Archives for posts with tag: Dodge City Genocide

I’M TRYING TO WATCH A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF SWAMP MODE: PART 2 ON NETFLIX, but it takes so long to load I start to wonder if it’s even been made yet. In my agitation, I open Hulu in another window and start watching whatever comes up first, which turns out to be a film called Bear Country.

 

It’s set in the State Park at the edge of Dodge City, “a dense, nearly primordial wilderness of rushing mountain streams, towering firs and hemlocks, and steep, craggy peaks,” according to the narrator. The protagonists are a pair of park rangers, Bob and Sylvie, both in their mid-twenties, just out of forestry school.

 

As Act I begins, they are elated to receive their first assignment, the most coveted among all the newbies: they’ll be on bear watch, tracking the movements, eating habits, and fluctuating population of the Park’s famed grizzlies, which are known to be both the fiercest and the most majestic in all of North America. It’s an annual census, they’re told, a data set updated every late June, and this year it’ll be their findings that go on file.

 

A quick montage shows them filling their camping packs, practicing with bear spray, and chatting excitedly as they prepare for their first overnight excursion into the Park’s imposing backcountry. There’s an odd romantic comedy tone here, as they banter back and forth and giggle like teenagers while deciding whether to bring one tent or two.

 

Then they set out, following first the main trail, then a secondary, then a tertiary trail before peeling off into the backcountry, where they hack vines with machetes to clear the way. I open a few other browser windows in here, checking back to see if the Netflix special’s finished loading yet (it hasn’t).

 

When I return to Bear Country, Bob and Sylvie are at the edge of a clearing and the narrator’s saying, “Here we see them approaching the place where, according to 2016’s census, the Park’s fiercest grizzlies congregate.”

 

Ominous music starts to play, like it’s a mauling we’re about to witness, and the last of the romantic comedy tone recedes. It seems Bob and Sylvie can hear it too, or else the mood in the clearing is sufficiently tense even in silence: now they’re creeping more slowly, bear spray out and ready, swiveling their heads like a pair of spooked owls.

 

Still, they press further in. On the far side of the clearing, they come to a stand of trees and look through, into another clearing on the far side. The camera cuts to their perspective, which reveals a truly wild sight:

 

Dozens of massive grizzlies are cataloguing human parts. They’ve built (or found) a complex wooden structure with numerous sections, like an open-air vault, and into this structure they’re placing human heads, humans arms, human torsos, and human legs, each in its own section, all very orderly.

 

They work mainly with their mouths, but a few grizzlies sit on stumps and gesticulate in an unmistakably human manner with their paws. This sequence goes on and on, Bob & Sylvie mute and terrified at the edge of the frame, the grizzles working on a gigantic pile of dismembered humans in the center. We watch until the whole pile’s been sorted, everything in its right place.

 

Then the bears settle onto their haunches and regard their work. Just before the screen goes black, one says to the other, “Let’s call it a day and get some rest, yeah?”

 

The other nods.

 

*****

AS PART II BEGINS, Bob & Sylvie are sitting on an outcropping over a rushing stream, drinking from their water bottles and trying to stop panicking.

 

When they’re finally able to speak, Bob says, “We gotta tell Steve.” (“That’s their boss, Director of Park Operations,” the narrator informs us.) “He has to know about this. I mean, it’s …”

 

“What we saw back there, it’s … a kind of miracle,” Sylvie says. “I mean, they were talking, right? You heard them too? Don’t you think we should … try to find out more first? See what they want, before we … ?”

 

Bob nods, but his mind’s clearly scrambled. He doesn’t have the same expression of awe that Sylvie has. It’s clear they’re about to part ways.

 

*****

AS, INDEED, THEY DO. In the next scene, Bob has run off alone to warn Steve. In the Ranger Headquarters near the Park Entrance, Steve sits across from Bob and says, “Look, word wasn’t supposed to get around, but since you saw what’s out there, I might as well explain a few things. For reasons we don’t quite understand, some of the bears are evolving human consciousness. It seems to have coincided with Pussygrab’s election. Something about Swamp Mode, a massive psychic shift in many of Dodge City’s populations, not just its human population … anyway, a delegation of these newly humanoid bears approached us one night in March, to plead for their independence. ‘Now that we can see the power structures that keep us societally disadvantaged,’ their leader said to me — I’ll always remember this moment — ‘we want an autonomous zone within the Park. A genuine Bear Country. Give us that, and we’ll leave you alone. Promise.'”

 

Steve opens a bottle of bourbon from a cabinet behind the table and fills two plastic cups almost to the brim. He pushes one in Bob’s direction and raises his in a grim toast. “Before I could respond to the bear’s request, Paul Sweetie showed up — he must have the whole Park under surveillance — pushed me aside, and started negotiating. ‘Okay,’ he told the bear, who was sitting in the same seat you’re in now. ‘How about this: you do something for us, we do something for you. Deal?’ The bear looked intrigued. It was clear, even at that early stage, that it had no business making a deal with Paul Sweetie. That bear was painfully naive when it came to the finer points of human deal-making, let me tell you. And how could it not be?”

 

Steve refills his cup and continues. “So Paul Sweetie tells the bear, ‘look, I represent a new Regime in Dodge City and we’re trying to get a new Genocide started. A Second Dodge City Genocide, if you will, though by the time we’re done it’ll be the only one people remember. Anyway, what would you say if we were to send some of our undesirables your way, and ask you to dispose of them for us? Say, I don’t know, 5,000 heads?’ Paul Sweetie grins and leans into the bear’s face, completely fearless in his white wedding dress. ‘What if you were to present us with 5,000 human heads, as well as the rest of their bodies — torsos, arms, legs, all nicely sorted — so we can kick this Genocide off in style? If you were to do this for us, we could see our way clear to granting you independence. Just let us know when you’ve got the 5,000, and we’ll draw up the paperwork to make your Bear Country official. You’ll never hear from us again after that. Deal?'”

 

Steve’s eyes mist over as he recalls the decisive moment. Clearly, at heart, he’s as much of an animal lover as Bob is. “And with that, Paul Sweetie holds out his hand until the bear, who’s never seen this ritual before, extends its paw and grasps onto Sweetie until Sweetie lets go. And thus the deal is signed.”

 

Ranger Bob looks around the office, stunned and a little drunk. “But if you knew that was going on out there … why did you send Sylvie and me in anyway?”

 

Steve wipes his eyes and says, “Because we needed someone who didn’t know to find it. Otherwise, it would seem like an inside job.”

 

“An inside job?”

 

But Steve’s already on the phone with The Dodge City Free Press, drunkenly reporting what his junior ranger has just discovered.

 

*****

IN THE NEXT SCENE, a crew of photographers descends on the bear stronghold, snapping photo and video from helicopters hovering just above the sorted bodies. One brave reporter jumps out to interview a bear, who says, “Well, we did kill these people, but only because …” The rest of the quote is cut off.

 

Images of mutilated corpses and blood-stained bears fill the front pages and TV screens of Dodge City for an entire Tuesday, hammering home the atrocity as vividly as possible.

 

That night, Pussygrab makes an emergency announcement from his Throne Room. “This is a deeply sad moment for me, as an animal lover,” he begins, swigging from a bottle of champagne and chewing a greasy hock of mutton. “But, with the news that the State Park’s bears have grown uncontrollably vicious, totally above and beyond what’s reasonable for grizzlies in the wild, I’m left with no option other than to go nuclear. It’s truly a shame, but something must be done to keep the people of Dodge City safe. So, with a heavy heart I hereby announce that at 5am tomorrow, warheads will fall on the bears’ horrific stronghold, and this depraved episode will reach its necessary conclusion.”

 

Canned applause erupts offscreen and I gag, unsure now whether I’m still watching the Hulu movie or the actual Dodge City News.

 

*****

SYLVIE, MEANWHILE, HAS GONE NATIVE. We cut to her living among the bears, transcribing their folklore, helping them sort their heads, and trying to represent humanity as well as she can to them, though she doesn’t shy away from discussing the depths that Pussygrab has already reduced Dodge City to in his short term as Mayor.

 

“Murdering people, in principle, is wrong,” she tells them, “but if they’re Pussygrab goons, have at it.” The bears don’t seem to understand where she’s coming from, and the bodies are too mutilated to be identified, but a viewer like me understands the point she’s making and is inclined to agree. “Humanity,” she says, “is a negotiable quantity. It’s always in flux.”

 

I hate to picture what’s coming, but I can’t help it.

 

“Why did you start doing this?” she asks one of the bears, while they’re taking a break. “Is there some point you’re making?”

 

The bear shakes its head, but it’s too late: the sky is already massing with missiles.

 

“No,” the bear says, its voice marked by an accent I can’t quite place. “We were … there was a man, a man in a white wedding dress, who came to speak with our leader. He said that if we …”

 

Sylvie leans in to hear better as the surrounding trees spark into flames and all the neatly sorted bodies are liquified, heat rippling over the entire clearing. The camera zooms in on Sylvie’s face as a gust of burning ash reduces it to putty.

 

Then it zooms out to reveal the bears running in confused zigzags as more and more blasts erupt around them, making it clear that none will escape.

 

*****

THE FINAL IMAGE IS OF A FLEET OF BACKHOES AND TRACTORS descending on the wreckage, driving right through it, as they begin to harvest the rare earth metals buried in the heart of Bear Country. “Uranium, plutonium, rubidium,” says one of the drivers through her elaborate hazmat suit. “Buried here all along, but out of reach because the land was protected. Endangered species and all. Whoever invested in this dig’s gonna make a fortune!”

 

I close my laptop just as Bear Country 2: A Special Investigation Into The 5,000 Victims starts loading. Sitting in the fresh silence, I’m overcome by a coughing fit. Though the room I’m sitting in has no windows, I can taste the fallout seeping through the walls.

I SIT WITHOUT BLINKING BEHIND MY COMPUTER as the next Movie automatically begins. Billed as a “Spiritual Sequel” to The New AryansThe New Jews picks up where the last left off:

 

Col. Pussygrab and his recently bleached Swamp Creatures are sitting in a lake house modeled pretty convincingly on Wannsee outside Berlin, eating croissants and discussing how best to kick off the Second Dodge City Genocide, itself a “Spiritual Sequel” to the First.

 

“Well, our main goal naturally is to kill as many possible,” says one of the New Aryans.

 

The others sip their cappuccinos and nod, savoring what appears to be both the coffee’s rich velvety flavor as well as the delicious notion of catalyzing mass murder.

 

“For old times’ sake,” another adds, “why don’t we begin with the Jews?”

 

More nods of assent.

 

“Once they’re pretty well exterminated, we’ll be able to move on to other, more motley demographics in relative peace.”

 

“Indeed,” adds another. “These things must be done right. A little respect for history, in terms of annihilating the Dodge City Jews, will go a long way. Where the First Dodge City Genocide left some Jews alive to breed and re-infest the town, ours will not. We must, like all great thinkers, learn from the mistakes of the past.”

 

I yawn, pretty sure I know where this is going. But then, like the Director has gauged the exact moment of audience disengagement, a curveball gets thrown in:

 

The most sinister of the New Aryans, who appears to be Pussygrab’s advisor — I’ll call him One-Fang Larry in honor of the dripping fang that protrudes like a necktie from his mouth to his bellybutton — clears his throat and says, “I hate to complicate matters, especially on such a festive occasion, but it must be pointed out that the Dodge City Jews are no longer as easy to identify as they once were.”

 

All eyes are on him, in a wide shot that takes in the whole table. Then the camera zooms in on his fang as he says, “Much as it pains me to say this, what we’re dealing with now is a race of New Jews …”

 

Here the action freezes and the title THE NEW JEWS: A RACIAL SPECTACULAR fills the screen, the letters vibrating over a Spaghetti Western synth track.

 

I’d like to say I shut my laptop here and go to bed, but that’s not what I do.

 

*****

AFTER THE TITLE CREDITS, the conference table discussion resumes, the synth fading out.

 

“As I was saying,” One-Fang Larry resumes, “the Jews grew smart in the decades since the First Genocide. Like cockroaches, which grow stronger from what doesn’t kill them, these surviving Jews are not the sitting ducks they used to be. They’ve cloaked themselves in clever, insidious ways. Names, addresses, faces, even blood-types … none of it’s as overtly Jewish as it used to be.”

 

Here Pussygrab cuts in, eyes wide with anger. “Are you saying, then, that these New Jews could be crawling among us?”

 

He itches his New Aryan skin as the camera swoops out to take in the frightened, suspicious expressions of those gathered around the table. Everyone’s eying everyone else, trying to sniff out the New Jews among them while, at the same time, surely preparing to defend themselves as well.

 

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” One-Fang Larry replies. “They could be anywhere. They could be you,” he looks at one of the New Aryans, “or you,” he looks at another …

 

By the end of the scene, he’s looked at everyone except Pussygrab, whose gaze he’s studiously avoided.

 

“Well then,” Pussygrab says, standing up and motioning for the others to follow. “Bring me the most accurate New Jew detection software on the market. I want state-of-the-art. This Dodge City Genocide is going to be done right. Find me the very best!”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN goes black here and I doze off until a knock on my door rouses me. Stumbling over to open it — though I know I should start being more careful — I see a minor Swamp Creature (a henchman or handmaiden) standing in the hallway, hand outstretched.

 

“Yes?” I ask, once this pose has been held longer than I can bear without responding.

 

“I’m here to collect your submission for the New Jews Identification Project,” he, she, or it says.

 

When I don’t respond, the Creature adds, “each Dodge City Citizen is required to submit their best attempt at devising a foolproof method for identifying the New Jews lurking among us. The Glorious Genocide that the Good Colonel has envisioned cannot take place without our dedicated participation.”

 

I look frantically around the Room until my eyes settle on a Room Service receipt, itemized with roast beef, mashed potatoes, and extra horseradish. I hand this over and say, “Here. Here’s my list.”

 

The henchman or handmaiden scoffs at my pitiable submission, but accepts it and shuffles off, leaving the door open wide enough to whisper, “If this or any other method implicates you as a New Jew, know you’ll be seeing us again.”

 

 

*****

IN THE QUIET of my Room after the list has been collected, my attention has nowhere to turn save for back to my computer, where, come to think of it, I can’t be sure it hasn’t been all along.

 

The Genocide’s ramping up: Pussygrab has assembled the entire Dodge City Population in Sacrifice Square and appears to be testing each New Jew detection method in turn, skewing, naturally, toward those that identify the widest possible swath of people.

 

This is skipped over in fast, brutal montage, and soon firing squads are executing row after row of men, women, and children, all lined up against the exposed brick facade of City Hall, blood pooling in a trough that runs along Main Street like a half-dug subway tunnel.

 

First to go are those Dodge City citizens whose Jewishness is overt — about seven in total — and then, according to the various New Jew identification schemes that Pussygrab has received, the executions spread outward, to incorporate the rest of the Dodge City Population. Everyone, it would seem, is outed as a New Jew by one method or another.

 

Then, inevitably, the deaths start hitting closer to home:

 

Now the Movie shows Pussygrab executing his junior advisors — “Just to be safe!” he shouts, over the noise of the firing squads, who’ve moved indoors — and now he’s executing his senior advisors, pacing his Palace (where in Dodge City is this located?) in agitation, until it’s just him and One-Fang Larry, ankle-deep in viscera.

 

They stand together, poring over the New Jew results, each wielding a jeweled saber.

 

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” Pussygrab begins, “but the Second Dodge City Genocide will mean nothing if we are not thorough. We will fail to transcend the First if we let even a single New Jew slip through the cracks. History will not remember us kindly in that event.”

 

One-Fang Larry smiles and kneels down, head inclined in a pose of supplication that finds the tip of his fang resting on the floor. “Believe me, if there’s even the slightest chance that I am a New Jew, the last thing I’d want is to live on. By all means, kill me now.”

 

And Col. Pussgrab does, with a single deep slash across the throat.

 

 

*****

THE MOVIE PAUSES again here, giving its viewers (or viewer, if I’m the only one) a moment to breathe and reflect before the grim finale commences.

 

Then the grim finale commences:

 

Pussygrab’s alone in his Throne Room, cradling the slaughtered body of One-Fang Larry, his closest advisor and perhaps his only friend.

 

Surrounded by piles of data — the results of each New Jew identification method he’s tried — Pussygrab wades through the blood and mutters, “Now, the moment of truth, now the moment of truth … I mustn’t let my Genocide fall short, I mustn’t … ” over and over, until the Movie cuts to him sitting on his Throne with his jeweled saber in one hand and a strip of litmus paper in the other.

 

“Okay,” he mutters, “time to find out. If I’m a New Jew, I too must die. And if I’m not, I will rule this town forevermore, in untrammeled glory.” He turns to the screen here, breaking the fourth wall: “This is the evil of the New Jew, you see — it can lurk anywhere. Anywhere at all, inside any of us, in you, in me …”

 

Looking away from the camera, the synth score comes back up as he cuts his forearm with the saber and catches the blood on the litmus paper. He watches as it soaks through, turning red and pulpy in his hands, until it falls apart, apparently without yielding any definitive result.

 

He scowls and cuts himself again, this time catching his blood in a beaker, but, again, no verdict emerges.

 

Now, he looks imploringly at the corpse of One-Fang Larry, even going so far as to kick it with his jeweled slipper. “Hey, Lar’? Lar’?” He kicks it again, growing frantic. “Hey! A little help here? How do you work these damn things?”

 

When One-Fang Larry remains dead, Pussygrab starts slashing his wrists indiscriminately, bleeding onto more paper, more beakers, as well as buckets, sponges, sugar cubes and tea towels, each method claiming to be the best for identifying New Jews wherever they lurk.

 

“Am I one or not? Am I one or not?? Am I one or not???” he shrieks, louder and louder, as his New Aryan skin sloughs away and his green Swamp Skin shows through, losing its luster as his blood pours out.

 

The Movie ends with Pussgrab collapsed on his throne, translucent as a supermarket chicken.

 

Just before the credits, a banner crawls across the screen. It reads: and so the question remains — did the Second Dodge City Genocide succeed where the First fell short, or are the New Jews alive and well, in some dark corner of The Dodge City Gene Pool, already preparing to rise again?

 

When the screen goes black, I catch a reflection of my face and think, not without a certain glee, Here at least is one you didn’t kill!

 

 

*****

A KNOCK ON MY DOOR cuts this reverie short. My immediate reaction is to panic, certain that they’ve come for me at last, but when the Porter shouts “Room Service!” I get up and answer it.

 

Finding that the Movie has compressed my appetite into a hard lump in my lower intestine, I step over the steaming tray and drift, dazed, out into the hall and then down the main staircase to the Lobby, where it appears that a local version of the Great Japanese Horror Auteur Takashi Miike is being feted by the Hotelier for having written and directed The New Jews on such short notice, while, in the conference room directly adjacent, the KKK are preparing to hold a rally entitled Born This Way: A Celebration of Hooded Life.

The guy and I set out. The one who killed himself for everyone but me. He doesn’t appear to feel called-upon to explain anything along the “why me / why him” axis.

 

I don’t force the issue.

 

It seems clear that there’s no real debate around the thing to do being to wander on. There isn’t any “toward / away from” material to work with, since, aside from the node upon which he and I were introduced, there’s nothing at all here to distinguish anywhere from everywhere.

 

We don’t even have at our disposal a time of day or night. That’s all former-world stuff (and maybe next-world stuff too).

 

Just before we stop standing around, he says, “Here’s my decision,” in such a way that I can tell that, in the process of telling me what his decision is, he’ll also be making a completely new one.

 

As it turns out, he doesn’t say anything else. He seems to know his point has been made.

 

Now we’re walking.

 

He starts extemporizing about someone called “Bob Preston.” I’m about 85% certain he means Bob Dylan, but I’m wary of correcting him … warier, I think, than I thought I’d be.

 

This feeling frames him differently: until now, I’d wanted to see myself as about 10 to 12 years his elder (were he still alive), and thus about 1.5x further along in life, not quite on a mentor-level but a solid step up.

 

This no longer seems like it’s necessarily so. There’s a menace about him, as he goes on and on about Bob Preston, that I can tell I need to keep a safe distance from. My confidence in thinking of him as my “Sidekick” further wanes. “How about Comrade?” I propose to myself.

 

“What?” He asks.

 

“Bob Comrade,” I reply, not thinking altogether clearly.

 

“Bob Preston,” he corrects, pausing for a moment to make sure I’ve got it before going on.

 

*****

MINUTES, DAYS, something like that, pass.

 

We’ve managed to snack, but now thirst gets us in a real way.

 

We’re both heavily under the influence of where we are.

 

PERFECT TIMING: a well appears before us.

 

“A mirage,” says my Comrade, but he’s wrong.

 

This time, I’m not afraid to tell him.

 

“This time, I’m not afraid to tell you you’re wrong,” I tell him.

 

“Tell me what?” he says, a moony swoop on his face.

 

But it doesn’t matter. Since we’ve gone on walking while thinking and talking, we’ve made it to the edge of the water.

 

We look into it.

 

As it turns out, we’re both wrong: it is neither a mirage nor a well.

 

It is a deep, deep pit, filled with water. It’s about the width of a manhole, the water level just a foot or so beneath the lip of desert sand it’s punched into.

 

We creep right up.

 

Peering over, we see that it’s stuffed heavy with bodies, floating single file the way they say people get racked up the steepest, iciest part of the climb on Mt. McKinley [some family friend told me this once].

 

Looking down, I can see the top of one head and the insinuation of a great many more bodies beneath it.

 

The funny thing is that the topmost one is not at the surface of the water, the way a floating body seems like it ought to be. There’s a full body-length of unoccupied water-space.

 

Something trembles in me at the thought of this — a premonition of way more coming my way than I should responsibly be having a premonition of. It’s like the feeling when too many coffee beans rush out of one of those wall-mounted dispensers and you know they’re going to overflow the bag but you can’t push in the handle to stop the flow quickly enough.

 

At this point, my Comrade, who doesn’t appear to be looking where I’m looking, offers the following:

 

“That’s where the corporeal victims went.”

 

He pauses, giving me a chance to look, as if he’s just drawn my attention to something I hadn’t noticed.

 

He goes on to describe — obliquely as hell — the nature of these corporeal victims. A tone of shame creeps in, like the fact of there being corporeal victims at all is something he wants to downplay.

 

It seems like he means the corporeal victims of the Dodge City Genocide, but something in the way he says it makes me think that perhaps it’s a Group Suicide he means instead — the one he took part in for everyone but me.

 

He dips his foot down into the space reserved for him. Without his having to say it, I understand that’s what the body-length between the surface and the topmost body is … and I wonder if, for everyone else in the world, for whom he’s dead, they would see a body there. Perhaps it’s only me that sees an empty space in this Mass Watery Grave (MWG).

 

I feel, without knowing why, hugely glad that this empty space is there. It seems like, if the MWG were full, some awful circuit would be completed; some flip switched, a horrible machine sprung into action.

 

Like setting out to dig to China in the backyard one day and actually succeeding.

 

“If the pit were Full,” I say, and he shushes me in such a way I can tell he knows just what I mean.

 

*****

MUCH LATER, after we’ve recovered from the MWG (I’ll admit we both sipped a few mouthfuls from its surface-area, to ward off total thirst-death), we come upon an encampment.

 

Two encampments.

 

“Movie sets way out in the desert,” he says. “Just let you stew on that.”

 

The encampments strike me as more conceptual than actual. Maybe these are the real mirages.

 

The first is a kind of slanted-Hollywood type set-up wherein there’s a special rule on the books such that everyone who auditions for any part in a movie has to get it.

 

The truth of this is apparent in the air; no one needs to tell me.

 

So the director either has to choose the very first people who audition and turn everyone else away, or — as is more common — make hundreds upon hundreds of iterations of the film, with all these different casts.

 

What we’re standing around in now is the run-off or long-term effect of this. There’s trash everywhere, people shuffling around reciting lines that they haven’t quite memorized or that haven’t quite been written yet, a few very old and exhausted-looking directors roaming through the human stew, trying to direct for a few seconds here, a few seconds there.

 

My Comrade and I have the feeling of cattle drivers stopping in a rare town along our route to barter for supplies and get our equipment worked on. Or traders plying the Silk Road.

 

One of those directors comes up to us, looks us over, mumbles one thing, then mumbles, “Oh forget it.”

 

Instead of walking away, he stands there in front of us for a long time.

 

“30,000 Movies,” he tells me in confidence, later on.

 

*****

FINALLY, we get enough of that.

 

We make our way into the other encampment, where the rule is: every ordinary person who ever wished to switch places with a celebrity has gotten their wish.

 

There’s a strange mix of people with celebrity shells — Bret Easton Ellis, Paul Schrader, Lindsay Lohan, James Deen — but emitting a dull, dead-looking vibe, clearly stupefied inside — intermixed with completely ordinary people radiating genius and drive, as if a dude who worked at Foot Locker in Tempe, AZ were internally possessed by the selfhood and memory and well-oiled thought patterns of Bret Easton Ellis or Dan Chaon.

 

My Comrade and I mix in this society for a little while, managing to con a can of Sprite off the very docile and confused shell of Josh Ritter, then we move on.

 

*****

OUR LAST STOP before calling it a night is a tableau in which a 10-year-old boy sits watching 70’s-style local championship wrestling on a TV set up completely alone atop a sand dune.

 

There is no power cord.

 

The TV is on mute, and the boy is utterly glued to it. The wrestlers have those Mexican-style full-head facemasks on.

 

Nearby is a bed in which two middle aged bodies sleep.

 

This jogs a memory: earlier today, in our Coming Clean phase, my Comrade told me that his one joy, as a young child, was to watch local wrestling on TV at midnight on Saturdays.

 

If he did copious chores and stayed on his best behavior all week long, his parents would consider letting him watch in their bedroom (the one TV in the house), on mute, while they slept.

 

We look at the tableau of this exact scene now, posed in the desert. It seems to me that we must be entering a realm in which our lives, or just his life, will be arrayed, museum-style, for our edification and entertainment as we continue to make our way deeper in.

 

“Is that you as a boy?” I ask my Comrade, mostly just to confirm that he’s seeing what I’m seeing.

 

He looks where I’m looking, then at me. “Don’t get too cozy,” he says. “This is a one-time thing.”

 

SO MUCH FOR THAT.

 

We roam more.

 

I can see now that we will never “return to Dodge City.” That kind of ending belongs to another genre.

 

Dodge City — or some city — will, rather, simply grow up around us again, after enough wandering and down-time, as if inevitably, like a fungus. It will be the case, for a while, that there’s nothing but endless desert in every direction, and then the other thing — the us being in Dodge City thing — will take back over, and have its turn as the case, until the desert comes back yet again.

 

It’s not like a super-complicated alternation to get the hang of, once you’ve been around a little bit.

PLANES OVERHEAD make such constant, unseen noise that the sky seems to be on a one-track program of belching and grumbling. It seems to be in disagreement, or trying, maybe too hard, to get something across. Maybe some of it’s heat lightning; maybe some aspects are echoes of other aspects.

 

Under such a thing, we make our way back and forth to an exciting brand-new Dodge City venue called BERGMAN ONE.

 

No one knows how it came about or who opened it, or even who runs it — sometimes, it seems, the things we think of or wish for turn out to exist, as if reality were more in the catering-to-our-whims business than it usually gets or takes credit for being.

 

What BERGMAN ONE is is a place to discover the (unparalleled, unsurpassable, super-human, etc etc etc … etc) films of Ingmar Bergman.

 

But not just to, like, watch them. That’s easy enough to do anywhere. No, what BERGMAN ONE is is a place to discover the films of Ingmar Bergman for the first time, again and again, every day if you come that often.

 

It’s a place — it does, I’ll admit, look like an ordinary theater — where you enter and, no matter how many times you’ve been there before, it’s always your first time. You’re 22, a junior in college, at that point in your life where sex has started to seem not just cool and brag-worthy but also tied to slashed hives of writhing monsters, the irrefutably dual existence/nonexistence of God, doom, dark snow, silence, outrage, madness, viciousness … the persistence of the medieval throughout the supposedly or avowedly “modern,” the way we all play our roles, never more so than when we “refuse” to play them … the way in which the transcendent ideal can be renounced but never escaped … the myriad cruelties required to achieve true selfhood and dignity, more undignified with every step … we’re at the point, every morning at BERGMAN ONE, where we’re just starting to feel a burgeoning totality to life, a sense that we’re not all just ebulliently on the up-and-up-and-up, but that there are countermovements and counterweights fraughting things in there as well, secrets from ourselves, unpopped bubbles of derangement … and the dimness of the woods, the harshness of Protestantism, the nearness of the Arctic, the depths that people crouch in and pull each other down to so as not to be so alone, resentful though they always are at the intrusion …

 

I could go on and on like a real 22-year-old, but I won’t. But I’d like to. That’s how good it feels to hang out at BERGMAN ONE.

 

Every day it’s the same rotation — Seventh Seal, Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries in the morning (the early months of being 22), then a heavy middle period of Shame, The Silence, Winter Light, Through A Glass Darkly, The Hour of the Wolf, culminating in Persona, which we tend to watch a good 30 times in a row (this is the swollen heart of our collective 22nd year), then an attenuated later period where we get through the whole TV versions of Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny & Alexander, and some of the color ones like Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata (when we’re all coming to terms with the nearing reality of turning 23 and facing Senior Year, applying for post-grad stuff, etc etc), then a kind of stunned postlude where we watch the not-even-all-that-good stuff like The Serpent’s Egg and The Passion of Anna, just hoping to come enough back to reality to carry on with our in-comparison hopelessly minuscule and low-energy lives.

 

We write the same furious, revelation-juiced notes in our journals every single day. Then, exhausted, we all go out for late-nite Chinese and DISCUSS: “He’s just so right … about life!!” we all agree.

 

We are self-consciously aware of ourselves sounding like Woody Allen acting out Woody Allen talking about being obsessed with Bergman in the actual 70s, but this only adds to our wattage.

 

All summer, we start each day as 22-year-olds and end each day as 23-year-olds. That’s the cusp we toggle on and around. Amazing what a world of difference Bergman makes between them.

 

*****

I WOULD HAVE SPENT THE REST OF THE SUMMER in this state, starting every single day with The Seventh Seal and ending it in rapt awe at what a testament to a life split between or trying to unify God, pain, and art Fanny & Alexander truly is, and would have done so gladly, like one of those rats you always hear about that just keeps triggering its dopamine center until it dies from dehydration, had it not been for the RABBIT INFESTATION.

 

But the rabbit infestation, and its — I’d say — strange results, put me in a different mindset. It returned me, for one, to my natural age of 26, forcing me to let go of 22/23 like dropping a guy off a cliff or building after losing hold of his fingers in one of those stock action movie set-ups.

 

What happened was that all these rabbits were around everywhere — like everywhere, like you almost couldn’t get your feet through them to the sidewalk. You were crushing one or two with every step, wearing a compacted mass of five or six as shoes before long.

 

Perhaps the rampant sexuality of the Bergman worldview had spread to their species, and this was what it had gotten them.

 

It got gross quickly; then it got weird.

 

The way in which it got weird was that, overnight, all the dead and living rabbits were removed and replaced with glass replicas. There were replicas of the intact rabbits, in the positions they’d last been seen in, as well as replicas of all the crushed rabbits, in the exact positions (don’t ask me how they got the glass to mirror the crush of flesh, fur, bone, &c) they’d last been seen in.

 

It was like a display set up by the Dodge City Police Dept. for Future Police Generations to study, in hopes that they’d figure out, historically, what the problem had been, like a recreation of a crime scene … or perhaps, more hermeneutically, to determine whether, with the benefit of hindsight, it had been a problem at all.

 

*****

I WAS OUT exploring this exhibit one night, imagining myself to be a member of that Future Police Generation, filing a report to myself, reminiscing on my now long-bygone-feeling Bergman days, when I was approached from behind.
He appeared behind and then beside me on a dark residential street exactly like the villain in The Flame Alphabet does.

 

I was trying to think of that villain’s name (Molloy? Malone?) when he told me that his name was Internethead.

 

He didn’t ask my name and I didn’t try to tell him.

 

He told me, kicking a glass rabbit aside with the toe of a boot, that he was the only man alive who’d “made it to the End of the Internet.”

 

“Just as you would a book or a workout,” he said. “Or a series of Chemo sessions, or a list of Names.”

 

He went on to say that, now that he’d put the entirety of the Internet behind him, he was about to dive “back into the flesh pool.”

 

I took a step away from him.

 

“Ha,” he said.

 

His head bulged, especially in the region of his left eye, in a simultaneously internal and external way, as though a second head were in the process of bursting up and out through his first, main, one.

 

If he started bleeding frantically right now — or at any point in however long this scene ends up going on — I would not have been (will not be) at all surprised.

 

He displayed, I realized, the exact symptoms of the New Flesh from Videodrome, as if the whole Internet amounted to no more than what VHS and TV, in the end, amounted to. He was a character cribbed literally from David Cronenberg, without even minor adaptation or reinterpretation — like an actor made up to star in one film who, because shooting got done a bit early one day, wandered across the lot and onto another set and slipped into the shooting of a completely different film, in exactly the same role, to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.

 

It’s a relief to be so totally open, for once, about my influences.

 

Waking me up from this reverie, he says, taking in the sweep of the glass rabbits surrounding us, “You know the little-known story of the Dodge City Genocide?”

 

I have to admit that I do not.

 

“Well,” he says, his bulge fulminating, “it was one of the worst.”

 

I can tell that we’re walking, on our way somewhere.

 

We pass through endless fields of glass rabbits, regarding which he says, “Try to let this metaphor support rather than obscure my point.”

 

I agree to try.

 

“It was,” he says, “an untraceable Genocide, as the worst ones always are. No visible bodies, no one to say for sure that it happened.”

 

My silence inspires, or at least permits, him to continue.

 

“In the middle part of the last century, some Elements came to Power in Dodge City that set about purging the place utterly of what they termed Ghost Detritus. They were heavily influenced by the theology of Daniel Paul Schreber, who wrote endlessly and, for them, convincingly, about, depending on what translation you use, a highly undesirable demographic of ‘Floating Trash People.'”

 

Internethead buzzes and shivers in a way that I’d describe as Nearing the Edge of the Human. Then he goes on:

 

“This Element turned its dark attention to this demographic in Dodge City, dubbing it Ghost Detritus so as to avoid any translation ambiguities, and set about radically exterminating it. The thing is, this Ghost Detritus left no record. Their bodies — living and dead alike — do not show up in photographs. There is no record of their ever having possessed residences or objects of any kind … families, jobs … no trace. So, you won’t be surprised to hear, this Genocide has been especially easy to Deny.”

 

We’re standing beside a car now, and I know it’s only a matter of time until Internethead tells me to get in.

 

“Most of the citizens of Dodge City, if you ask them about it, will manifest no difficulty in Denying that this Genocide ever, in any form, occurred. The chilly presence of Ghost Detritus drifts naturally in and out with the winds of history, is the most you’ll likely hear, from anyone, on this topic.”

 

“Aw, I bet you say that to all the towns,” I half want to tell him, but he has a gravity that’s hard to interrupt. It’s hard to know whether a man who’s made it to the End of the Internet ought to be the first or the last one you listen to.

 

Now he’s opening up the car, dabbing his New Flesh with a handkerchief. He might be crying.

 

He says that he’s going to drive me way out into the desert, to see the remnants of the City that once was. “It’s some Prelapsarian, if that’s the word, shit,” he promises. “From before the Genocide. You will not, I promise, feel like Denying what happened after you’ve seen it.”

 

I initially express concern about being driven “way out into the desert” by a complete stranger such as he, but he just laughs and says, “Man, where I’ve been, I’ve seen and done it all … all I ever wanted to do and then some. It’s out of my system.”

 

He makes a fluttering motion with one hand, to show that “It,” whatever had been in his system and that I’d been afraid might pose a threat to me, has gone off to join the other air.

 

“Sorry about the mess,” he says, indicating the Qdoba bags that I’ll have to clear away to sit down on the passenger seat.

 

I exhale as he starts the car. Glass rabbits crunch as he backs up. I worry about the tires, surprised to find that I now very much hope we get where he wants us to go and aren’t halted by a flat on the way.