Archives for posts with tag: FEMA

AFTER FEMA DEPARTS WITH ITS NEW CRONENBERG IN TOW, bound like a Christmas Tree in the back of its truck, there follows a non-period of the kind that has become familiar. For every incident, it seems, there are at least ten non-incidents, or maybe just one ongoing non-incident, depending on whether you want to break it up.

 

I sit in my Room, arranging my materials, shaving a little of my face at a time, waiting for news. When news finally comes, it comes in the form of a DELIVERY ANNOUNCEMENT from the Mayor:

 

“DEAR PEOPLE,” the email begins, like some update from a talky college dean:

 

“Every few decades, as you likely know, the Horror in this town gets old. Like sitting water, it gets cloudy and full of, well not literally, but pine needles and insects of a non-literal sort. That’s the natural way of it. It turns tepid, or turgid, or both … neither-here-nor-there, you know? Not really Horror at all, just a general unease that imbues our lives with a gross quality, instead of the really sharp and riveted feel of living with True Horror, which is what we all want, whether we know it or not … or at least what I want, which is sort of the same thing when you really think about it, don’t you think?

 

“So, I’m very pleased to announce to you all now that our application for an influx of Fresh Abject Horror has been granted … it’s been years on the waiting list as funding got cut again and again, during which we all had to bite our tongues and watch as wealthier towns, in wealthier counties, got serviced before us, but at last our turn has come. This is a time of renewal for Dodge City. It’s a, not to mix metaphors, freshening of the ground upon which we all stand.

 

“POUR YOURSELF SOME CHAMPAGNE BEFORE READING ANY FURTHER,” the email commands.

 

So I do. This entails leaving my Room and going to buy some (assuming there’s a brand I can afford; otherwise I’ll just get more beer), and taking it (I found a brand) into the street, where the Horror Delivery is already underway.

 

I uncork the champagne (Cava, technically, now that I read the label and not just the price tag) and stand in the crowd in the town square to toast the truck as it unloads the boxes of Fresh Abject Horror that the Mayor is so proud to have secured for us … I see him standing by the off-ramp of the truck, taking selfies with his phone while the crew piles up the boxes, already emanating serious dark energy.

 

The delivery crew wears oven-mitt gloves that reach their shoulders and handles the boxes with the kind of attention that makes it clear they’ve all been bitten/burned/etc at least once before.

 

WHEN ALL THE FRESH HORROR HAS BEEN UNLOADED, the delivery crew quickly siphons our degenerate, stagnant Horror (much of it still person-shaped) into a plastic tub, loads it into the truck, and departs.

 

*****

The people of Dodge City, all drunk on the same Cava, stand around looking at the boxes, waiting for the Mayor to tell us what happens now.

 

He looks like he’s thinking about it.

 

When he’s done, he says, “Alright everyone, go back to your Rooms. All of your old neighbors, you’ll notice, have been evacuated, melted down and carried off, to make room for the new neighbors that will sprout from these boxes. You will each have new, genuinely horrifying neighbors before the night is out. None of you will sleep in peace.

 

He steps back like he’s expecting applause, perhaps already beginning to hear it in his head, but it doesn’t come. We shuffle away in a weird mood, unsure how to pass the time between now and tonight.

 

*****

I’M BACK IN MY ROOM, eating vending machine snacks and reading movie reviews, when I hear a crackling and rumbling next door. My new neighbor is here, I think, giddy despite myself. Maybe some Fresh Horror is what I’ve been needing for a while.

 

I hear a tapping against the wall. Thinking of an old Mitch Hedberg joke on this subject, I look in its direction and notice a discolored patch in the otherwise off-white paint. It appears to be a hazy window.

 

When I go up to it, I see a shape moving on the other side. It’s like extremely dirty glass, showing only the basic outlines of my new neighbor.

 

He looks like a blob, maybe just obese in the belly, or maybe equally large through the shoulders and neck. Maybe he’s still taking shape after his time in the box, or else this is how he is.

 

A sound like a burp traveling through the esophagus before it reaches the throat comes through the wall. The sound is about as grainy as the image, like I’m playing a very old VHS on a VCR that’s sat out in the yard for years before being taken back in as a relic.

 

“Is this a Confessional?” asks my neighbor.

 

Before really considering the question, I reply that it is.

 

“Good. I’d like to tell you about my anal marriage to a nun in Sardinia.”

 

I pour more of that Cava and wheel over my computer chair.

 

“Let me know when I can start,” he asks, after a while.

 

“You can start.”

 

So he does:

 

“I fell into this anal marriage during a period of soul-seeking in my early thirties. I’d just left my job at Bain & Company on the verge of a sizable promotion, and set to roaming southern Europe, as far north as Bavaria and as far south as Crete, focusing on the south of the main Catholic countries — Spain, France, and Italy.”

 

“What about Portugal?” I interrupt, not sure whether I’m supposed to participate in this process.

 

He ignores the question, continuing: “It was in Sardinia where I fell through the final floor, into a basement of self I’d always known was there but hadn’t thought I’d have to inhabit at such a young age. I thought I’d spend my life preparing to inhabit this basement, not actually inhabiting it. I got confused about which life was which, so to speak.”

 

Since I can’t see him well enough to tell, I imagine him sighing behind his hand here.

 

“I was on a beach in Sardinia, outside some tiny town whose name I don’t remember, kicking up sand while considering my low state, when I met the nun. She and I immediately felt a kinship, she fleeing the convent and the circumscribed life of chastity and prayer she’d pledged herself to, me fleeing Bain and the circumscribed life of profit and acquisition I’d pledged myself to. We were in different models of the same boat.”

 

He pauses. “So, that night, with the help of the local olive oil, we entered our anal marriage. She craved connection on a very sincere and human level but was not yet ready to cast off her vows. You know that trick, right? The old anal workaround, to preserve technical virginity for God?”

 

I nod, imagine him able to see me.

 

“Well, each time before we began, she reiterated, like saying Grace before a meal, that her vagina was reserved for God, whenever He chose to make His entrance … during the act itself, she prayed loudly for God to enter her at the same time, as if by my example God might take notice and consent to participate.

 

“It went on like this for most of the summer, us scrounging up what food and drink we could and sleeping on the beach, until, one night in late August, He appeared. The nun and I were having anal sex in our usual way, after a dinner of canned dolma and bread, when I felt a foreign presence within the familiar sheath of her anal canal. Something pressing from the other side, exerting a strange sort of dizzying heat.”

 

“God’s penis?” I guess.

 

He pauses as if shocked by my prescience, or pretending to be. “Exactly,” he finally says.

 

“God’s penis was pressing toward my own, drawn as if by some sublime inevitability, in the middle of this nun.”

 

He stops, and I think his confession may be over. Then he continues:

 

“And the nun seemed cognizant on a base animal level of the event taking place within her. I could tell that she was reaching a kind of total fruition, beyond earthly orgasm … she was host to the union of Man and God, like that famous finger-touching fresco, you know the one I mean? We thrust toward one another, straining to break the flesh-wall and touch, and finally we did. Our penises made contact, and some conversion occurred.”

 

I pour still more Cava and wait.

 

“I’m not a religious man, but there’s no denying that I was altered permanently. In the moment of mutual orgasm, God’s semen flowed through the rupture in the nun’s belly and down into my penis, nullifying my own emission and seeping deep inside, into my testicles and seminal vesicle. It killed my human sperm, severing my bloodline, and made of me a proxy for the unborn progeny of the Creator.”

 

Another pause.

 

“Then what?”

 

“Well,” he replies, cagily, like he hadn’t intended to say more. “The nun died, and God withdrew, disappeared. I buried her in the sand, and found myself alone, fraught with God’s semen and no instructions for how and where, or even whether, to use it.”

 

“I see,” I say.

 

“So the years went by,” he continues, in a conclusory tone. “And I grew ever more uncertain, aware that if I were ever to ejaculate inside another mortal woman, I would kill her, were it anal or oral, or impregnate her with a God-spawn that she and I could by no means raise, were it vaginal. I was in a bit of a bind.”

 

We both pause here.

 

“And, all the while, the pressure in my testicles was mounting. I was descending into a new kind of madness. So I roamed the earth for many long years, afraid even to masturbate lest the seed be found where I left it. When your Mayor’s order for Fresh Abject Horror came through, I applied for the post and got it. That was a Salvation.

 

“I was boxed up and sent here, told I’d be given a Room where I could masturbate freely, releasing the God-seed a little at a time until I was free of it and could die in peace. It’s been a terrible burden to carry. I have come to Dodge City to relinquish it, at long last, in the service of Horror, for the sake of the town. It may take years of dedicated masturbation, but I believe it is possible.”

 

“Huh,” I say, thinking out loud. “And you call that Abject Horror? Seems more seedy than horrifying, to tell you the truth. Not really any less degenerate than whoever was in your Room before you. Kind of amusing, in fact. I feel a little cheated, not that I blame you.”

 

“What are you, some kind of Secular Jew?” he scoffs.

 

I nod that indeed I am and walk away from the Confessional, aware that he can’t see me and is perhaps talking still, trying to justify himself.

 

Or maybe, I think, logging back into my email, I’m the Fresh Horror and he’s its object, unwitting and defenseless in that little Room of his next to mine. I almost go back to the Confessional to propose this possibility to him, but I figure I’ll burn off a little more time first.

 

Then the sounds of his awful masturbation start up and I know we won’t be talking any more tonight.

 

I know that soon I’ll be praying for the sound to abate, and that it will only get louder the louder I pray.

AS WE REACH THE DODGE CITY ANNEX, where FEMA hopes to find its new Cronenberg, the Mayor fills in some backstory.

 

He starts with the Dodge City Annex Civic Fund, which provides opportunities for its citizenry out of a private fortune. Over the years, there’ve been a variety of projects funded this way, all with the aim of affording the citizens of the Annex a higher standard of living than those of Dodge City, still delimited by a Real World after all these years.

 

As we make our way along the dusty trail, a few prone bodies start to complicate our footwork. From the way they’re crawling, it’s hard to tell if they’re living or dead. I feel a bit square for imposing this distinction where it’s most likely not welcome.

 

Hanging over the entrance to the Dodge City Annex is a banner that reads: “YOU TOO DESERVE A CHANCE TO MAKE VIDEODROME.”

 

The bodies, plentiful now, moan like katydids. They churn and grind the ground.

 

In the distance, we see the gigantic hulk of the State Prison, which farmed me out to work on that chain gang about two years ago, if you remember.

 

A huge mass of these bodies crawls toward us, across the field in front of the Prison. They start organizing themselves into a line.

 

“Ah,” the Mayor says, trying to remain gracious in front of FEMA. “They’re lining up in hopes of being chosen as spokesperson for what’s going on here. Each situation gets precisely one spokesperson. That’s the law.”

 

The Mayor chooses the first one in line.

 

The others fall upon each other in a free-for-fall. We know they’ll be destroyed soon, so we start ignoring them now.

 

The chosen one begins, usurping the Mayor’s narrative in a tangent that may never return to where it started:

 

“So we all got this grant money to make our own Videodrome, you know, from the Civic Fund, and we knew what an opportunity it was for us to be able to make it, and not just go on with our little tiny lives, but then we get sidetracked. A veil was lifted, one that we never thought would be, or even knew was there … and it made us a little power-mad. We started to think that if it was possible to know what it felt like to be Cronenberg, it might not be too much to believe that we could find out what it felt like to be immortal. Very quickly, we grew obsessed. The Cronenberg-state came to seem a very long way beneath us, like some stage of evolution our distant ancestors had transcended in their sleep.”

 

FEMA types this, some of it, into its iPad. I recede into a listening mode, letting the things I was about to say go soft inside me.

 

“So,” the spokesman continues, “we’re all sweeping our Videodrome storyboards into our compost piles of juvenilia when word comes to us, via the Annex Internet, that the State Prison is selling off its lethal injection supplies, having chanced upon a “third method” that will no longer involve the torments and humiliations of this one.

 

“One way or another, as these things go, assuming you  believe that ideas have an organic life of their own (which, if you don’t: goodbye), all of us would-be Videodrome directors became convinced that these deadly chemicals, if administered properly, would make us immortal.”

 

“A sort of zombification ritual?” FEMA asks, looking up from its iPad.

 

The spokesman, visibly not pleased at the interruption, nods. “Correct. Of course, there’d been plenty of word around the Annex as to the misuse of these chemicals in the prison system, the botcheries, paralyses, etc … but, in the state we were in at that time, this was music to our ears. This meant one thing to us: TRANSFORMATION. We came to believe, abetted as ever by the Internet, that these chemicals were never intended to cause death, but rather to transfigure the body and spirit on their most fundamental levels, boil them down to their simplest components and start over, at last getting right what biology has for so many millennia gotten wrong.”

 

The Mayor can’t hide his dismay at being cut out of the conversation. He looks like he knows he could leave now and FEMA wouldn’t even turn to watch him go.

 

The spokesman, shaking off two bodies curled lazily against his shins, continues:

 

“Each death row inmate had his own special brand of lethal injection chemical, specifically calibrated to both his body and the moral fiber behind his crime and subsequent reflection upon it. No two doses alike. So, at this point, we underwent a period of interviews and investigations with the inmates, to see which of us fit most perfectly with which of them, ideally to match each one of us with one of them, in a deep spirit-bond, so that in the end we’d buy their doses and they’d go free, living on as us while we’d become superhuman.

 

“Anyway,” the spokesman continues, “I’ll fast forward since I can see you fellows more or less get the picture. We bought our doses, exhausting our Videodrome budgets, and paraded into this field here” — he points at the field which is now littered with bodies in all states of agony and mayhem, the inmates loosed from the State Prison rampaging among them — “to administer our doses, separately in the final moment, each of us turned inward, picturing what we’d come to understand as the locked box of immortal life in our centers, normally stored for subsequent lives, but now about to come unlocked.”

 

“Needless to say, you found it harder than you’d imagined to administer it properly,” FEMA adds.

“Needless,” the spokesman agrees. “A total disaster, as you can see. Zombification in the lewdest possible sense.”

 

We all look at the field, which is truly a sorry sight. Some lie on their backs and howl at the sun; others dig uncontrollably at the dirt, opening pits that still others fall straight into. Some are bleeding from their eyes, others from their ears; others look so pale it’s as if their blood has turned to water.

 

“If you’re so fucked up, shouldn’t you talk weirder?” the Mayor interrupts here, trying desperately to reinsert himself into the conversation. FEMA and the spokesman exchange looks of disdain.

 

The inmates, spared their executions, frolic like children through the field, dancing on the groaning bodies, singing in high voices, crushing the chests of the fallen like grapes in a wine press.

 

*****

THERE’D BE NO DRAMATIC EXIT FROM THIS SCENE were it not for the one guy with the video camera.

 

He appears only belatedly through the desecration, running behind and between the zombies and inmates with his camera rolling, shouting, “Great!! This kind of thing is just great! Let’s get even more of that if we can … ” as if he believes he’s directing the scene, everyone behaving according to a script he’s written two or three drafts of.

 

“That guy,” the spokesman explains, “opted to just still make Videodrome. He said it was enough for him.”

 

FEMA confers, checking its iPad and making a few phone calls.

 

“Great,” it finally says. “Forgive us if our tastes skew traditional, but we’ll take that guy. In terms of delivering a new Cronenberg to the people of this nation, finding one who’s actually willing to still make Videodrome, in spite of everything, will do us a world of good.”

 

“Very well,” the spokesman replies, like a slaver at an auction who’s just made a sale. “I’ll bag him up for you and bring him right over.”

NEWS IS SLOW to reach us in Dodge City but when it does we take it to heart.

 

 

There is no news for a while. Then there is:

 

 

David Cronenberg has been deemed “unsustainably long in the tooth” after a two-year investigation spearheaded by the Dept. of Fish and Game. A full survey of his works by a “panel topheavy with experts,” as the report puts it, has determined that the drop-off in filmic vitality between his early-to-middle works and his middle-to-late ones is regrettably sharp enough to strip him of his National Hero status, which is not, the report takes pains to remind us, a matter of opinion but rather one of National Policy.

 

 

“A matter of National Security even,” pundits add, “since surely you’ll agree that a nation that chooses its Heroes unwisely is not one bound for stage lights and lear jets.”

 

 

Cronenberg’s obsolescence is mourned nationally, though there is also some shamefaced relief at the making-public of what we’ve all secretly known for years. Vietnam-style news footage of burning Cronenberg effigies paraded by gloved hands through the streets of Washington, and of self-immolating Cronenberg impersonators in the backwoods of California and Oregon, floods our TV sets and RSS feeds.

 

 

FEMA and the National Guard, we learn, have been deployed at strategic locations around the country, to quiet unrest and force a certain amount of solace on the population as we go through the several stages of grief.

 

 

We wonder if and when they’ll come for us.

 

 

The Mayor has decided to take all National Directives literally, so he orders a work crew to turn up one morning and take down the 30-ft Cronenberg statue in the town square.

 

 

Naked children run after it, crying and rubbing dirt in their hair, as a truck drags it to the dump. It looks like that elephant funeral scene in Santa Sangre. Along the way, the statue’s head cracks off. A hundred sobbing widows bear it away to a shrine in the hills.

 

 

This is where FEMA steps in.

 

 

They show up in a long row of vans to pry the head away from the widows and drag it down from the hills and again to the dump, where they smash it to gravel.

 

 

“Let this be an example,” they say.

 

 

THEN they lead everyone back to the town square, where they set up a stage on the site where the statue used to be.

 

 

They demand our attention and we give it.

 

 

FEMA explains that a pageant is to be held — here in Dodge City, as elsewhere around the nation.

 

 

“Due to technicalities arising from the fact that Cronenberg is what is known in German as a Grenzgänger, or border-walker, being at once a Canadian citizen and an American hero, the task of replacing him is not as easy as the layman might expect. People always expect things to be easy.”

 

 

FEMA takes a moment here to compose itself, apparently surprised at how emotional this all is.

 

 

It continues: “So, rather than appointing a replacement on the national level, behind closed doors, we are putting it to you, the people. The Cronenberg-spirit, loosed from its former housing, is now at large in the country, free to settle and reassert itself where it will. Mothers, fathers, abductors … anyone with access to promising young folk, we urge you to enter your little boy or girl into the running. Out of all the applicants, one New Cronenberg will be chosen, to pick up at the exact point where the Old went downhill. All applicants must be under twenty, to ensure a maximally long and fruitful career. The first pageant, on the town level, will be held here in the square a week from today. Now get busy!”

 

 

FEMA shoots a .45 into the air and everyone scatters.

 

 

*****

Over the course of this week I roam Dodge City at random, intrigued to see the rehearsals underway. Parents with kids aged 5 to 11 occupy all available space, in stores and restaurants, at the mall, and on all the sidewalks and sometimes even in the road, trying to devise and rehearse a Cronenberg Routine that will catch FEMA’s eye.

 

 

People around here don’t need to be told twice or think hard to know that opportunities like this come rarely if ever. A life as Cronenberg is considerably more than most would’ve allowed themselves to dream for their children.

 

 

The school hangs a huge CLOSED sign over its front door, though I’m the only person I ever see within eyeshot of it.

 

 

Elsewhere in town, teenagers work unsupervised, the atmosphere around them seedier, more Larry Clark, less junior beauty pageant.

 

 

Lots of small animals suffer — moles, lizards, sparrows … many people have the idea that torturing animals will bring them closer to Cronenberg in FEMA’s eyes. They implant these animals with household chemicals and stray bits of trash, metal … anything to compromise their biology, prejudice it toward the toxic, the bionic.

 

 

Other children do it to themselves, some even going so far as to poison or amputate their own limbs, or pieces thereof, forcibly stamping sexual orifices into parts of their bodies where there had been none, and never would have been had nature proceeded undisturbed, which of course in Cronenberg it never does.

 

 

I see several girls with dog and cat penises stapled or sewn into their crotches, and wonder whether FEMA will disqualify some of them for infringing on the ideas of others, and, if so, how it will choose.

 

*****

WHEN THE DAY COMES, we all gather in the square, the air ashy from the wave of immolation that’s flared up this past week.

 

 

Above the stage, FEMA has hung a banner that reads “Pageant of the New Cronenberg.” It’s already ash-colored.

 

 

The applicants are all lined up, checking each other out, trying to avoid eye contact, pretending they’re only worried about themselves.

 

 

One mother shows up with a huge pile of battered VHS tapes spilling out of her arms. “My son’s in here,” she says, when a local reporter asks. “Trust me.”

 

 

I feel like the show has begun, though I was waiting for FEMA to shoot its .45 into the air again.

 

 

A SUCCESSION OF CHILDREN passes across the stage, yanked by the strings of their parents’ aspiration. I root for them all, but I can tell that some core factor is missing.

 

 

Not one of the twenty-two performances I’ve seen strikes a real chord. The fundamentally alien nature of selfhood and embodiment feels as abstract to me now as it did before, a stasis which no item of genuine Cronenberg can afford to permit.

 

 

Whatever would enable a child to impress FEMA as a genuine candidate just isn’t here. As each one deploys the act they’ve been working on all week, with their parents hovering nervously behind them, it feels like they’re tracing the outline of an empty circle, describing the void at whose center resides the essence that made Scanners, The Brood, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, Crash, et al what they are … before drying to a trickle for A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis.

 

 

I get fried broccoli and water from a stand and watch the scene devolve.

 

 

Soon, FEMA has called off the pageant, clearing away all the variously costumed and self-mutilated kids and pulling the banner down.

 

 

The Mayor clambers onstage to beg for a second chance. His feet are lost among fallen animal parts and screws, bolts, and staples, non-standard body substances and foam rubber.

 

 

“I’m sincerely sorry that what we had to offer from our main town stock wasn’t … and I agree that it wasn’t … um … but, what I’m trying to say is … give us one last chance. Please. Okay? Let’s all take a trip over to the Dodge City Annex, where, and I speak for all of us here, no one’s been since before Y2K … and see if anyone over there is more to your liking. The citizenry there is much more characterful. There is another spirit that resides there. This much I can promise.”

 

 

The Mayor stutters and looks around in loops as he talks, but he gets it out. FEMA seems mildly intrigued. It’s clearly not in their interest to leave town without a few contenders in tow.

 

*****

SO, IN ANOTHER PARADE, with all the defeated Cronenberg-hopefuls taking up the rear, we set off, out of town along a road no one ever uses because it doesn’t lead anywhere except to the Dodge City Annex, which I hadn’t even known existed until now.