David A. Harvey
"Polymethoxy Bicycylic Oxazolide," Aaron stands
on the sweating tile in the bathroom. After a three day vampire
cycle of smoking, scanning the cable band, and avoiding showers,
his head is a dull circle of pain. The ingredient lists on Jennifer's
cosmetics are starting to seem like they hold the mysteries of
the universe. His reflection in the mirror is bisected by a dusty
plane of light which cuts in from behind a skeletal mimosa tree
outside the bathroom window. Aaron traces the molecular structure
of one of the ingredients on the mirror while the cat claws a
ripping staccato on the tasseled belt of Jennifer's smoking jacket.
The day breathes dank and over-warm through a crack in the
glass. Aaron picks his shirt away from where it has stuck to his
back. He stumps out to the kitchen, cranks a burner to light a
cigarette. The sweet smell of gas hangs in the air.
Returning to his cable monitoring station on the couch, Aaron
fumbles in the cushions and comes up with half of a stale Winston.
He flips through the channels: An episode of Trapper John he's
seen four times in the past week, three SoloFlex adds, a nun and
a Franciscan monk on the religious channel, a man setting fire
to a revolutionary car-wax substitute on Amazing Discoveries.
Aaron bounces himself off of the couch, moves to the wall.
In front of him, Cigarettes of the World. A Mercatorial projection
of the globe, onto which half smoked cigarettes are glued to their
geographical and metaphorical origins. He pulls a half smoked
Salem off of Massachusetts and inhales around the clump of glue
on the filter.
Time is still running out for Saddam Hussein, the phone and
light bills are still overdue, and Bush is still fishing.
Night has settled down on its haunches, like an old dog climbing
into its favorite chair. Gunshots crack like springs in the distance,
a siren wheezes up the block, and he hears the jingle of an ice-cream
truck. Sleep is not even a marginal option. He's got to get out.
A shower, chemicals to harden his hair, a carton of cigarettes,
and forty-eight straight hours later, Aaron is sitting, back to
the wall in an overcrowded diner cum nightclub. He'd slammed out
of the apartment and into a stultifying wall of parties, and after
hours bars. The headache is gone, replaced by a tunnel of trace
images: a dream movie in cartoon. An underage girl, shirtless,
rubbing up against two naked, tattooed Goth-punk boys. A table
full of sloppy mouthed sorority girls. A DJ, high up in a glass
booth swinging his long hair in time to the music. A montage:
glazed eyes, affect, and wannabe carnality.
A balding man with a chemo-therapy Fu Manchu and a pucker
sleeved T puts a hand on an empty black plastic chair at Aaron's
"Narcolepsy, you know, sleep-walking," he says,
as he drags the chair back into the crowd.
Aaron stares at a plate of undercooked huevos rancheros. He
picks at a loose piece of faux-marble Formica on the lip of the
The noise level is immense.
"Mir, Russian for peace, the soviets are putting up a
space station, and we can't even get congress to fund a space-dog
house," a mid-level executive type says, swigging a fluorescent
aqua drink from the perfect cone of a Martini glass
A necklace of broken glass punctuated by a dog-chewed baseball
on the futon is what Aaron sees when he walks in the door.
No lights, and the red tag on the floor in front of the door
tells him that the light company is very sorry but he wasn't home
when they tried to collect, and to check this box to give a dollar
to operation LightLine.
Ten candles, and a scorched thumb and index finger, bring
some semblance of incandescence into the living room. Aaron is
oozed onto the couch staring at the dead-eye of the TV.
He is as heavy and cold as a crash landed meteor. His face
ghost-lit by the candles in the tube. Despite the sultry liquid
air, he shivers. In one motion he sweeps a blanket around his
shoulders and claws the phone into his lap. Cradling the receiver
on his shoulder, he cocoons himself in the blanket. He's punched
all but one digit of Jennifer's motel when he realizes that the
phone is dead.
The night is starting to bleed from the first injuries of
dawn when Aaron rocks to his feet, and boomerangs the blanket
and phone onto the spill of glass under the window.
Behind its paint-stained door, the refrigerator is coming
to life. Aaron retrieves a pint bottle of carrot juice, drains
it, and shudders. `Saturday, maybe Sunday,' he thinks, `nobody
Armed with hammers, screw drivers and insulated gloves, Aaron
confronts the red-tagged electric meter on the back of the house.
He's on the verge of either major felony, electrocution, or both,
when he notices the meter for the apartment next-door. The black
stripe on the flywheel edges painfully from left to right.
A short chisel and drill session between a closet from the
vacant apartment into his bathroom, and he's cannibalized six
outlets, a telephone line, and a live cable TV feed.
A Target and Fiesta run yields three stair-climbs worth of
supplies, and drop-offs for the bills.
Aaron blacks out the windows with shower curtains, and lays
a week's worth of cigarettes, coffee, canned, and ready-to-eat
foods into the kitchen.
He splices the cable feed through the VCR and into the stereo.
While blasting the hyper-pulse of Yo! MTV Raps, he is visited
by the demon of cleanliness.
Beyond the shower curtains, daylight hovers, mosquito-like.
Inside, the apartment has gone into twenty-four hour time. Aaron
shoulders out the door with the last of six Steel-Sacs and casts
it onto the pyre by the curb. He pauses a moment by a carton of
books, and picks up a battered Neurobiology primer. He hesitates.
Hoists the box, and ports it up the stairs and into the depths
of a walk-in closet.
After a shower, he sits at the kitchen table, eating a can
of field peas. The Cantonese phrase book is propped open in front
of him. The phone rings. He remembers not to answer.
He calls Jennifer. Catches her on her way out to one of the
openings of her three week road show throughout the southwest.
The conversation leaves him empty. He stalks the apartment. Wonders
about how he can go through months of near-constant sleep, and
now, seventy-two hours awake, and his neurons seem permanently
Aaron stands by the TV, considering his design. Sprouting
off of the couch is a U-shaped enclave. A mound of pillows just
in front of the couch defines the back, the arms consist, on one
side, of the tea-crates, and on the other of a row of milk-crates
overlaid with a sheet of glass from the stereo cabinet. In the
U's mouth is a vintage Royal typewriter balanced on the chassis
of his computer--Thesis Eater, dead eye of a screen, drool of
melted disk spilling out of the mouth of its drive.
After pecking out a page, the computer proves too low, so
Aaron underlays the Royal with a stack of the Journal
of Pharmacology, and FrameWorks
magazines. Every time he hits a key, the magazines slip forward
on the over-clean floor and Aaron follows along. By the time he's
powered out five pages of screenplay, he's almost inside the TV.
Exhaustion hits like a hyper-accelerated time-lapse film of
a flower transitioning from seed to bloom to decay. Everything
is at the wrong angle, his clothes cinch and bind. Aaron nods
off three times before he hits the bed. Behind him a trail of
clothes. He falls into a geometry of dark massive shapes moving
against each other.
Aaron awakes to near-fatal heat and blinking clocks. His body
is lead. Handicaps, Aaron thinks, Harrison Bergeron.
A gut wrenching sixteen-ounce tumbler of coffee removes the
weight, intensifies the heat. He reverses his essential-services-guerrilla
That their own power and phone are connected at least confirms
that it's a weekday. CNN: fire-red logo, "Crisis in the Gulf,"
Thursday, January 11.
"Where were you?" Jennifer is saying, "And
what happened to the machine--I know the phone, but I thought
Monday was reconnect."
"Sleep like death," Aaron says fingering an unopened
pack of Davidoffs.
"You weren't . . ."
"No, no drinking. I did the club scene, got bored. Worse."
Aaron rips the plastic cover off the cigarettes, rolls one between
his index finger and thumb, moves it up to his ear. No crackling--fresh.
"Writing. Screenplay. I wasn't going to tell you; surprise.
But . . ."
"It's about fucking time," is Jennifer's response.
They talk some business; segue into a torsion of phone-sex.
After a shower, clean sweatpants and a Public Enemy T-shirt,
more coffee, a can of hominy, and megadoses of vitamins, Aaron
is beset by optimism. He rolls the feeling around his gut, as
he stands in front of the uncovered window above the kitchen sink,
smoking and watching a blue-jay dive bomb the cat. For her part,
the cat sits in an attitude of contemptuous obliviousness to the
jay's efforts. Her right paw rest on something green, tailless,
and her tail flicks from right to left. The tableau is framed
by the naked curve of a crepe myrtle branch.
Aaron's optimism lasts into the living room, until he picks
up the five pages stacked on the glass covered milk-crates.
They're bad. Really bad. Worse than amateur. Heaviness climbs
Aaron thinks about the time he was hired to remove an old
coal boiler. Expecting something vaguely hi-tech, he was led into
the basement. It was cast-iron, squat, about seven feet tall.
The foreman handed Aaron a fifteen pound maul, smiled and left.
He tears the pile of pages into neat rectangles. Tapes them
back together. Eases back into the U. Rolls in a new page. Pushes
Aaron does his time of duty with a gravidity which tributes
the most menial of work ethics. Looking out the uneven glass of
the kitchen onto a liquid day, Aaron sees the tailless lizard
running across a phone wire. It pauses, turns its head to face
him, opens pre-historic jaws, shudders and puffs out a crimson
bubble of skin.
The pile of screenplay thickens. The supplies dwindle. He
becomes a spectator in an all-night supermarket. His fingers know
only the keys of the typewriter, the buttons of the channel changer,
and the combination of digits to Jennifer's latest motel. He spills
change and wrinkled bills on the counter. The checker turns suddenly,
and sprints out the plate glass doors. He reappears pushing a
rigid postured man in high-tops, navy T.
"You don't steal from anybody, no more," says the
checker, brandishing an off-brand plastic bag filled with clothes
and two cartons of cigarettes.
"Hey," Aaron says, watching his words tumble out,
"Hey. He had those when he came in here. I saw. Had them."
"I suppose you'd say that, I suppose you'd even testify
Clipboard cop, checker, and manager fix upturned looks on
Aaron. The victim's eyes are dead.
"Yeah, I suppose I would." A faint smirk, nod of
the head from dead-eyes, and he's gone into the night.
The cashier is almost spitting with rage as he takes Aaron's
money, slams it into the drawer.
The cop stops mid-stride, turns on Aaron, "I suppose
you think you're some kind of Robin Hood. Some damned gut-less
liberal Ted Kennedy. Well, you're no Ted Kennedy. And when he
goes out and kills somebody, I'll come find you. You're the criminal."
The cop exhales through a cloud of bad-father breath.
Aaron is glad he'd driven halfway across the industrial wasteland
of Houston, on a whim. He skanks home, now, through back streets,
unable to shake the hunted-dog feeling of pursuit.
"The toddler hesitated on the steps. He failed to stride
down, rather, he put one foot on a step, then brought down the
other foot next to it, before proceeding. This is clearly a sign
of insecurity and lack of development, and an automatic failure."
The director of a pre-school is telling a CNN correspondent about
one part of their admissions test. "If you think we're unique,
I suggest you take a look around you. Our society will no longer
tolerate the coddling and lax strategies promulgated by Dr. Spock--strategies
which are so clearly indicative of a dangerous generation of underachievers."
Jennifer reports in with new motel.
"Well, is it theory or practice?" she asks.
"No theory. None. I've burnt the Eisenstein, pilloried
the Derrida, and foreshortened the Baudrillard."
"Okay, Jen. Take your cheap shots, now. Theory is where
"Uh-huh. Scene one," Jennifer assumes the monotone
of recitation, "a montage. We see a stop sign. Close up of
a foot pressing a brake. Stop sign. Car shooting through intersection.
Man reading Derrida, upside down. Battleship sinking. Stop sign.
This is exactly the same shit you were doing when you quit writing.
Remember, if I'm going to do theory, I might as well do something
which saves lives? Whatever happened to, `Just tell the story.'
"Come on, Jennifer, like Founding Mothers isn't theory--or
is that somehow exempted."
"Sure, theory is there, afterwards, when you look at
it. I didn't start out intending to distill Julie Kristeva into
"You were still aware. I mean, I don't see the difficulty
of film which attempts a dialogue with the conceptualizations
of some of today's leading thinkers."
"Jesus, Aaron, listen to yourself, `Duh, George can I
play with the critics now, I'll hold them and pet them, huh George?'--get
"I did keep the foot and stop sign thing, but you're
right, I've pretty much decided to scrap most of the old idea."
"See, you do have better sense, somewhere, as long as
you keep off your big old soapbox. How's that Cantonese coming?
I'm up to the chapter on Organized Social Activities."
"Fine. The shows? Sales? Fame?"
"This one was worse than the last. I got the, `Well damn-it,
if women weren't there, they weren't there?' The whole problem
with you academic communists and your politically correct thinking
is that you're trying to make us believe lies."
"You're expecting maybe Arthur Danto in San Antonio?"
"Something less than extremes. On the other side, I had
about six proposals to participate in some kind of all-female
group consciousness raising."
"Can I come?"
Aaron drives the typewriter to the TV and back to the couch.
A track is beginning to show in the floor. He's nearing the end
of the screenplay. Last count gave him sixty plus pages. The days
move by the kitchen window like recurrent images on a kinethetiscope.
And suddenly the skies of Baghdad turn into a Bastille day
show. Bernard Shaw is screaming. Words come flooding into existence.
Gas masks become as familiar as car keys. The CNN logo changes
from Crisis to War in the Gulf.
In the daguerreotype lighting of the apartment, Aaron's typing
slows. His fingers dance over the remote controller. Tracers,
Stealth Bombers, grinning pilots slip across the TV's convex window.
The screenplay, three scenes from the end, seems thin and inadequate
next to the listing tower of magazines, newspapers and TV guides.
Scenes from Panama. A journalist with a bullet hole through
the left lens of his glasses, dead civilians in clear plastic
bags. A documentary about Grenada.
Aaron is not awake, he is not sleepwalking. He is walking
through a tunnel: the sides converge into a focused point of coherent
light. Transfixed. The only thing that registers are stopped-frame
images of the war unspooling on the canvas of his mind. He rides
the crests and valleys of mood and information, an idiot surfer
fighting the tube.
By the second day of hostilities, the war has been configured
into a made for TV rhythm. At about four, Aaron locks in on CNN.
Calculating that this will give him two hours before the prime
time missiles, he sifts through the inner belt of the crescent
which has sprawled out from the U, relegating the least recently
used debris to the outer band.
A storm trooper knock at the door. "Light bill,"
he thinks, half rising, "solicitor." The knocking fades.
Aaron returns to his sorting.
With the tenacity of a migraine, the pounding starts again.
A Kool filter dislodges from New York, and slides to the floor.
For the eighth time of the day, Peter Arnett is backlit by the
Baghdad sky. Aaron pulls himself to the door. Ham fist in mid-pound,
a man in a brown uniform with short pants, muscles falling victim
to gravity and eyes that wannabe in Iraq stands slapping a clipboard
against his thigh.
"UPS", he snaps the clipboard at Aaron, "Line
57. Just wake up?" UPS snaps his head back and forth on his
spinal column. Bones clatter like artillery.
UPS dislodges a stack of packages from his two wheeled cart,
one of them slides off, knocks Aaron against the door frame.
"Sorry," UPS says, moving away.
Cross legged on the floor of the dining room, surrounded by
the spoils of overnight delivery, Aaron decodes Vernon's hieroglyphic
scrawl on the shipping label. With a genuine circa 1977 Ginsu
knife, he carefully slits the tape covering the top flaps of the
largest package. The cat stalks the boxes, sniffing the edges
warily, and rubbing her scent glands on each corner.
The knife has a twelve inch serrated blade, but no point.
Aaron slices into more tape. The knife slides slowly across the
fleshy ball of his ring finger. He watches as blood forms a perfect
ridge, diagonally across the loops and whorls. It tastes gunmetal,
A snowfield of Styrofoam peanuts fly across the floor as he
extracts a shrink wrapped box out of the carton. Toshiba, it says,
Personal Computer 2200SXE.
Several more boxes, and a detailed instruction sheet from
Vernon have the computer humming--its blue-black screen spooling
files. Aaron presses the power button on the TV-sized monitor
Vernon has sent along with it. It flickers to life with a hum
and a pop. He types the command listed last on the instruction
sheet. Mandala like fractals draw Aaron into a seductive tunnel
of color and shape.
The phone rings. A high pitched whine. Another ring. More
whining, then Vernon.
"Don't you have a separate phone line? Didn't you follow
the instructions. Wait, oh, you have to disable the internal modem,
that one's okay, but it doesn't go as fast as the other one."
"Nice to talk to you, too, Dad. It doesn't get the screenplay."
"Screenplay? Did I hear screenplay?"
"Yeah, it's nothing, though. Just some time wasting stupidity.
I gotta prepare that Vegas thing soon, anyway."
"Aaron, I . . ." Vernon checks himself.
"You know, those fractal-things are really cool, though.
Great colors," says Aaron
"You have the one I sent? I spent hours getting that
"It's beautiful, Dad, kinda like a Chinese butterfly
in outer space or something. Speaking of China, did you mail me
my birth certificate? It's passport time."
"I had to get a notarized copy made. Think Monday, or
something. Now what about that extra phone line? The whole point
here is so we can link up."
"Well, I think I can cannibalize the neighbors phone,
they moved out, but left it on. There's a war on, you know?"
"That's the point. So hurry, would you, the SCUD raids
are going to start and I've got to link the other computer into
the wire services."
"Okay, call back on 555-2687 in five."
"Oh, and Dad? Thanks. I mean this is really nice this
computer. You can really just take it anywhere? I mean, five hours
of battery life?"
"Ten with the extra battery pack."
This time when the phone rings there's a burst of static following
by submarine noises. A picture of Vernon appears in a window on
the drive-in movie-sized monitor.
"Hi." scrolls onto the screen. "Too bad you
don't got the TV hooked into your monitor like I do. You watching
CNN? Watch this. Click on the little icon that looks like a mouth,
then click on the little icon that looks like an ear." Aaron
complies. The computer grinds. Vernon's voice booms out of the
speakers, "Get a Radio Shack mic, then you can do this too."
"Wow," Aaron types back. "That's something."
Aaron glances out through the uncovered crack of window above
the air conditioner. A pregnant woman with a highball glass walks
an Australian Shepherd and a Benji-dog. She speaks forcefully
into a cellular phone through a lipless mouth.
"Do you like this program?" Vernon scrolls, "I
wrote it. All of it."
"Since when?" types Aaron.
"Used to do a little bit in college, and always wanted
to get back to it. Nothing major, here, just added together some
stuff I found and wrote a few routines."
"I really like the sound and pictures."
"SCUD sighted over Jerusalem. Hold on," comes Vernon's
Aaron waits with dim remembrances of Walter Cronkite reading
the nightly death toll. A baby in a crib sealed with clear plastic,
in a room sealed with clear plastic and tape, surrounded by a
family in rubber aardvark masks. One of the new heroes, Charles
Jaco, screams `GAS,' hands off the lapel mic to his partner, dives,
and comes up with a gas mask; the partner resubmerges wearing
a helmet straight out of Hogan's Heroes. Patriots and SCUDs streak
across the night sky in Israel.
"Nothing on the wire services, yet, but a Ham on one
of the bulletin boards I look in on says that they're over Tel
Aviv, as well as Dahrain."
"What I wonder," types Aaron, "is if we haven't
vastly underestimated Saddam Hussein, if he isn't holding something
up his sleeve."
"I doubt it, Aaron."
"Yeah, well, I don't know, Dad. I'm worried, he seems
more cunning than that. All he has to do is survive . . ."
"Oh, Aaron, don't you think this Hussein bolstering is
just the media improving their ratings?"
"Sure, infotainment. After this who's going to want movies?
Who's going to want books. We've got a government with a budget
a million times greater than Hollywood. But, still . . ."
"Slow down, Son, something had to be done about Hussein.
Face it, what he's done is criminal, disturbing, at least. Besides,
once you've compared someone to Hitler, once you've shown footage
of Americans waiting in line for gas, war is a necessary recourse.
Hold on, got an AP feed coming in."
In a few moments, punctuated by the cat's scuttlings amongst
the packing materials and a CNN montage of broken buildings and
crooked limbs--AP newswire text streams across Aaron's screen.
The house phone rings, Aaron grabs it, typing, "hold
on, gotta phone call here."
"It's a cartoon," Aaron says to Jennifer, who is
on the line from Sante Fe. "A cartoon. None of it is real."
"Tell that to the Hefty-bags full of little Iraqi limbs."
The sound of Jennifer scratching a match into life, "and
to the Israeli kids who are suffocating in their gas-masks, huh."
"Surgical strikes, warthogs, this war is really sexy,"
"Better than Die-Hard.
Do you have a conscience left? Or have you become some aspirin-brained
"It's still seductive. Hold on, Vernon is telling me--oh,
he sent me this computer, and we're like typing to each other--Vernon
is saying that this war is necessary, inevitable."
"Given America: I'd agree." Jennifer coughs, "It's
all idiocy, really. Protesters driving to their `blood for oil'
rallies, flag-wavers dredging up `Hanoi Jane.' "
"You know what scares me the most? Close your eyes. Listen
to Schwartzkopf. Is that not the voice of Karl Malden you hear?"
"Yeah, Dad," Aaron mutters as he types, "are
they one and the same?"
"Yo! Aaron, I realize that the galactic star killer which
lurks in all men is greatly excited by the conflagration of technology
and violence here, but do you think I could have a few moments
of your time?"
"Sorry, Jen . . . hold it, SCUDs have been sighted over
Tel-Aviv. Aaron flicks up the volume. Yes! A patriot nailed a
Through the whorls and fading of hundreds of transcontinental
telephone switches, Jennifer says, "You are a SCUD."
She pauses, mumbles, "A guy from MoMA wanted some of my work."
Clicks from Aaron's keyboard. A beat.
"MoMA? The MoMA? You showed? Today? That's great, I'm
really proud. Hold on, let me tell Vernon."
"Don't worry, they'll probably back out, though."
"What, sorry, Jen, the TV. What did you say?" More
clicking. A retired general shows an animation of a patriot killing
a SCUD. The cat starts from her roost on top of the TV, phase
shifts across the room twisting in mid-flight and landing atop
an ashtray which rattles and overturns. Aaron watches the ashes
hang in the cube of light between him and the TV.
"Gee, thanks." Jennifer's voice is tired, fading.
"You sound tired. Hey, did you know that those Stealth
bombers use video cameras to remotely aim their bombs?"
Aaron steps through the cube of light. Moves to stand in front
of cigarettes of the world. Runs his finger over Sante Fe. The
Iraqi national anthem comes booming out of the speakers attached
to the PC.
"Yeah, I'm tired, all right. Gotta sleep. Sounds like
you better get back to your war."
"Come on, Jen. You'll be here in three days."
"Yeah, you're right. I'm just tired."
"Okay, I love you."
The phone clicks. The anthem continues, a video of two professional
wrestlers with Bush and Hussein's heads superimposed on them gyrates
around the screen.
"Cool graphics Dad, listen, I just heard they've issued
the all clear, and Arnett won't be on for another hour. I gotta
go and get some food. Do I leave this thing hooked up?"
"Sure, just press the button that looks like a horn,
it'll send me a signal."
When Aaron gets back from a quick run to a Tacqueria, he tries
Jennifer's motel in Sante Fe.
There is no answer.
Aaron makes a circuit of the living room, holding the phone.
Dropping it on the chair, he moves to the window, pulls back the
shower curtain, and leans his forehead against the sweating glass.
He looks out on a vacant lot punctuated by a bank foreclosure
sign. Above and beyond the aperture of the street, the cyclopean
eye of the searchlight on the Transco tower.
He returns to stand over the U. Picks up the screenplay. The
pages feel wrong in his hand, the words are unfamiliar. A replay
of death on the TV.
The sound and smell of electronics hangs in the air. Aaron
re-enters the U. His fingers are heavy on the keys, incapable
of finding a word.
The phone does not ring.