The Accidental Oracle
[Despondent at the state of the world, I beseeched God for answers but got nothing. Since I kept hearing how “God is in the White House” nowadays, I made a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. The trip began well, on a Peter Pan Express bus playing a bleeped-out TV movie version of Al Pacino in Scarface (you know, I’ve always thought Michelle what’s-her-name is extremely attractive, even when she plays a “coke slut”). The trip ended badly when Lucifer’s last line of defense, the so-called “secret service,” attacked me with stun guns on the sidewalk in front of the White House. But the joke is on them, because ever since then “the answers” just pop into my head.
I had hoped to get a job at a newspaper as an “advice” columnist—God knows other people’s problems are easy to solve—but apparently liability law has made advice a dangerous enterprise. So for now I just take questions forwarded to me by the editor of this paper. Apparently he has a whole box of letters at the newsroom, sent from around the world by people desperate for answers. (I understand some of the letters including snapshots and promises of mind-altering sexual encounters, but he keeps those for himself.) Some say American newspapers are dying, but let me tell you, they are not dead yet.]
When I was eleven, my nine year old brother and I were kicked out of temple bible Study class after I asked, “If Adam and Eve were the first people, where did their sons’ wives come from?” Can you tell me where Cain and Abel acquired their wives?
--Fern Fraser, Billabong Beach, Australia (formerly of Brooklyn, NY)
“Acquired” is the right word: Cain and Abel ordered their brides from a Sears catalog from a parallel universe (where God created Ed from one of Ava’s ribs, and Ava begat Bettie and Connie). Both the catalog and brides (and a candy-apple red 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with fins like a whale) where delivered through a wormhole created in the chaos a few seconds after the Creation. The entrance to the wormhole was disguised by bushes and a big rock you had to push out of the way, like Zorro’s hideout or the cave where Jesus resurrected himself. Anyway, Cain, Abel, Betty, and Connie all lived happily ever after. I think. I’ve never actually read the Bible, but it’s so popular it must have a happy ending, right?
The textbooks are very old at my son’s grade school. He came across the phrase “craunch the marmoset” in a history book, and the “porn alarm” went off when he tried to look it up on the school’s internet computer. Can you please tell us what it means before he gets into more trouble?
--Harvey Klum, Festus, Missouri
A “frontier entrepreneur” vocabulary grew out of centuries of contact between European entrepreneurs—conquistadores, trappers, slavers, whalers, etc.—and the peoples of the new world. While merchants to the aristocracy suffered minor discomforts scouring the corners of the civilized world for rare delicacies, frontier entrepreneurs were forced to communicate with one primitive culture after another for their very survival, all of them ignorant of the most basic principles of modern real estate, theology, and hygiene—e.g., that only “the thickliest slathers of parfume” and “blankets on which the Holy Spirit has coughed” offered protection against disease and the everlasting flames of hell.
The phrase “craunch the marmoset” is believed to be a 19th century Jamaican variation of the trapper expression “scrunch the marmot.” Marmot trappers in the Canadian Rockies would dig up hibernating colonies of the docile rodents, then slaughter and skin them. Nearing the end of a hard winter, during which they’d likely been forced to eat their sled dogs (trappers discarded marmot meat, claiming its odor to be “more stenchful than moose rutting in a wallow”), they would stow the pelts under a tarp and drag their sled hundreds of miles to a trading post. After a long day of dragging, with nothing but rotgut and snow buzzards for company, they would crawl under the pelts and call out till a friendly “native” arrived to tighten the tarp. Over time—after much gesturing, confusion, and more than one accidental choking—the onomatopoetic term “scrunch” emerged as the universal description for the desired action, and “scrunch the marmot” came into common use.
While the phrase never reached the anthem-like heights of other colonial odes to bondage like Australia’s “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,” marmot-pelt stoles were all the rage in London for a time, and their price climbed so high that entrepreneurs began substituting the thick winter fur of sewer rats. Flooded by fakes, the market collapsed. It wasn’t long before “ladies of easy virtue” were sashaying up and down the doggy banks of the Thames draped in rat-pelt stoles, and the phrase “scrunch the marmot” took on a whole new meaning.
My roommate Col. Lamprey retired from the Connecticut National Guard when he turned eighty, six years ago. We had a terrible argument last week, just before he was recalled to serve in Iraq. I feel terrible, and hope you can give me an answer I can include in my next Red Cross letter to the Colonel. How many men are in a military division?
--Amelia Leister-Phizer, Bullet Hill Retirement Village, Southbury, Connecticut
(I hope the Colonel knows how lucky he is. I would gladly sacrifice me life for my president if I could, but I’ve already signed my cadaver over to the Mayo Clinic—so they can slice me up like deli meat and find the source of my oracular ability—and they’ve made it clear they expect me to be in one piece when I arrive.)
The number of troops in a division depends on the number system employed by the military force. For instance, most branches of the ancient Babylonian military used the sexagesimal number system, based on the number sixty: the average number of stones a crowd had to throw to drive the demons from a person whose sex was hard to guess (not an uncommon incident in those days, when everyone wore skirts). A division in the regular Babylonian army consisted of 60—60-man companies, or 3600 soldiers total, not including assorted wives, acrobats, young boys, goats and other morale-boosting camp followers.
But the Babylonian special forces known as the Green Skirts employed a system based on the number fifty-three: the number of enemy skulls that could be stowed in a pouch made from a single ox hide. (Note that this unit of measure was called a “skull-full,” even though “hide-full” or “full-o-skulls” would have made more sense.)
A division of Green Skirts consisted of 2371—53-man companies, 2371 being the number of ox hides it took to cover the central ziggurat of Babylon when it rained, for a total of 125, 663 men. Though it may seem strange that special forces would travel in such massive armies, their commanders believed in a policy of “overwhelming force.”
The most successful tactic of the Green Skirts, used in their decisive battle with the ur-Persians, was to dip their skirts in a vat of mercury and, once in position under the blazing noonday sun, moon their enemies en masse. Needless to say, the focused light thrown from the massive reflector formed by all those chromed asses burned through the ur-Persians like butter, and the Green Skirts claimed victory before dinner time. Unfortunately, the mercury had a ruinous effect on the Green Skirt’s genitals, and they collectively fathered but three children, each with three eyes, not one of them usefully placed.
How did Bush get to be a King of the World? I just read on some web site that he’s “purposefully ignorant, bitter little idiot.” How is it that U.S. voters can trust the world to such a “reckless adolescent” while my parents ground me just for going to the mall with Amber? I ask because I figure if he can be the president, someday I can too. (And when I do, my parents are gonna really, really regret this, and find out it’s not so much fun when they’re the ones locked in their room with nothing to do but beg every nerd they meet in a chat room for a ride to Canada so they can be free!)
--Tiffany Marx, 16 years old, Sparks, Nevada
(I’m going to ask you to promise me: if you get a ride to Canada, DO NOT EVEN THINK about buying any cheap prescription drugs when you get there—they’ve all been watered down to keep the highly strung Canadians from going off like Jack in The Shining. And that reminds me: whatever you do, don’t stay at one of those “quaint” log cabin motels on the way. I stayed in one once, and it was “redrum” and cold sweat nightmares and strangling vines from the second the sun went down. Maybe it was the spores from the mold that grows in every shady nook and cranny up there, but whatever it was, it took a few weeks before I could close my eyes again.)
I’m sorry Tiffany, but precocious as you obviously are, your chances of becoming president are slim. Few know it, but George W. Bush was DESTINED to become president. He is the fifteen reincarnation of the Grand annihilator of Jerusalem (previous G.A.J.s include Vlad the Impaler and Jeru the Damager). Like the Dalai Lama, Bush was removed from the world for training after he was identified by religious talent scouts. He wasn’t doing drugs and “chasing skirt” to avoid Vietnam way back then, as the liberal media would have you believe. The so-called “holes in his resume” were filled with religious instruction, from the wisdom of the ancients encoded in the Morals and Dogma of the Masons to the simple folk wisdom of the self-help bestsellers like Born Again, or Just Recycled? According to his official biography (secret, like other Bush administration documents, till “a new age has dawned”):
This He was literally touched my angels, and is uniquely qualified by Divine and Natural law to guide America to its ultimate destiny as the Promised Lang. When the final battle is launched there will be just two sides to choose from: (1) the righteous, who realize that this world is a filthy, imperfect mirage that deserves to the cauterized like a boil, or (2) the heathens who deny the obvious Truth of Scripture and are more attached to their sunlight, skin and iPods than to God. And if God’s gift of science has taught us anything, it’s that two things can’t occupy the same place at the same time. Therefore, for the Kingdom of Heaven to emerge, the United States of America must be erased. The President is firmly in charge and on track to deliver us unto the Lord! Say Hallelujah!
Sorry, I don’t mean to scare you Tiffany, but it sounds like you’re going to have to choose sides, or makes sure you’re over the border into frigid Canada, where the hot breath of Satan feels like a summer breeze.
Embracing Mist: The Questions, Not Answers, Grey House ProposesBy Billy McEntee
MAY 2023 | Theater
Grey is an apt qualifier for the house in Levi Holloways play. For one, like Holloways ghost story, the color is eerie; the hue is associated with fog, drear, and mystery. But grey also suggests a vague middle ground, neither black nor white. En route to her fathers home, Max (Tatiana Maslany) and her husband Henry (Paul Sparks) are driving between two placeswherever they came from and wherever they are heading, locations that are never fully defined. The house they stumble into is an in-between.
Tall HouseBy Sabo Kpade
NOV 2022 | Critics Page
From the grounds of Kennington Park, Jebo could see the top eight floors of Shellington House cast against the late afternoon sun. It would take careful looking to pick out his room on the twelfth floor. He stared hard but with no luck. Except for the pair of balconies on either side of each floor, there were no clear demarcations between the flats. To stare was a task. Squinting didnt help. He recalled Richard Serras phrase with unusual clarity: The act of seeing, and the concentration of seeing, takes effort.
from A Cat at the End of the WorldBy Robert Periić and Vesna Maric
NOV 2022 | Fiction
Its hard to find historical fiction that accurately captures the worldview and mindset of the people depictedand exceedingly rare to encounter characters whose lives and thoughts feel expansive, rather than subtractive, in the remote past. Croatian writer Robert Periićs latest novel, A Cat at the End of the World, transports the reader to ancient Syracuse, and then to a colonial outpost in the Adriatic. The protagonist Kalia, servant to a wealthy family and object of torment by the scion Pigras, is accompanied by a cat named Miu and shown the first glimmer of care by a woman named Menda. In this excerpt, Periić shows how a cat's ungovernability can undo a hierarchy.
Stressed WorldBy Lenore Malen
OCT 2022 | ArtSeen
Stressed World is a show made of artworks that are largely handcrafted: painted, carved, drawn, cast, or assembled. Theyre mostly intimate and human scale with some exceptions.