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Realms, Realms, Realms

This is one I’m afraid to tell, not because the content is scary — it’s not — but because I have good reason to think I’m going to fail. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience. It’s like your mind is a hand and it is grabbing a huge ball whose curvature is so great that your fingers barely get purchase on it. And if you let it go — you feel like an idiot, because you feel like the things you were trying to think, they’re not Unthinkable in any grand sense — the sort of Unthinkable that is honored by the failure to think it and perhaps even thereby thunk! — but, rather, you just fucked up. But on the other hand, if we only tried things we knew we could do — as a cow tries to eat grass and, mouthful by mouthful succeeds — life would be much less fun.

Anyway!

The characters in this story are named Ebershaw, Moaree, and Be-shar. Ebershaw and Moaree were in a bus-station late at night traveling from the provincial capital, to the hill station where they were doing their research for the department of science, and had to change buses and wait in the middle of the night at Palar-T’ko. The station was cold. The floor was sticky. A peddler sold rice and coconut steamed in banana leaf, and computers, and quill pens, but even he had called it a night and gone to sleep under his pedal-rickshaw before Ebershaw and Moaree arrived. There was nothing to do but hug each other to keep warm, look at the crane flies and damsel flies wheeling, phototropically around the station’s light fixtures, and explore what could be bought for one or two or five Dragoons from the bus station vending machine, a surly and truculent item that if you pulled out a spring-loaded dispensing lever might vouchsafe on you a Broca Bar or a bag of Mirmios or a little game. Or might not!

The little game they got was a game of making Realms, and once you set up the little folded piece of paper and little rings, and defined your terms, and said what the rings were and what the map was a map of — they spread it out on the greasy cold table between their two chairs — that was your Realm. And Be-shar was the one who Came to Pass Within That Realm. Its king maybe. Or its child? I don’t know.

To Be-shar, Ebershaw and Moaree were mother and father though I think if you were going to assign a gender to them you would probably say Ebershaw was feminine and Moaree was feminine-^ if you have the ___-^ genders where you come from? I don’t know if you do. But that’s what they were, and lovely with long flowing ears, and all the requisite teeth as well as the “Three Startling Teeth” which have become so popular these days, and deservedly so.

Well any brute bear can make a cub, but what makes a human being a human being is when we bring forth into the world we don’t just provide some genes and protoplasm we provide stories. We don’t just send the bowling ball to knock down the pins we answer those questions: why were we bowling that morning, when the crocuses were singing and kissed by the spring air, and so many moments were flowering! Why bowl then?

Why indeed!

“Well” said Ebershaw to his son Be-shar “I did it from guilt. Because I was a vile young man. And at the college we would take advantage of the poor girls from the village down the road, because we were wealthy and had servants, and they were simple and poor. And I told your mother that I had magic powers, and tricked her, and that is how we became lovers and why I am your father and she is your mother!”

Why am I calling them mother and father and man and woman and son? I’m as confused as Ebershaw! Because Moaree said, laughing “I never thought he had magic powers at all! I was able to pour water into the bowl and see the future, and understand that I was the one who could teach him and his whole tribe to stop feeling slaves to guilt, which was a relatively recent problem of theirs, dating back to a confusion suffered by his father’s father’s mother, who angry at being passed over by an inheritance in a fight with her cousin, had taught her son that they were terribly sinned against, and that any moment he didn’t spend brooding upon the injustices that she had suffered at the hands of her cousin, was stealing from her — not paying her back for his very life! What a silly thing I thought, and I saw his face in my bowl of water, and I saw your face, Be-shar! And I said while we are on a trip on good work from the Department of Science we will make your Realm and you the Child of the Realm, and you will ask the question and the lights will go on in your father’s eyes!”

Ebershaw was amazed! He loved his wife then more than he ever had before, more than he ever knew he was capable of.

When the peddler woke up they each bought a treat of rice and coconut and shared it, and smiled, and teased each other, by rubbing it on each other’s faces.

In the early dawn light the bus creaked its way into the station. They climbed aboard and found seats. The bus expelled the air from it brakes and headed off into the morning mist and was gone, wheezing its way up the road to the hill station. The sun was brilliant — it was going to be a hot day. Steam rose from the paddies, and the local deities leered at them from their weather-beaten wooden palaces as they passed, placing stone rings on leather maps, thousands of years old, printed on the hides of long-extinct beasts, glyptodon, dimetrodon, singing rude but rollicking songs.

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The Way We Do It Now

This story is a really good one, but unfortunately I have forgotten most of it — I was putting it together in my mind but then there was an emergency, my brain got rattled by adrenaline, and now here I am, trying to recollect what it was all about in tranquility, and all I have is scraps. Suggestive scraps.

One part is a character who is able to tell about a previous civilization, a much more advanced group of technological folk — our guy is a farmer — based upon the shapes of the earthworks they left behind.

A second part is about the word Busillis, which is a medieval word meaning a terribly hard puzzle, because some medieval scribe was asked to explain what “Busillis” was to the king, and he finally realized that there was no Busillis, that it was a miswriting of “dies illes” or something — these days. And in this part of the story everybody is aware that there is a cycle of civilization, that they come and go, and that each one leaves behind a few traces for the next one to perceive that stand out as things that don’t make sense, that are impossible to assimilate.

And then as I was trying to put these two pieces together I imagined a friend of mine (and this is the third part, Scrap the Third) a friend from twitter whom I have never met in real life, who has developed a way to understand literature using mathematics, and has built a machine that does this using gears and string, and that he is able to take these first two pieces — the farmer with his earthworks that are symbols of an earlier civilization and the monk with his search for Busillis that lets him realize life is a palimpest — that it is precisely those things we don’t understand that are the most real, because the fact that we don’t understand them means they are erupting from a previous sediment of reality, bursting through our methods of understanding things from deep time into now — the frisky present — and my friend (whom I have never met) was setting up his gears and his strings and getting ready to turn the switch from off to on and let me hear the story that I had almost told myself and forgotten, so I could tell you what it is, right here, right now.

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First Lessons on the First Cold Day: The Ein Sof

Walking and feet really hurting gathering berries I sat down in the boll of a tree and asked father to help answer some of my questions, maybe dispel some of my confusion. He said okay. What have you got?

Why am I constantly held back and stopped?

Easy, you’re not. Because if there were no stops between berries and that which is not good to eat, between trees and spaces between the trees, you couldn’t be walking with me, gathering berries in the basket. I mean honestly, son, without the space inside the basket there coulnd’t be a basket. I’m sure you remember that one.

I do. So is there ever a place where I’m not going to be stopped?

Sure — it’s called the place where the stops stop.

But that’s like a super-stop?

Well what do you want to call it when they stop stopping?

Are you really my father?

How can I be your father, asked the wolf? I am a wolf.

He was gone if he had ever been there, but even though it was beginning to snow and my feet were called!called!cold! I was able to fill a basket with berries, and then another, before it would be time to turn home.

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How I Came to Be

My mother was raised as an Orthodox Jew in a poor immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn in the 30s known as “East New York” and she fell for my father who was a dangerous character and a card shark, the son of a prominent Mafioso and lawyer for the thoroughly mobbed-up teamsters union, who, eye-catching suffered from alopecia areata and entirely lacked hair, eyebrows, eyelashes the works. I honestly made the common male mistake of thinking that my mother was the uptight one and my father was the wild one, but a little math will show you how this is always wrong. Who is wilder, the minotaur or the girl who loves the minotaur? The girl. Because she chose to make a baby with a minotaur! Her troping is towards the weird. The plain old minotaur just chose a girl, and why wouldn’t he. That’s the way of minotaurs.

A lot of things had been going tangled for me for years and i thought maybe if I knew how I came to be the way I was I could unspool them, get back to where they got tangled up, straighten it out, and get out of the trap I semeed to find myself deeper and deeper in every day. So I thought — why not ask my Grandma Gussie? Why did a good Jewish girl who never got less than an A on a test on her life choose to leave it all behind and marry a louche character like dear old Dad?

Her answer:

The bold ones always break the rules.

So the old ones have to make the rules

Knowing they will be broken, by their boldest daughters

Of whom they are proudest. Had I forbidden only murder

She would have found herself a murderer and you would stand before me

Now you with your questions, as a half-murderer

If even you chose to frame your own rebellion

As a murder, and not a question. No, as a wise Grandma

I made the rules strict, I made the standard an unreachable conscientiousness

So when my favorite daughter rebelled, she took the steps towards light

And birthed a falling star, now go and wander but rechristen your wandering

As a plumbline descent towards the heart

Of what I desire, of what I have always desired of what

My grandmas before me have desired.”

Wow Grandma I said, most Grandmas wouldn’t give me such an honest answer.

-Them? she said, handing me a second piece of noodle kugel. They are bad Grandmas.

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I’m Going to Say This To You

Marty I’m going to say this to you and when I say it to you I want you to listen. –Do you understand? Because if you don’t understand I want you to tell me. I want you to say to me I understand. –And I’m going to say something else to you — I want you to understand the details and how they fit together, not just at the street level, but for the basement. I want you to understand the details for the street. And I want you to understand the details for the basement. And I don’t want you to say you understand if you don’t.

Marty I’m going to say it again and I’m sorry but also I’m not sorry because I’m telling you what I think. I don’t trust you. I don’t believe that you understand. I don’t think you have a step by step understanding. At best I’m going to be honest I think you have like a superficial knowledge. You’re more of a talk about it guy than an actually do it guy. And if I’m wrong I’m wrong and you should tell me but I don’t think that I’m wrong. Because I don’t see you being able to recall the details and I don’t see you being able to recall the details in the right order. Not for the street and not for the basement level structures. Which is really a problem.

Because last time that’s what you did. You said you understood and you didn’t. You said I didn’t need to ask you the details and you implied, not by saying but by tone of voice and so on, that it was insulting that I would ask you if you had the details at hand and could recall them to mind. And you didn’t. You know it. I know it. Luis knows it. He really knows it.

Even if I said I trust you it wouldn’t make it so. It wouldn’t make it so for me, it wouldn’t make it so for Luis, and it wouldn’t make it true for you either. Because being able to recall the details to mind, under pressure, for the various situations that could come to pass, either on street level, or down in the basement, or even in the water room, that’s not just subjective, that’s not a I want it to be true so it is true thing, it’s an either it is or it isn’t thing. You either understand or you don’t.

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The Prisoner of Freedom

Then there was the woman who was seated in a chair, looking at a wall and who believed that if she just thought about her situation in the right way, and exercised her deep, fundamental freedom, the wall would reveal itself to be an illusion and she could get up and walk through it like a wall of mist and live her life, and failing that, could simply decide to view her life from the vantage point which made it seem that all points in space were equal and she was no more free or unfree seated in her chair and staring at the wall than she would be bounding through a forest and washing her long red hair in the waterfall. She neglected the fact that just a few steps behind her there was an open door that she could way through without exercising her deep, fundamental freedom at all. You could say she was a prisoner of freedom. Or of her idea of freedom maybe….Same thing.

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Dog Bites Man

When Roger was walking down Ventura Boulevard on the way to get a latte he saw a man walking a spotted white and black pitbull. Can I pet your dog? he asked. No you shouldn’t said the man. But Roger could not resist. “I’ll give him a piece of snickers bar I have in my pocket!” said Roger. He reached down to pet the dog and it sunk its teeth into his hand and would not release.

A big commotion in the street. The man, whose name was Jessie kept telling everybody who would listen — i told him not to and this asshole just reaches out and tries to pet my Wally — and he would act it out. The police got there and shot the dog. It’s jaws did not let go.

Roger had to go downtown to an office in the animal department where they had a special saw. The sawed off the animal’s head. It would not let go still. Roger got a ticket and was sent to yet another office, halfway across town where in the basement he was seen by a Dr. Marengo. Dr. Marengo put bandages under the dog head to protect Roger’s skin and sunk the whole set-up in baths of progressively stronger acid. The flesh and skin of the dog head came off until all that was left was the bones. He crushed the skull with a hammer and now all that was left was the maxilla and mandible and teeth stuck fast in his flesh. By this time Roger had gotten to know Dr. Marengo pretty well and didn’t feel so awkward when he took off his shirt — he was sweating vigorously, planted one foot against Roger’s thigh, used a special tool that he had brought with him from the old country (somewhere in West Asia, Roger thought…Armenia) a pair of special brass pliers, grabbed the dog’s mandibles and with a pop got them out.

Roger went home. His girlfriend found his manner “weird”. He slept on the couch. In his dream the dog jaws were still in his hand.

The next morning he called Marengo. “The dog is still biting me in my dream.” “Sure that happens.” said Marengo and gave him the address of a witch in Little Armenia. “You’re going to have to pay for that. Animal Control doesn’t handle the supernatural — it’s just not — it’s not how they do it in America.” “That’s fine.” said Roger.

He went to the witch whose name was Lucia. She looked at his cards. She looked at his coffee grounds. It turns out the dog had been a rakshasa. A long time ago — maybe like the fifteenth century — she had been a princess who always got to have sex with the prisoners the night before they were beheaded. And this was fair because this is the best sex to be had and it was her prerogative as a princess. But then she became addicted to this kind of love-making so that the caresses of non-condemned men felt bland to her. And she started paying the judges to condemn men to death so she could enjoy them. And when she died Jesus Christ condemned her to be reborn as a dog and to be killed for every man she had thus ill-used. And that is why when the dog saw you you felt compelled to pet him. Because she was using her witchcraft to beguile you.

But what is to be done? asked Roger.

They went to the graveyard and summoned the spirit of the demon dog who was the rakshasa who was the princess and put it into an egg. Roger served the egg the next morning to his girlfriend, fried, on a piece of toast. As soon as she swallowed she stopped short, shivered, and gave him a piercing look. She was an evil devil princess now, head to toe.

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Dracula vs. The Robot

i

“How shall we defeat The Robot?” Dracula asked Renfield.

“I don’t know master!”

“He has no blood that I may drink. He has no soul, that I may damn! He has no fear of the creatures of the night! The bat cannot bite through his aluminum hide, nor the wolf rend his steel pistons!”

“I know, Master!”

ii

“The vampire cannot be destroyed by us X-2311J! I run the sub-routines again and again and I cannot reach vampire=dead!”

“Affirmative!”

“We have no stakes, we have no crosses, we have no sunlight, we have no running water. All we have is logic and data. And against this Prince of Darkness these weapons are as nought! Do you see a flaw in my reasoning or fly in my algorithm?”

“Negative!”

iii

Dracula and the Robot took to the sea in a beautiful pea green boat. They glared at each other across the gunwales.

The Count turned into a bat.

The Robot proved how the universe came to be, from a finite number of principles and how, given those principles it would eventually resolve back into nothingness.

The Count turned back.

The Robot trailed his manipulators wistfully in the surf.

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Thoughts are Like Bridges

Thoughts are like bridges. They help us get from one place to another, and they keep us from falling.

Like bridges they vary in how easy they are. Supposing you and your friend are great at hiking. You want to get to a high spot, because the views are good or there’s a nice fruit tree that you want to eat the fruit, whatever. Because you are great at hiking what serves you for a bridge could be very little indeed — a couple of fallen trees or a rock or two. Your balance is excellent and you are able to walk on the slender tree or hop from rock to rock across the raging river. These few little slippery objects are for you and your friend a bridge.

But supposing you are compassionate (or hoping to make a few bucks — it doesn’t matter) and you want to let regular folks who are not expert hikers get to the high spot, to get the great view or the good to eat fruit. You will have to build a river that a lot of people can walk over. Those people do not have good balance, some of them may be in fact pretty heavy. So you will have to engineer your bridge so that people who are not great hikers can walk on it.

It’s the same with thoughts. When you formulate a thought for yourself or a couple of close friends, it will come out one way. But if you want crowds of people to be able to use it, you will have to build it with some engineering, and some realistic sense of their capacities in mind.

Interestingly once you build a solid steel bridge somebody with excellent balance can hang from it or stand on tip-toes on top of it and see something that nobody before could see — not the regular people and not the hikers with excellent balance either.

It’s the same with thoughts.

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Monster in the Basement

…door you’re not allowed to open, mother says you’re not even allowed to ask what’s down there.

Really wanted to know what’s down there!

Asked what was down there. Punished.

Stopped asking for awhile and then REALLY wanted to know.

…Put face against door. Felt the warmth. Heard the thump as whatever it was threw itself against the door.

Waited for mother to leave the house.

Opened the door!

It was a LOVE DOG! It loved everyone so much! It shouldn’t have been in the basement.

The real monster was in the house! It was mother.

Tied her up, put her in a crate, sent her to the city to be exchanged.

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