is no such thing as making a long story short. Our stories are always
short. Our reasons are always long.
I am making a joint and putting this music on, this New Order from
1980s Madchester asking me to tell you how does it feel, tell you
now how does it feel. The words toll down from full fathom five.
This great spoked wheel of life returns to its insane hub. Synthesizers
clang out that the cuckoos have taken over the clock. Everything
I already know.
This is one of Marlena's CDs. But I do not take it out. She did
not write this album. Although she could have.
She can do anything. She is as brilliant as she is beautiful. Now
the bastards have even turned her against me. And, just like the
rest, even if I could prove a thing ... who but God is there to
prove it to? And what kind of a god could allow this?
When we met in 600-level PolySci class at Portland State, Marlena
told me she has a lot of pet peeves. I know this expression. I know
what a pet peeve is but I ask her, what is a peeve? We try to look
it up but never figure this out. She laughed so much I think that's
why she asks me out later.
Now I know. Life. Life is peeve. Monday is peeve. Peeve is getting
no sleep all weekend and then everything that happened today. I
could not think of the English words for things the whole time I
try to teach my freshmen de Tocqueville and Marx. None of these
kids know French or Russian. I kick myself for learning English
I left my office today one hour earlier than when my office hours
say I am in. Willamette Week calls and says, Where is our interview?
Today they want to interview me because they hear about some of
my story from my students. Too bad for them.
Today it would have been my interview on that particular page they
set aside. Tomorrow that same page will have a clown running for
mayor and some other abused child running as fast as they can from
Church of Scientology.
I just don't know what to do. I can only work for the school. The
stipend is less than half our rent. Marlena was working a real job
to support us and going to school. She had a proprietary interest
in all this, more so just before she left.
In the note Marlena left me last night she asks, What's Wrong With
You? Over and over, she asks this. So hard I try, before, to tell
her that Civilization is what's wrong with me! She should know this.
We are studying for the same doctorate!
What is wrong with me? What is wrong is that I know too well that
people will not waste their lives watching "Survivor"
if they are shown there is more in the stars than on TV. What is
wrong is we are not ready to talk to the aliens because people in
authority we never gave them said so.
Every hint of anything new gets such spin that fossil bacteria
and water on Mars and ice on Titan are now this huge deal. They
laughed at Orson Welles.
How does it feel ... It does feel now like terror in dark places.
Like a longing of the soul for someone else to see. Mostly it just
feels like the times when you get bogged down and cannot separate
yourself from what it is you are doing.
This last feels to me mostly like being submerged in a vat of warm
oil. You know you are not really going to die. It is just disgusting.
I am no Juraj Janosik, no Slovak hero for the women to bathe in
wine and dry off with ham. I was soon to be a doctor of political
science. Now I am just Stepan Kavarovic again. Nothing just yet
to put before or after my name on any office doors to come.
I have no wish to rob the rich or smash the state or die for my
beliefs. I am professional student! Or was, before they deny my
work visa or take my student aid on a technicality for publishing
in American journals (Marlena edited my work), which somehow counts
as work though I never get check. All links to every one of my articles
or blogs online got hidden same day.
I am not professional student any more. After 10 years I can no
longer delay the end of that road. That is both the greatest and
the least of my worries now.
Three months before this, President Gasparovic himself revoked
my Slovak citizenship. I was on a list with 20 or 30 other graduate
students accused by United States of getting student visa for "questionable"
What is this questionable? I live with my girlfriend because together
we can live in bigger place and not some basement dungeon apartment
I could have had back in Communism. I have to take classes part-time
this semester because my aid got cut even before all this.
My English is not so good, but I did not know part-time means "Chechen
Terrorist." It is the insanity of the times.
Everyone here in Oregon seems so shocked that an oil warlord got
into the White House to fight wars for the companies that put him
into power. It has always been like that in Slovakia. Like they
say on "Oprah": "Honey, somebody lied to you."
Bush's circle of advisors has managed to manipulate world events
and keep everyone in the dark. Gasparovic is no better. He used
to be something like deputy director of your CIA. (After Nená
Revolúcia, our CIA is called SIS.)
Gasparovic is old lawyer money instead of old oil money. But "lawyer"
always meant "organized crime" in Communism, and still
very much does. He was Meciar's Dick Cheney. Meciar was so crazy
he ran against him. It was like it would be if George W. Bush ran
against his dad.
I used to just make fun of Gasparovic. Now I hate him. But he is
just one tissue of this organism, yes? Slovak flag and American
flag are both red, white and blue. It is all the same anywhere you
go. Every country is overrated.
I used to wonder who would reform the reformers. Now I just see
everything from further and further back and it is like being trapped
in Lovecraft's hall of mirrors, turned on themselves, repeating
out to an endless decimal. Seeing through the dark glass.
Tell me now how would you feel?
want to deport me from the country where it all came apart. These
representatives of a government that has become nothing more than
reality-TV to mask so many worse things I cannot even talk about
America is just like it was during Communism when I was growing
up in Bratislava. The government knows that all systems and religions
are obsolete. But they have to be kept in place by force.
Some people see this. This writer Jim Hatfield, who they say committed
suicide, just like they say Lenny Bruce overdosed and they say Bill
Hicks got pancreatic cancer. Like Kennedy, like King ... So many
poisoned, made to jump in front of trains, dosed with LSD just before
the microphone of the world gets shoved in their faces.
And me. I am fucked over and out. I am The Man Without A Country.
I have to run again. Marlena really left me because she hates to
say goodbye. The lawyers hounding us so much, the phone calls in
the middle of the night, all of these were only fuel on the fire.
No. All will be well. Marlena will come back. I will wait and smoke
joint and play on computer. And think. At least I can still do that.
How like rats in red-hot maze all of us are, focusing all our stupid
systems on the cheese at the end that might or might not stand alone.
Above all this, what rough beast holds a clipboard and charts our
Just one article of mine caused all this hassle. Very terrorist
stuff that dared to make claims about American participatory democracy,
the role of the Supreme Court and every loophole in the system that
got America where it is now.
I went to Ground Zero in New York City. I talked to people who
lost loved ones there. I interviewed Karl Rove himself about this
when he was in town. We laughed and had coffee and cigars at the
Hilton. He was very polite. He said he'd read my monograph about
Machiavelli and bookmarked the blog where he found it. I said, "Thank
All I ever wanted to do was pick up where Machiavelli left off,
to write about politics now in its own real terms. I am not terrorist.
I am conscientious objector. But I read in your Robert Heinlein
that you can't achieve peace on your knees.
Anyway, my conclusions were sound in the article. I cited everything
I said. Every reference was an academic journal. None of it matters
now. I am not first scholar to get kicked out of America.
Let me slow down. I can apply for work visa in Paris and clean
houses for a summer while I figure out what to do. When I tell them
at the Sorbonne that I was 86'ed from America for disagreeing with
President John Wayne, 'sieur Chirac himself will give me keys to
the Tour Eiffel, yes? It is okay. I am still alive.
Please, computer, take my head out of all this. Take me out of
my head. Take me to see ... yes, there is the site I bookmarked
from last night.
Science Fiction. Art Bell and Richard Hoagland and the Photoshop
of Mars. They are the "tinfoil hat people" who say NASA
doctors its photos to blur out alien ruins on Mars. I say if NASA
just used Linux instead of Windows, none of this happens.
It is good story. The tinfoil hats say that the ruins of this "city"
they are calling "Cydonia" are millions of years old,
surrounded by quicksand. Why would this be so hard to accept? But
there will always be unexplained black patches on space shuttles,
and Captain Mantell, and all of this.
My advisor calls this "censorship by inclusion."
Everything gets published, so how do you tell which version is
true? Most people couldn't care less. They just want to watch.
Now I am starting to sound like I wear tinfoil hat.
There is more here, articles from 1992 about U.S. troops in South
America commissioned to stop a bridge being blown up. This is supposed
to be a war-game exercise. No one is allowed to bring in the night
goggles, but one soldier does. She sees three little people blow
up the bridge with a weapon that Special Forces gear cannot detect.
Ah, another woman writing about the government's Black Budget to
pay for the covert operations. She says that our real presidents
do not live on Earth, that technology is too far ahead of our evolution
and the media has to explain everything to everyone to prevent stampedes.
They dumb down all the wars and everything so we understand and
do not panic.
the system is not failing, she says. Perhaps those who actually
run this planet know exactly what they are doing.
I snuff out the half-smoked joint in the dirty glass ashtray she
left me. I only have a few things. The necessary things. No more.
I am thinking about that movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?"
where the shaman was the only one who could see the ship. Most of
the people on these funny sites are insane people who live alone.
But the world drives them mad. That I can understand. I will put
on tinfoil hat so my brains will be nice and shiny when the police
scrape them off my wall.
No. I am tired of this. I will go smoke joint on the roof. Where
is my Walkman?
My building is tired. They made it in 1910. It used to be a small
hotel. But every building used to be something. I have the joint
behind my ear and a lighter in the pocket of my jeans. Marlena shaved
my balding-early head for me a few days ago. It feels oily.
The hallway floors are tiny white hexagon tile, patterns of patterns,
echoing and old. The landlord's wife fills the halls up with bad
art. There is always note from someone's girlfriend or boyfriend
on bulletin board by the buzzer in front hall.
My footfalls echo in the stairwell. The white stripes on the sleeves
of my hooded sweatshirt glow in the orange light from the street
outside. My ears are ringing.
On top floor I walk out onto the fire escape and hoist myself up
and out onto the ladder above. The roof is walled in by old, cozy
bricks with a concrete slab along the top. Tar and gravel get friendly
with my sneakers. The vents sound like homeless people howling in
the cold. Over to the north, they still have not taken the Christmas
lights off the KOIN tower.
I light the joint, put my Walkman on and find Metallica on the
radio, leaning against the wall and looking out over the city. West
of the KOIN, high up on a building whose name I do not know, they
have put up a big bank of lights for the news and police helicopters.
The whole square switches from green to red to white as I watch.
They must be testing it out.
"Dostoyevsky," I mutter through the smoke, "this
is the new underground." But I am on the roof. And Dostoyevski
said that so many great ideas are unthinkable 10 years before the
Why did I think of that? What means this? Oh, yes. That I am high.
On the radio, "Turn the Page" goes fucko bazoo. There
is a huge grinding sound, a beep that makes me fall to my knees
and scream as I rip the headphones from my ears. The music goes
away. Everything goes away except beeps and beeps and beeps of broken
I put the headphones back on for a moment, curious.
But I am only curious in the back of my mind. As I fell down just
then, the whole city has gone dark. Everywhere, from the Cheerful
Tortoise bar down the street, to the offices and the freshman dorms,
there are sounds of shock. I am quite suddenly very glad to be up
The radio is, I think, picking up the police band. The voice I
am hearing sounds like a cop, anyway.
"Copy that, uhh ... consul. You and your associates have about
half an hour for your look-see before the lights come back on. Don't
touch anything. Don't cause any shit. Copy?"
I have no love for police. In Bratislava, they broke my papa's
nose when he was 11 just for waving around a toy gun. I take the
A spotlight shoots up from the helicopter-traffic signal to the
right of the KOIN tower. It goes far, far, far up, seemingly toward
the moon. But it is cloudy. I cannot quite tell.
There is a low kind of sound that makes my teeth hurt. The sound
gets bigger and bigger. Over and above it, in a different range,
come the sounds of helicopters. I realize I have been done with
the joint for a while and not paid attention to this. Where did
the roach-end go, this ... Oh.
It is a black bullet with a Honda "H" on the nose. The
back tailfins look like certain kinds of planes, or the kind of
flying taxicabs the British want to build now. The parts are familiar,
chrome and steel and tinted glass. But the car flies and makes no
where I am, as they slowly pass, I can see three of them behind
the light tint on the windows. They have long heads, lots of teeth
and funny little hands. They are making notes, pointing a lot. Their
heads go back and forth, up and down, like little old babushki very
excited about something.
They are pointing at buildings, hopping up and down when they see
some, vigorously negating when they see others. Everyone stops dancing
about when they look over at the Pearl District, where the yuppies
are. Then all three of them just kick back for a moment as they
They seem satisfied with something. They did not look at my building.
Wait. What the hell do I mean, yet? Where did that thought come
from? I am on my knees, my head below the level of the concrete
slab, because I cannot stand up and I am seeing this go by and and
Let me slow down.
They continue rubbernecking like the tourists here. The way they
act is like ... like the big builders did in Communism. I would
see them walking up and down the Stardmeska in the center of my
city, always toward the old Novy Bridge across the Danube that has
not been blue since I was alive, anyway.
The builders would be looking at vacant lots, making notes where
to put a house or a car park or anything like this. They would be
excited and why should they not be? They have just sunk the plot.
They are like the happy couple with the new home, like the way Marlena
and I decorate this apartment ... And we will put this here, and
this here ... Wait, I think that looks better over there ...
They are all nodding their heads. The driver raises one of just
a few webbed fingers and points all around, making a clockwise corkscrew
It is getting warmer out here. Just like the whole planet. Maybe
they special-ordered that too ... But I am high, and do not know
what I mean.
I just know that so many cities all look like the Pearl District
here: Cheap, cheerless and lifeless, with two-hundred-grand studio
apartments they call condos and this is why they drive out the poor,
like the poor were this other species beneath even recognition ...
Let me slow down.
But I cannot.
For an escort the Honda has a police helicopter, leading
them down to where a faraway pair of flashlights flags them in from
one rooftop of River Place, by the waterfront. The last thing I
see, before the lights come back on, is a bumper sticker on the
At my feet, my headphones bark the creatures' answering radio call:
"We can get the original tenants out of sectors A-K, Captain
Roberts, sir. Just tell us when you want to rebuild." It is
leprechaun voice, high and tiny, like the little people in your
Machen and Yeats. I remember what I saw of the things in the car.
More than their odd-shaped heads, more than anything else ... they
look somehow like they belong here, like they would do okay in this
gravity, like ...
Maybe they were here first. No other planet in the solar system
Wait. Maybe it is still impossible to say exactly what I mean.
But maybe the little people belong here more than us. I think of
the government giving casinos to the Indians after so long. I wonder
what your government gave these.
Maybe we're almost done destroying this planet the way we destroyed
Mars. I should have asked Karl Rove. He would know. My heart slows
down as the lights come back on. I know that in the news there will
be UFO reports.
Oregon is getting the Northern Lights in part, this year, though.
Some weird electromagnetic current. Or at least this is the party
line I hear on the news.
How do I feel? Tell me now how I feel.
Wrong. And even if anyone did believe me ... so what? I put my
hands on the edge of the slab and look at how long I'd have to fall.
Not long. I don't jump. I knew I wouldn't.
now all of me feels oily. And cold. My head is higher than an old-growth
But my body is just getting over bad, bad fright. I slowly manage
to make one more spliff, light it and begin to smoke.
When it is a dog-end and I can think again, I go downstairs to
pack my bags.
I got lucky. There is still the morning. My old colleague Matthieu
in Montmartre still has a futon free for me.
Perhaps real life begins at time like this. Or perhaps not.
But at least I get to find out for myself.