Archives for posts with tag: Paul Sweetie

I FIND MYSELF AT THE END OF A TRAILER FOR A MOVIE WHOSE NAME I DON’T CATCH but which seems to depict the formation of 100 soldiers into a Victory Parade in Sacrifice Square. According to the trailer’s narrator, “our troops so thoroughly defeated the enemy that all memory of the war has been erased. No one, today or ever after, will be able to say what the war was about, whom it was against, nor even where it took place.”

 

The question I’m left with (other than whether to see the movie — I know I’ll end up seeing it eventually) is how we can be sure these soldiers are actually the same as the ones who departed Dodge City to fight the forgotten war. They look completely standard-issue, like a random sampling of 100 action figures from a ValuPak of 1000 … so who’s to say these are the same Dodge City boys that supposedly set out all those months or years ago? At the same time, I think, treating myself for once as a rational debate partner, let’s not be too insensitive: who’s to say that the war itself didn’t burn their personalities so thoroughly away that these faceless brutes are all that’s left?

 

I chide myself for either my gullibility or my heartlessness (though not both). Then the next trailer begins. This one’s called Coal Country, and promises to tell the story of how “Pussygrab sent all the unemployed coal miners back underground until the next election.”

 

*****

THEN THE TRAILERS END and the main feature starts up.

 

It’s a sequel to The Dodge City Basement Boys, a special I remember watching a few months ago, back when the Pussygrab Regime still seemed young, before he’d called a snap-referendum and run a second, unopposed campaign in order to be voted “Double Mayor,” a position he then declared “at least twice as powerful as any Mayor in history, maybe three times.”

 

This time around, the narrator tells us that The Dodge City Basement Boys voted for Pussygrab on the promise that he would completely destroy the outside world and thus free them from the bad faith of dwelling inside the Game while knowing that an outside world continued to exist, a world in which they’d made no progress and had no prospects for success or approval.

 

At the same time, the Normcore Voters — most, if not all, of Dodge City’s adults — voted for Pussygrab for a diametrically opposed reason: that he would add entertainment value to their TV viewing because now reality TV would actually be real. “We wanted to feel like what we were seeing on the TV, even when it went beyond belief, was really happening. Like it was news, you know? Otherwise, we feared that watching TV would someday get old, and then where would we be, in terms of our lives and stuff?” says a man identified as Roland Epps, dentist, 43.

 

“So,” the narrator says, “Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures have a dilemma on their hands. A dilemma that, if they’re not careful, could fracture into an outright Schism: on the one hand, their mandate is to destroy the entirety of Dodge City’s External Reality, leaving nothing but the Game. On the other hand, their mandate is to make Dodge City realer than ever, such that those watching at home might feel their TV diet growing fresher rather than increasingly stale. Ball’s in your court, Pussygrab. What’s your move?”

 

*****

Now the Netflix Movie begins in earnest. In one half of a split-screen, a team of Regime-loyalist hackers is hard at work creating a prototype of “the destroyed Dodge City,” which they plan to import into the Game hoping that the Basement Boys will accept this in lieu of actual destruction of the outside world. (“I mean, if they live full-time in the Game anyway,” one of the hackers says, “how will they even know the difference? They’ll look up from their in-Game lairs and see the ravaged post-Dodge-City wasteland we’ve designed, and believe the Colonel has made good on his campaign promise.”)

 

In the other half of the split-screen, another delegation of Swamp Creatures, led by Paul Sweetie, is hard at work torturing various Dodge City citizens, trying to put them on Permanent Swamp Mode so as to tether them forever to the belief that what they’re watching on TV constitutes the hyperreal world they all believe they voted for, while, presumably, the Regime carries out its real work in secret.

 

“What could go wrong?” Pussygrab is caught asking on a hot mic, his tone seemingly non-rhetorical.

 

*****

THE HACKER TEAM GETS RIGHT DOWN TO WORK, lifting the lid off the Game (which they apparently managed to commandeer right after the election, perhaps taking the reins from the previous administration — no two Dodge City citizens agree as to the Game’s origins, if they even agree about its existence) and beginning to sow destruction.

 

I watch on Netflix as they turn Sacrifice Square into a pile of smoking debris, boil Dead Sir into greenish vapor, reduce the Bar to digital boards and nails sweltering by the side of the road, and even reduce the Hotel (the same one I’m sitting in, the one that doubles as Pussygrab Palace) to a pile of rubble that reminds me of Berlin circa 1947.

 

As a finishing touch, they create an in-Game version of Pussygrab himself, incarnated here as a tribal warlord with sharpened teeth and a necklace of skulls, on the assumption that the more they can do to convince the Basement Boys that all of Dodge City now exists solely within the ravaged landscape of the Game, the less they’ll have to worry about the Boys’ interference aboveground.

 

The Basement Boys initially rejoice at this upgrade, burrowing that much deeper into their basements secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing outside to miss out on. “At last,” one of them says to the camera, “we can breathe free knowing that the basement’s the only place to be. Sex, money, prestige … finally, not having these things makes us stronger, not weaker. Thanks, Pussygrab, for fucking up all the shit you said you were gonna.” He addresses this comment to the in-Game Pussygrab, clearly acknowledging him as the real thing.

 

Then, finishing his ice cream and shouting for his mom to take the bowl, he picks his controller back up, unpauses the Game, and drives his avatar into the smoking remnants.

 

*****

“BUT WHAT OF THE NORMCORE VOTERS, AT HOME WATCHING TV?” the Netflix narrator asks. Indeed, I think. What about them?

 

It turns out that, at first, they’re satisfied too: Dodge City, outside the Game, looks the same as ever, so the entertainment value of watching Pussygrab poison its drinking water, imprison its journalists, and shutter its hospitals has lost none of its pizzazz. They sit at home eating takeout (“Does this Chinese food taste worse?” they wonder. “What happened to all the Chinese people that used to live here?”), laughing and cheering along with the Regime, secure in the knowledge that, just as they always wanted, the reality TV they’re watching is now truly real, and thus no longer a diversion from the lives they might otherwise have to wish they were living.

 

*****

ALL MIGHT HAVE REACHED A DETENTE AT THIS POINT HAD THE HACKERS NOT LEFT THE SEAM TO THE GAME OPEN. But, in their haste to escape the Basement Boys’ notice, they did. They fled the Game after destroying the virtual Dodge City and forgot to patch things up on their way out.

 

So, as is only natural, the air of apocalyptic decay from within the Game begins to ooze out into the real (so-to-speak) Dodge City. Pretty soon (unless Netflix has cut a lot out of this section) one-eyed humanoid hulks are wandering out of the Game and onto the streets of Dodge City, brandishing sharpened sticks and rocks in slings, led by the digital warlord version of Pussygrab himself, who’s now bellowing about burning the corporate overlords alive and eating the hearts of the faithless for lunch.

 

The split-screens merge here. The left-hand side looks slightly more digital, the right-hand side slightly more analog, but it’s clear they’re now both on the same level of reality, one whose consequences will surely apply to everyone watching, myself included.

 

The digital Pussygrab rips a cobblestone from the ground of Sacrifice Square and smashes it over his head, shrieking, “From now on, no Apocalypse is pretend!!”

 

The Basement Boys, I think, must be loving this.

 

The Netflix special stops here for a BREAKING NEWS interlude, featuring Paul Sweetie in his white wedding dress, shouting into a mic:

 

“A contingent of highly undesirable aliens has just poured across our border,” he tells the cameras, as screens behind him show those same faceless soldiers from the Victory Parade shoving the Game characters into armored vans. “This wouldn’t have happened had adequate border security measures been taken by the previous administration, but let’s let bygones be bygones. What matters now is how we respond. And let me tell you, we’re going to respond with extreme violence. The dawn of a new Dodge City Genocide is upon us, folks!”

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 WANDER IN MY PAJAMAS back down the hallway and into the closet I do most of my viewing in, somewhere in the depths of what used to be the Hotel and is now Pussygrab Palace.

 

As soon as I’m inside, I boot up my laptop and start to scroll. Though it’d be nice to feel like an active participant in my media diet, a Netflix special called A People’s History of Swamp Mode starts playing before I can stop it, and I’m instantly mesmerized.

 

As the special begins, we see a land developer (“let’s call him X,” the special’s narrator says) trying to chop The Dodge City Outskirts into what he calls “condo-izable subdivisions.” He has a decent life — a dog, a family, a midcentury house — when he commits a sudden and seemingly motiveless murder, strangling the UPS delivery man on his doorstep first thing one morning.

 

Forced to testify before The Dodge City High Court, he pleads insanity, claiming that something came over him in the night, that he was “another person entirely” while committing the crime he now stands accused of. “I was a different man,” he says, addressing the camera directly. “A bad man. Not a man I’d ever want to know.”

 

“Well, if you can find this bad man,” the Judge replies, in a gesture of either largesse or deep perversity, “then bring him before me and you, as yourself, will be free to go.”

 

So X does exactly this. He goes back into himself, “all up and down his heart’s halls of mirrors,” as the Netflix narrator puts it, until he reaches the dark inner room where he went the first time. Here he finds the bad man waiting, all too happy to be summoned again.

 

This time, he kills on a larger scale: three people, including a child, which he buries in the frozen foods aisle of ULTRA MAX.

 

Needless to say, he ends up back in court, faced with the same ultimatum, and, again, he follows through: he finds the bad man yet again, closer to the surface this time, more attuned to the deal, even readier to be summoned.

 

This time he burns his whole neighborhood to the ground, killing 50 and radicalizing three followers, who in turn radicalize others.

 

Absurd as it seems, the Judge, apparently terrified of sentencing an innocent man, offers his ultimatum yet again, and again after that. “Bring me the man who did these awful things and we’ll throw him deep into the oily blackness of Dead Sir,” he says to X, after the bad man has initiated the First Dodge City Genocide, killing tens of thousands and leaving entire neighborhoods in ruins.

 

 

*****

SOUL-SICK AT WHAT HE’S WROUGHT and despairing of ever bringing the bad man to justice, X musters the very last of his willpower — free for a brief moment from the bad man’s growing influence — and hurls himself into Dead Sir.

 

“If the Judge won’t sentence me, I’ll sentence myself,” the actor playing him in the Netflix special says to the screen, as he falls, landing with a slurp in the jet black water.

 

PART I ends with the waters closing in, the last of X sinking into the depths, never to rise again.

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN GOES BLACK and I blink for a moment, afraid that the entertainment’s over and I’ll have to find something else to click on before the creeping dread of having nothing to do overwhelms me.

 

Luckily, PART II begins just in time.

 

Down in Dead Sir — the camera’s filming this all underwater, lit in sickly green night-vision — the man formerly known as X sloughs away. His skin puckers, bubbles, and peels back, drifting off in sheets which are eaten by huge solemn carp and gar.

 

Inside, rather than the viscera and bone structure I was expecting, is another man, encased in whitish gelatin. He peels this away and balls it up in his spindly hands, sculpting it into humanoid shapes that he plants in the murk at the bottom of Dead Sir, like he expects them to grow there.

 

And grow they do: over the course of a time-lapse montage, the man — who is clearly the bad man, perpetrator of the First Dodge City Genocide — changes, slowly but surely, into Col. Pussygrab, while all the white humanoids he planted around him grow into his retinue of Swamp Creatures. It’s particularly grotesque to watch Paul Sweetie’s face sprout from the fleshy blob that now constitutes his body.

 

Bubbles spewing from his mouth, the bad man addresses the camera and says, in what is now clearly Pussygrab’s voice, “What I’ve learned down here is that Swamp Mode is latent in all of us. It’s part of who we are, the backmost part, the reptile part. Did we create Dead Sir, or did Dead Sir create us? That, my friends, is the question. What I can say for sure is that it’s not unique to me, I was just smart enough to embrace it first. That poor bastard I used to be? ‘X,’ as you Netflix faggots call him? He’s gone, but I’m here to stay. The Dodge City Mayoral Election is tomorrow, and all I can say is, to anyone who thinks I can’t win … wait and see. It doesn’t matter if you’re sure you won’t vote for me. When the time comes, when you’re alone in that booth, you will. You all will. Swamp Mode’s ascendent. The Second Dodge City Genocide’s ramping up, and let me tell you all right now, it’s gonna be a motherfucking party!”

 

The Netflix special ends with Pussygrab and his Swamp Creatures marching across the bottom of Dead Sir and then slowly rising toward the surface, green hard-ons engorged, as a spooked newscaster’s voice says in the background, “I can’t believe it folks, but reports are coming in that Col. Pussygrab has won the Election in a landslide. Barring a miracle, by dawn he’ll be our next Mayor.”

 

Then the screen goes black and the credits roll over hysterical cackling.

NO SOONER HAVE I CROSSED OVER INTO DALTONLAND, the theme park in which Dodge City’s old-guard, centrist candidate won the election and life went on as normal, than I find myself behind a console, watching what is either the news or a hastily assembled TV Movie on Amazon Prime.

 

In the news-or-Movie, one of the biggest Swamp Creatures, whose New Aryan Skin is bunched up like a shawl around his shoulders, is being sworn in as Director of the CIA. He grunts and drools over the Bible, pulping it with his claws.

 

Clearing his throat after the swearing-in’s complete, he says, “Ladies and germs, my first act as Director of the CIA is to declare all of Dodge City a Black Site.”

 

“What does that mean, exactly?” shouts an off-screen voice.

 

“What does it mean? It means that, from now on, anything goes. Torture works. Whatever we need to do to get to the bottom of what we believe, or imagine, is going on here, we’ll do. With impunity. With secrecy. Without interference. Without oversight. Did I mention that torture works?”

 

He clears his throat again, spits phlegm, and then looks straight at the camera, straight at me. “Torture works,” he says, his voice pinched as he attempts to tighten his New Aryan Skin around his collarbone. “From now on, whatever happens in Dodge City is what was meant to happen. God has returned to this town, after many years in the wilderness.”

 

 

*****

THE SCREEN BOILS and buzzes and then Zizek, the Slovenian Marxist philosopher and bro-provocateur par excellence, appears in a plush brown armchair in front of a tacky photo of an Eastern European cityscape.

 

Deploying some of his signature tics as he scrapes at his tatty beard and neck and wipes spittle from his lips, he says, “Now, what does it mean that Dodge City is a Black Site? In what sense, if any, is such a pronouncement to be understood as meaningful?”

 

I lean closer to the screen, genuinely intrigued by the question. At the same time, I focus on keeping my expression neutral, as I’m wary of being watched. Furthermore, I’m trying to determine if the man onscreen is Zizek himself, or an impersonator. If so, he’s a good one (or else the real Zizek is growing less authentic with age).

 

“What it means,” he says, “is that all contact between Dodge City and the outside world has been suspended, perhaps even permanently walled off. Now, for those of you who’ve lived here for any amount of time, this won’t feel much different from life as it’s always been. After all, who in Dodge City can rightly claim to have maintained a true relationship with the outside world?”

 

He pauses here, as if expecting me to respond. I don’t.

 

“What’s different in this case,” he eventually continues, “is the awareness that it’s now official policy. That there is now, quite literally, no one to hear you scream. Everything that happens in Dodge City from now on is part of the Pussygrab Regime. Assume it’s all intentional, even the chaos. Especially the chaos. Assume that all news is internal, even this news. Even me …”

 

I lean even closer to the screen, trying to determine which possibility scares me more: that I’m being warned of a true terror by an accurate outside source, or that I’m being entertained by an actor from The Dodge City Film Industry, as I’ve been so many times throughout my life … almost consistently throughout my life, to the exclusion of all other experience, now that I think about it.

 

I find that I can’t remember what the real Zizek is supposed to look like and I have no phone or other means of getting online (and who’s to say the whole Internet isn’t controlled by the Black Site now, assuming it hasn’t always been?) … So, the longer I stare at the image onscreen, which goes on talking to me, the less certain I can be about what I’m hearing, and whether to believe it.

 

“The precise nature of the torture that will go on in this Black Site is still unclear,” the man (I’ve grown wary of calling him Zizek, even in my mind) goes on. “Whether the classic tortures — waterboarding and thumbscrews and electrocution and so on and so on — will go into effect, or whether daily life in Dodge City itself will simply become torturous — if it hasn’t been all along — is the question we’re all asking ourselves, as well as the question I’m asking you, aloud, right now, on Live TV.”

 

He winks and vanishes from the screen, leaving his chair empty.

 

My spine seizes up and I turn around, terrified that he’s in here with me now, watching over my shoulder. Is this, I wonder, the first official act of torture undertaken against me? And if so, to what end? What do I know, or do they think I know, that could be of use to them?

 

 

*****

WHEN I LOOK BACK AT THE SCREEN, the CIA Director is sitting in the armchair, cradling a black VHS tape. “This,” he begins, “is the only extant record of the history of torture in Dodge City up to this point. As a token of his largesse and transparency, the Colonel is making it available to the public to reassure them that our torture program has always been entirely civic-minded and aboveboard. He wants you all to see that there is no, so to speak, funny business going on. I want to make it abundantly clear that the Colonel doesn’t have to offer this for viewing. He has chosen to do so. Any Dodge City citizen is free to view this video. Just line up one at a time!”

 

He smiles and his teeth glisten, like in a toothpaste commercial, except they’re dripping yellow sludge and his gums are only partially attached.

 

 

*****

AFTER A LONG AFTERNOON spent watching viewer testimonials about the video — “Beautiful! Just beautiful!” one housewife shouts, as if trying to drown out another voice in her head; “A torture program we can all be comfortable with!” shouts another, munching popcorn from a microwave bag — the screen I’m watching opens to reveal a screen-within-the-screen.

 

This inner screen shows the tape being inserted into a VCR.

 

Now I’m watching the torture video right where I sit, in the supposed sanctity of DaltonLand, deep inside the Black Site.

 

A chair, a naked lightbulb, Paul Sweetie in a white wedding dress … my eyes are peeled, ready to see the horror for what it is … to bear witness and stand up for the truth …

 

BUT:

 

Next thing I know, I’m sitting on a chaise lounge sipping lemon spritzer in a room I don’t recognize (back in the Hotel?), thinking, as I try to remember what I’ve just seen, Well, that didn’t seem so bad … surely if that’s all we’re doing, it’s for the best … isn’t it? I mean, keeping Dodge City safe and all …

 

And then, becalmed, I let myself drift into a cool and dreamless sleep.

AT SOME POINT during my foray into the Lobby to see the American Takashi Miike receive his award from the Hotelier for writing and directing The New Jews on such short notice, I find myself instead watching Netflix on a strange computer, alone in a drafty side room.

 

Someone must have escorted me in here, like a child who sneaks down late at night to see what his parents are discussing in the kitchen and, unwilling to go back to sleep, is set up with a video and a bowl of popcorn in the den. I can just make out the crackle of voices beyond the closed door, but I’m too tired to get up and check if it’s locked (either that, or I’m afraid of what I’d do if I found it was).

 

Turning my thoughts away from the door, which I’m now pretty sure is locked, I have a moment of vertigo as my consciousness wavers between that of the me sitting in this drafty side room and the me onscreen (do I really look like that??), but as soon as the Movie’s opening credits fade I lose all awareness that there’s any part of myself outside what’s going on, which is that Paul Sweetie, Col. Pussygrab’s First Mate, is dragging me down a cement hallway toward what appears to be an electric chair, muttering, “it’s only set on stun, it’s only set on stun.”

 

“We always begin on stun,” he adds, once I’m strapped in, feet outstretched on the footrest like I’m about to be treated to dinner and a Movie. “What we end on is, well, up to you.”

 

“So this, uh …” I ask, hoping some question will sound implicit in my trailing off.

 

“Conversion Therapy, yes,” Sweetie answers, “your name came up on a list. Don’t worry, it’s a free service.” He pauses, perhaps giving me the chance to ask a follow-up question.

 

Cautiously optimistic, I follow up with, “conversion from what to what?”

 

Sweetie smiles, donning a pair of yellow rubber gloves and a clown mask as he charges up the chair. “From what you are to what you will be.”

 

Here I do recoil, if only for a moment, into my more remote self, the one watching this all on Netflix, in the (comparative) comfort of the drafty room off the hall somewhere in the Hotel, which, come to think of it, is remarkably similar to this drafty room off the hall of …

 

I lose my train of thought when the electricity hits my gonads, zapping them long and hard, making my teeth knock together like wooden puppet teeth, woodchips raining down my throat.

 

When I gag loudly enough to disturb him, Sweetie pulls the plug, panting like he’s the one who just got zapped, and asks if I feel different yet.

 

Though part of me knows I should say yes and spare myself whatever future pain is coming, another part of me shakes its head. Whether the urge to defy is an end unto itself, or is based on some half-formed desire to undergo the therapy a second time, or simply to continue watching it on Netflix rather than facing whatever comes next, I can’t say. I just know I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

 

Sweetie clears his throat and says, “Then proceed,” and proceeds to shock me a second time, this time with more juice, like in Milgram’s obedience experiments at Yale.

 

Weird liturgical symbols fly inside my lids as Sweetie grunts in my ear, unless that’s the sound of my brains frying.

 

Next time he stops, I plan to shout “I’m changed! I’m changed!” But, once again, when he asks, I say, “Nope, gimme more.”

 

*****

SO HE DOES.

 

This time, my eyes vibrating like two eggs about to hatch, I’m rocketed out of my self and into a free-floating vision of Dodge City as a series of concentric towns, nested Dodge City’s, each presided over by its own Pussygrab, each one giant and green and sitting on an inflatable throne, bouncing with glee like a six-year-old who’s chugged a gallon of Diet Coke.

 

And beside each Dodge City is a smaller, nearly-identical one with a sign that reads DaltonLand: a theme park in which the moderate, even-tempered Professor Dalton won the election and became our Mayor instead.

 

Beyond these, marking the Outskirts of my vision, are a series of ChaosLand‘s, theme parks ruled over by lumbering cavemen and huge spindly birds, and what I’m left to wonder — as Sweetie eases up on the juice again — is whether what I just saw is real outside this building or only inside of it, in the vast fake kingdom of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu …

 

“What?” he asks, and I realize I’ve been speaking aloud.

 

“Nothing,” I reply, struggling to retain the image of DaltonLand and my determination, though I know it’s a form of denial, to get myself out of this room and through the theme park gates as soon as I’m physically able, assuming such a theme park exists.

 

“Okay then,” he says, pulling up his clown mask to lick sweat from its neck flap. “Let’s get ya cleaned up.”

 

*****

SHIVERING WITH ICE WATER AND LYE, I find myself alone in the drafty room in the hall — one or the other of those rooms, if there are indeed two — watching a floating clown face that resembles Sweetie’s stare at me from the center of the strange computer I’ve been watching this all on.

 

At first I think it’s a screen-saver, so I just stare back, but then it grows agitated and says,”so …”

 

I shrug. “So … what?”

 

Now it smiles, and the purple smoke clears, revealing either that it really is Sweetie talking to me through something like a Netflix version of Skype, or else it’s a very good actor speaking from within a Movie scripted to sync up with whatever I say.

 

“So how do you feel, now that your Conversion Therapy has taken place?” he bats his eyes seductively, glowing with pride.

 

I feel fuzzy and unwell, not quite sure what he’s talking about, though it sounds more familiar than I wish it did. “I … I feel the same as I always have.”

 

Here he resumes laughing and the purple smoke gushes back up around his neck and begins to gush from the sprinkler system overhead as well, so now I’m choking and coughing in addition to everything that was already wrong with me.

 

“Oh you’re changed! You’re changed alright!” the clown-Sweetie cackles. “You just can’t remember what you used to be!! What you are now … that’s the new you!! Anything you think now, anything you see or feel or do … it’s the new you! It’s what we made you into!! If you don’t believe me, just check your gonads.”

 

*****

THE SCREEN TURNS BLACK as I’m taking this in, wondering how much is true and, if so, how I could ever tell. I certainly don’t, for the time being, have any intention of checking my gonads.

 

As I’m wavering in the limbo of these thoughts, trying to remember the way to DaltonLand, the next Movie automatically begins to play on Netflix.

 

Entitled The Superimposed Hotel, a tagline over the opening shot (of a man alone in a dingy room, coughing on purple smoke) reads: THE MOVIE THAT FINALLY ANSWERS THE QUESTION OF WHETHER YOU’RE LIVING IN ONE HOTEL OR TWO!!!!