Remember way back in 2003 when George Bush Jr, not to be outdone by Bushy Sr, invaded Iraq with a bunch of trumped-up lies to get the 'Murican public salivating and flag-waving in support of "our boys?" And then we patriotically bombed a lot of civilians, and a few actual soldiers, while looting the country of its wealth and antiquities, before destroying everything in sight and leaving rubble, chaos and hatred of America in our wake? And then for even more fun we threw in a side gig over in Afghanistan, just to make sure the chaos and instability would be good and widespread, and lasting (absolutely FAB for industrial-criminal-military-kleptocratic business don't you know)?
Of course you remember! After all it's still going on today, stronger than ever. For your reading pleasure, or perhaps for your despair at how little things change, is a piece written by Jody during the 2nd Iraq war.
Oh, and to all you good, god-fearin', flag-wavin', muslim-hatin' citizens, a word of advice: Whenever you go to war with some country, a decade later there will be scads of folks from there coming here, so never, ever go to war against someone you don't want moving in next door.
We're all very scared about the persistent threat of Anthrax in our little town of Shoreline, WA., and today I went down to be fitted for my very first gas mask. It was quite difficult; my right hand is in a cast from over-enthusiastic flag waving but I finally managed to try on a mask that fits (see picture) and also brought a nice one home for my neighbor, Miranda Nussbaum (pronounced noose-bomb).
Was she grateful? Not hardly! She right away began croaking about things I don't want to hear, like, "Don't these dummies know that George I killed one million Iraqi children and now George II is going for two mil?"
"Now, Miranda," I said soothingly. I brought her her CARE dinner and we were dining together on her tiny balcony that overlooks the Shoreline Courthouse Building. We were watching the Mayor and his staff going in and out with petitions to escalate the war in Afghanistan in hopes of ending the depression in the U.S. (oops! I didn't mean to say the D-word; it just slipped out).
But Miranda wouldn't be soothed. She gulped her chicken soup greedily, saying, "Don't they know that when you kill innocent people, no matter how sweetly your government presents it to you, you are still subject to the laws of karma?"
"Now, Miranda!" I reproved, "what would you know about the laws of karma, you're a Jewish lady!" Then I laughed brightly to take the sting off my words.
"And another thing," she growled. "They interviewed a lot of psychiatrists on TV and most of them said: 'The men who destroyed those buildings were NOT psychotic.' Are those shrinks nuts? What is their definition of the word 'psychotic'? Mine is, any person who wants to do harm to others chronically. But those dolts--they can't define the words they use and they have no technology for curing anything at all; their cure ratio is exactly the same as for witch doctors, did you know that, Smarty-Pants?" (That's what Miranda calls me when I seem to be calmer and wiser than she is, which she hates.) "And they can haul you away and give you shock treatments or a lobotomy and destroy your brain in a heartbeat and the Government licenses them to do this--and they don't know a psycho from a turnip farmer, were you aware of that? I'm with Sam Goldwyn! Sam said 'Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined.' What's for dessert?"
"No dessert till you finish your haddock cutlets," I reproved, chewing.
We ate in silence for a few minutes. Then Miranda said, "And they brag about how much they pray. Do you have any idea what God REALLY thinks of such hypocrites? Why, she told me--"
"Ready for your blueberry compote?" I called gaily on my way to the tiny kitchen. It's Miranda's favorite and serving it is the surest way I know to shut her big, blabbering mouth. We went to high school together you know, and the last thing she said before I left was:
"This war stinks, do they think they are 'punishing' the men who blew up those buildings and who are safely dead, by raining bombs day and night upon innocent women and children and animals and pets? Think they give a fuck how many women we kill? Why those Fundamentalist goons hate and despise women, they are not only misogynists (like most people in this country when you scratch their surface) but are absolute gynophobes! Gynophobes? Look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. It means they LOATHE women. They WANT women dead. We're doing them a favor by bombing women-- Oh, you're leaving now? Thanks for the dinner, sweetie, see you tomorrow, this war stinks but I'm forced to agree with you that from my perspective up here on my tiny balcony, high school was worse."
In 1978 Passing for Human was published.
Also published that year was Natural Shocks by Richard Stern.
Jody died at the age of 84. Richard Stern died at the age of 84 a few years later.
Stern was called by the New Republic, "the best American author of whom you have never heard." Jody was called by the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction "The best unknown science fiction writer."
Random, insignificant coincidences to be sure, and interesting only because in 1978 Jody was also writing reviews of books and one of the books she reviewed was Natural Shocks.
Her career as a book reviewer was short-lived. She kept telling the truth about what she perceived as slice-em-off schlock being foisted upon the reading public by publishers and the toadying literary press. But as various book review editors kept trying to explain to Jody before firing her, 'our function is to sell books.'
Here is Jody's review of Natural Shocks by Richard Stern:
"Celebrity," writes Richard Stern, "is the vengeance of the unfamous. They turn the famous into stage settings. It's a way of paralyzing them."
Maybe this is what happened to Stern himself. He has been supported by Guggenheims and Rockefellers, has been gorged with plums and approval. His dustjacket fluoresces with praise from Bellow, Burgess, Richler, Roth, the roster of men who, because there are no Fitzgeralds or Steinbecks around today, are at the top of the American heap.
Did any of them really read this book? Roth tells us that Stern exhibits "a sweet purity of felling." I'd say he has about as much feeling as a piece of Portnoy liver. the only time the hero Wursup feels anything much, is when he discovers that his dying girlfriend's hair has all fallen out after her hospital treatment. What he "feels" then is a semi-prurient survivory thrill.
And Stern is no Camus delineating "lack of feeling" with a powerful grace; he's just another drudge mastering a few dull routines and repeating them for audiences who don't demand any better. His skill in developing a character runs to, "Dolly was a woman of rough intelligence, but the intelligence produced nothing but malice, like a machine which undoes at one end what it assembled at another."
Here is Stern describing a character he really loves, a rancidly "brainy" lecturer at Columbia: "There was Benny, in his party outfit, his great persimmon head coming from a steak-colored turtleneck... Benny had been chewing a salami; there were meat flecks on his large lips, and he exhaled spicy aromas."
Stern's male characters are blubbery fatcats, his women are wind-up dolls. ("Perfect little teeth spread in her wonderful cheeks, gleaming amidst the small lights hopping off her desk.") A good novel should enhance life (even if by satirizing it mercilessly as a Burroughs does) but for me, Stern and his admirers have the whole thing reversed: they strip the life from life and leave a slimy coldness that reeks of emptiness.
I contend that this honors-encrusted tribe of mendicants has been over-pampered for years. They are accepting the gravy without doing the honest work. Natural Shocks is a thoroughly rotten novel. It is a Book of the Month Club Alternate selection. This may say something about the state of "letters" in our country today.
Jody speaks truths still all-too-relevant today in a searing, prescient essay penned during the Bush presidency.
It's the fight of the century ladies and gents!
In this corner at 440 pounds in brand new, designer satin red-white-and-blue trunks--AMERICA! And in that corner at 40 and one-eighth pounds, crummy, smelly, freezing to death with every rib sticking out, wearing a disgustingly dirty loincloth--AFGHANISTAN.
Oh boy, at last we're all happy. We love a good fight; a good fight proves how brave we are.
Without a good, exciting war our lives are suddenly seen to be empty, pointless, wearisome, unbearable and when you come right down to it--utterly meaningless, so thank God (or the tooth fairy) for this brave new war of ours.
We were all happy when our Leader announced "War is declared"--never mind that only Congress can declare war--never mind that The Enemy is not a nation but only a single, very rich hoodlum (a man we have yet to find).
And we were even happier in the act of dumping billions of dollars' worth of bombs (making munitions manufacturers even richer than they already were) on our enemy--
And never mind that after arming those people against the Russians a few years ago, instead of running out on them and ignoring them, we should have stuck around and begun the hottest red-hot advertising campaign in history, designed to sell them on how much better Our Way is, and with massive supplies and aid.
Aid that works--not dropping peanut butter on people who think peanut butter is either a toy, maybe it's paint? or maybe a scabies cure. They've never seen the stuff before. Their culture, surprise!, is totally different from ours.
In other words you can't just go in and use a people for YOUR purposes, then dump them cold and stupidly wonder "Goodness, why do they hate us? Golly, why do the crazies among these people want to hurt us?"--because that is just plain senseless.
Fed lie after lie, trivialized by constant advertising that adds fuel to the ever-expanding greed for material stuff, our people have become consumers and not much more.
At the top are the Bill Gateses and the computer-tenders and lawyers, the pols and the doctors (wildly highly paid and admired, these latter have killed more people than all wars and car accidents combined but are still worshipped by the peasantry).
I won't even mention the psychiatrists who, lacking a workable technology have hooked millions of children on "medical" drugs. (Note: medical drugs are the same as street drugs. Don't be fooled. A killer caste is a killer caste.)
Today, right now, thousands have been thrown in jail for the crime of being foreign. You think this won't come back like a boomerang and hit you in the teeth?
Our cowardly Puppetmasters LOVE to have a finger up your butt:
"It's war. Your rights are hereby suspended and we, the Government, can do anything we want to, to YOU, and make you eat it and then say how 'patriotic' you are being."
But you're not being patriotic, you are being irresponsible.
Governments do things to cause these wars so they can then strip all of us of our hard-won civil rights.
Don't fall for this oldest trick in the book. Stand up and demand that your leaders act in a sane manner (AND pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly).
I'm mistaken, you say? Read some history, read a book, do a little research, don't just swallow everything the Puppetmasters tell you.
Their first responsibility is to their own class, the people who got them elected, the 0.01% of the population that owns 99.99% of the world's wealth--think about this! What kind of compulsive maniac wants to get (and stay) rich by stripping bare his or her own society? These are not happy people.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all got together and waved our flags for something positive--something truly patriotic for a change; something (like word clearing for instance) that really promotes the common welfare?
The guy who keeps saying "We all must be happy to give up our rights for the duration"--this grim-faced, terribly serious and important fellow never gave up a "right" in his life. Servants, private jets, immunity from accusation no matter how justified, he doesn't have to wait in line with you! He is your Puppetmaster.
He needs that war to impress and oppress YOU, and to stay on top.
If you stop falling for all the codswallop they feed you, these damnfool wars of theirs would come to a flying whoa. The power is in your hands.
If there's a war it's because YOU want and will accept it.
War never does anything good. Not ever.
So get smart, people. Pull up your socks! You can turn this planet into a glass marble (look up "nuclear weapons" in your encyclopedia), or you can open your eyes before it's too late.
Or would you rather sit there eating french fries dipped in ketchup and calling ME a traitor for speaking the truth?
I'm no traitor; I'm the biggest, gutsiest Patriot you ever saw and I'm telling you that only YOU can stop these junior highschool boys (your estimable leaders) from escalating this scuffle into a full-scale war with nuclear weapons.
Every war could be stopped years before it happens--and not by searching YOUR luggage for godsake! That sort of nonsense could go on forever without making YOU one bit safer; why not opt for a solution that works?
Something is very wrong here. You may not know it (because you didn't see it and cannot feel it) but the U.S. has gone down into a steep decline in the past 60 years. You've probably not been aware of the ebbing intelligence of the American reader, but you've surely seen the dehumanizing commercial exploitation of everyone including yourself and your family.
So when Bush says: "You are either with US or with the terrorists" I object to the bullying implicit in this "speechwritery" slogan.
And despite all the expensive help he can rely on, our President still says NUCULAR. Do you think mispronouncing an important word like NUCLEAR is a small thing? A gaffe we can (and must) overlook because we are so "patriotic"?
Let me tell you something: if that's what you think you are an ignorant, bloodthirsty barbarian who can only wind up getting us (as a species) wiped out.
Let me tell you something else, Oogala Caveman: if you mispronounce a word it means you do not have a correct definition for that word. It means you do not know what you are saying.
It's dangerous not to understand the words you use, my friend.
If you don't understand a word it will make you physically sick. You'll get angry. You'll have strange, spinny feelings and won't grasp anything you read about that subject from that point on.
But now we have Pres. Bush, the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Navy AND Education, who doesn't understand the very word upon which the end of our world is about to depend.
My God, do you frantic flag-wavers know what you're doing?
Now listen and listen closely:
It is NOT a small thing to mispronounce a word like "nuclear." If you think it is, obviously you were trained to be a moron.
Also obviously, the Govt does not want you to grow up intelligent. If you were truly intelligent they couldn't get away with half the stuff they always get away with--such as allowing (or encouraging) wars to break out.
War is only a confession that YOU cannot communicate.
Communication is based on words.
If you don't understand (and understand thoroughly) the words you use, you won't be able to communicate and will sooner or later get into serious trouble.
If you happen to be President and cannot pronounce the word "nuclear"--then God help this suffering, soon-to-be-dead planet!
Our whole culture is designed to make you weak, frightened, easy to manipulate. In my book, there is no moral justification for bombing children. Yet you follow blindly and passively and call it patriotism.
If waving a flag gives you the illusion of security, go ahead and wave one--but YOUR responsibility goes far beyond that.
Which brings us back to subliteracy. This same Pres is in charge of creating a new "educational program" to be used by every child in this country. And he hasn't the slightest idea of how to do it or what it means--need I say more?
"Sleep tight, ya morons!" Remember Holden Caulfield? That's what Holden yelled out when he left his dorm for the wild streets of NY, disgusted with his prepschool and all the rich, smug, self-satisfied students in it.
So, ladies and gentlemen, put down your bombers and go get yourself word-cleared so you can find out what the hell is going on on this planet we share. Before doing so is beyond our grasp. Forever.
I know that "forever" is a big word but careless people who say NUCULAR are just the ones to finish us off as a species--kaput, extinct.
"We'll meet again, don't know where don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day" as they all sang in Dr. Strangelove before the whole thing blew up...remember?
Dropping bombs after YOU mess up isn't what I'd call a heartwarming act of courageous American heroism; it's more like (not too put too fine a point on it)...the mind-numbing stupidity of the quasi-sane.
You can stop any war years before it breaks out--but only if you're sane, and sanity begins with a true understanding of WORDS.
This is the most important lesson you'll ever learn.
read all Jody's essays
(A Satirical Tragedy in Three Acts by an Unknown, Starving Science Fiction Writer)
.....and you're one of them.
This is a questionnaire for dead people. Please answer yes or no, dead person.
Do you often feel that you are sleepwalking and less than half alive--suffering from a bad case of amnesia that nobody takes the trouble to diagnose or to give you the least bit of credit for?
Do you WANT to be taken out of yourself? Do you WANT a wild ride? How about a leap of faith? Or... would you prefer a clean start? If you anwered "yes or no" to any of the above questions, please answer yes or no to the following:
Yes or no--do you recall being kidnapped from your home planet--after being brutally defeated in an unthinkably horrible war that happened 70 trillion years ago, yet you've never recovered from the effects of it? Once a demigod, you soon found yourself being stuffed at gunpoint into a frail human body that you were told is YOU! and you MUST take care of the short-lived, ever-demanding thing because if you don't, you're dead FOREVER--and on top of that, a loving God will send you straight to HELL.
Do you know (or suspect) that you're an immortal being who
was kidnapped from home and loved ones and all you held dear, then dragged to a prison planet called Earth where you are forced to endure life after life after life after life afterlife fterlifeafterlifeafterlife forced to smile and "be nice" for "the good of the people" while being tortured, screamed at, preached at, sold absurd pieces of expensive junk and then bored shitless, recruited, forced to agree with the opinions of others no matter how insanely irresponsible; forced to fight ridiculous wars (always with a wonderful, heroic, people-oriented excuse) to make others rich (and then build expensive monuments to those wars with YOUR money)--forced to be "educated" over and over ad nauseum until you've forgotten everything you ever knew , every goal you ever had, every family you were once a member of (um, feeling just a little bit sick?
Well who wouldn't feel sick, dammit? It's simply amazing you're still as good and pure and decent and smart and patient and tolerant as you are, isn't it? Why if I were in your place I'd probably be machine-gunning crowds of people all over the place--just to even the score a teeny weeny little bit, for pity sake!)
But to be honest...you really can't remember much of anything. What were you wearing on this day, one year ago? You don't know? But...how could that be?! Even though it's been scientifically proven that you've recorded every single thing that ever happened to you for EONS (literally quadrillions of years) and are a master magician with a billion tricks, talents and skills that you "Just don't happen to remember right now (sob)"--
Told to "Be yourself" and then forced to be the meek consumer that governments and advertisers want you to be--ain't easy. So...
Please answer this one, relatively long question with a yes or a no. Yes or no?
Are you listening to me? HUH? Wake up--what's wrong with you? You wanna be hit upside the head again a couple of times? Is that what you want?
You want a little violence so we can then all go around saying how NICE we are? HUH? How about it? Do you recognize human history when it is stated in bold, unvarnished terms or do you want it sweetly sugar coated as usual-- whaddaya say?
Speak up! Just answer the question and stop dragging your stupid, leaden, half-dead feet. I haven't got all day and my time is valuable so speak up, you miserable, off-planet scum--come on!
Hurry up, answer the question and be quick about it OR ELSE. Yes? Or no?
Yes________ or, No__________
SEAT BELTS CAN GIVE YOU A COLOSTOMY!
Hello. My name is Peppy Ann Artifact and I am the new semi-person which your Government is providing, free of charge, to help you THINK.
I'm here to make you feel good and to make you take better care of your body.
We must all take care of our bodies, because our bodies are more important than anything. This is your Government's Golden Rule and it is why your Government will soon pass strict rules to regulate nose-blowing.
We must take good care of our noses and not blow them improperly, or too often or in a way that would endanger others.
Another thing that is mandatory is seat belts. Seat belts have kept many from being hurled from speeding cars; seat belts have also given many others a colostomy. A colostomy is when you no longer excrete in the usual way but must keep a bag tied to your side to catch the excretions. This is much better than being dead, in my opinion. I am Peppy Ann Artifact and I am here to help you THINK.
Also you must never smoke. Old movies showing people smoking will be destroyed. Also, although millions have smoked a pack a day for years and never got any lung disease and died at the age of 90, (take Mark Twain for example,) it is not hard for me to rig statistics to prove that lung disease is caused by smoking and not by chronic economic duress coupled with the sense of helpless frustration that comes from too many government regulations and being thought an idiot who cannot think or decide for herself.
Now on to the next thing. Please put your helmet on. You must wear a helmet. It won't keep you from being paralyzed with spinal cord injuries but in my opinion that is much better than being dead. Did you know that statistics do not vary no matter how many regulations are imposed? Every year the same percentage of people die of accidents no matter what we do, but we CAN change the type of accidents they die FROM.
And in any case, we don't want the public to know that they will some day DIE anyway and fifteen minutes later will get another BODY--because that would make people too hard for us to control.
It would give you a sense of freedom and joy that we cannot allow because it would make you unafraid. And fear is our whip, just as cancer is big business.
Now: proper nose-blowing is the next thing that needs our immediate attention. It must be done properly. I am sure you will all cooperate fully, because you've been trained to do so, and because you are all nice people.
Also, please do not drink coffee or eat tomatoes. These substances are members of the deadly nightshade family and are poisonous. We have computers full of statistics to prove it.
Please feel good about yourself. Better times are coming and citizens will be encouraged to spy on one another while wailing, "Can't we all just get along?"
Ha, ha! I find that very funny, here's another thing that is funny.
Your leaders sit there talking Doomsday, so casually, and if you don't agree with them you don't love America--and I agree.
They do it so when they cry "WOAH-ah!" you'll all go running and think you are so brave and smart with an H-bomb in your shorts.
Ooh it's so funny! My girlfriend robots and I laugh about it in the Ladies' Room all the time.
My name is Peppy Ann Artifact and I'm here to make you THINK. Please think about this:
The more restrictions you tolerate, the weaker you get and that is GOOD.
A bad man once said: "Your integrity is more important than your immediate life" but he was quietly executed in the men's room at the Waldorf Astoria by the CIA so you need not worry about bad men; we are taking care of them for you..
My name is Peppy Ann Artifact and I REALLY LIKE YOU (really like you really like really like you, oops; that's my voice circuit again tee-hee) and I wish you and your fellow Americans all the success you deserve. Thank you
There is no earthly explanation for what happened to me one terrible night last spring except that I was deeply depressed, seriously thinking of killing myself because I wasn't a celebrity (or at least rich, successful and sought-after) and had started having a real problem with alcohol.
I was in the newsroom (I'm a reporter in her mid-to-late forties; the exact date won't pass my lips in this cruelly ageist society. Also, my name happens to be Dorsey Corn and I don't like hearing jokes about it) doing my routine daily work when the invitation was tossed on my desk along with the rest of the morning mail, which I customarily read with a latte and a sticky bun or two. Little did I know this would be my last morning of relative peace and sanity!
I turned the square of cream-colored pasteboard over. Sure enough there was a Hallmark logo so it couldn't possibly be a hoax. I immediately showed the card to my editor, we call her Susan Lucci, a still glamorous aging movie star I'd been having some trouble with lately (nothing to do with business I assure you) --Susan said it looked like a breakthrough opportunity, adding "Go follow up on it, Dorsey! File a story by this week's deadline and you'll get a nice raise."
According to the small print, I was on my way to interview none other than Athena the Goddess of Wisdom; I could hardly believe it. What an opportunity! Once in a lifetime? More than that--once in a million lifetimes--
Forthwith, I began packing. The invitation said "Bring no baggage. Nothing at all" but of course that wasn't possible; I began filling a backpack with thermal underwear, my travel alarm, a parka, sweaters, the Bible, my roach clip, a change of shirt, camcorder, passport, journal, nail polish and so on--the bare essentials.
Following instructions I took a cab to Paine Field late at night--a cold, beautiful night in early March. I paid the cabbie, watched the taillights disappear in dark shadows--
I was all alone; even the cafe (which is nothing spectacular at that small airport) was closed. I saw plenty of tethered Cessnas and Piper Cubs, etc., but no people at all; maybe it was too late for them.
On the runway was a private jet ready for takeoff, otherwise there was no welcoming committee, nobody at all. The minute I boarded the aircraft the steps folded up, whoosh! and we taxied out- the pilot, if any, appeared to be locked in the cabin. I knocked repeatedly but there was no answer, only a note pinned to a seat-back. The note read, "Without trust you won't make it."
"Okay. Don't panic" I said to nobody in particular, and fell asleep under an army blanket with a Greek logo on it (I found the blanket along with several Greek magazines and a can of warm Diet Pepsi in the overhead compartment).
We set down in what appeared to be a rice paddy with a falling-apart hangar, no food or drink anywhere (by now I was starving) and again, not a soul in sight. A note pinned to a fence post informed me that the rest of the trip would be made by muleback; Athena and I would meet in a bamboo hut on a mountaintop "Twenty gazroans from the blue Indian Ocean," said the note. Attached was a rough map.
"What is this f*#& sh#&?" I blistered the air, mad as hell; I'd had nothing to eat or drink for hours (except for one warm Pepsi) and was furious at such shabby treatment of a member of the American Press Corps, but what the f*#?& could I do? There was a mule tethered by the fence.
I arrived panting and bleeding from a painful fall (at first thought my wrist was broken but it turned out to be only badly sprained), had lost my backpack and most of the equipment I'd brought including my cell phone, was scratched from head to foot by brambles, exhausted, in no shape to interview a Goddess or anyone else and all I knew for sure was that somebody was going to have a big fat lawsuit on their hands as soon as I got back to the U.S. of A.!!
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the goddamn bamboo hut was empty! Damp, moldy, obviously nobody had used it for years, and yet--that figured, didn't it? Isn't this the kind of torture that the so-called "gods" have always inflicted on us poor dumb mortals? Exactly. You bet.
I was angry, scared, tired beyond anything I'd ever before experienced. And then-- Behind the hut I found a series of steps leading to an open space surrounded by crumbling columns that were holding up a roof of some kind. I walked deep into the interior of this shaded structure, whatever it was--my eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness--
To be honest, at this point I was crying bitterly (but silently) and was utterly terrified. Why had I come on this stupid mission in the first place? All I wanted was to be safely back home again! My wrist throbbed, I was trying to palpate it to see if a bone was broken when lightning suddenly flashed all around. Gray clouds came rolling in--the lightning picked out a shape at the end of this godforsaken temple or whatever the hell it was--
What I saw was fuzzy and indistinct at first.
I just stood there, staring blankly. Eyes trying to adjust to--what? And then rising out of the gloom was an enormously tall, robed figure. And a voice that broke the stillness.
"Come nearer," the voice said.
It was a loud, deep, rather pleasant voice and it came so suddenly (as if out of the blue) that I remember uttering a nervous little laugh (like an idiot). Next I cleared my throat to say: "Before we do anything else, ma'am, I'm a reporter and I'll need to establish your identity before asking a few questions, all right? I'll make this quick-"
"I'll make this quick," the voice echoed my words. The speaker was a woman, probably Athena herself (of course, who else?) and she was (as I said), many times bigger than life-sized, dressed in flowing white robes, saying: "First I'll need to ask a few questions. Are you aware that you stole my church--the temple of Athena on the Acropolis at Athens put there by Pericles himself? Has your precious government explained that you just walked in and ripped off my temple as your people so often do while trumpeting their 'niceness' and 'humanity' and simpering 'Oh, I'm so, SO sorry' and 'Can't we all just get along' and other hypocritical cant? So tell me, what is your opinion, Dorsey Corn? Do your beloved laws cover a theft of this magnitude and if so, should not you little locusts receive the death penalty for it?"
"What?" I'd started to say "What are you talking about?" but that sounded rude and I didn't quite have the nerve to finish it. Not under these circumstances.
"Don't play innocent, you criminal," she said coolly.
I watched those marvelous lips as the words tumbled out--I don't have to say that the goddess Athena claimed my full attention (or what was left of it).
"Examine the facts," she said. "Your people spend a lot of time bragging, ''We are a nation of laws.' Let me ask a question you probably never considered before. Can you imagine how such a vain, lying, wretchedly ignorant boast might sound to the ears of an Olympian?"
"Look, lady, I'm tired. I've come a long way, I have injuries, can't we call an aid car or something? Please? You don't have to worry, my paper will pay for any out-of-pocket money or expenses you may incur --"
She held up a hand and just plowed ahead with her own agenda, saying, "It makes you sound like the worst hypocrites ever born. Mark well: in a god's view, your much-touted law is unfair. Unfair laws stink in my nostrils, and a whole nation of them is nothing less than a stinkpot."
"Hey! Hold on there. You can't just--""
"Secondly, you think the word 'human' means kind, good, considerate, etcetera. False! It really means a barbarian. A cruel, stupid savage. Third, your religions including social psychology are nothing but myths to keep you from exploring your own mind--please keep quiet, fool; your turn will come!" she thundered.
"Fourth: you brazenly stole my temple, the Parthenon, and rebuilt it stone for stone in your absurd little country--minus my great ivory-and-gold likeness that the Parthenon itself was built for the sole purpose of housing and then you scavengers, you bottom-feeders, went ahead and renamed it ''The Supreme Court Building,' thinking nobody would notice and having full confidence that such outright thievery wouldn't bring you the foulest of luck."
"Now wait just a damned minute. In the first place, that's a lie!"
She ignored my protest and said, "Why do you people steal? Because you have no great art of your own, no talent except as mechanics, grease-monkeys in the service of computers and piddling space flights (a Mars shot is like a flea jumping from one hair to another on a mule). You call yourselves 'free,' you are no more 'free' than a poor sad little chained-up monkey. The things you do best are brag, and steal. But in this case, unfortunately you don't know what you're messing with."
"Are you threatening me? You can't say these things!" I was crying, angry, in pain and shock. My wrist throbbed and I hated this cruel bitch who didn't put bodily wellbeing above all else in life!
"Where is your vaunted freedom of speech?" she said softly, looking seriously at me. "Even the words are a joke. Every one of you knows that your government is a mere tool of corporate profiteers and that your acts of vengeance--your foolish wars--are all stupid and suicidal no matter how many flags you wave or monuments you build--"
Athena is gorgeous, that goes without saying. Oh, those flashing eyes of hers---the proud curl of her lips! But never at any point did I let this magnificent goddess see how impressed I was.
"I get it, Athena (if that's really who you are); you're bitter! " I yelled. "You're bitter and angry because you think we stole your precious temple, just went ahead and ripped it off, copied it totally and gave you no credit at all, is that the problem?"
"Not angry. Never angry with a poor barbarian. You haven't seen my anger yet--I am only very, very sorry for you. You don't remember who you are, my poor friend. I pity you and your people. You are not bad people, only victims."
"Don't remember who we are, that doesn't make sense--so who are we if you're so smart?"
"You've forgotten that you're a race of Great Ones conquered long ago, degraded, scattered around the planets and driven insane. Turned into what I see now: whores looking for paying customers. That's incredible, a terrible tragedy, a working definition of 'hell' and you'll deny it with your dying breath--but truth impinges and somewhere deep you know you are not a body but a spiritual being with hidden abilities beyond your wildest dreams."
"O.K., whatever you say," I held my ground. "Go on. What hidden abilities are we talking about?"
"The potential you have is mind-boggling, yet all of your cultures are designed to minimize you, to make you feel weak, small, bad, wrong, and that you must punish and be punished. You are in a deadly trap. I can help you get out of it. But you must be willing and must understand."
"Willing to do what, understand what? I've come from a great distance at your invitation! I'm tired, hungry, injured, depressed, shivering, my skin is icy cold and I'm probably in shock--" Nothing I said impressed Athena in the least. She went on:
"You are a race of sleepwalkers who've lived thousands of lives with the terrible amnesia of the body-worshipper, but I have news for you! Ghost=soul=spirit=you. Discorporate beings whose gods come and go with the fashion of the day, because you worship a material universe and since time immemorial you've denied it but now-- "
"Yeah? Now? And your point is?"
"The point is simple. I'm offering you my help. I've taken pity on you, but if you want my help I'll need a groundswell of you--millions not just asking but DEMANDING to be set free, to be given a technology a hundred thousand years ahead of where you are now."
"I'm sure we'd accept that," I said (making a feeble attempt to be nice and end this conversation pleasantly so I could get the hell out of this place, alive!)
"Then try to see into the distance. Most humans are in a tumult of despair; no matter how many conceited speeches they make, humanity's face is always wet with tears. But mark this. You must agree to be helped before I will agree to come back and help you."
I was swaying on my feet. "I'm sorry," I moaned. "Whatever we've done to you, Athena, I'm just so, so sorry!" My eyes kept closing (did she care? Not at all!) But still-- Her immensity, her beauty, her sheer presence--
"I'm apologizing! I'm sorry, so, so sorry! There, I apologized! I said I was sorry--so why can't you be nice? Can't we all just get along?" I babbled these platitudes and many more until she gave me a goblet of wine which I drained at a gulp.
I then thanked her earnestly--not sure she was still there. It was even worse getting home--how I made it down that cliff I hardly know, then a bus took me to the airport--after five hours on winding roads and no free ticket home--and when I finally arrived in America and was getting my wounds attended to in the emergency room, I discovered that everything was gone.
Of course I'd taped the interview with Athena but the tape along with everything else, was gone; later that night, looking over what I had managed to salvage I found there was nothing left but a grainy photo of the Parthenon. Her "temple" as she called it, stolen by us light-fingered Americans. Here it is, for what it's worth. And yes, it's where we got the model for the Supreme Court Building but does that make us a gang of rotten, lying, talentless thieves? Of course it doesn't!
In any case, this is my story. I'm filing it quickly, mistakes and all--in hopes of getting that raise Susan Lucci promised me. There are probably larger issues in what Athena said that escape me, but I'm only human; I'd rather be dumb and comfortable than have to deal with that crazy stuff she said--most of which I must admit went right over my head.
Yes--I'll file this story but they'll never print it. As we all know, nothing unflattering to humans ever gets printed. And as for me--I'm more interested in resolving my own self-image issues. I mean, isn't a positive self-image what is really important to a person?
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