Thursday, March 31, 2005

"The Kidnappers": Chapter Three

Morning: the summer sun filled Jamie's eyes and the grassy world around him, washing away swift vanishing memories of the bizarre night. The colorful sparks of fireworks now seemed scarcely credible, though they'd happened only several hours ago, and their smell lingered over the subdivision. The sun was overwhelming.

Jamie cursed for a minute, practicing the language with no one to hear. "This is fucked-up shit, you fucking assholes. I hate you all."

He'd spent the night behind the house. His brother in the next room had been talking loudly in his sleep, arguing with himself. Jamie had removed himself to the outdoors-- not that it'd helped. Lights had gone on and off in the house. Twice Chad went running through the woods. Jamie's own brother was a psycho.

Several minutes ago when Jamie woke with the sun, his brother's sportscar raced off from the garage; Chad in a hurry to conform to the world. Chad was as driven as their salesman father, as hyper-impatient as their mother before she left. A family of hustling vagabonds-- they may as well be living in a trailer park. They didn't belong in this overpriced neighborhood. It's why Jamie hated the undecorated house with its low-budget furniture. (At least they'd finally gotten some, and no longer had to sit in the living room on lawn chairs, which would've embarrassed Jamie in front of his friends, if he had some.) A family of pretenders.

Beer cans and empty whiskey bottles covered the house-- occasionally Jamie would hike with the cans a couple miles to the nearest party store and collect the deposit.

Jamie went back into the vacant house to wash up. An expensive shack of impermanence with thin cheap plasterboard walls and a huge garage. He watched idiotic TV for a bit then returned outside to see what was doing on the block.

If the General Custer Mr. Zellhoffer spoke about were around today Jamie would join his outfit. That's the way he felt. He wanted to get out of here. To go west! But there was no west anymore; no wilderness; only other mad boring asshole people like his brother and father scattered across the land.

Jamie walked to Zellhoffer's garage to check if he was around, but the garage was locked up. Jamie studied their house. He'd seen glimpses of its interior before. The walls were painted a warm green color and the furniture was huge and plush. Everything reeked of standing-- an illusion, Jamie realized, in this shitty isolated neighborhood. The Zellhoffers were the snobs of the block. The mother was a total snob, if anyone ever saw her. Mr. Zellhoffer kept his women hid away, which only made them more mysterious and alluring.

"Hey you," a voice called.

A girl's voice. Jamie looked toward the windows of the house to see if any were open-- a small one near the garage.

"Go away," the voice said.

Jamie stood as silently as an Indian. Emily Zellhoffer peered outside the front door then stepped out.

"Go away," she said. "You're trespassing."

"Where's your dad?"

"I'm going to call the police." She stared at him to see if her threat would work. He didn't budge. She was dressed in green culottes and a black t-shirt. He thought she was a goof.

"I think he went to the airport to pick up my sister. I don't know. She's supposed to get back today and my father is gone and so is my mother. They went someplace!"

When Jamie didn't say anything she looked around and sighed. "Well, come in and wait while I have breakfast."

It was like entering an inner sanctum. The house was cool and dark, like a museum. Large green plants exploded on all sides. Jamie sat on one of the plush sofas. Emily disappeared for a couple minutes then came back with a glass of orange juice for him.

"Who's that?" Jamie asked, pointing at a large painting of a beautiful young woman.

"My sister. Evelyn," Emily told him. "This was painted when she graduated high school last year."

Jamie nodded as they looked at the elegant painting for a couple minutes, for lack of anything else to do. Very civilized. In the painting, with her long flowing hair, Evelyn Zellhoffer resembled a swarthy Viking. He'd always considered her a phony, like Chad. Jamie studied the lines of the brushstrokes. Evelyn Zellhoffer was hot. Emily was merely a brat.

"Hey!" the brat said to awaken the unreadable young man from his reverie. "I'm going swimming." (The Zellhoffer's had an above-ground pool in back, surrounded by redwood walls so no one could see.) "My morning swim. You can join me."

The water was a bright chlorine blue. The sun was everyplace. In a pink swimsuit that revealed nothing because there was nothing to reveal, Emily plunged into the water, causing an enormous splash. "Tsunami!" she screamed.

Jamie took off his shirt quickly, with some embarrassment because he was skinny, then carefully dropped into the still-cold water in his cut-off jeans. "It's cold!" he said.

"You're such a wimp, Jamie," she mocked. He splashed her in response. She splashed him back and laughed.

"You know," he told her to distract her, "in back of these houses, past the little patch of woods, there's a stream about a half-mile away. Past the stream on a rise is a wooden old chapel a hundred years old. I want to go there sometime." They both rose and tried to peer over the redwood fence which surrounded them like a fort. Behind them the sun brightened as if it moved closer to earth; as if it would crash upon them.

They played a game while treading water to see who could grab the other's ankle, which took much bobbing up and down underwater. Both agile, it was an even contest. They rested at the side of the pool, breathing heavily. Emily's wet, swept-back hair was blacker than normal but her skin was creamy, soft, babyish. Jamie moved closer to her. Emily's eyes widened and stared suddenly behind him as if something were there. If this was a ruse he didn't fall for it, kissing her immediately.

A strong irresistible force grabbed his hair from behind and pulled him away, a hand taking Jamie by the neck and yanking him entirely out of the swimming pool, dropping him hard on the grass, while Emily laughed. Jamie blinked up at the piercing sun which silhouetted Emily's sister Evelyn Zellhoffer glaring down at him with anger and dismay.
(Oops! Suddenly planet Zytron has come into view, becoming larger in my craft's windshield with each passing minute. A green and purple sphere. It's gigantic. My pulse begins to suddenly race. Lights in the craft are flashing, signals beeping. I prepare for entry. . . .)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Last night as I rocketed through limitless space, and slept in my cold chair in the capsule, the black universe full of blue and orange stars passing outside the window, I had a dream that I was on the Canadian TV show about books, "Imprint." It originated in Toronto; I used to watch it years ago when I lived in Detroit. Imagine-- a television show devoted to books!

Except, in the dream, the show was a very advanced version of "Imprint," with another name, and a futurized set. Is this something that awaits me on the planet Zytron?

(Does "Imprint" still exist? What authors are on it?)

Saturday, March 26, 2005


With an open mind I read the first chapter of renowned author Jonathan Lethem's book of essays, The Disappointment Artist.

The essay, "Defending The Searchers," is about Lethem's love affair with the old John Ford movie. (I enjoy westerns, and so was prepared to like the essay.)

Two Points:
1.) The essay is about Lethem himself, not the movie. The movie is an excuse for Lethem to write about himself.
2.) The essay is a failure. Lethem doesn't convince the reader that The Searchers is a great movie; in fact, he undercuts it throughout. He asserts its greatness, based on little more than that it interested him. Not moved, troubled, or excited him-- interested him. Even during his first crucial viewing of it, at Bennington, he's only halfway absorbed in its narrative. The other ever-present analytical (emphasis on the "anal") half of his brain is objectively studying it. Not the best way to approach art!

Of prime importance is Lethem himself; that this god of the intellect has noticed the old film. THAT makes the movie noteworthy. It impressed itself on his consciousness, so he spends the entire essay explaining this process. He thinks it might possibly be a very good movie-- he's arrived at this conclusion, "aha!" as if contemplating a chess move-- but has difficulty forming a hard opinion of it through his many viewings, always worrying about the reception his friends have of it-- as if they MUST like it also; that they don't is earth shattering. (Quite a picture of the mind of a demi-puppet!)

Lethem's essay builds no momentum, has no theme (other than the author's preciousness), arrives at no point.

-- is dominated by feelings. The feelings aren't about the movie, but himself. He never puts his mind fully INTO the artwork. His sensitivity is confined to his chair. The "I" is everpresent in his thoughts. It's unremoveable. One would like to blast it out of the essay for a few minutes so we can focus on the movie. Given the nature of his kind of writer, this is impossible.

Lethem's fumbling, embarrassing essay has one achievement-- a reminder of the flaws of classic movies.

The films themselves can't be blamed for this. When seen in their own day, they were undoubtedly great. But after seeing countless hyper-speed "Matrix" and "Mission Impossible" films, to us most of the output of legends like John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock look contrived and glacially paced. This isn't because today's movies are better. Most are far worse. But the fact of them destroys all that came before.

Movies have always been illusions-- tricks played upon the spectator. The original impact of North by Northwest depended upon shock effects; a car swerving down a road; a helicopter charging the camera. A crafty director combined the contrivances for maximum impact, but the illusions no longer work. All that remains is the narrative and dialogue, which isn't bad-- but slight compared to a novel's.

Film's advantage over literature was technology. What happens when the technology becomes obsolete?

Citizen Kane or Dr. Strangelove seen today on a large screen become laughable. With Kane we notice all the obvious Orson Welles camera tricks and ridiculous special effects. (Watch for the toy nightclub.) Strangelove comes across as not-that-daring satire wrapped around sophomoric jokes and low budget 60's-TV production values.

The old movies which do impress when seen on a big screen are those, like The Robe, whose type of tricks (Technicolor and Cinemascope) haven't been improved, and which are so over-the-top dramatically they rise, when seen on a big screen, to the modern moviegoer's minimum thrill level. Or, like David Lean movies, those which combine superlative narrative with an emphasis on film as an artistic canvas. Lean didn't try to overwhelm with flashy edits and sudden thrills. His movies emphasize the opposite-- film's unbroken flow; art as a river.

We'll never appreciate the thrills of The Searchers-- the shock 50's audiences felt when the shadow of Scar looms over the child Debbie near the beginning; the everpresent sense of approaching violence. Too much cinema blood and decapitated movie corpses have already passed through our minds for that!

(I search through the DVD collection in the spaceship as I hurtle faster toward my destination. No westerns are available.)

A Note to ULAers

We're in a battle of wills with hordes of wooden-headed demi-puppets in the lit-world, forcing them to examine their programmed assumptions, through our discussion; opening channels of light into the rock-solid fossilization of their minds.

We seek to save some of them from mental slavery-- to begin cutting their puppet strings-- by revealing to them an alternate way of being a writer.

That they call us, the most powerless and democratic of writers, "thugs" and "fascists" is a sign of their desperation. (Recall that Frank Sinatra called early rock n' rollers "cretinous goons.")

The demi-puppets are like crack addicts in detox. Their attacks on us are symptoms of their withdrawal from conformist brainwashing. Questioning the state of current literature-- even listening to those who question it-- is for them a new experience. We have to keep agitating, though they want us to play the standard literary "I'm Okay, You're Okay" game. (They've rebuffed all peace attempts anyway.)

WHERE OUR CRITICS ARE RIGHT is that we have to at the same time be more positive about what we're doing. We have much to be positive about-- exciting underground personalities and writing. We'll be highlighting them on our site.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Why You Should Read the ULA Site

Because it's the only place where you'll find truly alternative thoughts and views about current literature. No other lit-group steps very far outside the accepted lines. The ULA steps ALL the way out. We're also the only lit group that's truly independent.

If you want to challenge your own received opinions about writing, culture, and books, then you have to read us.

The Savior of Lit?

In the current (3/28) Newsweek literary insider David Gates reviews the new novel by well-connected rich kid Jonathan Safran Foer. Gates gives the book a lukewarm review while accepting Foer's importance as a writer. It's a sham; a joke.

THE QUESTION: Is this all the establishment lit world can come up with? From the accompanying small photo it looks like Foer could give Jonathan Franzen lessons in nerdiness. He appears to be not 23, but 12. Some "literary rock star"! The mandarins are getting desperate. Literary wunderkinds of the past like Jay McInerney at least had some style about themselves-- even if only foppishness. J.S. Foer is a blank; a void. Ms. Oates and Company: Do better! I guess in the halls of Princeton there's not much to work with.

Sorry, but I'll put my money on the ULA's young barbarians. I have the feeling that if the boy-in-a-bubble Rich Kid ever encountered Noah Cicero, Bernice Mullins, Marissa Ranello, Pat King, Jessica D and the like he'd shit his pants.


Like a chess player viewing his position from his opponent's chair, I've been looking at the ULA the way demi-puppets see us. Their stance has a rough logic-- from the pristine isolation of their perspective.

The ULA and its opponents look at writing from two very different directions. The question isn't so much which side is "right" (as demi-puppets believe), but which viewpoint is healthier for lit and the survival of lit in this ultra-mad culture.

The demi-puppets honor "fine" writing. Perfectly understandable. It's how they've been trained. Their training is the justification for their careers as writers. THE PROBLEM is that the public doesn't view literature through their trained (brainwashed) eyes. The demi-puppets don't want to accept the truth that the ULA has arisen organically from that public-- we see writing through the public's eyes, because those eyes and ours are one and the same.

The demi-puppets can see the ULA's writing, then, only in terms of the rules and limitations that were programmed into them as students and editors. They've lost the ability to respond spontaneously. Like the opera record producer put into the studio with Big Brother and the Holding Company in 1967 to produce the Janis Joplin band's first album, they can only shriek that we're off-key and not hitting the proper notes! They miss the whole point.

We look back at the 20's Paris collection of underground writers-- Joyce, Stein, Pound, McAlmon-- as having great significance. Their works and lives are discussed and taught. Yet this is not how they were viewed in their own time! For a long while they were unpublished or self-published; were scorned and mocked. How could that day's mandarins have been so stupid?

History tells us that status quo critics and the writers they favor are usually wrong-- because their viewpoint is too of the moment (which means, in a swiftly moving world, of the past); within a box narrow and closed.

Nothing to Write About?

Trendy lit-writer Steve Almond has a conglomerate-produced (Harcourt) book out devoted entirely to the subject of eating chocolate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Street Versus Academic Poetry

The matter was proved fairly conclusively in January 2004 when the prestigious University of Pennsylvania held a poetry slam at their Kelly Writers House. First Prize was cash money and promised publication in one of their literary periodicals. They opened the competition not just to their own pedigreed students, but to members of the general Philly poetic community.

Present to compete were the well-screened well-trained "Best of the Best" which Ivy League students are supposed to represent. After all, they pay gigantic sums of money ($41,000 a year) to achieve this standing.

However, the event was won by ULAer Frank Walsh, who read his masterpiece "Reagan's Brain" and wowed the audience. Coming in close second was energetic Philly street poet (previously renowned in L.A.) Michael Grover. U of Penn's best finished far behind. From their perspective, the contest was embarrassing.

Would it surprise you to know that Penn reneged on its promise to publish Frank's work? No explanation given. (Though they did at least come through with the cash, which they have plenty of.)

Academy poets are unthinking zombies clinging to outmoded rules and training. They see a poem as a dead object to be dissected by morticians in a laboratory. Underground poets, by contrast, breathe life into their works through the synergy created by public performance. Poetry becomes a vibrant, unpredictable EVENT, as it was at the beginning of its history; compelling words combined with the speaker's passion and energy. (This is the secret to the success of Shakespeare-- whose words, as I've stressed again and again on this blog, were meant to be performed; to be heard, witnessed, viscerally felt.)

Monday, March 21, 2005

"The Kidnappers": Chapter Two

Alone in the universe.

This thought entered Chad's mind as the smoke and burning smell from Mr. Zellhoffer's firecrackers floated down the block, while the ceiling of stars above their heads seemed to move back ever more distant-- as if civilization were THERE, among those suspended dots of light, and not in this lonely far away subdivision on a forgotten rock of a planet.

"Other people have vanished, you know," Chad told Zellhoffer. "A teenage girl Jamie's age who lived on the next block ran away last fall. Her parents are still searching for her."

"Seven in all," Zellhoffer countered. "Seven people gone from this neighborhood since it opened. Not moved. Disappeared without a trace, most within the last two years, most of them young people. You'll see their faces among thousands of others at the post office or in your income tax brochure."

The three stood on the lawn aware of how encircled they were, by the land outside and the vastness of sky, their houses temporary shacks of ego erected against the giant facts of space and time.

"Where did the people go?" Jamie asked in his scared way. Zellhoffer, under the illusion of wisdom, pondered this for a moment.

"What do science and logic tell us?" Mr. Z asked. "Do they have an answer? I've been considering the location of this community. This used to be farmland, some of it, sure. But what was it before? An Indian settlement? A sacred place? Do you know that when construction people dug the foundations for these houses they found arrowheads?"

Zellhoffer turned and pointed toward the northwest, toward uninhabited stretches of land that went on seemingly forever.

"There lies the solution to the puzzle. General Custer passed this way, on his ride toward the Black Hills, and on, toward death and legend."

"Wasn't he a racist?" Chad asked. "An Indian killer?"

Oh, I don't know about that. Like all of us he was more than a stereotype. There were two George Custers, just like there are two or three Jamies, or two Chads."

Mr. Z opened another beer bottle and took a chug, looking pleased with himself. Behind the man Chad saw, to his alarm, bu unseen by Zellhoffer, a tall shadow pass across the lit front window of Z's house; a figure straight as an Indian. The curtains of the window rustled.

"Custer was an Indian himself, in spirit," Zellhoffer continued as beer spilled sloppily from his mouth and his tiny eyes sparkled. "Custer carried the blood and spirit of Germanic warriors from the Black Forest. At your age, Chad, he was too wild for anything but war. At West Point he was uncontrollable. But when the Civil War began no soldier was more fearless. The army's best horseman-- Custer rode like an Indian.

"When the war ended they didn't know what to do with him, so they sent him west. For other officers this was barren exile. Custer relished the vast expanses he could ride across.

"He was always two men. One was the official civilized Custer back at fort, at a desk writing magazine articles about his exploits, his beautiful intelligent cultured wife Libby at his side. Custer the yellow-haired star! But within the man ran unsettling undercurrents; the love of wild, of violence; an attraction for death. Always he had to get away, to escape into the unknown, into the endless plains.

"The army sent him on his final expedition because no one understood Indians better than he did. His Indian scouts loved him. He was said to have a beautiful Sioux mistress. No one else had a chance of rounding up the untamed Sioux-- no one else was fast enough, or knew how fast the Sioux moved. The other white soldiers operated in slow motion. As the final tragic battle showed, the officers in Custer's own unit weren't fast enough to keep up with him."

Zellhoffer pointed again. "The troopers of the Seventh Cavalry rode off in that direction. Hundreds of miles into empty space. Into the dreaded unknown, where civilization is left behind and the spirit world holds dominion. Toward glory and death."

The front door of the Zellhoffer house opened and Z's gawky youngest daughter Emily came bounding out, halting next to her father, almost running into Jamie.

"Daddy, Mom wants you to come inside the house now!"

The dark-haired girl adopted the stance of her mother, and indeed, Zellhoffer seemed to wilt just a bit at the tone of a direct order.

"In a moment, dear. In a moment. Er, tell your mother I'll be in directly."

Chad wasn't watching his blustery beighbor as much as his own brother. The girl affected not to be aware of Jamie, yet by doing so became hyper-aware of him, cautiously sneaking glances his way. Jamie was frozen with uncertainty, ignoring her with what Emily undoubtedly took as being cool. At thirteen she was as tall as Chad's brother. (Jamie was nearly 17 but small for his age.) If possible she was even skinnier. Chad absorbed these observations with amusement. The girl posed for a moment, then as quickly as she'd appeared, with straight hair flowing, ran back inside. The door closed, not before Chad noticed lurking behind it a tall shadow.

Mr. Zellhoffer remained fixated on thoughts of abducted neighbors and on heroic General Custer.

"One has to know the unknown-- the deep spaces of this country, and of our own souls. The dark places we seldom go to. Some set up totems against the spirits"-- he gestured toward the still-glowing painting across the street. "Others, like Custer, ride eagerly into danger. They embrace their devil. Understand Custer-- truly understand him-- and you'll understand America."

He looked at the flag waving from his house, then stiffened suddenly and put his hand over his heart. Drunken tears appeared in his eyes. Chad wondered if Mr. Z were putting them on-- but noticed Jamie stiffen as well as if falling for the comic opera. Chad looked at the waving flag, the deep purple sky behind it; he seemed to hear arising from the spaces beyond a trumpet's lonely blare.

That night Chad awoke from a hectic dream with a sense that something in the house wasn't right. His bedside clock read three o'clock. He arose to check the doors and locks.

Jamie's room was empty. The troubled kid had a habit of sleepwalking. Chad looked out the front window at the other houses on the block. The blazing lights in Barker's homestead had finally turned off. The neighborhood hummed with silence.

Chad stepped through his family's spacious, insecure house. The door to the garage was ajar. Chad entered with caution, the dirty cement floor cold against his bare feet. The garage door was wide open. Had he left it like that? Eerie night air swept inside. Their father still wasn't home-- only Chad's sportscar occupied its rightful space. A noise shuffled behind it.

Chad flipped on the garage light. Stunning brightness. He saw for a sliver of an instant a tanned, short, aged woman. Then she was gone. His imagination? A residue of his insane dream? She'd had a wild look and weathered face, was thin, almost malnourished, and wore old-fashioned clothes from another time.

Soft footsteps scampered along the side of the garage. Chad ran outside and followed their sound, toward the back, to the vast endless shadowy land behind the house as an unseen figure moved swiftly through the trees and tall weeds ahead of him.
(Next: Emily and Jamie.)

Paris Review Note

Given that Paris Review's new editor Philip Gourevitch comes from the New Yorker, and his selection was made by ancient Robert Silvers from New York Review of Books, it's difficult to see anything exciting forthcoming from the renowned lit periodical.

The New Yorker and NYRB are both outdated holdovers of a faraway literary past, their offices-- at least their thoughts-- covered in layers of dust, the caretakers occasionally shaking it off and blinking awake amid the cobwebs long enoough to show the world they're still breathing. Their audiences are well-guarded rich people in suburban mansions, Manhattan penthouse luxury condos, and one or two folks on Fisher's Island. Rick Moody's "Three Thousand." These folks are incapable of re-imagining literature-- which would be like asking extinct dinosaurs to reinvent themselves. (Saving the moldy literary aristocracy is a feat beyond even Michael Crichton's imagination.)

One can predict the new Paris Review to be stale, predictable, and thoroughly status quo in aesthetics and outlook.


Going through the spaceship's library, as the craft hurtles ever faster into the unknown, I find a book by trendy author Sarah Vowell. Listed with the bio info on the dust cover is this phrase: "She is a McSweeney's person. . . ."

Is this a coded statement-- the way that brainwashed members of the Cult recognize one another?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

"The Kidnappers": Chapter One

(A quick novel for you to read while I'm traveling to Zytron.)

THE FOURTH OF JULY: Chad watched the colorful trail of bottle rockets. His careful brown eyes focused on the sharp colors against their black-sky backdrop. Mr. Zellhoffer was shooting off fireworks three houses down the block.

Jamie was there. Chad's younger brother Jamie hung out at Mr. Z's most evenings, watching the man working in his garage. Chad was home from college for the summer. He turned and looked at his parent's house dark and silent behind him. Their own huge garage dominating the driveway was closed.

Chad didn't want Jamie to miss dinner-- a drive to a fastfood restaurant outside the isolated subdivision. Chad walked across perfect lawns without sidewalks to Mr. Z's house.

"Hey, there he is," Mr. Zellhoffer said as he squatted over a pin-wheel contraption, looking up at his neighbor's tall oldest son. "You came just in time, Chad. This is my super-rocket. My ICBM. State of the art."

They stood on Zellhoffer's front lawn. Chad glanced at the house to determine which lights were on.

"This ought to be really cool," skinny Jamie, with the wary look of an abused yellow dog, remarked in a quiet voice. If Jamie spoke at all it signified extreme enthusiasm on his part.

Mr. Z lit the fuse and stepped quickly back. The display of spinning explosions and rocket sounds impressed someone of Zellhoffer's childlike attitude.

"Man!" Jamie said. "I told you it'd be cool."

"Rockets," Zellhoffer said with the calm authority of a mad scientist. "Explosions. They'll ward off outsiders and their evil spirits."

He drank now from a bottle of beer, the patriotic display over for the moment. His small eyes were unreadable. Zellhoffer handed another bottle of beer to Chad.

"Outsiders?" Chad asked him.

Zellhoffer motioned toward the dark world outside the subdivision. In the far-off distance stood a tall freeway overpass, tiny cars traveling back and forth between pockets of the civilized, in this vast Midwest. Set apart was the quiet detached pseudo-community of the subdivision, built a scant five years before. Chad wasn't even sure what city their little neighborhood was a suburb of-- so far across the landscape had thoughtless development spread.

"You've sensed them out here, haven't you?" Zellhoffer asked him. "I'm sure you have. One can't live here without doing so. Though of course you don't know the story about Barker there across the street."

Mr. Barker's house was lit like a blazing palace. He was a religious fanatic of some sort who lived alone. They could see through his curtainless front window a huge wall painting of Jesus, spotlights inside the house focused on it, as if the house were a cathedral.

Chad looked at the other spread-out houses, most of them dark. Zellhoffer's was the only one showing a flag. This was a holiday. Where was everyone? Out of town? In Chicago? At the shore? Working like his dad?

Chad wondered where Zellhoffer's wife and youngest daughter were while his crazy rockets went off. Maybe watching TV inside the house. Chad knew Z's wife held Z in contempt, viewing his every action scornfully as if he were a ridiculous little kid. She was a tall, dark, stern woman-- the reason Mr. Z spent so much time working on his lawn or in the garage.

"Tell me about Mr. Barker," Chad asked the man.

"Look at his glowing painting," Zellhoffer pointed. "Glowing Jesus! What's that about? It's because of the evil spirits that surround us. He put the painting there to ward them off-- as a declaration of war against the pagan world. Three years ago Barker's wife vanished into the darkness. One dark summer evening like this. He insists she was abducted. Mrs. Barker has never been found."

The three stared at the bright yellow-blue fire-like display of the painting throwing its light as a challenge against the shrouding blackness of night. They saw striking red color dripping from the portrait's hands.

"Time for the M-80's!" Zellhoffer said. "Keep back!"

He lit one after another at the curb. Boom! Boom! Boom! The explosions ran through their bodies and shook the neighborhood. There appeared no sign of Barker in his window, only the large glowing figure of Jesus, unmoved. Despite the booming noise, Mrs. Zellhoffer and the young daughter Emily remained within the house.

"Explode! Explode!" Zellhoffer yelled. "Ward off the spirits! Chase away demons! They'll not come for us!"


Chad glanced at his younger brother, whose eyes were alive, reflecting light, tangibly vibrant. Chad felt the throbbing excitement within himself also as the explosions continued.
(Next: Zellhoffer Tells a Story.)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Corruption Hearings Across the Universe

Back in the Spaceship.

This far out in my journey through the universe I'm getting mixed satellite signals on my craft's television set-- receiving simultaneously the baseball hearings back on Earth, and the literary corruption hearings on Zytron, where I'm headed. The broadcast has been switching planets in mid-sentence, which is confusing.

Is that Mark McGwire or Dave Eggers abjectly crying in front of the world (nay, the universe) while proclaiming the good his foundation does for children-- how many tax-deductible millions it spends? Which of these two stars is throwing himself on the mercy of the panel, tears streaming down his face, quavering, "I'm only an orphan!"

I'm seeing pitcher Curt Schilling, who once called steroid use in baseball "rampant," now taking back what he said, while Media Bistro's Galley Cat insists she never did think Tom Bissell's "borrowing" looked wrong. Sammy Sosa's lawyer states, "My client did not use illegal steroids!" (only the kind that weren't banned yet), as Roger "the Dodger" Hodge defends Harper's by arguing that, technically, legally, the magazine did not cross the line into plagiarism. Sosa's lawyer then adds, "He did not inject needles!" (tablet form only). The images jump back and forth-- embarrassing spectacles at both ends of the galaxy.

The players on both planets are stonewalling. Both sets of politician committee members are fawning. Panel Chair Maud Newton tells Dave Eggers she still has his rookie baseball card-- and will never sell it!

Meanwhile hapless whistle-blower "axe-to-grind" Jose Canseco is befuddled. Masters of misdirection castigate Jose to avoid the fact of his truth-telling. The players are outraged not at the cheating, but that it was found out. Someone talked!

SUCCESS THROUGH CHEATING: this should be up on large banners at both hearings. Players are desperately trying to save their corrupt little worlds, which have been corrupt for more than a decade. "We're the good guys!" they shout while passing grant money back and forth or injecting one another with needles in the buttocks, continuing trying to scam their gullible publics to keep the charades going.

Slick and shady Lewis Lapham takes the Fifth. Jeff Tietz is silent. Fake-intellectual Tom Bissell parses sentences and rationalizes. Rick Moody grins like Benji the Idiot. Frozen-faced Jonathan Franzen speaks through an interpreter: "I did not break any laws of the Dominican Republic." One after another, a slithering parade of the debased, the despicable, and the spineless.

As I look for my remote clicker to see what's being shown on the 30,000 other inhabited planets, Committee Chair Maud has her baseball card collection on full display. She begs for autographs and tries to get photos of herself with the shame-faced players.

Can't we finally admit the truth?

Can't we just SAY that these players are a discredit to the games of baseball and literature?

Spaceship Reading: The Die

Winter 2004/2005

A thought-provoking issue. Most interesting to me was the Editor's discussion of the idea, "Each one of us is responsible for making our lives meaningful." Questions are raised. Walter Kaufman asks artists to "find meaning in themselves." But how does this square with Editor Joe Smith's conclusion that "having a meaningful life requires action"?

To me, there's a distinct difference between the inward-centered writer trying to find "insight"-- navel-gazing about himself-- and the outward-looking writer engaged actively with the world. This isn't a political question, but a philosophical one.

I came to the conclusion in my own life that to have meaning I had to take at least a stab at changing the world-- to cease being a bar-dwelling island unto myself, by uniting with other writers. Thoreau was admirable, but wrong.

About another point in the issue, I disagree with the idea that we need more bureaucracies with increased standards mandating that students be forced to "write well." Nothing to my mind could more turn off young people and kill this natural form of expression. (Though it might prepare them better for the conglomerate job market!) Rigid doctrine stifles independent thought. My opinion is informed by my research of the real Shakespeare. The greatest writer the planet has produced! Yet he made up his spelling, his vocabulary, and even his grammar as he went along. Language to him was a living thing-- not dead, catalogued, and codified. His mind wasn't encompassed by rules, standards, and doctrines. He was instead a shouting actor from a small town suddenly blessed with a platform for uninhibited expression. Shakespeare took full advantage of it, WITHOUT the aid of National Commissions, committees, bureaucratic reports, and enforced standards. The trick is to treat literature not as medicine, but fun!

The Die is recommended. Free by writing a note to Joe Smith, Red Roach Press, PO Box 764, College Park MD 20740.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Campfire Story

As the trip I'm on may be a long one, I plan to provide as a distraction an impromptu tale-- a very short novel if you will. I don't know where it'll go. All I have so far is the title: "The Kidnappers." I expect the story to arise from my dreams; from my subconscious dreads; from past stories I once heard, long ago: from my nightmares. Stay tuned.

(Either this, or I'll give you my philosophy of literature and chess!)

Spaceship Reading: Dissent

In the current issue of Dissent magazine, Lillian Rubin asks, "Why Don't They Listen to Us?"-- referring to America's working class.

The title of her article says it all. "They"; "Us"; "Listen." The wise experts have spoken, but have lost their audience.

For 40 years the established, bourgeois Left has ignored the working class, have put class issues at the bottom of their priorities, and wonder now where everyone has gone.

THE PROBLEM is that a coterie of well-credentialed authorities embedded within academies and foundations have appointed themselves as spokespersons for Americans-- instead of letting us speak for ourselves.

THE PROBLEM is a refusal to move away from outmoded thought patterns of old-fashioned polarizing categories of "Right" and "Left" which keep well-paid ideologues in both camps in the money but do little for the populace.

THE PROBLEM is that potential working class spokespersons have sold out to the other side. Average guy Right-wing pied piper Sean Hannitty reaches people because he sounds not like a wonk, but like one of them. He worked his way up, as he never fails to remind people. The question Dissent should ask is, how did they lose him?
(Hannity spoke recently about America's need for energy independence. He was cynically shilling for drilling in ANWAR-- but one could tell how effective he would be IF he believed what he was saying and broadened his horizons.)

As Mike Jackman has said in the past, "Do-It-Yourself" should also be "Do-It-Ourselves." Average working people don't need refined tweedy experts who see us as "the Other" speaking FOR us. Better that we speak for ourselves. We have to push our own strong voices to the forefront. That's what the Underground Literary Alliance is about.

New ULA Fan Site!

Check out the ULA's revamped site at, (the previous version for now still at This is one lit-group that will never stand still!

Patrick Simonelli has stepped in to pick up webmaster duties, so that Yul Tolbert can spend more time on Art Director assignments. So far, Patrick is doing a first-class job.

Much more excitement to come in 2005.

A Wild Bill Quote

"Before the race of man kills all my animals and maybe technologically survives to live in capsules like the clonish Reticulians (The Grays), I prefer all the race of man dead, personally. I will have liberty, or death. Nothing ever in between, babble between turds."

(From Last Laugh page 1926.)

ULA Survey

To accommodate legions of critics, this summer, after I clear up a few matters and return to Earth, I hope to do another ULA Survey, with new questions sent to ULA members and interested observers, to find out where the organization is and where it should go. We do listen to suggestions!-- though we may not always seem to. Ultimately, no loose group like ours can move without rough consensus. (Results of the last survey are in Lit Fan Mag #2.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

This Lit-Blog Goes Sci-Fi!

Programming Note.

Inspired by Yul Tolbert's last sci-fi zeen, and frankly fed up with the planet Earth and the many phony pretentious mendacious block-headed carbon life forms who inhabit it, I'm currently on my way to the planet Zytron, from where I'll be sending back periodic reports.

To anyone who thinks they see me on the streets of Philly: that's someone else.

Never fear, I'll be continuing my war against the demi-puppets and their Overdog overseers from my blog's new headquarters. Yes, they've spread themselves throughout the universe! Puppet strings and all. I'm told there's even a McSweeneyite colony on Zytron, run by brainwashed humanoid simulcrums. My Zytron contacts have provided me with maps showing locations of the Cult's various fortified holdings, circled in red and highlighted as BDZ's (Brainwash Danger Zones).

I'm eager to see how Zytronians are handling the problem of corrupt culture. Their solutions seem to be more aggressive than ours. The steroid problem in sports, for instance, has already been solved. Now their congressional hearings are dealing with literature. (I've been viewing them on a special remote Zytronic television broadcast during my long hyper-speed journey. Under grilling by Senators is someone who resembles Tom Bissell. Awaiting questioning is a manically sweating goggle-eyed WASPy silver-haired dude in a pin-striped suit who looks like a banker. When the camera turns to him the caption says only, "Magazine Editor." In Zytronian of course.)

My next report should be posted after I've landed. Now excuse me while I settle back in a console chair and put on stereo headphones as stars planets galaxies zoom past the window. I've been listening to a beautiful Zytronian voice which sounds strangely like Joni Mitchell. Out here.


The March 14 Sports Illustrated has a quote from baseball manager Frank Robinson about today's players. It could apply to MFA writers as well.

"They're overcoached from the age of six. Somebody is always telling them what to do, so they can't think for themselves. Some unusual situation comes up, and they don't know what to do with the ball."


I caught a truly crass review by Stefan Beck in the March New Criterion of a Judi Bari (Earth First) bio. Trying to prove your conservative cred to your superiors with your sneers, Stefan?
Here's some of what he said:

"Being tear-gassed was 'profound.' During her brief career as a postal worker, she was disgruntled. She wrote folk songs. Not even a capable and decorous biographer can rescue her from self-caricature."

Oh, I don't know. It sounds to me like Judi Bari was a human being who pushed herself into the pains and contradictions of life, trying to make a difference on this planet. The passion Beck knocks is what gives our short lives meaning. The alternative is to be walking dead robots passing through this civilization in unquestioning straight lines. Yes, Bari was an "activist." She was a person it would've been interesting to know.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Understanding Bill Blackolive

Someone mentioned General Custer on this blog. At the library I glanced at a few books about Custer. One included the statements of troopers who'd survived the fight, part of a detachment in another part of the field when Custer divided his forces, who'd been unwilling or unable to come to his aid.

What struck me when reading a couple of the statements was, "This sounds like Wild Bill!" The troopers had Bill's dialect; his way of writing.

When I arrived home I dug out a couple old copies of Bill's zeen "Last Laugh," to study the Blackolive style:

"Read Moby Dick. Melville was a hippy. The whale is spaced, cosmic, not in smaller focus while he basks on the sea surface building his oxygen. His evolution did not include men in boats coming to kill him. Though, as Melville in the novel records, minds of sperm whales have been known to pull back in, in order to kill puny men. Sperm whales are recorded in a few instances to have rammed and sunk wooden whaling vessels. Forsooth, we should keep at minimum one blathering Dr. Steve as reference to those buggered children whose throes demonstrate craft of broken minds. Said craft leads men to politics and the U.S. presidency. It is interesting."

After this statement, Bill includes a long Melville quote which begins, "For to be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base."

It occurred to me that Bill's style is like Melville's as well. Could it be that Blackolive, in his life of east Texas isolation, carries intact the verbal rhythmns that were common in America in the 19th century?

I recall when Bill read at the ULA's Detroit show in 2002. He recited an excerpt from his novel Tales from the Texas Gang. With his casual Texas drawl, Bill was very effective. Bill has a unique aura of absolute authenticity. He's like a preserved wooly mammoth come back to life. Listening to him, one knows that this is what 19th century Texas outlaws looked and sounded like. Bill Blackolive thus is a rare and unappreciated treasure. One would think professors and lit-folk would be flocking to Aransas Pass to listen to the guy-- the ultimate roots writer.


I'm having trouble posting anything to this blog. I hope Blogger soon gets its shit together.

This is a test.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Beyond Hope?

I've stated that the ULA is an experiment in literary rebellion-- an attempt to prod the Beast of literary culture in order to determine exactly how corrupt it is; a way to test writers and gauge their willingness to speak out against the present system. The results aren't encouraging.

It's an indication of the closed-ranks nature of the current System of literature that those who hope to progress within it criticize it anonymously. This is accepted by everyone as a rational decision. To do otherwise could get you blacklisted! Cautious behavior that was last seen in the Soviet Union.

While it's done with subtlety, ours is as conformist a society. This is hidden by a non-stop barrage of media assuring us how non-conformist we are! Our minds are enslaved but we're the last to know. A slick trick. Television commercials tell us that to be hip we have to drink Pepsi or Coke (because these sugar-acid concoctions are "real"). To prove their non-conformity, the mass public runs out to do it. "Yo, man!" a hip-hoppin commercial pitch man yells while engaging in a series of poses. "Drink Coke. Get real."

The master of this same trick on the lit scene is Dave Eggers. He packages himself and his publications as "independent" while having simultaneously maneuvered himself, since his days at Esquire, right at the center of the conglomerate-establishment mainstream. Simply by using cute computer graphics like jumping rabbits, along with fake-witty asides sprinkled throughout the text, he was able to create for the gullible the illusion of difference. Here's a huckster who fully knows the stupidity of his audience-- targeting those who'd already spent a fortune obtaining useless M.F.A. degrees. Eggers knew: They have to be stupid! The modest success of mags like The Believer, containing a regular quota of status-quo New Yorker writers, yet packaged as the "new," proves this.

Now all he needs is some hip-hoppin' cred.

"Yo! My man Eggers be making the scene
creating for you Believer magazine
it's the shit mother-fuckers got to go right now and buy
just pays the big-time money don't be askin' me why
Not supposed to read it, that's not what it's about
Being seen at the coffeeshop with it gives you all the clout
Can't read it anyway it's just a load of shit
Geeky drawings on the cover look real bitchin'
Don't tell me these corny writers been spent too long at school!
Listen what I'm saying these rich motherfucking assholes are cool."

(Behind the rapper in the video can be seen geeky Eggers, Franzen, Beller, Maud, and Company; dressed in baggy shorts and backward baseball caps; pointing clownishly with their fingers while ineptly trying to dance.)

Zeenster Review: Yul Tolbert

The way things have been going for me on this planet of late, I'm ready to blast off for Zytron or some other destination.

As I was thinking these escapist thoughts, in the mail arrived Yul Tolbert's latest, Adventures in the Superfuture! It's kind of a short graphic novel about two mercenaries from Earth ("or the Terran Interstellar Confederation if you want to get technical") on the run from mysterious enemies (probably evil demi-puppet-like brainwashed aliens). The mercenaries kidnap the Terraformer Girls. (One of whom, anyway, is kind of cute.) The story proceeds from there. At one point Elenino is arrested by the cosmic law enforcement authorities (who look suspiciously to me a lot like the National Book Award people) and thrown into Astrotraz Astrophysical Women's Prison, where she meets Interstelle, "who's in the slam for smuggling."

All-in-all, it's quick imaginative fun. For info on this and other Timelike Line Productions write Yul at PO Box 02222, Detroit MI 48202 or e-mail

(Parts of Detroit need a terraforming project.)

Green Sour Ringlets of Night

Like the illusions in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," the anonymous opponents on these threads vanish the minute one lays a hand on them.

Current Score:

King: 567

Demi-Puppets: 0

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More Philip Roth

Maybe Roth's book is "satire." (The novel is so bad I couldn't tell.)

The problem with Philip Roth is that he's a parochial writer whose limitations prevent him from raising his parochialism to universal appeal. He reminds me of the kind of cornball uncle we probably all encountered as kids-- wise-cracking Uncle Phil holding forth at family gatherings, his unbelievable wit and insight recognized by, maybe, two people, one of those his wife. "Isn't Phil funny?" she exclaims. "He's such a gas!"

Uncle Phil beams proudly, yet to you his brilliance remains a mystery. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, your sister's boyfriend Dino-- also tired of listening to the stupefying stupifications of Uncle Phil-- has taken refuge in mixing people's drinks. You take him Uncle Phil's glass. Dino's eyes light up. He pours what seems to you a lot of extra stuff into the glass. Uncle Phil downs it regardless, caught up in telling another boring trivial parochial Uncle Phil story.

After the drink, Uncle Phil becomes quiet. As the buzz from other guests happily rises, and Dino rejoins the party, Uncle Phil sloppily groggily asks you if you know the meaning of the word "spiked." "Spiked?" you ask. He leans forward with bad breath to explain it to you. "Yeah, like spiking a drink."

Maybe Philip Roth's writing would be more tolerable if someone spiked his drinks.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Thoughts on Class War

Historian A.J. P. Taylor: "The Left preach class war; the Right practice it."

Given a choice, I'd rather not mention class at all.

I'd rather spend my time reciting Shakespeare and promoting exciting underground writers.

But some folks are always waging class war upon me!

When wealthy banker's son Rick Moody receives grants of philanthropy, that's class war upon other writers.

When Dave Eggers is portrayed by bourgeois magazines as grass roots and D-I-Y, though his McSweeney's was conglomerate-backed from the beginning, that's class war.

When snobby heads of local bourgeois writers groups refuse to shake my hand, I consider this a statement of class war.

I'd like to get along with everybody. Most ULAers feel the same way. But we insist-- bizarrely, uncomfortably-- in being treated as equals, with simple respect.

We know the rich and patrician Senate refused to raise the minimum wage, which has stayed the same for nine years (it was too low then!) while prices costs health care gasoline transportation food executive celebrity salaries everything has been skyrocketing. (There is no "free market" justification because this isn't an unmanipulated free market.) At the same time, the safety valve of bankruptcy is being closed.
Class war: People pushed to the wall.

The reason much of the media establishment, aristocrats like Beinart and vanden Heuvel, backed centrist Kerry is because they saw that Bush would push much of the population in desperation to the extreme Left or extreme Right-- the Black Bloc or the militias-- leaving fissures in the ground beneath their underground palaces.

WHAT I PUT ON THIS BLOG is actually quite moderate. As a long-time undergrounder, I have access to the full spectrum of radical information and ideas. I get mailings from those who want blood flowing in the streets. I've been satisfied that the ULA is merely more radical than anything else on the lit-scene, without being extreme. We can go way farther. Should we re-consider our strategy?
The ULA's strength to my mind is that we're the most populist lit group, without being overtly partisan or political, which allows us to appeal to writers and artists on both sides of the aisle. We hold to no narrow political ideology-- literature is our focus.

We've tried to work with extreme conservatives like "Ranger West," but he couldn't keep from intruding Rush Limbaugh jingoism irrelevant to our campaign into everything he said. Nor will we allow ourselves to be labelled, categorized, and put into a box as Leftists. This is 2005. It's not time for outdated categories and stale thinking. The Left has barricaded itself into academia and thereby lost its edge and its relevance, staring perplexed at the world from shuttered windows. The ULA works among the populace. No tops-down approach from us! We're not Chomsky and that wonky insular sinecured crowd. Our D-I-Y philosophy appeals to those Chomsky will never touch.

The future belongs to new ideas. The ULA will succeed because we've built a better foundation. We've created a synthesis of the best aspects of the Left and the Right. In no way will we be chained to old ideologies and failed movements. But we still want to change things! Only by people on all sides uniting can people even have a voice. (Otherwise we get the same-old collection of mainstream media elitists.)

The ULA belongs to all writers. Even the Ivy League kind are welcome-- provided they reject their pedigree, change their spots, drop their snobbery, and become cooperative uncorrupted individuals freed from old ways of literary thought. Because we're new, loud, radical, populist, an experiment in rebellion, the excitement in the lit world lies with us-- not with polite stodgy stuffy mandarins and stooge demi-puppet sycophants.

Zeenster Update

I'm only posting this here because I know he doesn't go on this blog-- but ULAer Tom Hendricks went through the deaths of his father and his only brother in the last couple months. For those who don't know, Tom is an underground icon. He was already fighting corruption in the arts (through his zeen Musea) back in '92 when I arrived on the scene. Few have greater credibility.

Any zeensters or ULAers who might want to drop Tom a sympathy card can send it to Tom Hendricks, 4000 Hawthorne #5, Dallas TX 75219-- though he's already back posting stuff in forums like alt.zines, and is not the type to linger over tragedy. But I thought people might like to at least know what's happening.

By the way, zeenster Asha Anderson suggests people send zeens or stuff to read to Cullen Carter, who's still recovering from the auto accident which put him in a coma in 2003. He's made great progress, I'm told, and is reading again (hopefully writing soon also). Cullen Carter is c/o Mequon Health Center, Room 134, 10911 N. Port Washington Rd, Mequon WI 53092. Thanks!

(The always irrepressible Asha also wants me to mention she's looking for submissions for a magazine and for a contest of some kind; at and I know nothing about them, but take a look and make her happy.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Willfully Ignorant

It's easy to laugh at critics in the past stupidly missing their day's brightest talents-- Melville mocked, Gaugin and Van Gogh scorned and ignored, "Vertigo" dismissed and misunderstood. Man, were those critics stupid! we exclaim with amazement. But are our times different?

Yesterday evening Lawrence Richette's Center City Philly reading was well-attended by friends and the curious. Though a bit nervous at first, Richette ably explained his book, answered many questions, and read several passages. But where was local media to cover the event? He's the city's best (maybe only) serious, adult novelist. Why weren't Carlin Romano or Karen Heller of the Philadelphia Inquirer, or reporters from the freebie "alternative" papers, there to interview Richette?

These Missing-In-Action journalists hurt only themselves. How should future lit-historians treat these goofs? Larry is Philly's John O'Hara. At least one of his books, The Fault Line, about the MOVE tragedy, qualifies in my mind as important. Here he is, writing hard, available to all, but the Approved chroniclers of the time are nowhere around. They're mice-- deaf, dumb, and blind-- scurrying around frantically but getting everything wrong. Someday they'll be laughed at.

How will future lit-historians treat Philip Roth's overhyped book? If they dig to the modest extent I did they'll know it's a joke. Which will throw relief on the sycophantic magazines-- Bookforum, Believer, and such-- which without an ounce of scrutiny or sense lined up to praise Roth's shoddy work.

Whether or not the ULA wins the critical battle now, we certainly will in the future when the pull of cronyism and corruption regarding this era's writers is no longer in force.

What's Wrong with Liberals?

The March 6 New York Times Book Review asks that question with a panel made up of Peter Beinart, Michael Tomasky, and Katrina vanden Heuvel. They give a lot of wonky responses from the perspective of their class-- a tops down approach. Yet the real answer is in the panel itself-- that liberalism's representatives are these three privileged members of our society's upper strata. They gab on and on, blah blah blah blah blah, heedless that THEY are the problem.

About Lindbergh

Charles Lindbergh's life is a strange one in American history. No one received the adulation he did in 1927 for his airplane flight across the seas. No one paid a bigger price for fame in subsequent public humiliations, again and again-- first the wrenching kidnapping and death of his son (as big a story in its day as the O.J. trial), then the treatment given him for speaking his mind about war, the onslaught of public abuse denouncing the well-meaning American as a traitor, Roosevelt refusing him the chance during the war to clear his name, until sympathetic friends allowed this greatest American flyer to quietly play a role and help his country.

Lindbergh may well have been a bigot, like the bulk of the American population at the time. (Even Eleanor Roosevelt is on the record having made anti-Semitic remarks-- which is not a true or full barometer of her personality.) What I found ironic about the Roth novel is that Lindbergh was actually on the receiving end of fascist behavior.

Unlike Franklin Roosevelt, Lindbergh's personality was transparent-- a naif with the virtues and prejudices of the middle America he typified. At heart a good person-- as Berg's biography makes clear-- seeking to do the right thing and suffering the consequences of his actions and statements. He was never less than always brave. Being leery of war is never a bad thing. The first world war had caused unbelievable carnage (nations counting their casualties not in the thousands, but the millions). Sober people wished to avoid a repeat. Lindbergh surely was incapable of envisioning the full extent of Hitler's evil. But he also made the case that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia would fight to a stalemate, or destroy each other.

Philip Roth addresses no complexities, no political realities-- for instance, that crafty FDR could've shredded Lindbergh without half trying. This is exactly what FDR did. Unless he's writing a fable with deeper meaning (he's not), such childlike and wrong simplicity from a novelist of Roth's reputation is inexcusable. A writer at the end of his string.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Cold Heart of an Apparatchik

Cleaning out a drawer of paperwork, I came across an interesting letter from the Chicago Tribune dated June 25, 2003. It was sent me while I was helping to promote, with other zeensters, a fundraising event in Chicago for writer Cullen Carter, who'd been seriously injured in an accident and had huge medical bills. Here is what the Tribune letter said:

"Dear Mr. Wenclas,

"Thank you for contacting the Chicago Tribune regarding supporting the Benefit for Cullen Carter Committee event. Although we greatly appreciate the opportunity, we will not be able to participate at this time.

"We take a more strategic look at how our event involvement helps us meet our business objectives. We have determined that, in order to maximize our resources, we need to concentrate on those few events that offer us the greatest opportunity to interact with the consumers we need to reach. Unfortunately, the Benefit for Cullen Carter Committee event does not meet the criteria we have developed for our event participation.

"Angela Pindel, Associate Events Producer."

If I recall correctly, I had written letters to the Tribune's editor and publisher simply asking for them to buy a few tickets, to help a fellow member of the writing business. I assumed they could afford it. They were able to view my letter only through their narrow, selfish perspective.

These are the kind of people who control the flow of information and the dissemination of culture.

Monday Report

I have this week's Monday Report. I hope it doesn't throw too many folks. It offers a different take on the assumed nature of events-- is a reminder that U.S. imperialism was promoted first by liberals.

The question is whether, in a free country, people have the right to be different-- or even to be wrong.

Most people don't know that some very good writers-- J.F. Powers and Kenneth Rexroth to name two-- we're Conscientious Objectors during the Second World War, and endured many indignities as a result. There is also the controversial matter of Ezra Pound, who was put in a small cage like an animal after the war, then locked away for years in a psychiatric hospital.

When one starts examining the actual history of events, more questions are raised than one might think-- things aren't always according to the accepted record. I wanted to raise some questions with my essay. (I'll have more about the matter this week on this blog.)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

What Happened to Lee Klein?

It's good to see a letter from former friendly antagonist Lee Klein up on the Moby lit site. Lee the loveable lunkhead literary Lothario conquerer of lit-babes throughout Manhattan is now plying his trade in Iowa. Writing, that is.

I first met Lee at an infamously dull Firecracker Alternative Book Awards gathering a few years back. Lee was supposed to throw me through the mirror behind the bar-- had announced to the world he would do so-- but when we met we started drinking and talking and forgot about it. Which was a shame-- it would've added needed life to the party.

Now we know why Foetry is anonymous! They apparently have no desire to meet the oft-rampaging Lee Klein. But it takes all the fun out of things, doesn't it?

The last time I saw Lee I was up in Manhattan for something, walking to the subway, when there passing on a street corner at exactly the same time in the giant city of ten million people was Lee Klein. Lee was returning from an informal workshop held in the swanky digs of a billionaire chick writer whose father owns some magazines. (Why Lee needs to attend Iowa is beyond me.) We stopped at the first nearby bar and knocked down many many many brews as I recall while discussing important literary matters, women writers, and other things. Now Lee's the big man on campus in Iowa. Defender of the literati! I hereby volunteer to promote any upcoming match between Lee and the ghosts at Foetry. It could be exciting, if they'd allow it to be!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Greatest Undergrounder of Them All

No question about it-- no one matches the independence, character, clear thought, and integrity of Fred Woodworth, editor of the long-running journal The Match! and other publications.

Fred is so underground he's not on-line and will never go on-line. (You'll have to read the journal to hear why.) He's so underground he'd never join the ULA! Though the ULA has taken me on a different tangent from Fred's, using another kind of strategy, I still love receiving The Match!-- guaranteed to always be an amazing read. Not Left, not Right, Fred gives the reader an alternate take on the world, supporting his views with knowledge and logic. What's more, even about the Internet, he's usually right!

Issue #102 contains the regular features-- "Who the Police Beat," "Freedom Eclipsed," "The World's Longest Letters Column"-- as well as new revelations to keep us thinking. Noteworthy is an essay challenging Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear, which has gotten a free pass from mainstream media, presumably because Crichton is a doctor and this scares everyone. Not Fred Woodworth! Crichton's arguments are quickly dismantled: "Eventually this planet will run out of fossil or geologically created petroleum. Shifting to solar power is a must. Crichton puts on a broad smile. The current world population of perhaps ten billion persons is very obviously too great. Crichton jeers."

This essay alone makes #102 worth buying. (Note: Woodworth lives his ideas. For instance, he powers his house with solar power.)

While no price is given, I'd send four or five dollars well-wrapped cash for a copy. The Match! c/o Fred Woodworth, PO Box 3012, Tucson AZ 85702.

While you're at it, add a ten-spot for the novel Dream World-- a tough, truthful, and heart-wrenching coming-of-age saga written 20 years ago. Abuse; jail; 60's protesting; understanding the real America from the inside-- Dream World remains the godfather of underground novels.

My Review Policy

Books, zeens, and manuscripts continue arriving at "Attacking the Demi-Puppets" world headquarters in Philadelphia. (I just received a uniquely-made book I'm eager to look at.) I've given away many many zeens this past year but still have enough for my own library. To review everything on this blog will take until the year 2022. I am trying to read everything and catch up. I hope to do more reviewing, first getting to the best of the recent arrivals, then the best of everything else. (Warning: I read zeens first-- it's best to send writing which I don't have time anyway to read in that form.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Art of the Rant

"Art of the Rant" was the title of an essay I wrote for my New Philistine newsletter. I compared the violent, passionate rants of Frank Norris's novel The Octopus to what zeens of the 90's perfected.

One of the distinguishing features of many 90's zeens was the inclusion of striking rants. Punk and anarchist zeensters especially relied on rants to draw attention. I think of some of the best, like Kombat, or the Big Fish music/political zeen out of Grand Rapids. Many zeens included the word in their titles, like This Space for Rant, or Alfred Vitale's Rant.

The written rant is like a building crescendo in a rock song. (Think of how Pearl Jam ended many of their hits.) The rant's power comes from the words that are said, but also from the energy and rhythmn of the cascading words. Nothing in literature is more powerful.

The Octopus itself is music, notes turned into words; a vast sweeping symphony, themes played at the beginning extending and growing in thematic narrative velocity, driving building expanding crashing together spectacularly in an over-the-top display of the emotional power of outrage.

Hang onto the outrage. Norris's characters live full out-- love or hate. They plunge into their conflicts the same way Norris plunges fully into the ideas of his story.

In the aftermath of the ULA's 2001 debate with the Paris Review staff at CBGB's Gallery, as George Plimpton and myself discussed matters over beers, the old boy told me the one point on which we were wrong was the idea that polemics had a place in literature. I'd been told the same thing by other literary people over the years: No polemics!

Yet isn't polemical language part of life? Shouldn't it be yet one more tool to consider in the writer's toolbox; which can be used well or used badly? Should anything be excluded from literature-- including language which can stir arouse awaken anger the reader?

I've never bought the Ray Carver idea that people talk in monotone sentences of few words. When I worked in industrial shops or bartended near factories I heard workers' rants, riffs on their anger over spouses bosses jobs lives: the world. Their anger gave their expressive words rhetorical power. They ranted! They didn't sound like Ray Carver.

The art of the rant is polemics brought to life in the most forceful way possible.


I notice Lewis Lapham's Philadelphia appearance is suddenly back on-- poster presenting his google-eyed Brahmin mug holding the slimy smirk of a child molestor. I'm not exaggerating! The photo is classic; very revealing.

It occurs to me that this entire society is built on bluff. (As Lapham acknowledges but always declines to apply to himself.) We have a President-- the notion that we have to have a leader. Billions of dollars go into buttressing this notion, telling us that this one or other mediocrity, dunce, or political whore has unique qualities raising him above the nation. For this childish nonsense we have to blame George Washington, our first President and the only one who appeared Presidential; impressive by his very character, posture, and graceful bearing. He could walk into a room and instantly dominate it, even if it contained a host of geniuses. For over two hundred years since we've been searching for another Washington. We always come up disappointed.

The world of the arts has become bluff. Millions of dollars of publicity proclaim a coagulated work by intellectual dullard Jonathan Franzen a great novel. People rush to buy it. The power of bluff.

Lewis Lapham is the beneficiary of bluff. He has a limited view of the world, along with a limited collection of ideas which he recycles again and again in books and essays. The man he replaced, Willie Morris, at least possessed genuine talent. Lapham is merely a typical aristocrat; modest material expensively educated to its highest modest level; with a billionaire's backing. A clean-cut mannequin dressed in the best suits in Manhattan, stiff and gray, his magazine's apparatus pushing the notion relentlessly that the man is one of our distinguished essayists. It's been said enough times for 28 years that many gullible people actually believe it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Job Search

So, what have I been up to the last couple months, you ask?

Searching for jobs, for one thing. I use the plural because I'll need three of them to pay my increasing debts and bills. Right now I'd settle for one.

This is how it's been going.

Telemarketing jobs seem to have dried up from just a couple years ago-- most sent to India. (I've been having a lot of bill collectors in that country phoning to say hello.) For those few ads which do appear you seem to have to call within five minutes after the newspaper comes out, or you've missed it. They must be flooded with calls from all the out-of-work ex-telemarketers.

I have my resume all over town in my old field-- what I did back in Detroit. So far, not a nibble. (It helps to be from a city and to already know the principals, which I don't here. Or, maybe people have been googling my name!)

On one job possibility that a friend clued me onto, I'm waiting for a background check that never seems to clear.

There have been ads for laborer jobs way out in the burbs. The ads say you have to be able to stand in one place for eight or nine hours and regularly lift fifty pounds. Sounds like fun! $9 an hour. These kind of jobs paid more than that twenty-five years ago! Back when CEO's made a hundred-fifty grand a year. Now they make $15 million.

As a sign of desperation, early this morning I traveled to take an exam for low-level government jobs (4-12 shift processing paperwork). The government! Yes, I know, I know-- but either that or McDonald's. I took a train, then rode on a bus along an avenue to the far-flung outskirts of Philadelphia. Was the bus crowded? At least as many people in the aisle as in the seats. Workers and students (some reading paperbacks). The overloaded lower-class transport chugged along. The ad had given an address on the avenue where the tests were to be held-- along the road a couple miles away from where the government people worked. I watched the street numbers. I thought it'd be easy-- see the number and hop off the bus. But then we got to the part of the city where the buildings don't show their addresses; where the structures are set back from the road, behind bunkers, all sidewalks vanished, with no way for anyone without a car to get around. I watched-- saw a number before the one I wanted, then nothing, then a number beyond it. I'd missed it! Now I'd have to get off at the next intersection and take a bus back in the other direction. But the bus traveled on and suddenly left the avenue down a side road. Oh shit! I was getting farther away from the place. I hopped off the bus into a snowbank.

Fortunately a bus came chugging along going down the side road in the other direction. I fished into my pocket of tokens and got on that. This one went past the avenue-- so I got off at what looked like a decent place. I walked toward the given address. Looking at the numbers, I saw I was still at least a mile away-- with no place to walk-- just cars whizzing by close and an unbroken succession of snowbanks.

At the next intersection I got on another bus, this one headed south. I passed where the testing place was SUPPOSED to be but still saw no number-- just a strip of buildings set back from the road. It was some sort of scam, I figured, to make getting to the test on time as difficult as possible-- friends etc perhaps clued in. Or maybe the government had figured 40,000 people would show up, and they wanted to discourage as many folks as possible. Regardless, I was already too late, so I stayed on the bus. I'd seen, by the way, the government complex where employees processed paperwork on the 4-12 shift. It was fenced and as well-guarded as Fort Knox; cold, eerie, and quite isolated. I'd done some research, and knew that if you didn't catch the bus that went by after midnight you were stuck. No bars across the street from it. Nothing. It didn't look like a cool place to work-- no wonder government people were so stoic.

The bus I was on took me to Frankford Terminal, where I got on a train to take me back downtown. A foxy working class redhead sat next to me. Well, at least the day wasn't all bad, I thought. On a scale of 1 to 10, she was a 12. She was reading a newspaper. I discussed with her the news of the day, and horoscopes. Then she got off. I did soon also.

Anyway, I'll be fitted soon for my Micky D's uniform. I'll keep blog readers notified as to location. Maybe Franzen, Bissell, Lapham, and Moody can drop in to say hello!

Newspaper Review: Weekly World News

With accuracy rivaling that of the New York Times, WWN has a particularly lively issue on the newsstands. Articles include:

-The Annual Terrorist Games (like the Olympics) with descriptions of events.

-The Richest Kid in the World (looks like a young Hiram F. Moody), shown surrounded by servants.

-George W. Bush's plans for a Resort Bomb Shelter, babes and all. Included is a picture of the President's child-like sketch of the resort.

-Republican plans for Caucasian History Month.

And lots more good stuff! (I don't know how the Times missed reporting on all of it. Since they got rid of Jayson Blair I notice there's been a distinct slackening off.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Interview with a Philadelphia Novelist

This is a slightly edited version of a conversation I had with independent Philadelphia author Lawrence Richette about his latest novel, The Abyss.

1.) How much research did you do about hospital administration and about mental illness?

LR: "These are two areas I have personal experience of. I didn't have to do actual research. I was told the book was very accurate by a doctor."

2.) Do you see a parallel between artists and novelists? Or: Can medication used to calm personality at the same time hinder art? Doesn't the artist require pain?

LR: "If you're asking about the novel, I'd say the question is open. We don't know if his" (the character's) "paintings are any good! No one reliable tells us the paintings are any good. Gillian" (the psychiatrist) "didn't like one of his paintings."
"-- I think anti-depressants are dangerous. They create a false mood. They mask real emotions."
(King: Something used to correct a chemical imbalance?)
LR: "Doesn't work the same way. With anti-depressants they're trying to create an optimum level of feeling. Which no one knows what that is. It's a losing game."
(King: Who's your favorite artist?)
LR: "Matisse in the 20th century. Bonnard, obviously."

3.) Your books always have a great sense of place-- of Philadelphia. Is this an inspiring city to create in? How does it rank in your opinion with Paris, San Francisco, and other acclaimed literary cities?

LR: "It's inspiring for me because no one's really written about it. Philadelphia is virgin territory. Its civic culture has its own special feeling, like San Francisco. New York and Paris are world cities, so you can't compare them. Philadelphia's somewhat conventional but not stiflingly so."
"I'm trying to create a regional literature, focused on this region. I like to walk around and look at things. I don't drive that much. I see things at street level. Literature of the suburbs is impoverished because you don't have that intimate connection that you do with a city. Suburbs are so generic. Philadelphia is so compact, you can move from one world to another world in the space of a few blocks. Go ten blocks and you see all these different sub-cultures, which is wonderful for a writer."

4.) How discouraging is it that local media ignores hometown literary talents unless they're toothless or have been given the brand of approval by New York?

LR: "I used to find it more disccouraging than I do now. I'm used to being ignored. Philadelphia has a provincial attitude and doesn't trust its own taste. It looks for approval from New York. The most mediocre novel by John Updike automatically gets more attention than anything by a local writer. People in Philadelphia need to trust their own taste more, not depend on the tastemakers in New York. The local media is falling down on its duty to discover the best local talent. They should be ashamed of themselves."

5.) What novelist do you consider yourself closest to?

LR: "Norman Mailer, with his The Deer Park."

6.) What's the future of the novel?

LR: "It has a future. It's up to my generation of novelists to reclaim the novel. It's why I'm disappointed with my contemporaries. The only contemporary novelist I admire without reservation is Bret Ellis. And he hasn't published much lately. But he has the ambition a large-scale project requires."

7.) Back to your book: Are men and women hopelessly mysterious animals to one another?

LR: "Yes."

Thanks Larry!

Larry Richette will be reading at Philly's Center City Barnes & Noble on March 7th. I challenge Karen Heller and other local media types be in attendance. (That's not my usual kind of hangout, but I hope to be in the audience.)