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David A. Harvey

Foreclosure

"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 table.

"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 table.

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 open. Tools.'

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 jacked-up.

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 action.

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 back in.

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 on.

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 to that."

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."

"Progress."

"Okay, Jen. Take your cheap shots, now. Theory is where it's at."

"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 Latex."

"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 a life."

"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?" Aaron inquires.

"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?"

"With surgery."

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, acidic.

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 right."

"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."

"Will do."

"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 reply.

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," Aaron says.

"Better than Die-Hard. Do you have a conscience left? Or have you become some aspirin-brained flag-waver?"

"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?" Aaron asks.

"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 SCUD--what fireworks!"

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.

Foreclosed.

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.

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