Archives for posts with tag: Professor Dalton

I’M STILL IN THE HOTEL CONFERENCE ROOM WITH BIG PHARMAKOS when the Rebels parade through the hallway, carrying what appears to be a head on a pole.


I turn to watch, but feel my body stranded in place, sluggish, unable to wrest control of itself away from …


“We’re in a cut scene,” Big Pharmakos murmurs from somewhere behind me, his voice lost in the uncanny valley between how it really sounds and how that of an obviously-digitized version of it might. “Gameplay will resume in a moment. In the meantime, why don’t you come over here?”


As soon as he says it, I find I’m gliding toward the window to survey the Town Square, where Dalton, dressed in solemn black robes, is shoving the pole into a freshly-dug pit, twisting it to make sure it’s steady.


Col. Pussygrab’s head (there’s no mistaking it now) tilts, swivels, and drips, leering down at the swelling crowd, its expression as sinister and moronic in death as it ever was in life. But now, devoid of power, I find it somehow endearing, a relic of a hideous past rather than a threat of a hideous future.


“Guess they finally got him, huh?” I whisper to Big Pharmakos, finding that I can talk again, unless it’s just my character talking in the cut scene. I don’t say it, but I’m wondering what he’ll do now that his Mephisto days are behind him. What does an artist who caved for the Regime do once its dictator’s head ends up on a pole in the Town Square? I find myself feeling a little sorry for him, a little scared for his future, even though — lest we forget — he turned against humanity the first chance he got, and would have kept going down that road had the Rebels not intervened.


My attention is pulled (am I actually playing the game now?) back to where Dalton is on a ladder, pruning Pussygrab’s face with an electric hedge-trimmer, going all around the head, cutting off the lizard skin in long wet flaps, to reveal … that of Blut Branson?


My shock is quickly sublimated into redoubled interest, as the last of Pussygrab’s skin falls away and the crowd swells under the shadow of what is now unmistakably Blut Branson’s head, grimacing down from the pole, where, I think, it will remain until it rots like a Halloween pumpkin in November, a temporary monument to the man who, until just now, had seemed like the permanent overlord of Dodge City.


“So,” Dalton booms, shouting from the top of the ladder, “it would seem that both the short-lived dominion of the Pussygrab Regime as well as the much longer-lived dominion of Blut Branson over not just The Dodge City Film Industry but the entire Collective Dodge City Dreamlife, has at long last come to an end. It would seem that the entire grotesque spectacle of the Pussygrab Regime was, in essence, yet another Blut Branson film. A bout of pathologically extended performance art. He is — or, I should say, was — nothing if not innovative in his storytelling approach. Ever in search of cinema’s outer limits. That much must be said for him. What must also be said is that The Pussygrab Project will now stand as not only the apex but also the capstone of his cinematic career. That era of film history, good people, has now ended.”


Dalton pauses here to dry his eyes, or pretend to. Then he continues, “In light of the circumstances I have just described, I’m happy to announce my bid for de facto Mayor. I can promise an era of relative tranquility, sobriety, and consensus in Dodge City. Anyone wishing to challenge my bid, please step forward now.”


The crowd is motionless.


“Very well,” Dalton announces, beginning to climb down from the ladder, hedge-trimmers slung over his shoulder. “Then I am happy to stand before you today as your new Mayor. Welcome to the next chapter of Your Lives in Dodge City.”


Muted applause; sighs of relief.



Remembering that I’m still in the Hotel, not in the crowd, I turn to face Big Pharmakos, who’s now sitting at one of the abandoned banquet tables, massaging his forehead with his fists. I pull up a chair beside him.


“I really fucked up. Turning for the Regime and all,” he wails, his voice no longer dissonant, either because it’s reverted to normal or because I’ve normalized the distortion that, even a moment ago, I could still perceive. “They’re gonna kill me, aren’t they?”


Probably, I think, but I keep myself from saying it. Instead, I start to wonder how far back in time it might be possible to go. Who’s to say, I’m thinking, that we can’t revert to my first year in Dodge City, long before all this happened — long before I’d ever heard of Blut Branson, let alone Col. Pussygrab — and simply relive the events of which I now have nothing but fond memories?


I start looking at the ceiling, wondering how I might go about asking the Game’s designer to be set onto that mode — and what might it be called? If those who voted for Pussygrab were set onto Swamp Mode, what name might be given to those who’ve chosen to pretend they just saw his head impaled on a pole in the Town Square? Peace Mode?


In the back of my head, I hear one of the Basement Boys cackle, “What kind of little bitch plays on Peace Mode? What do you think the point of this Game is?”


Nevertheless, I get up from the table and say, “Look, we’re both exhausted, me from my trip into Town, you from the hours you’ve just spent rehearsing your act. Why don’t I go up and settle into my Room, you know, unpack a little, and then we meet down here in an hour and get a drink at the Bar? I’m assuming there is one in Dodge City?”


Big Pharmakos nods, a little sadly, as he begins to understand where I’m coming from. I can see in his eyes that he’s accepting the regression, agreeing to pretend that we’re both five years younger, and at least ten times more innocent. “There’s actually a pretty decent Bar just up the street,” he says. “I’ll see you in the Lobby in an hour and we’ll head over.”



SO NOW THE PORTER HAS SHOWN ME TO MY ROOM. My Materials are unpacked all around me, and a washcloth’s draped over my eyes as I lie in bed. I rub the musty fabric over the bridge of my nose, willing myself to forget that I’m in a Game and that, in reality, the Pussygrab Regime is still in full force, carrying out its Genocide, decimating what’s left of Dodge City and rebuilding it into some deranged simulacrum of an Aryan paradise.


No, I think. That’s just a story I heard once. Maybe a movie I saw. Maybe a video game I played as a kid. No, all that’s real now is that I’m a nameless Drifter in a new town, in a strange but relatively comfortable Hotel.


And what’s more, I go on thinking, or telling myself, I’ve made a new friend, a local comedian named Big Pharmakos, not especially gifted, perhaps, but he seems like a decent guy, someone I wouldn’t mind getting to know, and getting to know this new town through.


All in all, I think, leaning up in bed to check my watch, not a bad start to my tenure here, however long or short that turns out to be.


So, with this in mind, I put on a fresh pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, fold twenty dollars into my back pocket, and leave my Room to meet Big Pharmakos in the Lobby.


As we walk out of the Hotel together, through the Town Square, I recall a dream I must’ve had during my nap a few minutes ago: in this dream, Dodge City had been ruled by a genocidal Regime of Swamp Creatures, all of its citizenry subjugated to their sadistic will, until a brave band of Rebels rose up and, storming the Creatures’ palace, managed to impale their leader’s head on a pole and parade it through the Town Square, where I’m now walking, en route to the Bar.


As there’s no pole and no head to be seen now, I must choose one of two possibilities: either I dreamt the whole Regime, and Dalton has always been and is still the Mayor; or Pussygrab is still very much in charge, and the dream was thus a pathetic hero fantasy hatched from the bowels of intractable defeat.


As we enter the Bar, where a guy’s playing either a very long or a very slow cover of John Prine’s “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” Big Pharmakos says the first round’s on him. Even if this is all a dream, I think, or all a Game played on Peace Mode, there’s nothing to stop me, given how deep I now am within it, from believing that the life I’m living is my own, and that it’s the only one, and that all’s well that ends well.


“Cheers,” Big Pharmakos says, holding up his frothing mug. “Welcome to Town. If you can get past how things look and see them for what they are, I think you’re going to enjoy yourself in Dodge City.”


I cheers him back. “Thanks. I’m looking forward to it,” I say, and swallow my first mouthful of post-Pussygrab beer.





IN A SHOW OF SELFISHNESS AND APATHY I NOW DEEPLY REGRET, I kept to myself in the run-up to Dodge City’s 2016 Mayoral Election. I figured, as most people I know did, that Professor Dalton was a shoo-in, being, as he was, the only candidate officially running.


The race shaped up this way because Dodge City was empty for awhile after the resurrected Blut Branson led everyone but me back to the Desert.


After a few weeks, however, Nature decided to abhor the vacuum Branson left in his wake and the town re-filled with shitty new people. The populace grew quickly enough that a new Mayoral Regime was deemed necessary, but not so quickly that it produced a candidate to oppose Dalton (who, like me and Big Pharmakos and a few others, turned out never to have left Dodge City behind), so the Election was seen as a formality, a friendly cusp between the Old Era and the New.


I thus felt secure whiling my summer away in thrall to Movies, as I’d whiled away all my summers before it, planning to emerge from my Room just long enough to vote in the Booths set up in the Town Square on November 8, before returning to the comfort of my bed and the security of the knowledge that Dalton would rule the town with fairness and aplomb.



BUT, IN AN HISTORIC TURN NO ONE SAW COMING, something very different transpired instead.


On the night before the Election, a rumbling and a groaning was heard throughout the Dodge City Airspace. I won’t pretend I didn’t hear it too, though I tried my best to tune it out, pressing my pillow over my head and thinking, Well, it’s just something going on out there, and I’m in here, safe and sound, so why worry?


In the morning, however, I could tell that something was off. My stomach was knotted up and my breath tasted foul, like I’d swallowed a family of sandflies in my sleep. I brushed my teeth and drank a pot of coffee, but this did nothing to dull the taste, nor did the box of Orange Tic Tacs I consumed on my way across the Lobby and out of the Hotel.


By the time I made it to the Town Square, I was pink-eyed and gagging as I waited in line with a lot of other people who looked about the same as I felt. I remember going into the Booth, I remember picking up the pen to box in Dalton’s name, and then …



… I’m in the Bar, on a stool beside Big Pharmakos, watching Dodge City’s Cable Access News Station on the wall-mounted TV as someone I vaguely recognize sits at a desk beside someone else I vaguely recognize announcing that the Mayoral Election has gone, by an incredible landslide, to someone or something called Colonel Pussygrab.


Footage appears of an obese green-skinned Satyr, dripping algae and brackish water, dancing in the Town Square with both hands on its erection, pumping it furiously while belching and shouting, “I’m gonna fuck you all! Every last one of you!”


The footage cuts out just as the creature comes, thick greenish gouts spurting from its midsection, its head tilted back in laughter that seems to echo off the surrounding buildings.


“It would appear,” one of the anchors begins as the laughter fades out, “that this creature, which goes by the name Colonel Pussygrab, emerged from the depths of Dead Sir, the brackish swamp out back of Dodge City where we throw all our undesirables, sometime between midnight and two a.m. last night and, in a coup whose nature is still under investigation, managed to add his name to our Mayoral Ballots at the very last minute.”


The anchor beside him nods and cuts in with, “Now, how exactly this entity swayed the Vote of the majority of the Dodge City Populace is another matter entirely. But, yes, at the moment it does appear that Colonel Pussygrab is our new Mayor.”


Whatever else she was about to say is interrupted by the other anchor vomiting onto her lap. The camera zooms in on the steaming pinkish pile before cutting to a photo of Professor Dalton’s face, bruised and streaked with tears in what looks like an enhanced interrogation room.


The atmosphere in the Bar is tense, all of us drinking, none of us making eye contact, while we wait out the commercial break.



“Now, live from the Town Square,” says another anchor after the break, “we bring you Colonel Pussygrab’s Victory Speech.”


“I vow to make Dodge City um, um, um,” the Colonel intones into the microphone he holds with one hand, crushing the head of a kneeling body wearing a Dalton mask against his crotch with the other. “I will … uh … uh … oh God!”


He breaks into frenetic cackling as he ejaculates into the kneeling subject’s mouth. Then he removes the Dalton mask and holds it up so we can see his green snotty semen dripping onto the cobblestones.


The Bar, silent before, is even more silent now. The time for groaning and jeering and perhaps even discussion will come, I assume, but it isn’t here yet and it feels a long way off.


I look at Big Pharmakos beside me, but he won’t turn to meet my gaze, so I look back at the screen as a parade of Satyrs, all green, all naked, all sporting angry erections, marches from the background to stand beside the Colonel on the podium, staring straight at the camera and grunting. They lick their lips and snort through their noses and some of them spit gobs of phlegm at what I can only imagine is the crowd gathered below them, just off-camera.


“I think I’m gonna head back to my Room,” I whisper to Big Pharmakos after I’ve choked down as much of my beer as I can. “Try to relax a little.”


When he doesn’t reply, I show myself out.



CROSSING THE TOWN SQUARE from the Bar to the Hotel is an upsetting interlude. I hurry with my head down, past the cameras and the crowd and the smell of swampwater in the air, through the Lobby where everyone’s transfixed on the same broadcast we were all watching in the Bar — now the Colonel’s shouting, “I’m gonna try it anal! Everybody watch me try it anal!” — and up to my Room, where I lock the door and boot up my MacBook.


As I get online, I find myself torn between a desire for raw escapist entertainment and a desire for cold hard news. On the one hand, I want to be anywhere but here; on the other, I can’t look away from whatever here’s becoming.


To postpone the decision — I have tabs for Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu all open in my browser — I pick up the landline and call for Room Service. “Hi,” I say. “Can you book me three meals a day until further notice? I think I’m gonna be in here awhile.”


The scared-sounding Porter says “sure” and hangs up.


Waiting for dinner to arrive, I lie on my bed and fall into a dream. In the dream, everything’s green and smells like rot and there’s a slurping sound echoing off the walls of … a chamber of some sort? A dungeon? The green’s so thick and the smell so revolting it’s hard to tell, but then, just as the Porter’s knock on my door wakes me, I catch a glimpse of myself hunched over a soggy sheet of paper, crayon in hand, putting a fat wet X beside the name Pussygrab in some hellish simulation of the Dodge City Mayoral Election.


Spluttering, I roll out of bed, open the door, and fall upon my steak and eggs before the Porter’s removed his hand from the tray.


Munching steak and knuckle-skin once the Porter’s extricated himself, I settle back behind my MacBook and press Play on the first option Netflix gives me.


For a minute, the screen boils green. Then the image resolves into what — much as I wish it weren’t — is clearly the Town Square.


In the Square, as this Movie has chosen to represent it, a scale model of Dodge City has been laid out, filling the open space with miniature versions of the buildings we all occupy, including the Hotel I’m watching it in now.


As soon as I’ve recognized this for what it is, the Satyrs descend upon it, romping from building to building, smashing them and tearing them off the their bases and, in some cases, eating them.


One Satyr stabs another in the eye with the radio antenna from the model Cable Access Station and green blood spurts out, covering the screen, and his shrieks are so loud I turn my MacBook’s volume down to zero and run into the shower with my clothes on, holding onto the tiled wall as the whole building shakes when, I assume, the Satyrs rip the model Hotel off its pretend foundation.


DR. GENTLE AND I spent the first week of our allotted production month spitballing in my (our) Room.


“It could be a … ”


“No,” I’d say.


“What about a … ”


“No,” I’d say.


“Oh, I know … what if we had these two … ”


“No,” I’d say, growing frustrated with him, and by extension myself, since I’d so far failed to come up with anything better.


Room Service trays piled up around us and my bill at the Front Desk became one more thing I was refusing to think about.


Every day around 4, Dr. Gentle would ask if he could go to the health center and blow off steam, and I’d say, “No,” then regret it, then a few minutes later say, “Ok, fine.”


I’d watch English-dubbed Kurosawa films on pay-per-view while he was gone, one eye on the duffel bag of cash, half-expecting it to turn on me after so long unused. I could picture it climbing out of its shell and onto the bed, somehow wet, dripping green sludge, forcing me to eat my inability to spend it.


Dr. Gentle would come back sweating and happy and ask, “what did I miss?” and I’d point to the TV screen, where usually the first Kurosawa would just be ending, or the second ramping up.



THIS FALLOW PERIOD COMES TO A FORCED END when Dalton calls on the Room’s landline and says, “The kids are getting picked over. If you want any, I’d suggest you get yourself to the school today.”


This gets through to me. “Why don’t you watch something,” I tell Dr. Gentle. “I’m going down to the health club to blow off steam.”


By the time I come back, flushed and grateful — does one ever regret going to the gym? — there’s no time to shower before the school closes, which Dalton has called back to inform Dr. Gentle is at 3pm sharp.


So, sweaty and spent, I grab a Powerbar from the kiosk in the lobby and we hurry across town.


The school’s abandoned, though whether this is just because it’s summer I can’t say. I’ve never thought about life in Dodge City in quite those terms before.


Nevertheless, we push our way inside, following the yellow paper signs on the wall that read CASTING with arrows pointing first to the left and then, after rounding a corner, to the right.


We come down a half-flight of stairs into a cavern with a more permanent sign outside that reads ART ROOM in English and Braille. Posters of waterlilies, haystacks, and Picasso, shirtless and feral in his studio, adorn the walls.


No one’s around, not even Dalton, whom I’d somehow expected to see here. No one but six glum children sitting on carpet squares inside a wire enclosure like bored llamas, surrounded by wrappers and crumbs.


They barely look up when we enter and begin to circle.


“So which one’s you?” Dr. Gentle asks, after we’ve seen them from every angle.


I stop short, clear my throat. “Excuse me?”


Dr. Gentle shrugs and does one of his self-deprecating smiles. “Nothing … I just meant, er, don’t you want to cast one of them as you and the others as your friends, so the movie can be about your years growing up in Dodge City?”


I can’t tell if Dr. Gentle actually thinks I’m from here or if he’s just having this idea now, but it’s the smartest thing either of us has said since this whole process began. It only seems obvious because it should have been.


“Oh, right. That’s what I meant,” I say. “That’s exactly what I had in mind.”


Dr. Gentle shrugs, seemingly happy for me to take credit. “How about this one? Were you a fat kid?”


He points to a fat kid in goldenrod corduroys and a purple shirt with a dinosaur egg hatching over its front pocket.


Was I a fat kid? I can barely remember. Then I think, yes. Yes, I guess I was. I must’ve been.


“Okay, you,” I point at the fat kid. He doesn’t respond until I walk directly into his line of vision and snap my fingers. Then he yawns and leaves his mouth open.


“What?” he says, his voice high and phlegmy.


“You, you’re cast. You’re gonna be in a movie! Isn’t that great?”


He yawns again and begins to pick his nose.


I feel myself losing my cool and decide to leave the area before I lash out. “Bag him up, Dr. Gentle.”


“What?” Dr. Gentle asks, pulling me back from the precipice of mania.


“I mean, here, give him this and tell him he’s hired.” I pull five 20’s from the duffel bag and hand them over.


It’s exciting to feel anger rise in me, approaching the edges of my body without going over. As if I were capable of the kind of hyper-masculine rage I’ve seen Blut Branson exhibit. As if, all along, that had been latent somewhere within me.


I wait by the rotten-smelling milk cooler, trying to remember my own school days, wherever they were, whatever the schoolhouse looked like then. Did I ever have art class?




BACK AT THE HOTEL, we install the fat kid and the three others we’ve hired in the health center, abandoned except for a custodian refilling the water cooler who hurries away when he sees us.


“Okay,” Dr. Gentle says, hoisting the duffel bag with our cash onto his shoulder, appointing himself its de facto guardian. “So let’s start blocking out scenes.”


I try to think back on what in Amarcord moves me most. The deranged man in the tree, the peacock in the snow, the Grand Hotel the townspeople are never allowed to enter …


“Okay,” I tell the fat kid. “Let’s rehearse a scene where you’re in your room, dreading another indoors summer alone with your Primal Father, when you hear that your cousins will be visiting from California this year.”


Now I see the direction my film will take: it’ll be an origin story arguing for the legitimacy of my presence in this town, making it seem as though this were the site of my upbringing and gradual coming of age.


A propaganda film, in a sense.


There’s something I have to shore up here, some backstory for myself that I have to get clear on before going any farther into time, and this seems like the place to start. If I tell my story convincingly enough, I might come to believe it. And then I’ll know who I am.


And by knowing who I am, maybe I’ll finally know what to do.



“LET’S FIND SOME CREEKBEDS,” I say after our third day of rehearsals, mustering Dr. Gentle and the crew out of the health center and into the parking lot behind the Hotel. “Some cornfields. A candy store. A comics store. The old train station where I used to sit on lazy Saturday afternoons and wait for the Silver Bullet to roll through. The rack where I used to wait salivating for the new month’s dime novels to be unloaded off the truck. The ones I read in a day and stuffed under my bed, into a paper-mass slowly growing into a lifelong imaginary friend. All the halcyon signifiers of a ruddy American childhood in some imagined Dodge City of the 50’s, gathered here at last, all in one place, projected across the drive-in screen for all to see.”


I stop to catch my breath, expecting something to happen. When nothing does, I clear my throat. “I’ll scout locations with the kids,” I say. “You go to Town Hall and get the equipment from Dalton. We’ll meet at the fairgrounds at seven.”


Dr. Gentle nods.


We depart, the fat kid who’ll play me followed by three others — two girls and a boy, who will play my cousin Anne, my cousin Denny, and my best friend Corinne, all names and roles I’ve made up on the spot.



OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS, we film the canonical scenes, all set during the summer when my cousins and my best friend and I were all between 9 and 13, and we had the experiences that made us who we then became. In my case, this meant creeping out of the shadow of my Primal Father and into the loose but authentic skin of my future self, a sentient, autonomous being at large in an entropic universe.


The Rubicon Summer, after which none of us would be the same.


With Dr. Gentle behind the camera and managing sound, I direct the kids in poignant scenes of loss and discovery — they see their first dead body, crushed under a trailer at the back of the fairgrounds; their first sexually-entwined couple, on a bench we drag to the center of an otherwise abandoned clearing in the woods to one side of the park at the edge of town; they try alcohol in the lot behind Giant Chinese, sipping at a half-empty bottle of Jim Beam we plant in a trashcan for them to find; they discuss ghosts and eternal life while lying under the stars by the edge of the dry canal that runs through town (which we refill for the sake of the shoot); they meet a wildman with a permanent erection and glowing red eyes scuttling from rooftop to rooftop in the most trailer-trash part of the Outskirts; they find a suitcase full of money (all the 20’s from our production budget wrapped around stacks of 1’s) in the burned-out hulk of a Volkswagen and have to decide what to do, devolving into mutually deceitful factions when no consensus can be reached; and, finally, they skinny dip together in Meyers Pond, leaping into the air on the count of three to display their nascent genitalia for a split second, concretizing their heretofore fluid notions of sexual difference, the harsh reality of being one thing or the other.


At the end of the summer — the end of the Movie — they go to the circus one last time, walking past the rides in the early autumn twilight as the clowns and trapeze artists break down the tents and pull up the stakes, preparing to say goodbye.


When the new school year begins, my cousins will go back to Petaluma while my best friend Corinne is moving away with her parents on short notice. Even she barely knows why, or where. Somewhere up north … Misconsin, Winnesota … something like that, as we called them then.


Leaving me alone to grow up in Dodge City with only my memories of this one magical, melancholy summer to speed through middle and then high school in the House of my Father, and then into adulthood, through odd jobs and debt and uncertainty, eventually to take up the mantle of filmmaking, first as a fledgling, trying out techniques, searching for my voice … and then, finally, as the Greatest Director this town has ever known, a force of nature fit to take on the legacy of Blut Branson himself, to …


“Okay? Should I turn this off? Um … I’m turning it off now?”


I look up and see Dr. Gentle powering the camera and mics down. Still high on my Branson fantasy, part of me wants to scream at him to keep filming, but I resist. He’s done nothing wrong. The film’s wrapped. I’ve made my Amarcord, cementing myself into the Dodge City past as firmly as I ever will.


I nod. “Let’s get these kids some Dairy Queen then send them on their way.”





After a frantic week of editing in the A/V room at the school, helped by some old man whose name I never learned but whom I referred to privately as ‘my beloved first film teacher,‘ we have a rough cut ready to screen.


Unsurprisingly, it’s accepted into the Festival, along with everyone else’s.


The surprise is that it was selected to screen first. The Opening Night gala. Black Tie, Red Carpet.


Dr. Gentle and I dress up in rented tuxes and get to the drive-in early, ready to field interviews and pose for pictures, but aside from two reporters from the Dodge City Eagle who ask us where we get our ideas, there’s not much doing.


Many of the food and drink vendors from the last time we all gathered here are back, or here still. Everyone’s milling around, eating meat off dripping paper plates.


Then it’s time to begin. Dalton strides through the grass in front of the screen, takes a cordless mic from his suit pocket and says, “Alright folks, here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The time for our collective mythology to be refreshed. The long draught of Branson’s absence is over. The dawn of the New Branson is nigh. Please enjoy.”


He turns off the mic, slips it back in his suit pocket, and walks back into the grass as my film starts up.



FOR THE NEXT HOUR AND A HALF, I’m the closest thing Dodge City has to a genuine Fellini. My vision matters, my version of childhood touches the canon and begins to redefine in.


It’s an incredible rush. It’s like everything I’ve worked for all these years is coming to fruition. Like I’m passing through the narrow gateway between being no one and being someone.


I’m so deep inside this feeling that by the time I hear my name, I have the feeling that Dalton’s been calling it for a while.


I snap to, rolling to my feet when I sense that he’s motioning me into the circle of light beneath the screen.


When I get there, he claps me on the back and produces a second mic from his other suit pocket.


I take it and tap its head to test if it’s on. It is.


“Well, that was just extraordinary,” he says. “I had no idea you were from here.”


I nod, then say, a little timidly, “Yeah.”


“Well, I’m sure the audience has questions. Why don’t we cut right to the chase here and open it up to … ”


AS I REMEMBER IT, this is the exact instant when I look out on the crowd and see, instead of hundreds of rapt faces, a tall lurking madman in torn jeans and a cowboy shirt.


He’s like the raving king from Kurosawa’s Ran, his beard tattered and white, his eyes full of hate and hellish vision.


Branson, I think. Back from the Desert.


“H-h-hi Blut,” I stammer into the mic, just before he grabs it out of my hand and pushes me back into the screen.


The crowd is riveted on him like a field of sunflowers on the sun as he clears his throat and begins to speak. “You’re all probably wondering where I was. I know it’s been a while. I did time in Dead Sir. I went down in that swamp and did some thinking. I came to some conclusions. I got my strength back.”


Here he pulls off his cowboy shirt and his jeans, and then, naked, begins to peel his skin away, starting with his face and working his way down. It comes off like wet paper, piling up by his feet.


Beneath, he’s thin, strong, young, wearing a sleek tailored suit and white sneakers.


Probably younger than me, I think.


“I saw things down there,” he continues, his voice supple and fresh now. “On my film set in the Desert, and then down in Dead Sir. I got some things straight in my mind.”


He kicks the pulp of his old self into the grass. I can smell its porky reek from where I stand propped against the screen.


“I came to understand that what all of you here, tonight, consider to be the real Dodge City is nothing but a simulacrum. A Movie set at best. A version of someone’s memory of Dodge City that you’ve all tried to convince yourselves is real. I believed it too once, but no more. No! No, I tell you tonight. This is not the real Dodge City. This is the traitor’s Dodge City. The American Babylon.”


Here he turns to look at me, unrepressed violence in his eyes.


The return of the Primal Father, grown superpotent, I think, remembering my Freud, or my Lacan, whoever it was that said that way back when, in a book I read on a bus, or in a bus station, once. If you knock me down, you better kill me, says the Primal Father in a rare moment of weakness. Because if you don’t, I’ll come back twice as strong and three times as angry.


“No, good people. The Real Dodge City, the genuine one, the one you all deserve to live in, where life is good and full of meaning and still in its early days, is in the Deep Desert, past the horizon, past Dead Sir. Follow me and I will lead you there. Follow me now.”


With that he drops the mic and strides back through the grass.


As he goes, the people — my audience — rise entranced to their feet and fall in line behind him, their backs to the screen.


I watch them go, Dr. Gentle among them. He was only ever in it for the Desert travel, I think. He was never tied to me in particular.


Even the kids who played me and my cousins in the Movie follow. Even Dalton follows. Even Big Pharmakos, who I’m just now noticing in the crowd, follows.


Soon it’s just me and the pulp of Branson’s old body, left in the shadow of the empty drive-in screen.



SO THIS IS MY KINGDOM, I think. My dominion.


I have won the mythic struggle, I tell myself, as I walk out of the drive-in field and into the empty lots and warehouses of Branson Entertainments.


I explore the sound stages, the mixing boards, the recording booths. The intake room where I was interviewed before my location-scouting mission to Kazakhstan.  The means of production are mine, I think. All of this, relinquished, left in my charge.


I am the Minotaur in the labyrinth.


Emboldened by this thought, I show myself into the office where Branson made all his directorial decisions, modeled after the glass enclosure where the dwarf-director in Mulholland Dr. sat in his wheelchair and commanded his goons.


I get in the wheelchair now — Branson-sized, naturally — and lean back, putting my lips to the microphone that wraps around the chair’s edge.


I clear my throat and whisper, “Play.”


The entire wall across from me lights up and begins to boil with static. Closing my eyes, I imagine I’m watching a Movie detailing my future here in Dodge City, just as my Amarcord detailed my past.


In this future Movie — entitled The Real Blut Branson — I am the great exalted visionary and Dodge City is full of my acolytes, the false Branson abandoned in the Desert, cast off as the charlatan he is and always was, my flock returned to me, my eminence unquestioned now, beyond usurpation.


I nod off. When I wake up, the Movie’s over. Yawning and stretching without leaving the chair, I clear my throat and whisper “Rewind.”




AFTER SWEATING THROUGH THE SPRING AND EARLY SUMMER in the Desert, Dr. Gentle and I emerge back at the edge of Dodge City, seemingly by default. How fast the summer goes, we might be thinking, if the heat weren’t so oppressive.


We shed the Sancho and Don guises we adopted in the Desert as we trudge past the Dead Mall and down the same streets I must have trudged up in order to leave Dodge City behind, however long ago that was.


I’d like to think my expectations aren’t unreasonable — I haven’t been imagining a red carpet rolled out to welcome me back — but the degree to which my return feels trivial is upsetting. It’s almost like I’ve made my way back to some other town, a simulacrum Dodge City in which my long absence is a complete non-issue.


Almost no one’s around, and the few people who are seem lost, feebly killing time.


By the time we’ve made it through the Outskirts and into the square, it feels like gravity has gone slack, the air pressure so low the buildings look like partially deflated balloons.



“We came to the wrong place?” Dr. Gentle asks, reading my unease. Then he looks back up the way we came, like maybe we could still arrange to end up somewhere else before nightfall, at the very least back in the Desert. I resent him for considering it.


“No, no. We’re here. It’s just … ” I trail off, uncertain how best to explain what Dodge City was, as opposed to what it appears to be now. The notion seems ephemeral. Maybe everything’s fine, or at least no worse than ever. Maybe Dodge City was never a stable entity. Maybe it’s just taken on a certain settledness in my mind, during the lonely months in the Desert.


“Let’s take a seat by the fountain here and think.”


As Dr. Gentle and I take our seats by the fountain, a mass of people processes past us, glum and silent, dragging their heels and hugging their sides.


Discomfited, I snap at Dr. Gentle, “Get us coffee!” It feels good to treat him as my assistant, even if that’s not exactly what he is.


He stands, looks around, then runs through the procession, in what I assume he hopes is the direction of a coffee shop.


While he’s away, I sit by the fountain and remember the time — at some point in what I’ll simply call the past, since I have no way of saying if it was last year, or three years ago, or five — when the water crackled with the molten celluloid of Ghost Porn.


I was young then, I think, squirming where I sit, trying to make myself feel like I felt then.


Dr. Gentle returns with two coffees and a grease-spotted white bag, from which he removes a scone and hands me half.


“You didn’t get two?”


His jaw clacks open and he blushes. I’m being mean now. I should stop.


“In the coffee shop over there … ?” he begins, tentatively.


I nod for him to continue, chewing my scone half.


“In the coffee shop over there, I heard some guys talking about a film festival. ‘The Dodge City Film Festival’s back on ,’ I heard them say.”


The Dodge City Film Festival. I’ve heard Big Pharmakos mention it in the context of the Dodge City Golden Age — the 30’s? The 50’s? I’ve never been sure — but never as a real event, present in real time.


“Are you sure?”


He nods. “It kicks off at dusk. Everyone’s processing out to the Drive-in now.”


“The Drive-in?” This, too, would seem to belong to the Dodge City Golden Age. I’ve always pictured it as a bygone thing, a blank screen in a weedy field on the edge of the Branson Entertainments lot.


“Should I get tickets?” Dr. Gentle asks.


I look up, realizing I’ve burned my eyes on the sunset, scanning it for signs of the Golden Age. I squint and the atmosphere around me feels soft and warm, like partly-melted wax, a mold of a place I’m now receding into. If, in this version of Dodge City, the Film Festival’s back on, I’m thinking, let’s go.


“Yeah,” I say, when I remember that Dr. Gentle can’t hear my thoughts. “Get us tickets.”



TICKETS IN HAND, Dr. Gentle and I process with what seems like the entire rest of the Dodge City population out to Branson Entertainments, the now-abandoned military complex where Blut Branson made all his films before he died and/or disappeared.


Concession stands are set up just outside the gate. Barbecues sizzle with racks of ribs and thick steaks crusted in salt, surrounded by beer trucks and cotton candy stations and rows of porta-potties.


Dr. Gentle hands over our tickets and we make our way in, fighting for lawn space between folding chairs and largish encampments of tarps, tents, and trailers.


The lights go down in the sense of night falling, and the screen fills with a face I just barely recognize:


Professor Dalton looks older, though his voice is still robust. “Good people of Dodge City. It is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you all to the first night of the Dodge City Film Festival. It’s been a long hiatus since the last one, but as of tonight we are, I’m thrilled to report, back in business. Enjoy the show!”


He vanishes as the screen flickers and crackles and the main event begins:


Fellini’s Amarcord, that sublime vision of life in early Fascist Rimini, with its mix of the sensual and the melancholy, the carnal and the divine, the 42-year-old man-child in the tree, throwing stones at his family and screaming “I want a woman!!”



I’M SO ENTRANCED IT TAKES A WHILE to notice when it’s over and Professor Dalton’s face is back onscreen. At first, I conflate him with the film’s lascivious but charming elderly narrator. I wonder how Fellini knew Dalton, I catch myself thinking.


“It is my great hope that you all enjoyed the film. It is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite.” He dries his eyes. “However, you are assembled here tonight for a purpose beyond that of entertainment, however sublime said entertainment may be. As you are all doubtlessly aware, a foundation-crisis has occurred in the order of the Dodge City Film Industry.”


This is the last thing we want to hear, vulnerable as we all still are to the effects of Fellini. Probably the exact reason Dalton chose to tell us this now, I think.


“Blut Branson, longtime scion of our Film Industry and closest thing to a culture-hero this town has ever had, is gone.” Dalton’s face is nearly popping off the screen now, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Dead, disappeared, abdicated … who can say? All we can say for sure is that he is, by this point, unlikely to return.


“So, steps must be taken. The Dodge City Film Festival, which commences tonight, is a joyous occasion, but it is not only that. This year, it must be more. Much more. It is to be a competition. A vetting of visionaries. A test to see who among you, with ample funding and resources, can produce a film that convincingly mythologizes our origins, as Fellini has done to such an overwhelming degree with Amarcord.”


I hear bodies shifting in the badly mowed grass around me, some kissing like teenagers, others scooting closer to the screen.


“Whoever produces the most effective filmed testament to life as it was during the Dodge City Golden Age will be crowned the New Branson, and elected culture-hero for life. He or she will be put in full control of Branson Entertainments, and the full attention of Dodge City will be upon him or her.


“Our folk religion will reorient itself around you. A new Golden Age will begin.”


He stops to clear his throat, as do I. It’s a lot to process.


“You will all receive a duffel bag full of cash for production expenses on your way out. Furthermore, the Dodge City schoolchildren will be at your full disposal, should you wish to recreate scenes from your childhood starring them.”


Here he pauses to gesture from the screen at a bullpen full of children in the grass behind us. We turn to regard them, smashed together like asylum seekers at a ferry launch. “Believe me, with the funds we’re sinking into this project, there’s no keeping the schools open.


“It’s a tall order, but, at this point, the void in our spirit-life must be filled. May the best Director win! I will see you all back here for the final screening a month from now.”


With that, his image boils away and the Drive-in screen goes black.


We all sit there, stunned in the cricket and mosquito buzz, until the real Dalton, microscopic compared to his filmed counterpart, shouts “Alright folks!”


We look over and see him standing at the entrance, flanked by bodyguards.


Dr. Gentle gets to his feet and takes my hand, helping me up. When we pass the entrance, Dalton pries open two duffel bags, showing us the cash inside before zipping them up and handing them over.


“Spend it wisely,” he says, as we shuffle past and he picks up the next two, for the people behind us.





It’s strangely emotional, approaching the Front Desk and asking for my old Room, like the very first time I drifted into Dodge City.


“Do you mind waiting over there by the fishtank?” I ask Dr. Gentle, feeling myself tear up as I revisit that long-ago morning.


“He’s gonna have to pay too,” says the desk clerk. “It’s too late to sneak him in.”


I nod. “That’s not the problem,” I say, handing her my credit card. “I just … I just …”


She seems to understand. The rest of the transaction goes smoothly and soon, just like the very first time, the porter has shown me (us) to my (our) Room.



WHEN WE’VE SETTLED IN, me in my old bed and Dr. Gentle in a child-sized cot the porter wheeled out of storage for him, we pour ourselves whiskeys from the minibar and get down to business.


“Okay,” says Dr. Gentle, pen and legal pad open on his lap. “Got any ideas?”

IT’S TAKEN A MONTH TO PRODUCE THE FIRST BLUT BRANSON CRITERION DVD, but now it’s spring and the Release Party is upon us .


What’s more, two of his most celebrated shorts have been included as special features — 2 Old Ppl, about two best friends who, upon growing old, discover that one of them has turned into two old people while the other has turned into none; and Our Beloved Carefree Child Was Murdered, about a man whose profession it is to accept responsibility for having murdered teenagers that actually committed suicide, so their parents don’t have to feel guilty about not having been there for them.


In advance of the Release Party, the entire downtown is converted into an Anything-goes Zone. Professor Dalton has been on the prowl with Big Pharmakos since last night, drinking, finalizing his speech, and fending off paparazzi demanding to know whether the rumor that Branson himself might appear has any basis in fact.


THEN, BECAUSE WE CAN’T WAIT ANY LONGER, THE RELEASE PARTY BEGINS. We’re tearing half-naked through the streets, eating fresh-killed hocks of goat and lamb, crushing boxes of wine on our faces and lapping it off one another, bellowing at the smoggy sky as the Criterion Truck pulls in. We hurl ourselves upon it, tearing open the back before it’s stopped moving, burying ourselves in DVD’s, basking in the canonization of our first genuine saint.


The Truck opens beneath us, spewing boxes like confetti. We’re buried, writhing in glory, heedless of suffocation.

criteriontruck 1

It’s all good until a slimy bursting overrides our glee and we fall silent as hundreds of repressed babies tear through the women among us. They rise from their mothers’ shoulders, armpits, faces, and scalps, crawling out of the afterbirth to push aside DVD’s and howl at the lights of Dodge City, the first they’ve ever seen.


SOME CONTEXT: 17 years ago, Professor Dalton pioneered a non-abortive family planning technique whereby fertilized embryos could be shifted out of the mother’s womb and into another part of her body — the shoulder, the armpit, the face, the scalp — and sit there, inert as benign tumors, until such time as the mother was ready to birth them, when the embryo would simply be pushed back into the womb with a pool cue and allowed to the develop there as normal.


Dodge City women have been availing themselves of this treatment since then without incident, until now, when, it appears, the absurd excitement surrounding Branson’s Criterion Release has caused the embryos to develop and hatch all at once, exploding from the places they’d been stored, emerging fully-formed from the wreckage of their mothers.


I’m no expert, but they look larger than newborns should: more like two-year-olds, standing up and yelling to announce their arrival.



AS WE STRUGGLE TO EXTRICATE OURSELVES, Blut Branson himself appears from on high, camera out and ready, barking: “Test them for the fear of death! Test them for the fear of death!”


He’s shooting frantically, wading barefoot through the destroyed mothers among his pile of DVD’s. There’s a full crew behind him, people I’ve never seen before, and I start to wonder how much of this has been preordained for the sake of producing his next film, and how elated I ought to feel if it has been, given that I’m here to witness it, perhaps even to partake.


He is everywhere at once, swirling among the newborns, attaching mics to their bare chests, making sure their voices can be heard in his headphones.


Then he turns to us and says, “Your job is to rank how scared of death these newborns are. On a scale of 1 to 10.”


No one moves.


“Now!” he shouts. “Do you want to be part of the next Blut Branson film or not?”


Still no one moves.


“How are we supposed to find out?” someone finally asks.


“Ask them!!” he shrieks. “How do you think? Look at that pile of corrupted flesh … that is their mothers. Show them that. Say, One day that will be you. What do you think about that? How does that make you feel?”


Aware that my chance to have a hand in a Branson film is now or never, I run up to the nearest newborn and ask it these exact words. It doesn’t respond. I try the next one, and likewise get no response.


“What do we do if we get no response?” someone else asks, sparing me the indignity.


Branson pauses, checking his rage before replying. “Speechlessness is a 10. Highest possible fear of death. They’re all 10’s! They’re all 10’s, aren’t they!” he shouts, standing outside the Criterion Truck, crushing the DVD’s, indifferent to his old work, focused utterly on the new.


“Perfect! Every Newborn’s a 10! That’s the title of my next film!!”


If there is such a thing as a God, it never addressed its Creation with more conviction than this.

THERE ARE THOSE IN DODGE CITY who claim that Blut Branson has, after a lifetime of struggle, at last reached the distant shores of the Criterion Collection.

There are many among them who maintain that this has been his life’s sole ambition. “Getting a film into the Criterion Collection is,” they claim, “for Blut Branson literally synonymous with entering heaven.”

There is fear that he’ll die as soon as it happens.

When the email arrives that two of Branson’s films have made the cut, the police have to put the town square on lockdown to keep us from rioting with joy. “Criterion’s gonna turn Blut Branson into DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s!” we scream, juddering with excitement until tear gas blacks us out.

When we come to, we’ve been transferred to a medical tent where Professor Dalton sits behind a laptop, writing the official Criterion introduction to THE MURDER OF NICKY TEENSMA, the first Branson film to cross over.

“Shh,” says Dalton, looking up from his screen. “Don’t make me shush you again.”

We crowd in as quietly as we can to watch him write the following text:


THE MURDER OF NICKY TEENSMA tells the devastatingly simple story of an ordinary man whose only calling is to murder a child.

Cannily, this is all that Blut Branson, in what I maintain is his most daring and original film, conceived when the director was only twenty-eight but not realized until his mid-forties, allows us to know about his central figure, whom he terms Dan, a name we learn from a single shot of his prison intake file more than thirty minutes into the film. So, if you will, he begins his screen-life as an unnamed everyman and only upon incarceration does he receive the nearly-meaningless moniker he’ll casually bear for the rest of our time with him. He has no last name, as Branson characters — except those either too saintly or too demonic to figure into the moral vortexes at the center of his work — never do.

The child he dreams of murdering is named, famously, Nicky Teensma, after Branson’s first and, according to a press statement from Cannes ’89 upon the film’s tempestuous release, “last best friend.”

“I have made the film. I will say nothing more about what happened between us,” his statement concluded.

It is telling that this name belongs to the director’s — not the character’s — childhood best friend, though the childhood resentment is expiated strictly through the director’s work, never in his life. (Dodge City residents with young children will recognize the real-life Nicky Teensma as a substitute third-grade math teacher and occasional youth soccer coach.)

In the film’s opening scenes, we see the-man-not-yet-named-Dan going quietly insane in an unremarkable southern California apartment, picking things up and putting them down, staring at the clock, grazing from the refrigerator … all while drawing picture after picture with the caption THE MURDER OF NICKY TEENSMA. These are beautiful in their way, but more disturbed than disturbing, a mess of mutilated child bodies that never achieve the aesthetic cohesion.

These early scenes present an unadorned but absolutely convincing portrait of fantasy wearing itself down, as our man approaches the point at which he will be irresistibly compelled to do the thing he has for so long nursed in ideation, shunting his compulsion into the symbolic.

“NO!” the thing inside him will soon shout. “No. Now you must make me real.”

The first of several decisive moments comes when his neighbor, an elderly lady with whom we’ve seen him interacting once before, dies and leaves him her modest fortune.

He quits his soul-numbing office job, where we’ve seen him sitting at his desk, slowly cutting his upper thigh with a piece of paper, and spends the next ten minutes of screen time in an excruciating funk, deep in the darkness of the one room that is not his bedroom, fully untethered from the normalizing routine of work.

In a shot that is quintessential Branson, a ray of light glints off his left eye in such a way that it remains unclear whether he has generated this light or is reflecting it from some inexplicable, perhaps trans-dimensional source. To any viewer who’s already seen a Branson film, there can be no question that a grave decision has been made.

He stands up and walks to the courthouse.

In the next shot, he is seen sitting down with the county judge — in Branson’s universe, all business is meted out on the county level — and explains his proposition:

“I am willing to spend the majority of my remaining life in prison for the privilege of murdering a child with impunity upon my release.”

“So,” the judge replies, in what has become a catchphrase among Bransonphiles all over the world, “you are in a sense conflating the child’s death with you own, insofar as you are sacrificing your own life at this relatively early stage in order to efficaciously sacrifice another life when yours has already been squandered, and thereby renew yourself through the child, hoping to be reborn as him in the moment of killing, and thereby live on purged of what you yourself will never manage to purge yourself of.”

“Yes,” says our man. I can hear audiences in revival cinemas from New York to Tokyo to Capetown sighing in apprehension as this word is uttered.


IN A CHARACTERISTIC ELISION, we never see the judge’s deliberation. The second act opens on Dan in prison (after his name has been revealed on his intake form).

With the stylized inscrutability of many a Branson protagonist, Dan refuses to answer when the other inmates ask what he’s in for, and there’s something just menacing enough in his bearing that they leave him alone. We never even learn if the guards are aware of the peculiarity of his sentence.

We know only that he has been sentenced to forty-seven years, the exact age that Branson was when the film was finally released, only to lose the Palme D’or to the much more easily assimilated, but, I maintain, more easily forgotten sex, lies, and videotape.

Dan spends the decades aging before our eyes in near-silence, praying to a hand-carved soap statue of the child he will kill upon his release, having already named him NICKY TEENSMA, in a kind of divine soul-congress straight from Blut Branson himself.

As twenty years served become thirty, Dan enters an almost mystical state as his worldly concerns recede into the deep past and he is kept company only by the promise of what he will do when the time comes.

Forty years into his sentence, with seven to go, Dan celebrates a quiet birthday alone in his cell. He dances in a slow circle and whispers, kissing the the soap statue, “Today, Nicky Teensma is born. When I am released, he will be seven. Today my life begins in earnest as well.”


WHEN THE DAY of his release arrives, the film can be said to properly begin, though the preceding forty-seven minutes have of course been one of the most riveting prologues in Branson’s prologue-heavy oeuvre.

Dan walks into the blazing sunshine of a world he barely recognizes, a man of seventy-five, played by B. Sanford, father of G. Sanford, who’s played Dan until now.

The look on B. Sanford’s face was wisely chosen by Criterion as the cover image for their deluxe, fully-restored edition: relief to be freed undergirded with something closer to terror at what he’s consigned himself to do. It is through this look — not through any dialogue or narrative cue — that it begins to dawn on us that Dan is no longer driven to murder a child in the way he was as a young man.


A kind of despair comes over him as he realizes that it is now only his duty to his younger self that spurs him forward … in the film’s only instance of voiceover, we hear him think, “And I figured, since I’d invested my life in it, I’d better follow through, though I sure wished I could’ve taken a pass, or even that I’d died in prison.”

He stares deep into the camera as he walks uncertainly down a hill. I read his expression here as one of tempting fate, profoundly wondering what might become of him if he didn’t follow through on the thing to which his life has been consecrated.

The next ten minutes are, in my opinion, the most excruciating and unforgettable that Branson has ever committed to film. In near-silence, we watch Dan wander through the suburban Los Angeles he’s been released into, perhaps objectively not much changed since his incarceration, but we know something is irreparable in his relation to it. The combination of the toll the years have taken and the awful duty that he must now fulfill is enough to freight Dan’s steps with a sluggishness that threatens to drag the film to a halt.

We watch him wander from one drab location to another — a tire shop, a fast food window, a secondhand clothing store — for no apparent reason other than to look people over, holding their gaze too long, daring them to look back at him. Anyone who’s seen the film will have an interpretation of this sequence — some claim it’s superfluous and should simply have been cut — but I believe that here Dan is trying to warn the people of Greater Los Angeles, through a sort of telepathy, to keep their seven-year-olds far away.

Don’t let me get what I want, he thinks at everyone he passes, in what amounts to his final attempt at Grace.

And it is as if these people have received the message: no children at all are seen in this sequence, not even in the background, where, on repeat viewings of the film, one notices they have always been before, seemingly oblivious of the camera.


ONCE DAN’S WANDERINGS have taken him as far into the San Fernando Valley as he (and we) can bear to go, he discovers a seven-year-old completely alone, sitting on the bench of what appears to be an unused bus stop.

Of course, as viewers of a film, we are aware that the boy has been posed like this, but, immersed as we are in Dan’s perspective, stumbling across this boy with no adults around and no agenda of his own is significantly uncanny. To this day, I cannot watch this sequence without stopping to watch it again and then taking a fifteen-minute break before continuing into what I know is coming.

Without a word, the boy slides off the bench and follows Dan into the dusty afternoon, deepening toward the west, preparing to set over an ocean neither of them will see.

Now Branson tries for the first time a technique he will use throughout the rest of his career: he freezes the screen on the road just after Dan and the boy have disappeared around its only bend, and holds the image for a full minute.

Then he cuts to Dan and the boy in a motel room so sparse the set looks undecorated: there’s a mattress with no bedding, a linoleum floor with no carpet, a wall with a single window and a single ratty curtain blocking out the twilight. They’re sitting on the mattress surrounded by groceries in bags.

We don’t want to see what we know is coming, but we can’t help feeling grateful that the minute-long hold on the previous image is finally over. At least, we think, we’re back to watching a movie.

As they go on sitting there, about a foot apart, snatches of a grocery store force their way in, like the two of them — independently or together — are processing their memories of shopping in lieu of facing the future.

We see Dan picking up packaged cakes and brownies and holding them out to the boy, enticingly, almost begging him to accept these treats in a reversal of the typical interaction wherein the child demands what the parent insists he cannot have.

The boy simply nods, holding the packaged cakes like the inanimate objects they are, responding with neither relish nor disgust.

Then, intercut with the increasingly painful image of the two of them sitting in the motel room as nights falls behind the curtain, we see them at the checkout counter. The girl scanning the treats smiles at the boy and says, “Your grandfather must really love you.”

Without meeting her eyes, the boy mumbles, “He’s my father, not my grandfather.”


WHEN WE CUT back to the motel room, Dan is crying, perhaps remembering the moment we’ve just seen, or perhaps he has finally, fully arrived in the present, and knows he can delay no longer.

Dan looks at the boy, turning his back on the camera, as if to shield him from us, demanding a moment of privacy that we are more than inclined to grant.

Then, with one of the great tragic grimaces in Branson’s filmography, Dan reaches under the mattress and pulls out a long, curved boning knife. The film offers no explanation of how it came to be here; it knows that by now we are past the point of expecting realism to spare us what’s coming.

Dan holds it up, waving it through the air, trying to get the boy’s attention. The boy stares downward, seeing the knife when it passes through his line of sight but making no effort to follow it. We watch as he gets increasingly livid, waving the knife like it’s on fire and he’s trying to put it out.

“Look at me!” Dan finally shouts, revealing how very long it’s been since any word has been uttered. “You are Nicky Teensma. I’m sorry, but you are. And for that, you have to take what’s coming. You did something to me. Now I do this thing to you.”

His voice falls to a whisper, as if he’s trying not to hear himself.

“Nicky, all I did I did for you. I sacrificed my life for you. What happened when we were kids would have been repeated on and on through ages, to both of us in every form we ever took, if I didn’t do what I’m about to do.”

THEN, for the second and final time, the frame freezes on Dan and Nicky Teensma on the bed, the knife stretched between their bellies like a placenta.


A HOWLING CREEPS under the frozen image and then we cut to paramedics kicking down the door of the motel room at dawn.

Inside, the devastation is so complete it remains indescribable for several seconds, a kind of phantasmagoria of the type that Branson would stage with increasing fervor — some would say to the point of derangement — throughout his later career.

When we’re finally able to make sense of the room’s interior, what we see is the boy drenched in blood, leaning on the long knife like a cane. There is something old about him, but, no matter how many times I watch the film, I’ve never been able to explain what it is. I’ve attempted to ask Branson, to which he’s replied only, “We are all heading in that direction.”

The paramedics approach warily at first, but Nicky Teensma is beyond violence now.

There is no sign of a second body and there is no sound until one of the paramedics clears his throat.

Without blinking, the boy says, “My name is Nicky Teensma and I’m ready to spend my life in jail.”

The screen freezes again, but this time the credits roll, the boy’s face slowly turning into that of Dan as a young man, which we remember from the film’s beginning, as though some awful cycle whose nature we will never comprehend has just completed a revolution.

By the time the screen goes black, the man staring at us, drenched in blood and ready for jail, is unmistakably the young man whose face the film opened on, his eyes aflame with the compulsion to murder a child.


If you watch the forthcoming Criterion disc on repeat, you will be treated to a fully, insidiously seamless experience. Soon, you’ll forget how many times you’ve seen the film, or even where its beginning and ending points are. Just don’t indulge too many times or what happened to me will happen to you.

WE DISPERSE, back to our respective Rooms.


Looking out the window several days later, we see Tim & Eric drifting by. We watch them pass without anyone going onto the streets to do something to them or see what they’d do to us.


When they’re gone, we race out, all the energy we didn’t expend on mobbing them now making us mob ourselves as we pile into a sand pit where we discover two scrolls, perhaps casually discarded by the two of them.


Professor Dalton scoops them up, holds them flat against the sun, and declares: “On these scrolls are printed the passwords for the master servers of HBO and Showtime. The age of the Private Series is upon us. No longer will the musings of others be sold to us as our own.”


We wait for him to continue. “Let us each write one HBO series and one Showtime series, and meet back here in one week. We will then vote on our collective favorite, which will become our communal fiction for at least the coming season. No longer will premium cable and cable access be worlds apart.”



I COME BACK the following week with one HBO series and one Showtime series jotted on notecards, one series per pocket.


There are rows of revelation kitsch set up by the sand pit: soapstone statues of Tim & Eric and of Dalton reading the scrolls, and aged-paper versions of the scrolls themselves, some of their letters elided so as to stay on the safe side of blasphemy.


We present our ideas. Both of mine are vetoed before I finish saying them.


By evening, we’ve narrowed it down to:


ALL HIGH SCHOOL BANDS GET HUGE (HBO): A version of Dodge City in which any group of teenagers even remotely resembling a band is immediately launched into Springsteen-levels of fame, even before playing a single show or recording a single track … one practice, or even the rumor of a practice, is enough to make them this generation’s Black Flag. Take any two kids whose parents got them acoustic guitars for their 16th birthdays and put them in a room together … and the Greil Marcus book writes itself. The recurring conflict of the series is the impossibility of making this happen. No one is willing or able to form a high school band, even considering the obscene profit margin. The series follows numerous botched attempts to get two or more high schoolers together for a single jam session in someone’s basement one weekend night when there’s nothing else to do.


ALL BODY MOISTURES RUN DRY (SHOWTIME): A version of Dodge City in which all of our bodies have gone dry, because, as the tagline goes, “we over-basted ourselves in our own juices when we were young.” No one is able to have pleasurable sex anymore — only procreative, with awful friction — and no one is able to speak except in a lizardy rasp. Unable to sweat, we faint at least daily. Some clerics claim we are still wet on the inside, deeper in than any mortal implement can reach, but our reality consists of bloating with unreleased energies, our skin always about to burst without bursting … until one member of the community discovers a well in a disused utility shed that contains precisely one drop of moisture for each citizen. In a democratic society, each citizen would choose when and how to use their drop, but in the society of this proposed Showtime series, a small consortium of developers takes it all, ritually fucking and spitting on one another thousands of times, while everyone else further mummifies, in a “reimagining of Chinatown that is barely a reimagining at all.”


The team behind UNHOLY FAMILY pitches a spinoff series called INTERMEDIATE GENERATIONS (SHOWTIME): In which “half relatives” are inserted between all members of every family: between siblings, between parents and children, between spouses … making it such that no lines of heredity are direct. Now, all lines are mediated through strangers, to be played by non-actors who have no personality other than that of stand-ins, attenuating the lines of familial connection by their inexplicable presence and refusal to leave, lingering interminably “between every man, woman, and child and their maker.”


This show drums up some interest, but the overall sentiment is that UNHOLY FAMILY itself, still running after longer than most lifetimes, scratches enough of its own itch as it is.


The show that ends up winning is TAKING THE RAP (HBO): A version of Dodge City in which one guy kills another for no reason. This guy, after sleeping on it, decides he isn’t ready for death row. So he calls his friend and asks if he’ll take the rap for him. The friend says okay. In order to make the transference of guilt realistic, they dig up the body and resurrect it. Then, the original murderer turns his back while his friend kills the resurrected victim, making him the genuine murderer. In the next episode, the same thing happens: the now-guilty friend phones another friend, and they resurrect the body again so that the other friend can kill it and become the guilty one. On and on, each episode featuring many such shuntings, until everyone in town has had a chance to kill the original victim and face death row before calling a friend to get out of it. The theory is that the victim can only be resurrected if it’s going to immediately be killed again, so that there’s no net loss from the world of the dead. The show takes a turn in Episode 11, when it comes to light that the victim has changed over the course of this round robin — from murder to murder, it hasn’t been the same person at all. Perhaps there has never been any resurrection. Perhaps half of Dodge City has killed the other half. Certain humanists despair; certain environmentalists rejoice.


We watch this show on HBO every week of the coming year, and I pick up work as an episode recapper, filtering some of my ideas for unmade shows into my reviews of this one, paving the way in the mass consciousness for the next pitching onslaught, when I plan to finally hammer myself home on the anvil of my fellow citizens.

IN CLASSIC FASHION, the buried do not stay that way.


That’s the thing about Dead Sir that I forgot to mention, though I can’t imagine who was fooled. Easy enough to hack extra-matter away and dump it in the deep; harder to keep it down there when it wants to come back up and you didn’t want to let it go in the first place.


You know the classic scene: a fisherman alone in his boat, motoring across the still waters at dusk, hoping for a dinner catch before midnight, comes across a finger with a wring, a blue hand, a mealy wrist with a still-ticking watch, an arm that doesn’t stop there …


The two bodies are soon bunched into the middle of his boat, weighing it down, and he’s speeding back to shore.


Less classic about the scene in our case is that this particular fisherman went looking for them directly, rather than finding them by guileless accident while actually fishing for, say, fish.


This is his racket: he hauls up what we cast off, gone soft and slimy in Dead Sir, and brings it back to Dodge City to sell.


Guilty abandoners and regretful onetime stewards that we are, we buy it back every time.


He doesn’t sell any other type of fish. Anyone into that kind of thing around here belongs in a grocery store several towns away.


When he brings them in they look like Joseph Beuys in Siberia, wrapped in wolf-fat and fur, or by wolves in man-fat and skin, depending on your version. I’ll always remember where and who I was when I first got told about Beuys going down in his fighter jet or bomber or scout plane over the ice flats or steppe or tundra, in WWII I believe, and being nurtured there in the wild for a good decade by wolves before returning to Germany as a kind of transhuman maniac superhero to take the Art World by storm.


Which is not to say that Face & Star Simpson are galvanized on this level; just that their blocks of fat are similar (that’s where I got the idea).


The fat is translucent, like aspic, so the inward-warping bodies can be observed, in some slow rotation, a churn. I stop in to check them out. I wonder if the material has grown out of their bodies in autoimmune response to the Dead Sir environment, or accreted from that environment onto them, like simple pond scum.


They sit in the shop a few days and nights, on ice and sprayed with the fish-mist hose every hour, but, still …


They start to stink and then it’s someone’s idea to invite them to Thanksgiving. “They’re all alone,” is the reasoning, common enough this time of year.


There’s agreement in town.


So the call to the fisherman is made and Face & Star Simpson are ordered up, either as guests or as entrees.



THIS TIME LAST YEAR I lived in a house, but now that I’m back at the Hotel, the Function Room downstairs is home to the only dinner I’m likely to find out about.


Various guests — Big Pharmakos, Professor Dalton, the Silent Professor, Gottfried Benn, whoever else — arrive in stages, the best ones toward the middle.


Amongst us is the baby sired by Stokoe Drifter in that old guy Murph’s protruding intestine a few weeks back. Some stand-in parent types bring it in, done up in a onesie, and let us know they’ve named it Ferttle.




We lean our heads into the baby’s POV, trying not to telegraph our disgust at its Origin Scene, since, we know, the facts of one’s parentage are no one’s fault.


Ferttle, at this point, may be the Only Child in Dodge City. I forget what happened to the last one.


We all sit, palming nuts and sesame sticks, beers, waiting for the two Dead-Sir-flavored-fat-blocks to arrive.


I don’t know if I should admit to this group that Face & Star Simpson started out as characters of mine, sideliners in what was and is maybe still known as ANGEL HOUSE.


A bout of thinking, another beer, some olives, and I’ve decided not to. Let someone else or the world at large claim them.


THEY ARRIVE. Someone signs the fisherman’s order sheet, scanning us with one eye to gauge by expression who’s likely to help split the bill.


I couldn’t guess what they cost, a lot or a little.


The fisherman, in his baseball cap and windbreaker, looks glad to be rid of them. He leaves in a hurry to get on with his (I’m guessing) other, tamer plans.


The Hotel staff brings in the standard Thanksgiving set, turkey and all, but the twin blocks of fat in the corner, sitting on metal ice-sculpture stands, dominate our attention.


They dominate mine anyway — enough that I can’t speak for anyone else.


I have no other appetite.


So, though I would’ve been happy not to be the first, I take up a plastic butter knife and a paper plate from the buffet table and go over to the blocks and invite a little of each onto my plate.


The slices look like those thick jiggly rice-pasta rolls you get at Dim Sum, or used to get.


They even have reddish brown roast-porklike flecks worked in.


I taste one and then the other.


It’s warm and salty, a little bloody, a little rank.


I swoon.


Others file in behind me and start slicing as well, powerless before my example.


Soon they’re swooning too. We all are.


The blocks shrink inward toward their centers; everyone stumbles around, lips greasy, jaws and gullets working hard and automatic in gross ritual.


I see someone shoving spoonfuls of it down Ferttle’s throat. The baby wails for more.


In the hustle for seconds and thirds, there is no pause for wine.



BY THE TIME IT’S OVER, we are passed out on the Function Room carpeting, the cleaning staff waiting by the door, perhaps unsure as to what they’re looking at.


Through one eye I fight to keep open, I watch the two exposed bodies stand up from their globular casing, bits of it still sticking to them. They waver on their feet, look about to tip over, and then right themselves, somehow strengthened.


They don’t look fully awake, but they zero in on the table and walk over to it, running their hands through the buffet spread.


Hands is an overstatement: the ends of their arms are worn down to tips or caps, and the arms themselves are just lengths of generic fleshy material, like hose or tubing cut from an endless roll at a hardware store.


Dead Sir has worn them so similar I can’t tell which was which, not even along M/F lines. They could be clones. Their faces have been smoothed over, hair and eyes washed away, skin pulled taut over bones that look hollow and soft, genitals rounded out to geometric templates.


After prowling a few times around the table, they plop into adjacent chairs and haul over the cold turkey and mashed sweet potatoes by pulling the tablecloth.


The forms that were once Face & Star Simpson fall to chewing and swallowing, thighs and wings, rolls and mugs of wine.


The buffet spread diminishes. They don’t look ravenous, but they eat steadily for a long time, their sides bulging outward.


They are characters in the most basic sense now, undeveloped, free for any story that’ll have them. My stomach boils the fat down to a narcotizing punch and I pass out to the image of them splitting a pumpkin pie.

Back in my Room at the Hotel, at odds with my rented-out House, I have been somewhat unscrupulous with my schedule this past while. I browse the Rupert Thomson section at the bookstore but can’t quite get it up to make a move.


I try to ask someone something but they don’t aver to know and I don’t know who they are.


So I move some time sleuthing around, trying to establish what kind of city Dodge City actually is, as if I hadn’t passed through this phase long ago, the first time I came here and moved into the Room, which, when I moved out, I didn’t think I’d ever end up back inside of, but here I am, or will shortly be, unless I want to spend another night on the boat launch by Park Pond in Pond Park.


Dodge City was newer to me then, but its sum inexplicability has either never waned or else it’s been steadily and sub rosa replenished. The question of whether I’m reenacting my earliest days here or if these days are simply still those is a question for someone else, Rupert Thomson perhaps, whoever he really is.


Some mornings I feel like a planner casing a plot of undeveloped land, trying to decide whether a city should be built here at all. Other mornings, I get that feeling where I wonder if the whole place wasn’t razed and rebuilt almost but not quite exactly the same while I was away in the Desert.



I discover from chatting up butchers that the Hereditary Cannibalism is back.


It’s deep in the genetics here, in the sense that everyone has it and no one can deny or overcome it, but it’s not deep in the sense of being buried far from the surface: it rears its hungry head every few years, I’m told, like one of those off-cycle cacti or like a mutation that has confused generations for years, expressing itself numerous times within the lifespan of each individual, rather than only sometimes in the lifespan of an ongoing family.


These butchers go on to sum up how it usually goes, which is also how it went this time:


The Cannibalism surfaces in adolescents first, borne on the backs of the standard hormones, parlaying sex into violence in classic camp fashion, sending them off eating their younger siblings and grandparents, those at the extreme age ends of the inner circle, plaguewise.


Before they start eating their parents — to whom it has by now spread, so that they’re growing hard to restrain in their own right — Tom the Knacker bumbles out to the Suicide Cemetery and digs up whatever fresh-enough, non-poisoned new arrivals he can, hauling them with the help of some volunteers out into the town square, a movement roughly opposite to that, historically, of the Plague Cart.


A Pit BBQ is set up — rubs, brines, basters … hardly matters to the Hereditary Cannibalism, but to the people it’s expressing itself through … maybe it does. There is still such a thing as taste.


So they latch the intact bodies to spits with screws in their shoulders and hips and the spit itself run straight through pig-style, and shave those less intact down into Burnt Ends and Pulled Pork.


Certain Sauce Maestros only turn up on these occasions, mirthful after years of peddling lesser wares on the peripheries.


Those whom the Hereditary Cannibalism has affected most severely are permitted to eat some raw, if it’s that bad, and are given first dibs once some’s been cooked.


The leftovers, humped up in the walk-in of the Wayfarer’s Tavern, last a few days, long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another.



Long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another until what? you might well ask,” the butchers tell me.


I shrug: they’ve got me there.


“Long enough for our first fresh batch of Human Bologna to firm up good,” is the answer.


“What, like Delicatessen?” I ask.


They snort. “Nope. That’s kid stuff. This is a weaning-tool. A respectable substitute. Animal meat, straight up, and poultry, and fish, reptile, and so forth, what-have-you, and other proteins, yolky things, raisins, cashews, doesn’t matter: a meat to come next best to the Fellow Man once the Pit BBQ cools its jets and the Sauce Maestros saunter back to whence they came.”


I nod like I get the picture, sniffing the air for some sign of what’s in question.


“Weans the Hereditary Cannibalism back down … eases ‘er back into remission for a few more years,” say the butchers, sadly now. “Back to rest in the genetics.”


“This is what we see as our actual work. Transcendentally speaking. The rest of the time, all the years, slivering off chuck and pimento loaf, tubbing out potato salad … all just stalling, keeping afloat, thinking how we’ll make the next batch of the real thing when the time comes … Human Bologna’s an ancient Dodge City recipe, as old as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself, and intimately bound up with it in ways I’m sure a man of your breeding and education can guess at already.” 


They look down in reverence at the paper-towel lined tray of Human Bologna in the display case, only about a quarter hunk left. The rest of the case is empty; the tags for other meats are piled up.


“What, so it’s like Cannibal Nicorette?” I ask.


For a while, no one answers. Then the butchers hand me a sandwich, wrapped in wax paper and napkins.


I hear the bell on the door of the shop and can tell that I’ve made my way out.



I eat my sandwich back in the main square, where the Bill Callahan booths were, and then the Pit BBQ.


It tastes about how you’d expect.


I lick my gums; should’ve gotten a soda somewhere, a water at least.


“Sometimes, it’s too convincing.”


I hear the words but don’t see their source.


“Sometimes, we conflate the Real with its Simulation. Sometimes we swap Disease and Cure, and swap them again, and again, as if it were our right to go on swapping.”


I look around, see no speaker on my eye level, so I look up.


There he is: Professor Dalton on a high balcony at the Hotel, bellowing through a bullhorn. A crowd gathers around the site of the Pit BBQ.


“Sometimes the human essence proves incompressible. Sometimes we cannot forget it. Sometimes we know who we are and what we are made of … and the taste lives upon our lips and tongues.”


So this is The Human Bologna Scare. I crinkle my sandwich paper and listen.


“Sometimes The Fundamentally Human is unmistakable no matter how finely ground and how much subterfuge is employed to disguise its presence within an alien host. With our palettes as judge, let us swallow no lies about our kin! Human Bologna is what it is called and also what it is, it is no euphemism. Where are our friends? Our lovers? Our elders? Our infants? Let us clean ourselves in deed this time, not only in word. Let us hose ourselves down with the truth one time. Let us revert to animal meat forever more!!”


The man never misses an opportunity to pop up, let it be said.


He says his piece, to my ear, with enough polish that I’m inclined to believe this sort of thing has occurred before. Perhaps every year the fear that Human Bologna is indeed human meat surfaces in the citizenship, as regularly as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself.


A phrase like I feel sick, in reference to what I’ve just eaten in light of what I’m now thinking, occurs to me, but isn’t precisely true. I feel the same as I tend to after lunch.




“That’s Spinoza, up on a Mountaintop,” says Rigid Steve, gliding into position behind me, looking up at the pontificating man on the balcony.


I’ve been here long enough to not reply, “No, that’s Dalton, up on a balcony.”


I’ve been here so long I almost don’t even think it.


Mass dissociation in town, people wandering to the edges, putting in giant orders over the phone, toting it to undisclosed locations. Bingeing in its several forms. A wave of charlatans tears through, gets what it can, and is gone, off to another county or genre.


The newspaper, in a slow, passive panic, resorts to printing boilerplate headlines like “Six Babies Pregnant From Kissing Dirty Towel.” Everyone glances but no one takes a copy from the box. More, nearly identical, copies, stuff the box every day until they congeal into an inseparable mass.


Masked custodians dressed, to keep our spirits up, to resemble the slaughterers from Stokoe’s Cows, hustle in and clear the gagged boxes away until there remain only a few drafty fliers for concerts that were canceled without notice.


Everyone has by now fed all the time that will go to all the things that will eat it. When there’s no longer any alternative to Professor Dalton coming down from the hills and declaring an auction, he comes down from the hills and declares an auction.


We flock to it, changing into clothes and pregaming it however is best.


On the way there, I run into a young butcher who lays claim to having written “She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak,” but could not afford the rest. I have no special credits to my name, but I’m new to the Auction Block.


On the way in, taking peanut butter treats from the concession table and signing into the Sign-in Book, we pass Jose Saramago, David Markson, and Clarice Lispector. They give a general, head-swivel nod, taking us in without singling us out. They take their reserved seats in the Auction Hall beside Umberto Eco and Kenzaburo Oe. I wonder how much it cost them. I don’t even know the scale. It doesn’t look like anyone around has serious, serious money, but maybe they did before they got these names and the associated boxes and boxes of work. Dodge City seems to need its own version of everything — if you’re going to read David Markson, he’s going to be a guy in town with a day job at the hardware store. Same goes, even, for Bill Gaddis. He’s someone’s buddy; someone has a hard-to-enforce restraining order out against him.


Professor Dalton takes the podium. A children’s bell choir starts playing, on some cue, then stops in the middle and goes away. We’re in like a chapel. There’s a teenager at the back with a camcorder on a tripod.


Dalton begins with all the “it’s my solemn duty” stuff. “To come hard to the point,” he says, after having evaded it as long as possible, “we are gathered here today to auction off not only the name and the works but the larger role in our society of the formerly formidable master of long-form fiction known as Blut Branson, who has so let us down.”


A whisper works its way through the crowd from the mouths of Dennis Cooper and Travis Jeppesen.


There’s a comical element whereby whoever was in charge of making the nametags made everyone’s first name Steve, so the tags read “Steve Cooper,” “Steve Jeppesen,” “Steve DeLillo,” “Steve Le Clezio,” “Steve Murakami,” etc.


I suppose someone will walk out today wearing a “Steve Branson” tag.


Professor Dalton: “I won’t say the ‘real’ or even the ‘original,’ but the initial Branson has proven inadequate. It is time for the series to advance, evolve. Which of you will step up?”


Then comes a certain amount of “The Crying of Lot Branson” histrionics. Steve Pynchon winces gamely at the shout-out.


The bidding is heated and hardcore. I sit back, wiping spit from my face with a constant back-and-forth motion. An old Dogs Die In Hot Cars song plays in the far background.


In the end, “Blut Branson” goes to a man formerly known as DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf. He ascends the podium in a hail of jeers and spitballs, kneels before Professor Dalton to receive his “Steve Branson” nametag.


“So much for the ‘Wolf,” whispers Elfriede Jelinek.


So much for Blut Branson, I think. I wonder what’ll become of the actual guy, wherever he is, aware that this kind of thinking has no place in Dodge City.



It turns out it isn’t over yet. We break for lunch, the bell choir comes back for another part of a song, and the teenager with the camcorder changes his tape or chip. Then it’s time for the Ceremony of the Subsumption of DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf into the Totality Of Being of the Disgraced Supreme Novelist Knowable Only As Blut Branson.


This is hard to watch. If Elfriede Jelinek hadn’t been sitting so near me, I would have looked away.


When it was over, it still wasn’t enough. People were wound up, demanding further action, desperate to shock the town out of its funk.


“Let us proceed to the Time Capsule,” Professor Dalton declared to general applause.



OUT BACK a hole got dug. The Time Capsule was a big black trash bag. There were straw wrappers, ketchup and mustard packets, loose Skittles, and Blut Branson inside. In a rare display of perspective, someone removed his “Steve Branson” nametag so as not to cause undue confusion down the road.


Blut Branson flinched and squirmed. “C’mon guys!” he shouted. “It’s me, Rabbi DJ Lizard Wolf! You know me, I MC’ed your kids’ Bar Mitzvah’s! Don’t do this guys, seriously!”


Professor Dalton crushes the Blut Branson bag down to the ground, says the valediction. The Time Capsule is sealed, some special water or something is sprinkled on top, and it’s lowered into the hole.


“May the good people of the New Dodge City know how we lived now,” he proclaims. “Tell them how it was, Blut Branson.” The bag squirms some more, sucking in and out.



A few days later, the ground over the Time Capsule is still talking. Blut Branson, down in there, sounds to be still alive, even, some speculate, hard at work.


Crowds gather, on their lunch breaks or kids after school, smoking and drinking sodas on the ground above the Capsule, listening to it jabber and pace. A punkish looking 14-year-old dubs himself the new DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf and amasses a cult following, earning Best New Music on Pitchfork within the hour.


“Maybe he’ll finally get his novel done down there,” says Big Pharmakos, who was Steven Millhauser through the aughts but had to give it up when the recession hit. He leaves and comes back with a large coffee which he waters the ground with, watching it get absorbed. “There you go, buddy,” he says, with a rare and sincere benevolence.