogfights in Madrid look like a slumber party for interior decorators.

After the picadors and the horses have been carried off by an honor guard of bastardos (favorite sons), the dogfight begins in earnest. The Spanish, by the way, have no word equivalent to our dogfight, and refer to the event as la corrida de perros (literally, a running of dogs, or in Cuba, running dog lackeys of the imperialist stooges).

The band plays a march, and very badly, too, and the three doggieadors (dog killers) enter the ring wearing red rubber pants and the little tri-cornered hats folded from yesterday’s newspapers. If the music is happy they skip gaily around the arena while the crowd shouts its approval and throws botellas (bottles); otherwise, if the music is sad, they hold hands solemnly and approach the presidential box, where el presidente jabs each one in the eye with his forefinger and calls them hijos de putas, a term of such respect that I will not translate it for you. Temporarily blinded, the doggieadors stagger to the center of the ring, each crying “Mi ojo! Mi ojo!” (my eye, my eye!). The blinding is mainly symbolic of the Inquisition and, to a lesser extent, of God’s pact with Abraham, but it is also meant to even the chances between man and dog at the Moment of Truth.

The dog, meanwhile, has been kept in complete isolation prior to the fight. His teeth have been cleaned, his coat trimmed, and his cojones tied off with twine to give him more of an edge. Only a cowardly doggieador, a real schoolgirl, will fight an immature or sickly or ill-bred dog. The ideal fighting animal is a pure-blooded adult Chihuahua standing a full seven or eight inches at the shoulders and showing nails at least half an inch long. It is true that in certain towns, like Valencia, the authorities have given in to the public outcry from fairies and ballerinas and dogfighting is no longer the manly art it once was. In such places they fight Chihuahuas whose nails have been clipped to almost nothing and the doggieadors wear hard hats instead of the traditional paper hats, thus entirely avoiding the Moment of Truth. But that is only in Valencia, where the toughest hombre in town could not beat up your grandmother and you would have to beat her up yourself. For a real dogfight, the kind your grandmother knew, you must go all the way to Seville, where the air is so clean you can bathe in it and so cool that you can walk around all day with a block of ice on your head and the ice will not melt and the putas will charge you less because they can count only as many pesos as they have fingers. The dogfights in Seville make the dogfights in Valencia look like a petting zoo full of tranquilized hamsters.

When the doggieadors have partially recovered their eyesight and are moaning quietly to themselves, a muchacho (little bastard) lights the firecracker that has been tied to the dog’s tail. The explosion scares everyone, especially the dog, who will run in circles trying to bite what’s left of his tail. Before he knows what has happened the dog’s antics have brought him to the doggieadors, who by this time have got to their feet and are trying to skip gaily around the arena once more, but the heartiness has gone out of it and they know it.

The dog advances with a death growl rumbling deep in its throat. The doggieadors freeze in their tracks and suddenly the crowd is very, very still. No one breathes. The Moment of Truth is at hand. With a fierce, primitive cunning, the Chihuahua licks the feet of one of the dog killers, and says, “Yip!” In two shakes of a tall tale, the three doggieadors have skewered the dog on their fencing foils and are roasting him over the fire that has just broken out in the stands. “Chinga tu madre!” yells the crowd (roughly, honor thy mother). The doggieadors respond good-naturedly with “Besa mi huevos!” (kiss my eggs, or in this context, our eggs, the eggs of all good citizens).

And so it is over at last and you feel very fine and the bottles are empty and your pockets have been picked and the dog is dead. Is it right? Is it wrong? Who knows? I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after and judged by these moral standards the dogfight is very moral to me because I feel very fine while it is going on and have a feeling of life and death and mortality and immortality and solvency and insolvency, and after it is over I feel very sad but also very fine and dandy. That’s when I can put the gun to my head and smile and say to the world, “Besa mi huevos!”

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Small Talk

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The world is getting smaller — have you noticed? We have, and we say, “Keep shrinking, world!” Small is beautiful. Small is affordable. Small takes us inside and throws away the key. Smart money says small is here to stay. Dumb money doesn’t say anything.

Small means boarding up those big garish picture windows, those achingly obvious views of decay. Small means gazing only through the security peephole — and then only when you’re sure there’s no one waiting outside the door. Small means being mean, for the fun of it. Keep them waiting. Don’t look through the security peephole, not even to smile at how poorly they’re dressed. Instead, play that mail-order ambient recording of party noises — drunken laughter, glasses tinkling, cocktail chatter — and don’t answer the buzzer. Make them think you’re having one kind of fun when you’re really having another kind.

Insiders are saying almost nothing about small. Why should they? They don’t want you to know. They want you to keep feeding your fish the recommended amount of food, as opposed to a smaller amount, an amount that fits your needs. You have no idea how silly this makes you look. Try thinking small for a change. Give your fish only a taste of food — a pinch — and you’ll notice the difference in them. And in you.

Small rugs are in — flimsy synthetic rugs that cover nothing, do nothing. Honest rugs that refuse to pretend they can do the job, that slide out from underneath your loved ones, causing them to crack their heads on your exquisitely small nonfunctional plumbing fixtures.

Small drinking glasses are in — have you heard? We thought not. Who would have told you? Smaller shot glasses are very in — monogrammed little cylinders of solid glass with a tiny depression at the top to hold the liquor, to be moistened with the liquor. Also, slightly concave wineglasses that spill more than they can hold. Very in.

Entrees have given way to hors d’oeuvres. Not the fulsome, almost nutritious hors d’oeuvres of the past, but small hors d’oeuvres — indiscernible specks at the ends of toothpicks. Specks that cannot be eaten without puncturing the tongue, in a small way.

Wall decorations, too, are smaller, more focused. Stuffed mammals and reptiles are out — too big. Also, endangered birds of prey — way too big. But insects are just right. Not real insects, of course, but life-sized rubber replicas with hidden suction cups for adhering to the smooth surfaces in your life.

We could tell you where to find them, the places where all the best people are shopping — those in the know. We could tell you.

But we won’t.

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