“But if you want money
For people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait.” —Lennon/McCartney
I believe a contributing factor to the seemingly rise in this type of violence is government. Not only this administration for its failure to defuse race tension, but for the government’s failure to repair our still ailing economy and jobs market, its failure to work together (Republicans and Democrats) to do what is right for America instead of dancing at the ends of the puppet strings of Wall Street and the top ten percent wealthiest Americans. Not to mention an inability, or unwillingness, to combat radical Islam. Does any American today feel safe, believe that another 9/11 type attack will never happen?
Toss into the mix Black Lives Matter, which promotes hatred by inciting blacks with anti-police rhetoric, and we have a recipe for this type of behavior.
Now we have a president who claims on the one hand that not all Muslims are violent, but on the other hand that all law abiding gun owners in America are responsible for the actions of a few and wants to disarm all of us. Well, let him try.
This election cycle has been a revolution of sorts, a revolution fought with votes for outsiders like Trump and Sanders. Voters are expressing their dissatisfaction with career politicians who don’t believe a word of their own campaign promises but understand they need only to convince the voters that they believe those promises; career politicians who make promises they don’t intend to keep once elected; career politicians who line their pockets with cash paid to them by special interest groups instead of doing what’s right for the country as a whole. Democracy in America is dead. Our republic is a thing of the past, replaced by an oligarchy: government by the wealthy for the wealthy.
Frankly, the establishment politicians should be pleased that thus far this revolution has been fought with votes and not more bullets. They’d best “get it” or this type of violence will continue to escalate into a full scale revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen for more than 200 years.
So Hillary Clinton interviewed with the FBI this weekend, over her use of a private email server.
Mainstream media made a big deal over her “three-and-a-half-hour grilling.” As if after a year’s investigation costing several million dollars, and man-hours from more than 140 agents, a mere three-and-a-half hours was such an ordeal. Today the media all but proclaimed her innocent of any wrong-doing, and expect that, over the next several days, the FBI will certainly concur with their proclamation.
It really matters little what the FBI decides, despite the fact she lied about getting approval for her home server: no paper evidence exists that she ever sought approval, and no one on the receiving end of the approval process concurs that such approval was given. Truly, why would such approval be given? Most of the rest of us in Corporate America are advised not to use personal email for business. But she’s a Clinton. She’s entitled.
More important, what did she have to hide? She claims it was easier for her. In what ways? I guess it made it easier for her to select which emails to archive to the government server.
Me, I work in a healthcare-related industry. If I should erroneously send ePHI (electronic protected health information) unencrypted to the wrong party, I could get fired. Apparently, since I don’t deal with national security, protecting ePHI is far more important. I could get fired; but she gets a free pass, an oops moment: “I wish now I hadn’t done it.” How many drivers arrested as a DUI proclaim, after the fact, “I wish I hadn’t done it”? Yet they pay the price. Because they’re not a Clinton.
Clinton has also stated, several times, that she never received or sent “sensitive information.” Really? In all her time as Secretary of State, she never received or sent anything considered “sensitive”? Just what was she doing in her spare time as Secretary of State, when she wasn’t seeking donations for the Clinton Foundation?
Maybe it’s not a lie, that she never sent or received sensitive information, if she had her aides opening all her email and doing all the replying. Her husband once claimed he “never had sex with that woman,” making a distinction between intercourse and oral sex.
Even if such email wasn’t labeled classified until after the fact, she should have treated it as such, as any elected official with half a brain should know.
She claimed to have turned over to the FBI all her email; yet when she turned over her server it was discovered she’d deleted about 30,000 emails. Even if only one of those deleted emails was government related, she broke the law.
Hillary Clinton purports to be a champion for sexually abused women, unless they come forward with credible evidence of her husband’s sexual improprieties. Then they are chastised and bullied into silence.
She once got a child rapist off and laughed about it in the aftermath, knowing he was guilty.
She lied about events in Benghazi and proclaimed, “What difference does it make now?” It made, and still makes, a helluva lot of difference to the families who lost loved ones that morning.
She’s taken money for the Clinton Foundation from dubious foreign sources who treat women as possessions.
Clinton is a supporter of Planned Parenthood, an organization that is hardly pro-woman. Planned Parenthood provides far more abortions than healthcare. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is on record stating that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue comes from abortions. Planned Parenthood also admits to the sale of human tissue retrieved from aborted babies.
And women are supposed to vote for her simply because she’s a woman.
But all of this is meaningless, really, when one considers there was a time not long ago when a party, neither party, would never allow a candidate to represent them if they had what Hillary Clinton has hanging over her head.
So what’s it say about a party that allows a corrupt politician to represent them in a race for the presidency, that occupying the White House is more important than integrity?
If the media has their way, Hillary Rodham Clinton will never be held accountable—not for the things she’s done that are illegal or questionable. They apparently want to see history made: the first woman president, no matter her poor record as Secretary of State, the poor decisions she’s made, her lackluster record as a senator.
So it’s left to the voters to get some semblance of justice for the ruin she’s left in the wake of her quest for power.
We must make sure this woman never wins the presidency.
Last week we lost a legend, The Greatest.
Last night I watched CNN coverage of the life of Muhammad Ali, which included footage of him lighting the flame for the 1996 Olympics. I cried back then to see the man who once floated like a butterfly with the physique of a Greek god, stinging like a bee his opponents with quick jabs, shaking from his Parkinson’s, fighting to hold onto that torch, and again fought back tears as CNN replayed that footage.
They showed a clip of Ali’s personal gym, with Ali claiming he was planning a comeback. I laughed, but believed if anyone could come back, he could.
Say what you will about him. Call him a braggart and a draft dodger, but on the former, baseball legend Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it,” and Ali did pretty much everything he ever bragged of doing. As for the latter, he made an important statement about the war in Vietnam, and all wars.
I loved him as kid growing up, rooting for him in every fight. Yes, he was imperfect, just like the rest of humanity. Married four times, fathered children out of wedlock. I don’t judge him for that. I won’t judge him for that.
I base my opinion of him for what his daughters say about him today as a daddy—that he taught to them only love and acceptance of others—what they say about him as a human being and the life he led—that he wanted to help others. I base my opinion of him for what his opponents—those he left on their backs in the ring—said of him, decades later, that he was the greatest in the ring and a wonderful human being outside the ring.
Did Joe Frazier hold a grudge against Ali for his taunts during their fight years? Yes, but that was his choice. Ali apologized, but Frazier chided him for doing it through the media and not face-to-face. Ali only said, “If you see Frazier, you tell him he’s still a gorilla.” Vintage Ali.
At Frazier’s private funeral service in Philadelphia in 2011, the Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke. When Jackson asked those in attendance to stand and “show your love”, Ali stood with the other attendees, which no doubt took great effort given his advanced Parkinson’s, and applauded.
He was the greatest, not only in the ring but in life, using his celebrity to further more than one cause.
In my opinion, for what it’s worth, he was the most colorful sports figure of all time. He was a showman, to be sure, taunting his opponents in press conferences leading up to fights and predicting the round in which they would fall. Ali and Howard Cosell were like a comedy team akin to Abbot and Costello, with Cosell playing the straight man to Ali’s antics: calling Cosell “How-weird” and threatening to pull off his toupee during interviews. But according to one of Ali’s daughters, he loved Cosell like a brother.
Maya Angelo wrote that people will forget what you said, and they’ll forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel. That may be true of the rest of us mortals. But I dare say people will never forget what Ali did and said, nor will they forget how he made them feel. I read that everywhere Ali went, not matter where in the world, people stopped and smiled at him. This thirty-five years after he left the fight game.
Today, I grieve the loss of The Greatest.
I never met my wife’s father; but he left me a great gift. He knows that I promised, in my wedding vows, to always cherish his daughter Colleen’s heart as the treasure it is to me.
I was fifty-seven when I married for the second time, after a hiatus as a bachelor for nearly thirty years. After my divorce I figured to marry again, but at some point—and I can’t say when—it stopped being a priority.
I dated several women, had serious relationships with five. Four bloodied my heart. The greatest lesson they taught me was that the lessons I learned in those relationships didn’t always apply to the next one. The fifth taught me that I’d much rather someone inflict pain on me than to be the one inflicting pain on another.
I told Colleen shortly after we met that I wasn’t looking for someone to fix me, to which she replied that she wasn’t looking for someone who needed it. That’s not to say that each of us hasn’t accumulated some baggage along the way, the result of choices we made, paths down which we traveled that led to some nasty destinations, childhoods that left us handicapped. We accept that baggage, carry it together, and try to enhance each other’s lives.
There are days when I’m not very likeable; and yes, there are days when I don’t much like Colleen. But that doesn’t mean we love each other any less.
Also from my vows: “Some have told me that I’m an acquired taste. To them I say, ‘Acquire some taste.’”
I never was much of a follower, even in my youth. I never marched to the beat of a different drummer. I marched to the beat of my own drum, which hasn’t always been a good thing. Sinatra may have done it “my way”, but no one calls me “Chairman of the Board.” Some have called me a writer of no small talent, while others have said I’m a shitty writer. Hemingway had his detractors, as all writers surely do; but I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. Creative types are sensitive, perhaps more so than others.
I’ve ruffled some feathers along the way of my life, but I long ago gave up trying to please others in an effort to get them to like me. It doesn’t work. Accept me as I am, a man reaching to make his dreams come true—or what’s a life for?—who endeavors to enhance the lives of those his touches, who tries to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do but sometimes falls short, who tries not to judge others but holds them accountable; or accept me through my affiliation through my wife, until I prove otherwise.
I’ll say it again: I’m not perfect. No one is, which is not an excuse. I haven’t always lived my life as if it were an open book, but Colleen makes me want to be a better person. Each day with her by my side is a new day, a chance to do better than yesterday, a day of discoveries—of myself as well as her. That she loves me and accepts me as I am should be enough.
To those who accept me I raise to you a glass of Booker’s (because sometimes I prefer a good bourbon to burn). Thank you.
To those who don’t and won’t even try, I’m sorry, but only because it’s your loss.
I try to honor my father every day of my life, even as I acknowledge I fall short more often than I care to admit.
Dad has been gone from me for eighteen years, and he occupies my thoughts this time of year more than at any other time because of Memorial Day—he served in the South Pacific during World War II—to be followed next month by Father’s Day.
Father’s Day is painful for me because I have no one in my life who ever called me “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Father.” So it’s natural, I guess, for me to focus on the dad who left me behind. It’s gotten easier as the years have flown by to accept that I’m orphaned, but that doesn’t mean I miss him any less.
I discovered the pleasure and medicinal benefits of cigar smoking two years too late. It’s a ritual I’m certain I would’ve enjoyed with Dad, over glasses of bourbon chased by bottles of beer as we listened to a ballgame on the radio. He liked Rolling Rock, maybe because he fancied himself as Sisyphus. Now there’s a question I wish I’d asked him.
I was forty-one when he passed away. I thought I’d been around long enough to know what questions to ask before he died; but I was wrong. In eighteen years I’ve amassed quite a long list of “I wish I’d thought to ask Dad that while he was still around” questions. Most of them aren’t easy questions. Not of the “But why?” category of my long ago lost wonderment of the world around me, a world that was much safer, and certainly less complicated. But I may be looking back over the years through a certain colored pair of spectacles.
I’m struck by how similar certain aspects of our lives match now that I’m a few months shy of commencing my seventh decade. I met and married a wonderful woman, but struggle with career and publishing. Dad married a wonderful woman late in life, too, although not nearly as late as I, and also struggled with jobs late in his life, finally taking a job on an assembly line, a job he joined the Marine Corps in his twenties to avoid.
Dad loved to read, naming me after his favorite author, but once asked me what I was doing wasting my time writing a novel—my first, January’s Paradigm. He never told me how proud of me he was after he read the second draft. But he showed me he was.
I once asked him, shortly before he left, if he had any regrets. A silly question, I know, but he humored me: he smiled and said, “Of course. No one gets out of life without a few.” I never pushed him for specifics. I don’t know if I was being polite or simply foolish, or maybe ignorant—not knowing the questions to ask.
I don’t know why, but it weighs heavily on me the older I get, possibly because I never fathered any children of my own (a minor regret easily parried by thoughts of my first wife and what might’ve been had she birthed a child or two), but if I could ask my dad one question as we sat smoking cigars and sipping bourbon and Rolling Rock on the back patio of the house in which I grew up while we listened to a Tigers game on the radio, it would be this—I ask only because I never knew him as a marine.
My mother told me that after eight years in service of our country his mother urged him to leave the Corps, find a job, get married and start a family, like his two brothers. Dad always struck me as a free spirit, and today I wonder if he felt we, my sister and I, held him back, tied him down.
“Dad: did you regret becoming a father?”
“The innocent is the person who explains nothing.”
— Albert Camus
Feeling as if Alexander Giston were measuring him, looking for a weakness to exploit, Petronis Vanagas stared back and steeled himself.
You’re Lithuanian,” Giston said. The statement surprised Petronis, which seemed to please his guest.
Petronis nodded. “My parents moved from Vilnius here to Amesbury when I was but a boy.”
“I have traces of Lithuanian blood, on my mother’s side.”
Petronis waited patiently, but curious.
“You’re considering providing financial assistance to Thomas Savery, in support of one of his inventions.”
Taken aback by this sudden change in direction, as well as by Giston’s strange accent, which he couldn’t place, Petronis said, “How do you know this? No one knows of my intent to invest in his working model, not even Thomas himself, since I have yet to approach him.”
“But you will.”
Petronis frowned. “As you seem to know, Thomas is experimenting with a steam engine. He requires some financial aid.”
“I ask that you refrain from providing such aid.”
“But, why? Steam is the future of England, and of the world.”
Giston shook his head. “It’s dangerous. Should Savery succeed with his steam engine, many lives will be lost in the future.”
Petronis snorted. “You cannot know that.”
“I can, and I do.”
“Are you a prognosticator?”
Giston nodded. “Something like that.”
Petronis twice pursed his lips. “I do not believe in fortunetelling.”
“Neither do I.” Then Giston added, “More than a century from now, Napoleon Bonaparte will refer to Vilnius, the capitol city of Lithuania, as ‘the Jerusalem of the North’ because of its large Jewish population. A hundred-fifty years after Napoleon passes through, during the House Un-American Activities Committee proceedings in 1954, a countryman of yours, an actor by the name Karolis Bučinskis, will change his name at the suggestion of his agent, who feared that an Eastern European surname might damage his career. Bučinskis will become Charles Bronson—he will take the name from the Bronson Gate at Paramount Studios—and become a major box office draw after his appearance in The Magnificent Seven, a movie in which he will be cast as one of seven gunfighters, Bernardo O’Reilly, not because he looked at all like an Irishman.”
To Petronis, what Giston just told him, related in a tone of voice that Giston seemed to think Petronis should take at face value, sounded like mere fantasy. What Petronis said was, “What is a ‘movie’?”
Giston smiled. “Moving pictures. In my time, we can capture images on film and show them on a screen, through a projector. Like a play on a silver screen.”
“Why would anyone wish to do that?”
“Because we can,” Giston said, and then, “You have no idea.”
Petronis sneered at his guest. “If you are no prognosticator, then you must be a raconteur, or worse, a liar.”
“I’m neither a fortuneteller or a teller of stories, and what reason would I have to lie to you?”
Petronis looked uncertain how to respond.
“But trust me, I know,” Giston said.
Giston sighed, pulled a piece of paper from the folder he held, then pushed it across the table, toward Petronis.
Petronis looked at the slip, and felt his features contort into a semblance of disbelief.
“What sorcery is this?” Petronis was about to accuse Giston of witchcraft.
“It’s no sorcery. That’s a copy of the patent for which Thomas Savery will apply, after you provide him with the funding necessary to complete his working model of a steam engine.”
“You speak strangely,” Petronis said. “What is ‘thats’?”
Giston laughed. “‘That’s’ is a contraction. Surely you’re familiar with those? Shakespeare used them: shan’t, ‘twere, ‘twon’t, ‘tis, ha’n’t, o’er, e’en, ta’en—”
“I know what a contraction is.”
“‘That’s’ is a contraction of ‘that is.’”
Petronis returned his attention to the paper in front of him. “How did you come by this?”
“It’s not important,” Giston said. “What’s — what is important is that you refrain from writing the draft that allows Savery to complete his work on his steam engine.”
Petronis only stared at Giston. A moment later, he watched Giston pull a second sheet of paper from his folder and push it across the table.
Petronis studied the document a moment before asking, “What is this?”
“You don’t recognize your own signature on your own draft?”
“I have writ no such draft.”
“But you will, on the date signified on that draft.”
Petronis looked at the paper again. “A week from today?”
“That’s the great thing about the future. We have records of past events, and ways of making copies of them. Once I discovered that Thomas Savery had created the first steam engine, it was child’s play to find a copy of his patent. It was slightly more troublesome to discover that it was you who contributed money to his efforts to create an archetype.”
Petronis studied Giston, trying to discern if he might be lying. Failing, he said, “You are mad!”
Giston nodded. “A little more than a century from now a man will be born in Boston—you know Boston, in Massachusetts? Edgar Allan Poe will be an American poet, author, and literary critic known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. He will write of madness: ‘Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.’” Giston nodded a second time. “I might indeed be mad, but my purpose is pure: to prevent Savery’s madness.”
“Thomas Savery wishes only to further man’s foray into the knowledge of things mechanical. He wishes to help mankind.”
Giston shook his head. “Savery is misguided. He will succeed only in creating pain and suffering.”
Petronis stared at Giston in horror. “You truly are mad.”
Giston smiled. “No, I’m a time traveler from your future—from the year 1966.”
Giston shook his head and pushed a third piece of paper across the table.
Petronis read the slip of paper—it was a newspaper clipping dated Friday, October 21, 1966. A detailed account of an accident that took the lives of many people, it included an image of the scene in the immediate aftermath. An explosion was the result of a steam engine: the very technology that Petronis supported.
When he finished reading the account, he looked at Giston. “Surely this is apocryphal.”
“It’s the truth,” Giston said.
“And this image? How was it produced?”
“It’s called a photograph. It’s made through a similar process than that used to create moving pictures.”
Petronis assimilated all that he’d learned over the course of the last few minutes: the copies of the patent and his signed and dated draft, along with the newspaper clipping, and movies and photographs. He felt his previous disbelief turn into something else… not quite belief, but wanting to believe. Because if it were true, then…
A plan began to take shape in Petronis’s mind, and he felt the corner of his lip curl up.
He looked up to find Giston studying him, but Petronis was quick to cover up his treachery.
“I require,” Petronis said slowly, a look of curiosity on his face, “more proof.” He watched Giston take a moment to fully understand what he’d left unsaid.
“You wish to be shown the future?” Giston asked.
Petronis shook his head. “The past.”
“Why the past?” Giston seemed curious.
“There is someone I wish to meet. Someone who is now deceased.”
Petronis watched Giston consider his request. Would he find it unreasonable?
After a moment, Giston said, “If I show you the past, then you will honor my demand?”
Petronis nodded. “If what you show me is truly the past.”
From Petronis’s home in Amesbury, he and Giston rode by horseback to Stonehenge, which was less than a league west of the small town. After dismounting, Giston led Petronis to just inside the Stonehenge circle, where he removed a small silver box with several knobs and two buttons from a leather case. He pointed the device at the center of the circle and pushed a button.
A moment later, Petronis saw appear a black pyramid that he estimated was approximately a half a perch in height.
Petronis followed Giston to the pyramid, which seemed to be constructed of a material unknown to Petronis—it was cold and hard to his touch, but not metallic. As they neared the construct, he watched Giston turn a knob, and, without a sound, an opening appeared in one of its sides. He gestured that Petronis should enter.
Once Petronis was seated inside the pyramid, Giston climbed in and sat next to him; their shoulders touched within the tight confines of the structure. Turning the knob on the device in his hand, the door closed.
“To what month and year do you wish to travel?” Giston asked.
“May, 1668.” Petronis was unable to withhold a tone of disbelief from his reply. He twisted in his seat; he didn’t like that his shoulder touched Giston’s.
Giston twisted a knob and pushed one of the buttons. A moment later, the pyramid emitted a low hum and began to vibrate. The air seemed to crackle, and Petronis thought he detected the scent of burnt tobacco. The black walls faded to gray, then turned maroon… then to red…
Feeling the onset of vertigo, Petronis closed his eyes against impending nausea.
“I feel ill,” he said weakly; his afternoon meal threatened to rise from his stomach.
“That’s normal,” Giston said. “It will pass upon arrival at our destination.”
A few moments later, the vibration halted, the hum faded, eventually stopping, and Petronis felt his nausea begin to subside. He ventured to open his eyes.
Twisting the knob, the opening reappeared, and Giston led Petronis out of the pyramid.
Petronis looked around before pronouncing, “As I thought. You attempt a ruse. We have gone nowhere.”
Giston laughed. “Of course not. But we have traveled thirty years into your past. This circle of stones looks just as it does now in my time.”
Petronis was unconvinced.
“Where to?” Giston added.
“Back to Amesbury.” Petronis was certain that once they arrived he would easily be able to prove Giston’s folly.
Petronis led Giston through the streets of Amesbury, noting subtle changes to the town, mostly to the names of business establishments—his favorite pub, Ye Olde Speckled Hen, was now a smithy. Petronis felt his heartbeat quicken as he considered that perhaps Giston’s wild story was true, and that maybe he could carry out his plan.
After a few turns, they came to an address on Coltsfoot Close. After dismounting, Petronis positioned himself in front of the door and knocked; a moment later an attractive young woman appeared in the doorway.
“Yes?” she said.
“You are Trisha Collins?”
“Yes.” She looked confused. “Do I know you, sir?”
Petronis ignored her. “You are wed to John Collins?”
“You will give birth to a daughter, whom you will name Jennifer, eight months from now.”
“Not to my knowledge am I with child.”
“Trust me, you are.” With that, he procured a single-shot flintlock side pistol from an inside pocket in his waistcoat and shot the woman, straight in the heart. The woman fell back, dead before she hit the floor.
“My god, what have you done?” Giston sounded horrified.
“I just shot my wife’s mother,” Petronis said, matter of fact, “who is carrying my wife to be.”
Giston noticed that the shot had drawn the attention of neighbors.
“We must go,” he said.
When they arrived back to Petronis’s home in 1698, Giston demanded to know why Petronis had brought a gun with him.
“In 1966, English citizens are forbidden by law to carry weapons.”
Petronis grinned. “The English Bill of Rights of 1689 guarantees the right of Protestants to own firearms, along with their Catholic brothers.”
“Had I known you carried a gun, I would’ve forbidden you to bring it with you.”
Petronis laughed. “You did not ask.”
“But why did you want your future mother-in-law dead?”
“My wife,” Petronis said, his previous good humor gone, “is a philanderer. I learned a week ago that she not only betrays me, she betrays me with another woman.” After a moment, he added, “I wonder to whom I might now be wed.”
Before more could be said, a knock sounded lightly on the door to Petronis’s den.
“Who is it?” Petronis called; he seemed anxious.
The door swung in and a voluptuously beautiful young woman entered.
“It is I,” the woman said sweetly. “Silly Petronis, who else but your dear wife, Charlotte? I did not hear you come in. Nor,” she added with a glance at Giston, “did I know you had company.”
Petronis was delighted as the woman stepped to him to place a kiss on his cheek, and he imagined the treasure that lay in wait for him beneath the bodice that restrained her ample bosom.
“Our evening meal will be ready shortly,” she added. “Will our guest be staying?”
“No,” Giston said before Petronis could reply. “I must be going.”
When Charlotte closed the door behind her, Giston said, modulating his voice carefully so that Charlotte wouldn’t overhear him, “You fool! You have no idea what you have done.”
“Obviously I killed my wife to be before she was born. I am now wed to a beautiful woman who clearly adores me.”
“But you have no idea what else you may have changed because of your thoughtless act.”
“What do I care?” Petronis said. “So long as Jennifer is no more.”
“You have no idea what you may have wreaked upon my present, by killing an innocent woman and her unborn child.”
“But is that not what you wished to accomplish—a change to history?”
“But for the good. For all I know, the death of your wife and her mother have resulted in…”
“What?” Petronis was excited by the prospect of learning something of the future.
“Never mind.” Giston said, adding, “A theory exists in my time, known as The Butterfly Effect. It suggests that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.”
“What is Texas?”
“Never mind.” Giston seemed lost in some secret thought. “Fascinating,” he muttered, seemingly intrigued.
“I must return to 1966 at once,” Giston said. Then he asked, “Do we have a deal? You will not assist Savery with his steam engine?”
Petronis shrugged. “Of course. I am a man of my word. But surely you must know that if Thomas does not succeed, someone else will, a year from now, or in ten.”
“Maybe. But even if he or someone else does, I’m hoping that this slight change to history will be enough to alter the events that led up to the catastrophe of October 21, 1966.” Then, in response to Petronis’s questioning gaze, he barked, “Never mind,” and bid a hasty departure.
Petronis opened the door to find a stranger standing there.
“Yes?” he asked.
“My name is Alexander Giston. It’s important that we talk.”
“Do I know you?”
“You could say we’re old friends,” Giston said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t recall me.”
Puzzled, Petronis stepped back to allow Giston entry. After closing the door, he led his guest down a short hallway, where an attractive woman, slight in build, approached from the opposite end.
“You have a guest,” she said, glancing at Giston. “Will he be staying for dinner?”
Petronis looked at Giston, who gave a shake of his head.
“No,” Petronis told the woman. “It will be you and I, Jennifer.” He was unable to hide his disdain for the woman.
“Why do you treat me with such disregard?” she asked.
Petronis rolled his eyes. He had not yet confronted Jennifer regarding the issue of her infidelity. He said only, “We will be in my den.” As he brushed past her, he heard her sigh.
Once they were seated, Giston said, “I’m here to break time.” After that cryptic prelude, he proceeded to relate an improbable story of time travel, providing evidence via several documents: a patent, a draft signed by Petronis, and a newspaper clipping depicting a horrible accident involving a steam engine—a much more sophisticated version of the model on which Thomas Savery was working, the very model in which Petronis was planning to invest.
Wanting to believe in the stranger’s claim, Petronis said, attempting to hide his intentions, “I require more proof. A visit thirty years into my past should suffice, I would think.”
“No,” Giston told him.
“As I thought,” Petronis said. “You attempt subterfuge.”
“No,” Giston said a second time. “This is my second visit to meet with you, although to you, it is our first meeting. Our first visit took place three days from today. You convinced me then to take you into your past. I consented, and you shot and killed your wife’s mother and her unborn child, your future wife, Jennifer.”
Petronis only stared at Giston, wanting to argue against the validity of his guest’s claim. But he couldn’t refute the stranger’s account: his plan was to return to the past to erase his wife’s existence.
“Your wife must survive,” Giston said, “because she is with child, conceived just prior to your discovery of her duplicity. Your son must live because he will create a family tree that will lead to my wife’s birth.”
With that, Giston pulled out a gun and shot Petronis, who slumped at his desk.
As Giston inspected the corpse to make certain it was devoid of life, the door burst in and Jennifer, seeing her husband dead, screamed, “You have killed my husband… murderer!”
“Yes,” Giston said. “You have no way of knowing, but you should thank me.” Then he added, “You will give birth to a son in little more than eight months. Care for him well—you and your lover—because the future depends on him.”
Then he rushed past Jennifer and out the door.
The gist of most time travel stories is changing some event in the past to alter the present—the past’s future, and The Past Amok is no different. But it is also a tale of revenge: Alexander Giston seeks retribution for the death of his family. The reader is led, throughout the narrative, down a path, but when they get to the bottom of the hill, they find a surprise destination awaits them.
Has your spouse ever cheated on you? How did you react? With rage, hurt? Were you tempted to even the score by having revenge sex with someone else? When Petronis discovers his wife’s infidelity and the opportunity presents itself, he retaliates by erasing his cheating spouse’s very existence. Did he overreact?
In short fiction, often what is left unsaid is as important as what the author spells out with words on a page. It is my hope that the reader here will consider Petronis’s response to his wife’s betrayal as having failed. Certainly, even with her gone from his life, the pain of her betrayal remains with him, while she, because she never existed, is none the wiser to his discovery of her infidelity. If none of us gets out of our life without a few regrets, will Petronis one day come to regret never having confronted her with her duplicity? Of course he is robbed of that opportunity by Giston’s action to rectify the past to save his present.
But should the reader not come away with these questions, it is my hope they at least found The Past Amok an entertaining read.
Cagney Nowak is writing a novel around the 1905 shooting death of baseball legend Ty Cobb’s father by his mother a week before Ty was called up by the Detroit Tigers. Although she was acquitted by an all-male jury on the grounds that the incident was accidental, the townspeople of Royston, Georgia, thought otherwise. When Cagney begins to relive the night of the shooting in his dreams, more than a century later and in the guise of Amanda Cobb, he is led to discover his father’s deepest secret.
More than a mystery, The Cobb Legacy is the story of a man’s efforts to connect with his dying father, a World War II veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to come to terms with his obsession over the Cobb legacy as well as his own adulterous affair and impending divorce, while doubting that love with an old friend can be his.
Apex Reviews gave The Cobb Legacy its highest rating—five stars—calling it “an eye-opening tale of drama, scandal, and intrigue highlighting the living, breathing history of a fatally-flawed, intrepid folk hero.”
Writers today are advised to identify their audience and write to it. Hence vampires and werewolves were, for a time, the hottest genres in literature. The Hunger Games became a phenomena, as did Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code; Fifty Shades of Gray continues to inspire erotica.
I recently read that a large portion of the Potter books go unread, used as doorstops, despite Rowling’s imagination and talent. Dan Brown has been labeled a hack for employing numerous bells and whistles to keep readers turning pages. Even readers who propelled Fifty Shades to the number one bestseller of all time snickered at the writing, even as they professed a connection to the female protagonist, a victim of sexual abuse they chose to ignore, wanting to see a romance, a poorly written one at that.
Genre has existed since the beginning of literature. Poetry, the oldest form of literature, older even than prose, was in ancient times divided into narrative, dramatic, and lyric forms. Narrative poetry was primarily epic. Dramatic poetry was divided into tragedy and comedy. Greek philosopher Aristotle named story genres by categorizing dramas according to the value-charge of endings and the design of stories.
Today no fewer than twenty-five genres exist, from romance to mystery to western to horror to fan fiction, and a host of others, including mainstream and literary. All because the publishing industry requires everything to fit into neat categories to increase their bottom line, and perhaps driven by demographics that prefer the same to facilitate their tastes.
It’s difficult for me to imagine what today’s consumer seeks in a novel, mostly because I have eclectic taste. Oh, in my youth I had a voracious appetite for science fiction, but as I grew older my tastes expanded.
Today I seek novels that are well-written, with an artistic flair. Characters with whom I connect are more important to me than storyline. Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad employed a different set of best practices, but they’re still talked about in creative writing classes. Raymond Chandler is considered one the greatest stylists of the twentieth century; but today’s writers are advised to write in a vanilla style so as not to take the reader out of the story.
The stories to which I gravitate don’t have to be world changing, but I’m attracted to characters who transform, the result of some life-changing obstacle—real people faced with real challenges. But it seems I’m in the minority.
As a writer, I’m faced with a dilemma: write what pleases me, stories similar to those I enjoy reading, or employ a formula to attract an audience hungry for genre. A critic called my work, “Gritty, entertaining… real. Romance for the non-romantic.” I like that as a brand.
Yet I continue to struggle to find an audience, an audience I know exists because I’m a part of it.
But my work is difficult to brand, perhaps because that audience isn’t a member of the vast social network that promotes today’s popular genres.
I must face the probability that today’s consumer cares little about the lyrical and more about being hooked by the first sentence else they will close the cover never again to be opened. With short attention spans, they seek entertainment first and foremost, and care little about three-dimensional characters or stories well-told. Curious as lemmings, they follow the trends.
Self-published writers consider themselves independents, along with small independent presses. They blog about how digital technology has transformed the publishing industry, and it has; just not all for the better.
Yes, it gives consumers a variety from which to choose. But a lot of it—most of it—is poorly written, unedited, poorly packaged drivel. Self-publishing allows publication without having to learn craft. Good writing requires more than simply opening a vein and bleeding. It requires knowledge of craft and best practices as well as talent.
Self-published writers boast that with a traditional publisher they have to do as much work and share their royalty, and if they don’t succeed—if the publisher doesn’t make enough money quickly enough—their title will be dropped.
They look at E.L. James’ success and think they, too, can win the lotto: self-publish and wait for Random House to come calling. It happens, but not all that often. Random House doesn’t care about quality. They care about return on investment. If Fifty Shades had bombed, do you think they’d have published the sequels? They were in such a hurry to get the first book to print that they didn’t bother to work with James to improve the text.
All of the above is true. The only thing good about the twenty-first century publishing model is that it gives voice to talented writers whose work might not ever see the light of day with one of the Big Five. Unfortunately the number of talented writers is minimal compared to the number of hacks.
Nearly a half-million new titles were published in 2014, most self-published. In my opinion that just makes it more difficult for the cream to rise to the top.
Where have all the years gone?
Would have, could have, should have. Me, my, mine justified choice, as did law and means—simple as a computer command: Undo.
Now: regret for what could have been, for what might have been, for all those empty tomorrows the result of a choice made yesteryear.
Sadness, repentance, disappointment reign over for you, who could have been. All that you could become taken from you.
Freedom to choose: me, my, mine.
Who would you be today, you who once was thought nothing? What would you be?
Youth. Foolish, selfish youth.
Freedom to choose guilt—the progeny of abortion.
A family member recently sent me an email that was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to explain the tax system in terms of beer—how unfair it is to expect the wealthy to pay more taxes. Although I’m a beer aficionado, I found little humor in the metaphor because it seemed as if it were written by a member of the top 10% wealthiest Americans and portrayed their elite class as victims.
But it got me to thinking: what of those wealthy who pay no taxes at all by off-shoring their profits? They get the biggest tax break of all, don’t they?
And wealthy corporations run by wealthy people who off-shore more jobs to create more wealth for themselves while leaving more Americans jobless (some claim 20%) and the average American earning nearly $5,000 less than they did before the crash… how fair is that? Trickle down? More like trickle up. What will the one percent do when the middle class is gone and the 90% at poverty level can’t even afford to shop at Walmart? Sell their products to China I guess, and complain about having to support those on Welfare.
And how fair is it to call lazy the bottom 90% of Americans who work harder and longer hours for less money than for the 10% wealthiest Americans to admit that they’re greedy?
By all means, bash Bernie Sanders for being a democratic socialist, and keep the corporate socialist status quo: loopholes, bailouts and influence in government.
Let’s face it: campaigns are run by politicians who hope, with their double speak and lies, to influence the common people to win their vote; but once in office they do little to benefit We, the People who cast their votes (notice I didn’t say they elect them) because the wealthy who funded their campaigns at some point will cash in their chips to benefit from their investment in the political process.
How fair is that?
Bernie Sanders is right to question Hillary Clinton’s “judgment.” As voters, we all should question her judgment.
She’s running a campaign on her experience—as First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State.
As First Lady she set back women’s rights by “Standing by my man” in the aftermath of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. As a “champion of women’s rights” she today claims that all sexually abused women have the “right to be heard” and the “right to be believed.” Yet she refused to answer a question at a campaign rally from a woman who asked if that included the women who came forward to accuse her husband of sexual improprieties and who Hillary slandered and paid off to keep quiet. She since has kept mum on her professed champion of women’s rights claim.
As a senator, she supported the invasion of Iraq, showing poor judgment. She introduced 711 bills, of which only four passed both chambers, and only three were made into law. Unremarkable.
As Secretary of State, she used poor judgment in using a personal email server for government business, claiming she didn’t do anything wrong or do anything that Colin Powell didn’t do. She still claims she didn’t receive or send anything marked classified, which also shows poor judgment. A document doesn’t need to be marked “classified” in order for it to be considered classified where national security is concerned, and wasn’t that part of her role, national security? Any government official with good judgment should understand this. That the DOJ will likely refuse to indict is criminal in itself.
Then there are the Benghazi incident and the toppling of Libya’s Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi’s regime. She continues to deny accountability of the deaths of Americans in the former, famously claiming, “What difference does it make now?” While in the latter, Libya has become a haven for ISIS because she showed poor judgment in not having a plan in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s death.
Her “experience” is remarkable only in that it continues to highlight poor judgment.
If life is a series of choices, a variety of inviting paths we take, why does it seem that the universe so often plays favorites, beckoning to the privileged few, “Take this path to fame, fortune, or power, to love and happiness”? Those few favorites stumble here and there, sometimes wander off the path into the rough, but always the universe seems to bring them back to that same path. They can’t help but succeed, and can’t seem to fail, even if they try.
The rest of us? We’re the bungled and the botched. The paths we come across are simply ours to take as we wish, even those same paths the favorite few take to achieve their dreams. No otherworldly affirmation of “Yes” or “No” for us as we glance left and right contemplating our options, making our list of pros and cons. Often it isn’t until much later that we find the path was a poor one for us, despite our care in choosing it even as we watch others soar; but it’s too late to go back: it’s a one-way path. So we tell ourselves, “That’s okay, it’s not important.” And because it’s not important we say it doesn’t matter. So we move forward, making the best of our choice as we look for the fork in the road ahead we hope will lead us to a better outcome, that will be more to our liking, result in fulfillment of our dreams.
Unlike the universe’s favorites—ushered by its open arms to take the fork that will best benefit them as if it were a birthright—the rest of us are left to make our own choice, or as Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So we take it, unknowing of what lies ahead, around the corner, hoping it’s the best path, but learning after it’s once again too late that our choice was the poor one.
Then we get to a point when we look back at our life and realize that our choices were nearly all poor—except that last one, the one onto which we dearly cling hoping, praying it won’t disappoint us again—but that all of them (our choices) led us to this place. Not a great place, we know it could be much worse; but it’s not nearly what we envisioned in our youth. And we conclude, again, that it’s just not important, that it doesn’t matter. Which means that we’re not important, that we truly don’t matter. We never did.
So all we have is our wonderment over just what it is the universe wants from us, and, if anything, for us.
Circumstances today led me to a town to which I hadn’t been in nearly thirty years.
Lapeer is a tiny municipality in the lower portion of Michigan’s thumb. Think a northern Mayberry, RFD. During the final two years of my first marriage I drove each morning from Pontiac, about thirty miles south of Lapeer, to do the morning show at the AM radio station in Lapeer.
The station, call letters WDEY, was run by a guy named David Sommerville, a forty-something high-strung guy who suffered from Crohn’s disease. Bought a cat as a sort of station mascot that I loved to torment after the overnight DJ left and before the receptionist (Diane) and sales staff (one woman named Donna) arrived. Don’t ask me how I remember all that. All I know is I remember it, although I can’t recall what I had for lunch last Thursday.
My mission this day was to see if one really could go home again.
I had little trouble locating the historic district downtown. A beautiful church—more than a century old—was right where I’d left it; as was the post office, although a new one had since opened down the street. The old one is now a historical landmark.
A few blocks straight ahead, on the left, the facades of the buildings looked similar to what I recalled, but somehow different. The five and dime under which the radio station sat atop, was no longer a five and dime, and although the shortwave radio antenna still sat on the roof of the building, no evidence of the radio station existed.
Other landmarks I recalled from my days as the morning show host—E.G. Nicks for example, a bar and grille for which I’d done plenty of ads, was still there. But Lapeer Tire had become Belle Tire. The car dealership was still there, but I couldn’t recall the name it had been, only that it wasn’t what it is today.
From Lapeer I took Michigan Highway 24 south to Pontiac—the route I took daily when I worked the morning gig at WDEY. My show started at six and I liked to arrive at least twenty minutes early to get a coffee and prepare for my show.
I recall one morning drive north on this mostly two-lane highway, with occasional stretches of four lanes through Lake Orion (where there is a Ford plant) and Oxford. It was dark and a motorist behind me was hot to get me driving faster than the five miles per hour over the limit I was driving. Traffic coming southbound was brisk—UAW employees on their way to the morning shift at the Ford plant.
This guy was right on my bumper, weaving from side to side in our lane, flashing his high beams at me in an effort to get me to go faster. Of course I only slowed which, for some reason, seemed to incense this motorist.
Noticing some debris ahead in our lane, I managed to drive over it without hitting it. Not so the guy I had in tow. A few seconds later he pulled off onto the shoulder of the road with what I guessed was a flat tire. I laughed my ass off at that, and devoted more than a few minutes discussing it on the air. It never occurred to me that the guy might listen to my show.
On a whim, as I neared Pontiac, I decided to drive by where I once lived with my then wife, a tiny mobile home park on M-59 and Elizabeth Lake Road in Waterford. It was so tiny they couldn’t accommodate double-wide homes. I had visions that it had been razed at some point over the years to make room for a strip mall or a McDonald’s. I wondered if I would be disappointed to find another part of my life erased forever. Imagine my surprise when I found the park still existed.
I pulled into the driveway wondering if the old home might still be there, but I couldn’t recall the street name. As luck had it, the first street to which I came was Marge, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. A name I’d used in my very first novel written nearly twenty-five years ago, “Large Marge” was a security guard who played a bit but humorous part in January’s Paradigm.
I wheeled my car to the right—the only way I could turn. There, not thirty feet from the intersection, a dark gray home.
No, I thought. That can’t be it.
Then I noticed the address, painted on a rock next to the driveway: “16”. A second ton of bricks hit me: Sixteen Marge was the address on my license for the short time I lived there, before my first wife and I parted company.
I slowed to a stop in front of the place; it had bay windows on the end of the house facing the street. Our home had bay windows like that. I used to sit at my kitchen table on Sunday morning sipping my coffee and staring out that bay window at the house across the street, contemplating my marriage and my unhappiness.
This aged home fit well in this old park, better than it had more than thirty years ago when it was delivered, brand spanking new with that new mobile home smell. I left the park for home through the only other entrance wondering how many families had lived there over the years since I moved out.
As I drove home to Dearborn, nearly twenty miles further south, my thoughts drifted to all the homes in which I’ve lived over the years. Excluding the house in which I grew up, I’ve lived in six, and only one, the current home, was a brick and mortar house. The others were a mobile home and apartments.
All of which left me to conclude that one’s efforts to go home can never quite get you there—except the one in which you currently lay your head. My current home, which I share with my wife, Colleen, is the best.
One must care about a world one will not see.
In 2115, unbeknownst to the world, a savior was born unto the future…
Antanas sits and watches entranced, his drink untouched, as the young woman, a natural exhibitionist, dances on the table before which he sits. Bathed in the bright spotlight affixed from the ceiling half a room away, her face bears the beauty of her Estonian descent, and her body is that of a goddess. He admires, with his artist’s eye, her well-sculpted glutes, her narrow waist and full hips, well-proportioned breasts, and especially her legs—lush, rounded thighs, taut hamstrings, and curvilinear calves.
Antanas has had success finding subjects at several other similar clubs where women dance, nude, for tips and drinks. He is eighteen and already well-known in Lithuania for his work in clay. Several of his pieces, all nudes, are on display at the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum in Vilnius. Varnelis had spent the second half of the 20th century in the United States and was renowned for his abstract paintings of optical illusions. Before the fall of the United States in the latter half of the 21st century, his work had been on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago. Antanas will likely never travel abroad, as the airline industry succumbed (for myriad reasons, not the least of which were acts of terrorism against refineries as well as a lack of qualified pilots) long before he’d been born, so he has no idea whether any of Varnelis’s work overseas have survived, although rumor has it that much of it—that which has not been brought home to Lithuania—now belongs to private collectors.
When she finishes her routine, Antanas tips the woman generously and asks, in her native tongue, that she join him. If she is impressed by the size of his tip or that he speaks Estonian she doesn’t show it; she merely leads him by the hand to a more secluded portion of the club where she begins quoting him her prices. Antanas offers two bills and asks that she merely sit and enjoy a drink with him. The woman accedes, betraying mild surprise that nothing more will be required of her. After her drink arrives—vodka with water on the side—Antanas introduces himself as an artist, one of Lithuania’s most promising young sculptors. The woman looks unimpressed.
“I want you to sit for me, nude,” he says and watches the woman’s esteem rise with the posturing of her head. “I’ll first need to make several sketches in various poses, and for the clay I’ll require several sessions of no more than a few hours each over several days. I’ll pay you, for each session, whatever you earn for a good night’s work dancing.”
“Nothing else will be required of me?”
Unaware, in his youthful naiveté, of what she is intimating, Antanas shakes his head and watches the woman consider his proposition.
“How do I know you are who you say you are?”
Hurt by her accusation, Antanas shows the woman his identification and tells her a phone call to the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum will prove the validity of his claim.
The woman nods and Antanas wonders if she is considering the notion that she is to be immortalized in clay or simply allowing her self-image to run away with itself, the result of what she may perceive to be, like the other patrons of this establishment, his obsession with her body.
“My name is Loviise,” she says. “When do we start?”
“Tomorrow morning,” he tells her, and gives her his address.
For the remainder of the night Antanas watches Loviise dance. She seems to prefer the sensuous as opposed to the overtly provocative, but she indulges in whatever each patron demands to maximize the size of her tip, and Antanas, his creativity inflamed, imagines a variety of poses by which he might denote Loviise’s incredible anatomy for all time—what little of it remains in the world of man.
Tomorrow arrives and with it Loviise to Antanas’s studio. After two hours Antanas has four sketches: one with Loviise, on her hands and knees, looking back over her shoulder; another in a reclined position on a bed; a third showing Loviise standing, her right leg bearing most of her weight, hands on hips with feet widely spaced; the fourth her feet again apart but with toes in and knees together, with Loviise bent at the waist, torso nearly parallel to the floor, to show her backside, her right hip thrust in that direction and slightly higher than the left as she peers back at the viewer.
When he is finished Antanas bids Loviise to inspect his work. She seems disappointed.
“These look nothing like me.”
Antanas smiles. “No, I suppose they don’t. For my sketches I focus on your musculature—what makes your anatomy do what it does.”
“Draw stares wherever I go.”
“Yes, I imagine it does that,” Antanas says with a laugh.
“Will the sculpture look like one of these?”
“No, it will look more like the real you.”
“Which will you choose?”
“I don’t know yet.” But already Antanas is torn between two—the one that shows Loviise in seductive repose or the one with her bent at the waist; the latter draws the viewer to her backside and best showcases her legs, the stretched hamstrings and graceful curves of her calves, and he likes her asymmetrical posture. While the former, a more traditional pose, shows elegance, Loviise’s open legs indicative of trust. Antanas begins to consider the necessity of a second piece.
Antanas asks Loviise to arrive the next day at the same time to commence work on the clay, and she leaves, seemingly taken aback that nothing more is required of her.
With Loviise gone, Antanas, still chaste at his young age, is acutely aware of the desire with which she’s left him.
Antanas stands back to admire, for a moment, Loviise’s lovely body, which he’s just finished posing for their morning session. She lays on her back, left leg upright but bent at the knee just so to flatter the gentle swell of its calf, foot balanced on a fifteen-centimeter stiletto; her right leg, also bent at the knee, lays flat on the bed at a right angle to the left, its thigh taut, the point of her stiletto-clad right foot nearly kissing the point of its counterpart; her back slightly arched with her right hand rested lightly on her ribcage, nearly in support of her breast, while her left arm falls above her head, where her long brown hair is carefully arranged to look natural on the pillow upon which her head rests. The stilettos are all Loviise wears.
Antanas allows his desire to wash over him for a moment as he drinks in Loviise’s nude form, prone on the sheepskin blanket, his eyes linger on her legs, her rose-tipped breasts. She smiles at him, perhaps guessing his thoughts. Antanas blushes and turns his attention to the mound of clay before him.
“I’m surprised you chose this pose,” Loviise says from her reclined position. “I had taken you for an ass lover.”
Antanas laughs but is unable to mask his embarrassment at her accusation. He briefly considers letting her in on his wish to do a second piece but decides to wait. Instead he says, “You have a beautiful body.”
Loviise sighs as if his assessment were something she’s heard countless times. “They are just body parts.”
Antanas wonders, as he picks up a chisel and sets about sculpting the clay’s shapelessness into the semblance of Loviise’s form, if this were Loviise’s way of telling him she tires of hearing such praise. “You are right,” he says, “if you consider only their basic functions—legs as a means of perambulation, breasts a source of nutrients for infants, the breadth of a woman’s hips to accommodate child-bearing. But there is something artistic in anatomy. God must have been a sculptor when he created Adam and Eve.”
Loviise laughs. “God created all creatures, great and small—the colorful and the graceful as well as the unsightly. To propagate their species, a toad must copulate with a mate. Surely they are not driven by their attraction to another toad?”
“Who can say what attraction exists between genders of another species—perhaps toads perceive the human form hideous. I suspect it is only instinct on which they function.”
“Which is no different than any man I’ve known,” Loviise says with a smile designed to distract Antanas from her callous tone. “At least that’s been my experience.”
“Beauty can be found in many places: in a song, a poem, a glade, a panorama, a woman’s body. That’s not to say such beauty speaks to everyone, but to those who seek, such beauty exists.” Loviise says nothing, so Antanas adds: “Even a baby responds more favorably to a beautiful face.”
“What can a baby know of beauty?”
“Infants are very perceptive. Symmetry is the basis for much beauty. While a baby certainly is incapable of reasoning, it responds more favorably to aesthetically pleasing features.” Antanas works his chisel through the soft clay that will become Loviise’s left leg, removing portions of unwanted clay as he goes.
“But getting back to your comment regarding body parts,” he says. “The history of art is a catalogue of beauty at any given moment of the past. Consider that Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish painter in the seventeenth century, portrayed his nudes as pear-shaped and somewhat full-figured—by today’s standards they would be considered overweight, even obese. But in Rubens’s time, such images depicted the very wealthy aristocrats. To be slender, waifish, betrayed one’s status in society as underprivileged. Yet in the mid- to late twentieth century, the standard for female beauty in print, film and fashion was astonishingly slender—the latter, I suspect, was to allow no distraction from the clothing the model wore. Many women succumbed to anorexia.”
“Which only serves to prove that women have, for centuries, been objectified for their bodies.”
“Yes,” Antanas says, admiring Loviise’s body in its prone position on the bed. “But you allow it, no?” Not an accusation; merely observation.
Loviise seems startled by Antanas’s perceptivity but quickly recovers. “It serves me,” she says. “It provides me a better living than I could otherwise hope for in this dying world. Even if it has left me handicapped in many ways.”
“Handicapped?” Antanas watches Loviise consider her reply.
“I am pleased the world will not outlive me,” she says. “In time my beauty will abandon me and where would that leave me?”
Antanas is silent. He knows opportunities, for men and women alike, are dwindling along with the planet’s resources. For a woman like Loviise, like the women of biblical times, she is surviving the only way she can.
The world’s oldest profession.
Loviise intrudes on his sad thought: “Would you deny you would like to fuck me?”
Antanas blushes and thinks about admitting that he’s never been with a woman, but he doesn’t wish to betray his naiveté. Instead he merely says, “I’m very attracted to your form, for my art.”
“You’re a liar,” Loviise says with a sarcastic laugh.
“I find you very desirable—as you’ve already told me many men do. Your profession invites it, even if your reasons for choosing such a profession are a matter of survival. I would never force myself on you, nor would I pay you for sexual favors.”
“No? Why not?” The woman who professed to abhor being judged for her body parts sounds disappointed. When Antanas doesn’t reply, Loviise adds, “Perhaps you are a pervert and will tend to your own pleasure over that statue you create, when I am gone for the last time.”
“No,” Antanas says. “That is not my purpose.” The thought that he, or anyone, would find his work pornographic is unconscionable.
“Then why do you create it? You wish to immortalize me in the eyes of men for all of twenty years?”
“This statue will endure for centuries.”
“What good does that serve if there is no one to appreciate it?” Antanas can say nothing to rebut Loviise. Then, perchance wanting to hold on to some ideal of her own she would in all likelihood deny, she adds, “Then maybe it is because you are young, idealistic. Could be you still believe in love.”
“I’ve always believed in love,” Antanas says.
“Then you’ve not yet had your heart broken.”
Antanas thinks a moment of Giedre, the girl who’d done just that, broken his heart, two years ago when her family moved to Finse in Norway. Even though they’d never consummated their love, Antanas remained in touch with Giedre for nearly a year, and then her letters to him became fewer, finally stopping altogether a few weeks ago, and Antanas was forced to consider the likelihood that she’d met someone else. He sighs aloud, which prompts a laugh from Loviise.
“From your sigh it seems you believe otherwise.” When Antanas says nothing, Loviise asks, “What was her name?”
“Giedre.” Antanas’s hands stop their work; he feels Loviise’s eyes upon him. “It was perhaps only puppy love,” he says to hide his embarrassment.
“There is something to be said for young love,” Loviise says. “Innocence lost can never be regained.”
Moved by the sorrow in her voice, Antanas looks up, sees pain in Loviise’s countenance, and grieves for her. Not wishing to intrude on her discomfort, he is quick to look away.
“Where did Giedre go and why did she go?”
“Her family moved to Finse, where a greater supply of fresh water exists, thinking to buy a few more good years before―”
Loviise nods to show she understands. After a moment, she asks, “And you? Why did you not follow her?”
“I’m Lithuanian. I was born here and don’t wish to die in some foreign land.”
“Perhaps you did not love her so much as you thought.”
“Or she, me,” Antanas is quick to add as he works the cool, moist clay of Loviise’s left thigh, such a contrast to how he imagines her real flesh would feel to his kneading hands—smooth, like the clay, but warm, soft like a pillow, velvety.
“A young man should pursue his heart’s desire,” Loviise says, as if she is taunting him. Antanas ignores her.
“And you?” he asks. “Will you return to Estonia?”
Antanas watches Loviise consider several replies before she settles on: “There is nothing for me there. I will remain here, where in all likelihood I will die alone.”
“Surely you must have family, friends, a lover.”
“My mother is dead, and my father molested me when I was but a girl. I have no siblings and my friends, if they can be called that, work with me, and they see me as I see them: competition, a hindrance to making a living. As for a lover… I have as many as I wish.” Loviise sounds proud, but Antanas wonders if her pride is manufactured, a mask to cover up some inner damage. “They provide me pleasure and distraction, but little comfort. But at least they cannot break my heart, as I do theirs when I tire of them.”
Antanas looks at Loviise’s magnificent body on the divan before him, tries to bring to mind Giedre’s much more girlish figure (she’d been nineteen when last he’d seen her), and wonders how she might appear today—softer, rounder, fuller. Her name means serenity, and she had provided much comfort to him in these troubling times. Still, her form had not inspired him in his art. No sculptures of her nude body would ever grace the halls of museums—not that she ever would’ve agreed to pose for Antanas; she was much too shy. Still, he’d loved her, for her shyness, her sweet innocence, kindness and compassion, her keen business mind (she’d been instrumental in getting his work into the Kazys Varnelis House-Museum), and perhaps most for her ability to find hope where little existed. In return she had loved Antanas, and seemed secure in her place. And here before him is perhaps the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen; yet she is cold, insensitive, indifferent, perhaps incapable of love. Perfect as her flesh is, inside, despite her arrogance (or because of it), she is broken. Lovely as she appears, Antanas knows he could never love Loviise.
“Why do you look at me like that?” Loviise asks.
“As if you pity me.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that… it hurts me to hear you speak of love as you do. Love is all that matters in the world. I believe it is what we are put here for.”
“There are many forms of love we seek, all of them for selfish reasons. We want it, of that I have no doubt. But few are willing to give it in order to receive it, preferring instead to take. Then there is love of money—which has made the world what it is today. Many love and covet my body―”
“Even as you loathe it, for what it has failed to bring you.”
Loviise falls silent a moment, perhaps taken by Antanas’s vision, before saying: “A love of flesh is not the same as love of a person. This flesh I wear is not who I am, inside.”
Antanas nods. “What were your dreams, as a child?”
“Dreams? What good are dreams? They are but a momentary escape, in repose, from the harsh truth of reality.”
“A wise man once wrote, ‘Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future.’”
“My father dashed my dreams, left me with only nightmares of my past. As for hope, what optimism can be had in the face of what lies ahead?”
“Which makes love all the more important,” Antanas says. “Men and women have been dying for centuries. The man who is told his days are numbered the result of some incurable disease often finds purpose and comfort in love. That our days as a species are limited has always been true; that they now have been given a fixed number makes love imperative, the only thing that should matter.”
“You are young and…” Loviise trails off.
Antanas smiles. “If I weren’t I’d long ago have ended my life. I’m sorry you have no hope in finding love.”
“You hope to find love?”
“I find it where I seek for it—at present in my work.”
Loviise thinks a moment, says, “As a girl I dreamed of making scientific contributions to prolong man’s existence.”
“A worthwhile vision.”
“A child’s foolishness. How could I expect to undo man’s centuries of folly?”
“Many have turned a deaf ear to ridicule to accomplish great things. Not all have contributed to man’s demise.”
“Do you also hope to find love with a woman?”
“Then hold onto your hope, and dreams.”
“I despaired, after Giedre left, that I would ever again find love. But time is mending my hope. Perhaps it will mend yours, too, if you wish it.”
“I give hope to others,” Loviise says, “of finding love, even if their love is misplaced in their hatred of me or in their desire for my body.”
“Everyone wishes to be loved, even you, Loviise. You may be broken, the result of what your father did to you, but you can mend, perhaps not as good as new, but well enough to find your heart’s desire.”
“My heart is closed.”
“That is a choice.” Antanas looks up from where he is working, on the clay that is to become Loviise’s right leg, sees Loviise studying him. Rather than acknowledge his wisdom, she deftly changes the direction of their discussion:
“Giedre left before you consummated your love.”
Blushing, Antanas looks down to where his hands shape the clay.
“Nor have you known the pleasure of a woman’s body.”
Antanas sighs but refuses to look up from where he molds his hands to Loviise’s right thigh.
“You fear me,” Loviise says. “Or perhaps you fear your desire for me, because it is not love.”
Little more is said during the remainder of the session; when Loviise leaves, Antanas looks at the clay he’s formed—two legs and a portion of a torso—and he considers the remainder of the sculpture as well as his subject. He recalls the sculptures of the great artists of the past he’s studied. Beautiful renditions of beautiful women; great works of art. It was said that Auguste Rodin had often molested his models, leaving Antanas to consider whether something of beauty could be created from vulgarity. Had Rodin’s models, too, been broken inside, as Loviise was? Perhaps brokenness was a prerequisite for such women—women willing to take off their clothes for the sake of art. Suddenly he finds it difficult to separate Rodin the man from his art.
Antanas recalls a class he’d taken that presented the history of art. There’d been a discussion about a Canadian woman of the mid-20th century who’d voiced her disdain for paintings depicting the beautiful Canadian landscape, which an artist of the time had defined as made for the canvas. The woman had said, “It’s bad enough I have to live in this godforsaken country, why would I want to hang pictures of it in my house?”
It’s true, Antanas considers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—which is just another way of saying beauty is based on perspective. One man’s art is another man’s pornography.
Antanas sighs as he ponders the lie of his own creation. He envisions the finished piece as beautiful, perhaps his best work to date. Yet for all its beauty, it would not, perhaps could not, reveal Loviise’s tormented inner self. It could show only what she was, never the who: the dashed hopes, the broken dreams, the heartache that all combine to make this woman unique and something more than the shell he endeavors to immortalize in clay.
Later that evening, as Antanas prepares his tools for the next morning, his father comes over to his studio from the house. After taking a moment to admire, from two perspectives, the beginnings of what Antanas will call simply, “Loviise,” he nods appreciatively.
“Your work improves with each piece, sūnus,” he says.
“Thank you, tėvas. It helps to have a beautiful subject.” Antanas recalls his earlier discussion with Loviise, his rumination after her departure, and cringes at his reference to a woman as a subject. Loviise is the sum total of her beauty as well as her personality, intellect, her life experience; but the latter has conspired to contrast with her outward appearance. Broken, she strives to hide her pain behind the perception others have of her.
“She certainly has lovely legs—very much like motinėlė’s, when she was young,” his father says, smiling a sad smile, and Antanas realizes his father isn’t paying him a social call, to see his new work. “I look forward to seeing it completed.”
“What is it, tėvas? You look troubled.”
His father looks from the clay to Antanas. “You should know,” he says tentatively, “Jiera has returned from Finse.”
“What is it?” Antanas says again, his heart sinking when his father hesitates to continue.
“I regret to have to tell you, Giedre was killed a few weeks ago, along with her tėvas.”
“No,” Antanas says, as if saying so would undo it. And then, “How?”
“Many are immigrating to Finse, further straining the water supply there. The local government passed an edict denying entry. The edict also included immigrants of the past year. Many were asked to depart.”
“But Giedre and her parents have been residents for two years.”
“There was an uprising. Giedre and her tėvas were caught up in it, killed along with a dozen others. Victims of circumstance.”
Antanas can say nothing. He’d assumed Giedre’s letters to him had stopped because she’d found another love. He’d grieved her loss to another, had tried to be happy for her. But he finds the truth behind her lost correspondence far more painful. “Giedre, dead,” he says tentatively, trying on the words like an artist might apply a new color to his canvas.
“I’m sorry,” his father says, putting his arms around Antanas. “I know you cared very much for Giedre.”
Antanas returns his father’s embrace and lets out his grief: great sobs of anguish, and he realizes he hadn’t stopped loving Giedre, that his hope they might one day be reunited had never waned.
“You seem sad today,” Loviise says from her place on the divan, where Antanas is arranging her hair on the pillow.
Antanas feels his eyes tear up; he had thought to withhold his grief from Loviise, to lose himself in his work, but her simple statement, posed sincerely—or perhaps it was just the sensuous quality of her voice?—reopens the wound that has had scarce time to form even a scab.
“Giedre,” he whispers, as if her mere name were sacred, “is dead.”
“Antanas,” Loviise says softly, and Antanas tries to recall if she’s ever before called him by name. “I’m sorry.”
Antanas looks into Loviise’s gray eyes, sees his own pain mirrored, and wonders at her ability to perceive the hidden feelings of another; perhaps she is not so cold, aloof, as she wished others to perceive her.
“It is the world in which we live,” he says simply. “We will all join her much sooner than we wish.”
For the next several hours Antanas works silently, sculpting away unwanted clay from Loviise’s torso, tenderly working the clay into semblances of her heavy breasts, right arm and shoulders. On those occasions when he looks up at his subject, he several times catches her studying him. The previous day, when they’d freely conversed, she seemed to relish being the center of Antanas’s world, excluding him from hers. Whether she enjoys watching his hands work the clay or feels pity for him the result of his loss he can’t know, but he feels comfort commingle with discomfiture as her eyes seem, for the first time, to see him.
“I’m tired,” Loviise says much later, not so much a complaint. Antanas has worked longer than he’d originally planned, not wanting, after Loviise’s departure, to be confronted with Giedre’s loss. “My left arm”—the arm that Antanas had arranged above her head—“has fallen asleep.”
Antanas laughs. “And now it will be up all night.”
Loviise joins his laughter. “I wondered if you might have a sense of humor. Come, help me up.”
Antanas walks to where Loviise lays and offers a hand, still damp from clay; she takes it but instead of leveraging herself upright, she pulls him down to sit on the edge of the divan.
“I’ve enjoyed watching you work,” she says, placing one of his hands on a breast. “Watching your hands work my breasts, so lovingly,” she adds with an envious glance at her twin. Antanas feels his face redden. “I wondered how they might feel on mine. You have strong hands, but soft. Can you deny you haven’t wondered how my real breast might feel?” Antanas only looks up from where his hand rests, to find Loviise looking at him. “It’s okay if you want to squeeze—just pretend it is your clay.”
Antanas feels his hand constrict, the breast yield amiably, then he caresses the soft warm flesh, such a contrast to the cool medium of his art; he feels the nipple stiffen beneath his touch, hears Loviise’s quick intake of air.
“Kiss me,” she says.
Antanas lowers his head to partake of Loviise’s parted lips.
Afterward, as Antanas drinks in Loviise’s beautiful body, where traces of dried clay dust reveal where his hands have explored—cheek, shoulder, breasts, hip and thigh—he is unprepared for the flood of guilt that now assails him. He’d barely time to commence grieving for Giedre, whom he hadn’t seen in two years, and who in all likelihood had found love with another, and he now finds himself burdened by his perception of his betrayal.
Antanas studies Loviise’s eyes; in turn hers study his, and he wonders at her reasons for seducing him in the manner she had. Was it because he’d maintained he would never pay for her favors or force himself on her, because he’d professed his love for another woman? Because her arrogance sought to be his first? Or because she felt pity for him, seeking to distract him from his grief for a time? Certainly it wasn’t because she cared for him. Or me for her, he censures himself. Something in him had broken at the news of Giedre’s death and so he’d sought succor in the arms of another, lost that which he’d hoped to one day give to Giedre, or someone else he might come to love.
“You feel guilt,” Loviise says. Her tone is not critical. “Because of Giedre.”
“And you wonder at my reasons for giving myself to you.”
Antanas nods; Loviise sighs. “It was not out of pity, if that is what you are thinking.” And: “You are unlike any man I’ve met. You are filled with hope, your dreams flourish, which makes you very handsome to me, and desirable.”
“A folly of youthful naiveté,” Antanas says with no small measure of irony.
Loviise ignores him. “I loved watching you work. Your hands work artistry, create beauty from shapelessness. I envy your love of your work, and wanted to feel your hope inside me.”
“You feel no love for me.”
“I don’t know you well enough to feel love. Love comes only later, when our clay masks come off and we can see the unpleasantness in our partner without looking away.”
Antanas is unable to disguise his disappointment by looking away. Loviise goes on:
“You were right yesterday: there is a part of me, a part I thought dead, that desires to be loved. Others have fucked my body, but you, Antanas,” she says, enticing him to look back at her. “You loved my body, tenderly, attentively—even if you are inexperienced.” She smiles at him affectionately, proof, to Antanas, that she isn’t mocking him. “You cared about my pleasure, and made it your own.”
“Well,” Antanas says, somewhat embarrassed by Loviise’s praise, “tomorrow I will finish with Loviise. What would you say to sitting for another piece?”
Loviise smiles warmly at Antanas and says, “I was hoping you would ask.”
Antanas finishes Loviise’s left arm and hair before, forced to confront his greatest fear, turning his attention to her face. He can easily mold her features as she presents them to the world—elegance mixed with manufactured haughtiness—but he wants something more. Like da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, whose fixed gaze and secret smile provoke a silent communication between subject and viewer, Antanas wants, needs for the sake of his art, to portray, along with Loviise’s great beauty, something of her inner brokenness. Her smile, which personifies equal parts seduction and arrogance, he manages to fashion, in the set of her mouth, into semblance of a mask; while the eyes—slightly downcast—seem to refuse to meet the gaze of the imaginary viewer, contrasting with the smile. The overall effect, Antanas hopes, will invite the viewer to consider something of Loviise’s inner ache.
When he finishes, Antanas invites Loviise to inspect herself. Unlike their first sessions, which ended with Loviise donning a robe before inspecting Antanas’s work, she pads over on bare feet unaware of her nudity, perhaps secure in his presence. Antanas hopes her security is sincere and not manufactured, as he envisions it is when she dances nude for her clients. She seems intent on inspecting her own face, ignoring those aspects of her figure she’d previously discounted as body parts. Perhaps she is already intimately familiar with his imitation, having watched him work on them the past two days, or perhaps she is merely familiar with their representation as seen through the lustful glances of her clients. As she studies herself, from several perspectives, Antanas is acutely aware of her body not as a subject but as a woman, the woman who’d introduced him to the pleasures of the flesh; if Loviise is aware of his scrutiny she gives no hint. She studies her features long moments, and Antanas begins to fear her disapproval. Finally she asks:
“This is how you perceive me?”
A moment later Loviise nods. “There is something here revealed I thought my secret alone.”
A wave of relief washes through Antanas that he’s succeeded; but it is immediately followed by angst—that she may request that he change it.
“I thought I’d glimpsed it,” he says, “during our first session, through our discussion. But yesterday, after we…”
“After we made love,” she finishes, looking up at him. It is the first time she’s looked at him since coming over to inspect his work. Again she seems to see him, into him, as if he is someone she is loath to hope exists.
“I don’t pity you,” he says, answering her two-day-old charge.”
“But you grieve for that which you perceive as lost.”
“Wounded,” he corrects.
Loviise smiles, takes him by the hand to lead him back to the divan, where they indulge in their sexual passions for the second time in as many days.
Afterward, as they lay basking in the afterglow, Antanas wonders if Loviise might be the woman to replace Giedre, feels uncertainty creep in—whether Loviise might feel love for him. As if she is privy to his inner thoughts, Loviise advises: “Don’t confuse love with sex, Antanas.”
Because Loviise is his first lover, Antanas can’t know that men often blur the two. Confused by her statement, he says nothing.
“I know you love my body, which is not the same as loving me. You want to fix in me that which you think broken, which is both admirable and foolish.”
“Foolish?” Antanas asks, suddenly fearful that Loviise will one day break his heart, as she has told him she’s done many times when she tired of her other lovers. He’d originally thought her comment a lie, to keep up the barrier between them; but now he is forced to consider the truth behind her statement. “Love is never foolish,” he adds.
“But lovers often are just that. No, I’m not referring to you but to me.”
“It is not foolish to believe in love, to desire love, to wish to give love.” Antanas hears Loviise sigh beside him.
“As you’ve already deduced, and shown in your statue, I’m broken.”
“To remain so is a choice.”
“You know nothing of me.”
“I know what you do for a living, and that it’s something you detest.”
“Yet it is something at which I excel. Opportunities in the world today are slim for a woman like me.”
“You don’t have to continue doing something you despise.”
Loviise laughs softly, a canorous sound to Antanas’s ears. “I should work for you? How many statues of me can you create from your obsession with my body parts?”
“I’m not obsessed with your body.”
“So you think,” Loviise says in a patronizing tone.
“You don’t know me so well as you believe.”
“But I know men. You love Giedre, mourn her loss, perhaps seek to replace her to allay your ache.”
“You could work for me, from a business perspective. Promote me, my work.”
“I know nothing of business.”
“It’s not so difficult. I could teach you.”
Loviise falls silent and Antanas hopes she is considering his proposition. A moment later she says: “To what end? Do you imagine that, as time grows short, your art will have meaning?”
“Art will always have meaning,” he argues because he wishes to believe it will be so.
“I love that about you, sweet Antanas—your romanticism.”
“Do you believe that your art, your dancing, will also endure near the end?”
“Pornography has always had its place in the world, perhaps more so in times that were darkest.”
Antanas sighs, unable to refute her wisdom. “Just promise me you’ll consider it.”
“Very well,” Loviise says, but Antanas wonders if her concession is meant only to end their discussion. A moment and she punctuates its end by reaching down between his legs. Antanas feels himself respond and gives in to his desire.
The next day Loviise arrives to commence work on the new piece, and the next day again. Nothing is said about Antanas’s proposition, but each session ends with their customary love-making and Antanas begins to believe in a happily ever after as he feels Loviise begin to feel hopeful about her future.
However, like Giedre, Loviise abandons Antanas, before their third session—long before she might tire of him.
What power, to hold in one’s own hands the ability to affect the present by altering the past… In the 22nd century the world population has dwindled to fewer than a billion, with total extinction expected within a decade.
An erotic tale of love and love lost, Chaotic Theory centers around three profiles of a solitary individual, Antanas Rupkus, a young Lithuanian. In one he is a musician endeavoring to keep alive the work of American jazz musicians of the 20th century. Stoic and aimless, Antanas is incapable of anything but physical intimacy the result of having witnessed, as a boy, his parents killed by Estonian immigrants in search of fresh water.
In another profile, Antanas is a sculptor, filled with hope and the belief that love can overcome all obstacles, until he loses the object of both his inspiration and desire.
In the third, he is a writer whose essays define the mid to late 20th century as the point in history that set man on the path to extinction. But alas, his wisdom comes too late. If only Antanas had lived two hundred years earlier; but perhaps he can, if what Kazys Galdikas tells him is true…
The world will be saved by one or two people.
―André Paul Guillaume Gide
Chaos leans his full weight against the body, twists the knife, feels the body tense and rise up, then go limp. Staring into the blank eyes, wide with fear and the comprehension of death, he feels the warm viscous fluid seeping from the wound in the body’s torso, somewhere just beneath the sternum. One hand on its shoulder, the other still on the hilt of the knife, Chaos takes a step back. When the body tips forward, he performs a combination sidestep and pirouette, exchanging places with the corpse, and gently assists it, as if it is a lover, to a prone position on the floor.
The date is November 8, 2041, a critical date in the history of the 22nd century, although no account of this date’s events appears in any history book. On this day, a day to which the dead man on the floor lying beneath Chaos would refer as his present but which Chaos considers his own past, the dead man had traveled back in time to the year 1941—a date to which they each could lay claim as their past—driven by the same mission as Chaos’s: to change the present by amending the distant past.
The door of the room suddenly bursts in and Chaos looks up to see two men with guns…
On the Road: the Original Scroll was published in 2007—the first ever publication of Jack Kerouac’s original draft of the novel that defined the post World War II Beat and Counterculture generations, its characters living life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry, and drug use.
First published in 1957 by Viking Press, On the Road is a roman à clef—fiction in which real people or events appear with invented names—with key figures in the Beat movement, such as William S. Burroughs (Old Bull Lee) and Allen Ginsberg (Carlo Marx), represented by characters in the book, including Kerouac as the narrator, Sal Paradise.
The idea for On the Road, Kerouac’s second novel, was formed during the late 1940s in several notebooks, later typed out on a roll of paper. Largely autobiographical, the book describes Kerouac’s road-trip adventures across the United States and Mexico in the late 1940s, as well as his relationships with other Beat writers and friends. After several film proposals dating from 1957, the book was finally made into a film, On the Road, produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Walter Salles, in 2012.
The New York Times hailed the original novel as “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.”
In 1998, Modern Library ranked On the Road 55th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and Time magazine lists it as one of the 100 best English-language novels between 1923 to 2005.
The first draft was completed in April 1951, while Kerouac lived at 454 West 20th Street in Manhattan with his second wife, Joan Haverty. It’s said that the first draft, an extended session of spontaneous confessional prose, was completed in 20 days. The legend that Joan supplied Kerouac with Benzedrine, cigarettes, bowls of pea soup and mugs of coffee to keep him going is a myth.
Before beginning, Kerouac cut sheets of tracing paper into long strips, wide enough for a typewriter, and taped them together into a 120-foot long roll which he fed into the machine. This enabled him to type continuously without having to reload pages. The resulting manuscript contained no chapter or paragraph breaks.
Kerouac continued to revise the manuscript for six years, resulting in five versions, the last which was published. In all, the project took Kerouac 10 years to complete.
John Sampas, brother of Stella, Kerouac’s third wife and administrator of Kerouac’s legacy, states that Kerouac knew that certain passages of the book having to do with sex and drug use would be censored, so he eliminated them to avoid having the whole manuscript rejected.
Although it has been fifty years since its first publication, The Original Scroll presents On the Road the way it was intended—ragged stream of consciousness—and it remains fresh in its depiction of a restless, anti-establishment youth.
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