Something called “Mentioned”

Atam could feel the thrum-thrum, thru-du-thrum of the bassline through the thinning brick wall of the Cairo, and braced himself as he opened the door, expecting to be assaulted by a wall of sound. But nothing of the sort happened. The smoky jazz being played was dense and weighty, but indeed quiet enough to hear someone speak at a normal volume. He couldn’t tell if the club was lit with purple or orange light, but he was certain that the walls were orange and green. The room was dotted by tall tables for two, each with its own low-hanging ceiling lamp, the source of that confusing hue that saturated the room. The lamps were lit at a perfect, calculated intensity, only as dark as was possible without obscuring anyone’s face. The wall on the left, opposite the sleek onyx bar counter, was lined with cushy circular leather booths, and on the walls above those booths were posters of French women in black backless dresses with tight bobbed hair that just barely passed their jawlines. Each was built like the stem of their martini glass: thin and nondescript, but their featureless figures were sleek, even lithe. The posters were only another of the Cairo’s carefully selected fixtures, each an exercise in tantalizing moderation, allowing its visitors indulgence that masqueraded as understated worldliness. The Cairo’s patrons conspicuously eschewed excess, opting instead for a measured symposium of sin that better suited their own self-image. They wanted to fuck and get fucked, but they wanted people to listen to them even more, and they couldn’t imagine better foreplay than mercilessly critiquing the house band.

Atam turned to the right and sat at the very first seat at the bar counter, near the doorway. He perused the list of house drinks after ordering the first one on the list. The bartender placed a cutting board with his drink’s ingredients in front of him and in thirty seconds and more than thirty theatrical flourishes from the bartender, his drink was ready. He tipped the bartender generously, ensuring he didn’t have enough for his next drink. The bartender gave him a nod and disappeared behind a curtain. He sipped his drink and surveyed the counter. The drink was citrusy, which he liked, but it had the unpleasant bite of too much ginger. His eyes teared up and his nostrils flared, and he noticed that the onyx counter was actually deep purple, and so were all of the other dark elements of the establishment. The uniforms of the staff, the curtains behind the counter, and even the deceptive ceiling lamps all sported the exact same inky shade.

The door swung open and he felt the cold air creep into the room and linger on the nape of his neck. He turned to see the newest guest of Cairo saunter over to the other end of the bar and lean against the counter without sitting down. It was as if one of the French girls from the posters had peeled herself down from the wall and now stood before him. She checked her phone and adjusted, leaning harder into the counter, her body making a distinctive S-bend. She was willowy and, yes – lithe – a seductive sapling in a dangling black cocktail dress. She stood like that for several minutes, eyeing the door and sucking on the tips of her bobbed hair in the corners of her mouth. Finally, Atam felt that ungodly night air on his neck again, and she sauntered back over towards the entrance to greet her date, an average-looking, average-height man with a pompadour and a beard the length of a buzz-cut. Atam watched them as he asked her what she wanted, then bought her a vodka martini with no olives. He then sheepishly admitted to being in the mood for bourbon and got himself an old fashioned. Atam cocked his head so his ear was facing them, hearing him say something about not being able to help himself sometimes.

The willowy woman smiled. It was genuine and a little patronizing, as though she was married to the man and he was embarrassing her, but then said, “Don’t help yourself, amor. Your papí liked bourbon. My mamí liked margaritas. Sometimes I drink them when I miss her. Then I miss her more. But we keep going. And we don’t forget.”

The man smiled warmly and put his hands on the small of his back to kiss her, but his phone rang. He sighed and jogged outside to take it, and came back in seconds later, clenching his jaw. He whispered something in her ear and she nodded, whispering all too loudly, “We have the rest of the week, amor. You can make it up to me.”

He nodded back, running his hand through his hair. “It’s just – I can’t ever get away from work anymore. Promise you won’t tell Des and Lorna why I left?”

She wrapped her arms around him and planted a tight-lipped kiss on his lips and murmured, “Now why would I do something like that? You go take care of your business, and I will tell Des and Lorna about your poor sick grandmother that the rest of the family ignores, and how much you want to get the most out of her last years.”

He put on his coat and hugged her tighter than anyone would want to be hugged, then turned on his heels and jogged back out the door and out of sight. The woman finally sat down and took to twirling a toothpick round her glass. Atam watched for several minutes, then took a deep breath, walked over to her end of the counter, and shoved himself into the stool next to her. “I don’t think either of us want to drink alone right now,” he said.

“Why do you think I need a drinking friend? I have friends coming in thirty minutes,” she asked as she turned to look at him. Her shoulders slumped, and her elbows rested firmly on the table, which made him think she really did want to be alone, but her eyes issued a challenge as they rose to meet his own.

He didn’t know what he would say, but he opened his mouth anyway. “You can discard me when your friends arrive, but I’m a charitable guy. I don’t let beautiful women drink alone,” he said, and he immediately regretted it, but she was watching, waiting for him to show it, so he didn’t, doubling down on his gaze.

“Oooooh, you are very bold. I think you are too bold. How long have you seen me here?” she asked, arms now crossed either in disbelief or indignation.

Any confidence Atam had stretched out to shield him from her assessment now snapped back, and he felt a pang in his stomach. He apologized and got up to return to his end of the bar but felt a long-nailed hand pulling at the back of his shirt.

“You are lucky that I need you, amor, because I would be hitting you otherwise. You are right, but not for the right reasons. I don’t want to drink alone because I want you to stay and spend time with my friends, and I need to tell you how this will work,” she said. She seemed to be pleading, but nothing save for her words gave any indication of that.

“I think you don’t need me,” Atam leaned in and muttered under his breath, “but I’m willing to try and be whatever it is that you do.”

Something I’m very excited about

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I’ve been off the grid a bit lately. Summer school is getting to me and I haven’t had a ton of time to dick around with WordPress, but I’ve been reading. And writing. A lot. And I’m very pleased with what I’ve been writing. There are many ideas that have stuck with me for years, but I’ve never had the courage to put something I’m passionate about on paper. Recently I did exactly that, and it felt exquisite. Truthfully, my enthusiasm for one idea in particular has reignited such that it is rather seriously affecting my ability to get said idea onto the page, but I’m trying. I’m posting a bit of it tomorrow evening, and I don’t want to spoil it by explaining everything like a poorly-timed joke. I find what I’ve written to be rather cinematic and speak for itself, but I’m also painfully aware that I’m most likely not communicating what I think I am through the page. Hopefully you fine folks will check it out. The support has been wonderful, especially feedback on the first bit of fiction I posted.

I’ve also managed to not post any articles as of late; I blame my excitement over the fiction I’ve been working on. Someone messaged me to request that I cover some comic book stories, which is something near and dear to my heart, and will most assuredly pop up in the “Articles” section soon. If anyone else wants a special article, shoot me a request, as I need ideas at the moment.

I’m excited to be back in the groove, mostly.

“The Bridge After Midnight”

Atam leaned against the wall of the alley behind the Cairo and lit a cigarette. He was grateful proper smoking had made a comeback. Vaping was a crime against nature. It was too easy, too sleek and clean, the apotheosis of nicotine consumption. He had known when the technology arrived, but it had taken others a decade or more to realize. To enjoy a cigarette with neither the immediate nor the long-term consequences… it flew in the face of God, who had made his own comeback of sorts. Vaping was gauche, but cigarettes were a respectable vice.

A damp, chilly breeze wafted past and got under his clothes, pulling Atam right out of his head. He’s never far when I light up, he thought. Down at the other end of the alley, the cold air coalesced into a tall, thin shadow that slowly approached him. As it moved closer, features began to take shape. First it was a bulky trench coat and a low, flat-brimmed fedora. Then a thin, gaunt face poked out from between the two. It was a man, or something like a man, but his form was composed out of nothing. Air, light, substance, all seemed to not be wherever he was. Once he was next to Atam in the alley, he looked up at him, and something that might have been a smile spread across his face. “Those aren’t your usuals. Royal Turks?” he asked.

“Turkish Royals. It’s okay to say it right,” Atam mumbled while looking at his feet.

“Well I take it you want to move forward with this, or you wouldn’t have flashed my bat signal this early in the evening,” the spectre nudged Atam, and where their arms touched a painful, icy cold spread up Atam’s right side. “What do you say we take a walk and figure out what we know?” the spectre motioned out of the alley. Atam didn’t nod or even indicate that he heard, but followed him out of the hallway of dilapidated brick.

As they walked through the port district towards a towering suspension bridge, the ghost tried to contain his excitement, but to no avail. “This is my wheelhouse, you know. Back before I was this, I was H. Jerod Vegaro, -“

“G-man,” Atam completed his sentence. “I know you’re going to have this cracked in no time, Hanley. But I need this to go slowly. Can you do that for me?” he asked.

“I suppose,” Hanley grumbled. “But let’s at least get the bones of this case on the table – “

“It’s not a case! I don’t even know why I’m doing this! She left me, Hanley. If she wanted me finding her, she wouldn’t have fucking disappeared,” Atam shouted, and then slumped on the curb and began to sob.

“Hey. You ain’t your woman. If you were, you’d be gone too. If I learned anything before I crossed over, it’s that you can always find another woman. A good one, too,” Hanley knelt beside him, eyeing the cigarette that Atam was trying to steady his hand in order to light. “I know this isn’t the best time, but do you mind if I..?”

Atam slumped even lower, his back making a C-shape as he lit the cigarette with his face pointed to the ground. “Go for it,” he mumbled between sobs.

Hanley rubbed his hands eagerly and slid inside Atam’s skin. He loved occupying a body. It was so warm. It didn’t matter whether it was the dead of winter; he could always feel the warmth blooming from Atam’s heart. That was how he knew the heart was more than a pump. It was warming up a damn ghost. He raised Atam’s hand and put the cigarette to his lips, taking a hearty drag. Smoking was the opposite of being dead. No damp or cold. Adam’s lungs and throat felt like wool socks drying in front of a wood stove. It was delicious.

Hanley retreated from Atam’s body, relishing the last few moments as Atam recovered from the brief but taxing possession. Atam writhed for a few seconds and gasped repeatedly as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He looked up at Hanley, once again ethereal, and his eyes were sunken and resentful. But as he regained his breath, they returned to sadness with a little of Atam’s usual apathy.

“Now,” said Hanley, turning to face the water so as to avoid Atam’s displeasure, “Tell me what you know – what you’re sure of in this whole ordeal.”

A Tuesday Afternoon “Sunday Morning” Update

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This post is a few days late. Sure enough, I broke my posting streak after only five days. I’m not too concerned or upset, though. This weekend was very busy, with a host of family events and my online classes in full swing. Only 10 weeks until I’m done with college! That is more exciting to me than anything else in my life right now. I enjoyed college, but the urge to move forward with my life and build something fo myself has grown too strong to sit around posting to discussion boards for 6 hours a day. This blog is hopefully a manageable first step in a writing career.

Even though I haven’t had time to sit and type up blog posts for a few days, my head is buzzing with ideas I can’t wait to get up. My first bit of longer fiction is going far better than I dared hope as well. I plan on posting a small fiction “snapshot” tonight and another article tomorrow. These “snapshots” will most likely be around 500 words and explore a small story idea to see if it’s worth putting into a longer story.

To those of you messaging me and offering such positive, motivational feedback, thank you! The blog has already been a tremendous motivator for my writing and you are the cherry on top.

An update from the first step of the staircase

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WOW. Two big posts down. I have more than met my word requirements goals for the first two days, but the regularity is still something that intimidates me. I never thought having a blog would encourage me to write so much. I have around 1,200 words down on my first big story – already exceeding my goal for something due more than a week out. I can comfortably say the writing portion of the blog is going well.

The blogging portion, however, is much harder than I expected. I realized that I didn’t remember nearly as much CSS as I thought I would, so here I am stuck using the basic themes, formats, and tools of WordPress – which aren’t bad by any means, but I can’t wait to get up to speed and make my site and posts really sparkle. Time to get back on Youtube and re-earn my unofficial web design certification.

In other news, I finished most of the short stories from Steven King’s Different Seasons, and I think I finally understand what it means to be a horror fan. In his stories, things are mostly okay until something is just a little bit too off, but that something can be grisly and terrifying, and it definitely won’t make enough sense to brush off. You’ll be shifting uncomfortably while rehashing the story in your head for at least a few days after you finish. I highly recommend “The Breathing Method”.

I’m also wanting to go on a little self-improvement kick as I start this blog off; I’m thinking of reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Let me know if you have any recommendations for similar books.

I hope to publish some actual story writing of mine in the next few days and I’m excited to get some feedback. Thank you to all who have tuned in so far, I hope to keep seeing your faces (gravatars?)! And happy Friday.

The persistence of the hero

We often look for media that is grounded and “relatable”, glossing over the millennia of personal drama present in our founding stories, and the way our existence prepares us to believe, relate to, and enjoy them.

Hercules might’ve been strong, but that didn’t stop the gods from ruining his day.

It’s easy to dismiss the fantastic. Especially in the era of information, poor-quality media surrounds and drowns us. The rise of fan fiction, the heaps of second-rate fantasy authors flooding the market, and the omnipresence of the Marvel blockbuster seems like it should be a great source of fatigue. Why, then, do we continue to eat this shit up? The answer is twofold. Firstly, the myths that modern pulp derives from are far more “relatable” than anyone wants to give them credit for, and secondly, modern popular and genre entertainment, from sci-fi to fantasy to comic books (and their movies), is simply the latest iteration of the same few stories being adapted and rehashed, ad nauseam.

Think for a moment about Hercules. Sure, he’s the son of Zeus, god of thunder. Your dad isn’t. But he probably thinks he is, and has acted like the dickhead Zeus we know from the myths at one point or another. Hercules is in your spot. His dad is an ass. Sure, he’s super strong. Insanely strong. He held the sky up for a spell. But Herc lives in a world of gods. The tasks he undertakes can’t be solved by strength alone. He has to use his wits. In that way, he’s the classic underdog, the shrimpy kid on the playground who has to pit the bullies against each other and hope he doesn’t get caught in the crossfire.

You know when life deals you a shit hand? Well Herc was playing at a table with a deck of twos and threes. Zeus’s wife, Hera, tried to kill him repeatedly from the moment he was born, and when he beat the odds and grew up, got married, and had kids, she couldn’t stand it, so she drove him mad and had him kill his family. Now stricken with grief, the gods sentence him to the famous Twelve Labors to atone for Hera’s crime. So Hercules, the underdog, still gets crushed underfoot, even though technically, he’s the best of us. Doesn’t that make you feel a little bit better about where you’re at knowing a demi-god had to basically earn a Medal of Honor, then win every major sports championship, and earn a Nobel Prize in every category just to break even? We aren’t just bugs getting smashed by metaphysical toddlers on a playground, we’re a bunches of Herc‘s.

Now tell me that Hercules isn’t still around. He was actually in a pretty recent movie. He went by Steve Rodgers in it, but I’m pretty sure that was our boy Herc. Think about it. Steve is the underdog. He’s the literal shrimpy kid on the playground. So he’s strong for a slightly different reason. Oh well. He does the hero thing, and fights for his country in World War II, eventually making the ultimate sacrifice. Well guess what? That’s not enough, because just like in Ancient Greece, life likes to throw curveballs at the undeserving.

Steve wakes up in a modern world he doesn’t recognize or particularly like. Everyone needs something from him, and he isn’t really allowed to say no. He must fight the good fight, often for people he doesn’t particularly agree with, like Nick Fury in The Winter Soldier, or Tony Stark in any film, because those people, the powers that be, won’t let him rest until there are no more bad guys, according to their definitions. And all he wants is to rest.

There’s a recipe to all this, you see. The strong man can’t get by on just his strengths. This is a tale that’s been rehashed more times than can be counted, and every new iteration adds another version to the canon that we are all raised to know. Steve Rodgers didn’t come straight out of Hercules, and Hercules wasn’t even the first. Before him, there was Gilgamesh, who had to learn to be a wise king and not just a mighty warrior. Steve Rodgers isn’t even the first American version of the tale. Remember all of the weird feats attributed to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? What about John Henry, the strongest, fastest steel-driver ever to work for the railroad? He had to work faster than the damn steel-driving machine just so the company would leave him alone and allow him to collect his paycheck. We’ve been through this cul-de-sac many times, and we will return to it many more.

Big Time in the Jungle – Kurtz and Tyler Durden as masculine misfits


Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness isn’t just a critique of imperialism – it’s a commentary on masculinity and its place in society.

With the exception of Hamlet, I have read Heart of Darkness more than any other book. I like to think I know it fairly well. Unlike Hamlet, which peaked in my affections around the second or third read and now, at 6 careful read-throughs, is an object of great loathing, Heart of Darkness always seems to have something more for the reader. The first time I read Heart of Darkness was in high school, and i hated it. The weird narrative structure, the incessant philosophical tangents, Kurtz existing in general – it wasn’t for me. But by the second read, I had come around to understanding why it is great, and on the third read, it became my favorite book, only unseated last year by The Master and Margarita. I thought I would write my first blog post about something I love to make things easier.

“In the world I see you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center ” – Tyler Durden

Some important context: This was my first time reading HoD since reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, something that brought Conrad’s book into a totally new critical light for me. Palahniuk’s sexy, quotable Mr. Hyde is Tyler Durden, the narrator’s evil split personality and sometime alter ego, who wages a war against the materialism of 1990’s America by inducting other disenfranchised men into an underground fight club that becomes increasingly cult-like as it fights back against the world telling its members that they are the sum of their possessions.

Tyler Durden dreams of a world where the alpha male is not the most educated, or the richest, or a fortunate son, but the mightiest hunter, the classical conqueror, the silverback. He is unsuccessful in the modern world and so desires a return to form – to an era where seizing power is not only accepted and viable, but respected. He wishes to fight for his supremacy, as he is sure can beat the shit out of those Wall Street boys with their silky shirts and boat shoes and steal the supermodels from their sides. Tyler believes himself to be the prime example of manhood as defined by the world he lives in, and is incensed that the “real man” is not what makes for a successful person in today’s society. In short, he’s tired of playing someone else’s game.

“All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” – Marlow

Fight Club does not allow Tyler to successfully create a splinter society, so we never see the classical conqueror in action. Kurtz, however, inhabits a microcosm where his brutality is a boon. Working as an agent in Africa collecting ivory for import to Europe, Kurtz is unlike others in his field. He is highly praised and extremely successful, obtaining more ivory for his company than any other agent. However, he is secretive, always in the field and seldom returning from “the heart of darkness” to reap the fruits of his labor. As the narrator, Marlow, learns more in his quest to locate Kurtz and bring him home, he comes to understand that the other Europeans in Africa hold Kurtz at arm’s length, and that something is not right about the man. They are happy to leave him to his own devices as long as the ivory keeps flowing in, but it has stopped, and they want him brought in.

When Marlow discovers Kurtz in a remote African village far down the river, it is Tyler Durden’s fantasy played out, to the horror of the narrator’s Victorian sensibilities: Kurtz has conquered and subjugated the entire village, who worship him as a god. He has the heads of disobedient natives mounted on sharpened sticks around his dwelling, and they bring him tithes of ivory to remain in his good graces. Kurtz views his conquest and his ivory as the rewards of his own blood and sweat, staunchly refusing to return to “civilization” with Marlow. He refuses to continue to be a cog in another man’s machine, only receiving a small portion of the profits from his labor. Kurtz’s rejection of the company that gives him cause to stay out in the “heart of darkness” is the last in a long list of rejections of the trappings of civilized life, and he dies refusing to return.

Heart of Darkness provides the perfect setting for Tyler Durden’s fantasy to play out through the lens of a “civilized” individual because of the enormous developmental gap of the Victorian era; Marlow, experiencing Africa for the first time, with its vast swaths of untouched land, regards it as a primitive, savage place, the titular “heart of darkness”, where the light of civilization has yet to touch. His Eurocentric, ultimately racist conclusions about the place provide the perfect dichotomy with which to explore the role of classical masculinity. Kurtz is afforded considerable social capital because of his effectiveness in the capitalist machine, the very machine that Tyler Durden rejects. The Victorian era was one of the first where capitalism afforded real social mobility, and it became both a trend and a concern, with novels like Great Expectations dealing with the varying reactions to individuals of “new money”, and English aristocracy sheepishly marrying their daughters to wealthy American industrialists of low birth. Though more concerned than any previous era with the accumulation of wealth, Victorian Europe was still obsessed with its own notion of civilization: the term “gentleman” could now apply to a commoner, and social norms dictated that both men and women strive to be exemplars of civility. Classic masculinity gave way to values such as piety, education, and discretion. Kurtz only succeeds by acting as a classical conqueror because his behavior is deemed profitable by his company. Seeing himself as subordinate to no man, Kurtz embraces Durden’s philosophy by shaking off the chains of his employer to enjoy the full product of his labor (his ivory hoard) because he is seduced by the primal intoxication that his newfound position as the alpha male provides, a position that Tyler only partially carves out for himself as the leader of the Fight Club.