PRIMAL.

IM000269
Dear Erik,

How’s that novel coming along? Forget what I said last time. This’ll be your masterpiece, so you should probably make it perfect. I mean, if you’re only going to publish one novel, it should be the BEST novel, right? But I’ll bet if you end up with the Pulitzer you’ll wanna try your luck on a few more. One thing I wonder about. Will yesterday’s Pulitzers speak to tomorrow’s readers? It’s hard to tell. I don’t read Pulitzer recipients. I read terrible stuff, Erik. It’s starting to psyche me wrongly.

Right now, it’s Halloween in Canada. This Halloween is dark. Dokdo compound is a mold-infested cement dungeon when it’s like this. Whatever. I don’t complain.

IM000322Anyway. I’m not writing to you about my physical discomfort. There’s something that is messing with me and I just needed to tell someone. It’s a story about a particular Kazakh civilian, no one notable, except that he possessed a peculiar piece of information that a Russian convoy waiting in Hungary had an interest in obtaining.

The problem for the passengers of the humble convoy on its way back to base was how difficult a time they had extracting the information. They’d set up shop in old Budapest Compound, you know the one. Two interrogators had committed suicide. One had his nose bitten clean off. Another, his neck gouged. The rest were tight-lipped about what had been said to them by the Kazakh, save that they would rather not return to his cell.

IM000563

IM000241“Which one is Snitski?”

A guard doing his best not to betray his anxiety nominated himself as the convoy’s spokesperson by answering the Swede. “Snitski, Sir? We don’t have a Snitski.”

The Swede flashed a grin to make your eyes bleed. “I think you do. He is 180, twenty-four years, dark, lasts forty-five minutes to an hour and is waiting when I take bed in half an hour.”

The guard’s eyes widened. “Oh, that Snitski.” A raised hand sent four guards off to prepare as the Swede sat and drank alone before the fireplace. She finished meat and lit a pipe. The Swede was perched, satiated, and mesmerized in thought.

information
This is the first principle the Swede wrote in her leather extraction log before each profile. The purpose of civilization: to lower the threshold of resistance an enemy of the state has to revealing information. The more civilized the civilian, the more likely he is to betray any secret. To civilize is to weaken the individual for the benefit of the state.

This Kazakh and his atavism would be hard to reach. Some former districts, stans and their surrounding territories, now loosed from the Soviet empire’s control, had no true civilians left. Even old Persia was to be part of New Rome’s economic plan. What went wrong?

“Now I need a Litovich!”

The guard began, “We have no…” and exhaled quickly, letting his shoulders fall. “Litovich, Sir?”

“You must be he. I need to know from you what the men say about the Kazakh and further on the information in the dossier. The cypher is as well as useless, the message no more informative decrypted.”

The guard cowered into his words. “It seemed as clear?”

IM000118

“As it sounds, Sir. A ghost in words.”

“And Rus Prima wants it why?”

“A weapon, Sir.”

“But WHAT is it?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Sir.”

IM000385_1

Evening descended further as muffled conversation emanated from the corridor by the antechamber. At first pleading could be heard. Eventually, it was desperation. This information was not easily parted with.

All information can be extracted.

IM000132

“On second thought, Litovich,” she began. The guard opened his eyes widely and held his breath. The Swede cleared her throat. “I’m weary from the day. Please keep these safe.” The guard pulled on the folder but the Swede kept a grip. He stopped pulling but kept his hold. “Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“I review them 7 AM over thick black coffee and rye toast with pig meat. Eggs are nice also, but I’m sensitive to your conditions.”

“Sir.” The guard nodded and pulled lightly at the chocolate brown. The Swede did not relent. She just looked into his eyes. He took a quivering breath.

She grinned, “Thank you for your help, Litovich,” and gently let go.

IM000666

“Snitski, out!”

The clump hastened to make a diaper of the white bed sheet it was shrouded in.

“Tell Litovich it’s 7 AM.”

“But it’s…” The Swede drew her lips together the same way she had last night when her entertainment said he couldn’t do a headstand. After a start, “…it’s 7 AM.”

“Why tell me? Tell Litovich!”

The diapered man hurry-scurried out the door. Soon breakfast came with the wafting smells of well-fried pork and fresh butter for rye bread.

The Swede finished scanning the reports as she pulled shells from boiled eggs. As she ate each part of each egg she pawed the Kazakh’s portfolio: a picture of him smiling with two children, a harsh typewritten profile, details, widower, children deceased, formerly a mechanic, now a derelict.

IM000666

The Swede shook her head as she concluded her re-briefing and finished her egg. “Useless,” she barked. “Superstition, conjecture, fairytales, melodrama.”

She rose to her feet, gave a scratch and let out a satisfied belch. She threw on a comfortable suit and rejoined the men. “Litovich! How far down does this compound reach?”

“It is one of former NPA headquarters so… pretty damn far, Sir.”

“Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“Mind the expletives. This isn’t a naval bar, it’s a military installation. We respect decorum.”

“Sir.”

“Take me there.”

“Sir.”
IM000301

Funny place for a Russian convoy to keep a Kazakh, don’t you think, Erik? You were in that one, weren’t you? You know how deep it goes. Oil wells in Texas are shallower. Fracking doesn’t go as deep. Gotta keep hidden, right? I just wonder why we don’t have elevators.
IM000805

“He is tortured now, Litovich?”

“Protocol is persuasion level only.”

“I know protocol. This is why I’m confused. Report states detention detail is five days for smuggling with interrogation at standard comfort, persuasion only. Release to embassy with report on our officers injured and concessions for reparation. So, why is he screaming?”

“Verbengeist, Sir.”

“Enough verbengeist! I want real answers!”

“I guess… I don’t know. You should see for yourself.

“Wait.” The Swede stopped right before the door to the room where the Kazakh’s bestial howling was a deafening, cacophonous gale.

“Sir?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Eight hours, Sir.”

“In that eight hours, Litovich, how many times have I told YOU you SHOULD do something?
“Oh, for our former glory. Please wait outside, all of you.”
IM000426

The Swede stood silently until the men, lifted by the dread noise, shuffled up the stairs grey and blunt like flung tools from an otherwise useful set of wrenches.
IM001085

There the prisoner flailed away, screeching nervously between gasps. The Swede shrugged her shoulders and entered briskly. The prisoner stopped screeching as she passed his line of sight.

The Kazakh broke the silence with a muted croak of a voice. “Thynally, thomeone who lookth thomewhat wathonal. It theemth a mithtik hath been made… AAAAAHHHHHHHRRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

The Swede blinked inquisitively. The Kazakh burst into spasms, rocked back and forth, and screamed his voice raw. The Swede’s face did not change as she stood, peering at the restrained ape. “How would you like me to loosen those ties?”

“RRRRRRRRAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH… No, ma’am, thank you fo the denereth otho…BWAAAAAAAHHHHHRRRRGGGGGHHH… but I highly doubt that’th a… GAAAAHHHHHHHHH… wythe idea.”

“I could easily restrain you.”

“I don’t doubt hit… GGGGGRRRRRAAAAAAAAA… a womim of your builb… UGGGGGGGGGHHHH… but thomething tellth me… YAAAAAAARGHHHHHHH… he woul want to figh ta tha death.”

“You know what? This thing drives me nuts. Let me help you.” The Swede pulled out the mouth restraint. The Kazach’s eyes widened.

“NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….” His mouth clamped shut on his tongue like a bear trap on a careless hunter. He smiled and squealed with glee, regret, satisfaction and remorse. The Swede had to move to the left to avoid the blood spray.

Soon the Kazakh was banging his hand against the arm of the chair violently. He balled up a fist and scribbled furiously in the air.

“A pen?”

He nooded and shook, refused and accepted. He leapt a bit. The chair came crashing to the floor, the Kazakh nose-first. The Swede calmly rose to her feet, walked to the other room and returned with stationery. She kicked the chair back to its original position and pulled up a desk. After a few broken pens, there was at least SOME result, though nothing very coherent.
kazach1kazach2

The Swede read through the scribbles twice. She looked at the Kazakh tied to the chair and blinked twice quickly.

“So, the convoy picked up a crazy Kazakh. Great.
“Superstition. Fairytales.
“Oh, for our former glory.”

She walked out of the room, her voice echoing through the hallway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in a few hours. I’ll tell them to sew you back up.”

“YYYYYYYAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”

“Well, if you want to thank me, send me a card.”

The Kazakh just sat in the room, listening to the Swede’s footsteps becoming gradually softer as she ascended the stairs. He ingested blood, which he felt becoming dry as soon as it made contact with the back of his throat. He thought about angling himself so he could choke to death on his own blood. Then he realized something and thought better of it.
IM002011

Advertisements

travel: 5Flags pt 1

[soundtrack]

Photos and videos by Stephen Wilcox, 2013. Words by Flying Fish.

We began at the Yellow Sea on a bridge tour on the west coast towards Boryeong, home of the internationally-renowned Mudfest, a summer festival that GPWT covered this year. To get to our first flag, a rural town called Seocheon, we rode through a coastal military museum park littered with dozens of machines ranging from tanks to helicopters and fighter jets.

It wasn’t until about 4:30 AM that this cakewalk was feeling more like a walk on the green mile. We were cold, tired, sore and ready to hit the hay. We crossed another coastal bridge, and still had two hours of road ahead of us. So we did what any sane cyclist would WARN YOU TO NEVER, EVER DO. We figured we’d shave an hour off our route by taking the highway for a few kilometers.

With our bellies full, we recited some mantras of “Wow, I can’t believe how far we’ve gotten,” and so on. Power of positive thinking, right? Self-deception can only do so much. We had been in Seocheon for hours. The town may be small, but its extensive farmlands stretch out across the province, beyond a horizon too dark to see. The town of Seocheon was hours behind us and Boryeong was a desert oasis, not fully real in our minds, just a symbol on a green sign reading “Boryeong 35 km”

We passed a toll booth and rode up onto the highway, cycling against traffic. We weren’t on it for thirty minutes before flashing lights and ear-shattering sirens descended upon us.

I met the police, who spoke no English. I explained that we were going to Boryeong and the officer simply repeated in simple Korean that we had to turn around. I told him that my friends an dI were very tired, and we just needed to get to the next exit. He informed me that the concrete barrier could not be traversed, and that my only option was to backtrack.

Steve arrived and I asked him to unearth his GPS system to show the officer that we only had a few kilometers before the highway turnoff. The man was unyielding. There was nothing left to do but return to the tollbooth.

Finally we reached the toll booth. Steve spent some time quizzing the officers about how to find a motel. Alex turned to us and mentioned, “Man, I’m glad we ate at that mart. I get angry when I’m hungry. I don’t know how I’d react to that if we hadn’t eaten.”

Already on the trip Alex had warned us that he hadn’t trained on a bike all that much, so we were prepared to pace ourselves. But I really wasn’t prepared for this: Alex’s stories. For instance, he told us about a guy who would spend a lot of time in the gym, teaching classes and working out. One day the guy had a terrible accident and sustained serious injuries. Alex told us all about this guy’s family responsibilities and all the people whose lives he’d helped. It occurred to me that Alex thinks deeply about other people and the good things they do.

The motel sat beside various lots of ornately carved stones and derelict buildings. We parked our bikes and walked into the motel. The motel’s door was wedged open, but it was dark inside and there was no clerk at the counter.

I opened a few doors. The rooms were all vacant. I called to Alex and Steve. “It’s possible this place is deserted. Happens all the time. Why don’t we pull our bikes in and squat for the night?” They had reservations, but the sleep god was beckoning. Just as we started out to get our bikes, an older woman crept out of the darkness and just started wailing, “ani ani ani ani!

She told us to get out, and I explained as best as I could that we were tired and needed a place to stay. She directed us to the next building over. I suspected two things: 1) this woman was squatting just as we intended to, and 2) this town doesn’t get a lot of visitors. The next building over may not have actually been a motel. I think the woman just wanted to get rid of us. It was guarded by unfriendly dogs and an older man who told us there was a sauna down the road.

The sauna was no better. It had showers, but after paying the fee we learned there was no sleeping space. The sauna owner was convinced that we had stolen five thousand won after the refund. It looked like we were going to meet the police for the second time that night.

Then our guardian angel flew in to rescue us. He came in the form of an ajashi (a middle-aged Korean man) who knew of a motel in town. He told the sauna owner that he saw the transaction and we didn’t steal any money. He walked briskly away and Steve and I struggled to keep up.

We followed our guardian angel down a dark alleyway to a poorly-lit, decrepit motel. The ajashi left and we were on our own to figure out what to do. The owners were asleep behind the window, so I rapped on the glass and awoke the woman who at first claimed to have no vacancy.

In the scramble to follow the ajashi we had abandoned Alex at the sauna. His phone battery was dead. I had no idea where he was. Considering the terrible experience he had just endured, he was the last person we should have left behind.

I wandered around the sauna, calling for Alex in a hoarse, sleepy voice. After a few minutes of this, he stepped out of the shadows. “You should have brought me with you.”

“I know. I’m sorry man, we’re all tired. We found a place.”

We approached the motel with the bicycles just as a woman wearing high boots, a short skirt and a short jacket sluggishly sauntered out of the motel. She let out a sailor’s cough and Alex raised an eyebrow. “Did you check us into a hooker motel?”

“Maybe.”

“Whatever, I just want to sleep.”

I didn’t even pause to think that we might end up on the wrong side of the law, again. The only thing running through my mind was, “I hope we don’t have to pay by the hour.

 



next episode

BATTLING THE STORMGODS

From tough decisions at the dogmeat stew restaurant to nearly losing the flying fish en route to Hong seong, “Battling the Stormgods” is one heck of a ride.
Honam Archaeological Society – Hoseo Archaeological Society (eds.) 2006. Geum-gang: Songguk-ri-hyeong Munhwa-ui Hyeongseong-gwa Baljeon (The Formation and Spread of Songguk-ri Culture in the Geum-gang River Area). Papers of the Joint Conference of the Honam and Hoseo Archaeological Societies, Gunsan.

 

family stories: my nightmare

I had a nightmare last night.

I dreamt that I woke up like most days and watched the morning news. But instead of news, there was information about health, diet, community-building, plant cultivation and personal wellbeing. I flipped through the channels looking for news about war, sickness, rape and murder. But I couldn’t find anything. I was very distraught.

I walked outside my two-story home in which I live alone in anticipation that I will get a wife and children to fill it. But when I looked outside, I realized that there were no other two-story homes. Instead, there were biomimetic dwellings, half-buried, blending into the landscape as far as the eye could see. My house stuck out like a sore thumb!

The mailman came by and gave me my usual ten monthly bills. I looked around, and everyone else got only one! Where was their cable bill? Their cell phone bill? Their car payment? Their credit card? Their heating? Their air-conditioning? Their insurance? Their retirement savings? Their upkeep fees for gardeners, babysitters and domestic employees?

carI sighed and got into my car. As I rode to work I had a very difficult time because there were no other cars on the road. There were only joggers, pedestrians, cycles and people in wheelchairs. I honked but they would not move away quickly enough. It ended up taking twice the time it usually takes to get to work. I saw my office clearly in the distance, which is very strange because it is usually blanketed in smog.

Once I got to my office, which like our residential area was biomimetic, and hideously non-professional, I drove around for half an hour looking for a parking space. There was nothing but bike racks! Finally I parked in a field and got my suit dirty. I was really upset because this suit was very expensive. I got inside late, which I never do, and went into the boardroom for Monday meeting. What greeted me there horrified me beyond resolve.

The CEO, assistant, and all fifteen board members were not wearing suits. They were all in active wear! Further onto that, none of them had coffee cups. They were sharing tea in small white cups. Usually, we all have a personal portfolio containing a report which we each present based on seniority. We decide which are the best and which will be axed, and this determines our promotion, salary increase and bonus, though the final decision is up to the CEO.

In THIS terrible nightmare, there was only one sketchpad, made from reused material, in the center of the table. Everyone was writing on it and discussing the new direction for the company. They were laughing and evaluating and modifying each other’s ideas. How would we decide who gets promoted? It was lunacy! I had nothing to contribute. I had my own portfolio and report, but no one could take it seriously, because I wasn’t able to explain it. I could only read it, and as soon as the words came out of my mouth, they had no meaning. I felt so embarrassed!

Then, the weirdest thing happened! A door was opened and children came rushing into the board room! All children of all income levels, together! Even those damned hood children were there! They weren’t dressed like hood children, but I recognized them because of their different.. uh… you know… nevermind. They all came in together and started making things. Everyone was talking with the children. The children started learning a simpler version of what our company does with models and toys. Then they went off and did it themselves. Some of them even improved their parents’ ideas! What was this insanity? Why aren’t these children in school?

When we finished, the CEO told us it was time to have a pre-lunch stretch. Then she told me to stop calling her CEO and simply call her “facilitator”. We went into a stretching room, and everyone began to do advanced stretches that I’ve never seen before. Because I was in a suit and they were in active wear, it was impossible for me to participate. Roger, who works in the cubicle next to me told me I should just strip down to my underwear, no one would mind. I looked at him quizzically, having long wondered about his sexual orientation.

He seemed to sense what I was thinking and said, “Fine, suit yourself. Think what you want to think. Fear what you want to fear. But a well-stretched body is healthier and more productive, and if you don’t stretch you will only be hurting yourself.”

Of course I wasn’t about to strip down. I have had my eye on Sally from accounting for a while now, and I wasn’t about to let Roger make a fool of me on the off-chance that he is interested in her too. So I went to the lunch hall early and pulled out my lunch. I was just about done eating my hamburger and fries, which were cold because I couldn’t find a microwave oven.

Suddenly everyone came in and sat around me. They put a giant bowl in the middle of the table and tossed in vegetables, rice, different spices and things I’ve never even seen before. Roger sat next to me and began telling me about what each vegetable, grain and cube was good for, and remarked that it was not only delicious, but also had everything in it that my body needed without anything carcinogenic or harmful. I found this very hard to believe considering there was no meat in it. Everyone ate together from the big bowl. Don’t these people know about germs?

“When everything you do is centered around building a healthy immune system, you don’t need to worry as much about germs.” When the hell did Roger become a nutritionist?

I’d had it with this backwards world with no responsibility, no accountability and no common sense. These people were maniacs. I rushed outside to my car, sped home, nearly knocking over some pedestrians, unlocked my door, ran upstairs and pulled the covers up over my head.

At some point I feel asleep, and awoke again to see the sun beaming through my window. I felt terrible, drained, and imbued with a sense of deep shame and embarrassment from the previous day. I looked outside my window, but something was different.

Everything was back to normal! The houses were right again, cars were on the street, there were fewer cyclists and pedestrians, I couldn’t see my workplace because of the smog, and I smelled the nice, tasty, wafting aroma of fries and burgers from the local fast food chain. It was all just a terrible nightmare.

car

On my way out the door after watching violent crime, war and sickness on the morning news, I took a deep breath, coughed a l

On my ride to school, my neighbours were shocked to see me smiling in my car, nodding my head to the music on my radio. They must have thought I was crazy, and they’d be right. People who dance to music in their cars should probably be on medication.ittle, and smiled. I saw the postman delivering ten bills to each house, and watched him with an unusual amount of vigor. I watched the hood children being carted away to their underfunded inner city public school while my neighbours’ children were chauffeured to their private school. The world hadn’t gone crazy. Everything was fine.

Maybe I was a little crazy. Or maybe I’d just realized that I should be thankful for what I have. What a horrible nightmare! What poverty! What a terrible world that would be, don’t you agree?

fun: recycling paper

For Earth day 2013, why not learn a new earth-friendly skill?

With my students I like to recycle paper. It’s a nice activity, and many creative projects can come from it. Journal covers, project paper, you name it!

One of my students said the most interesting thing while we were recycling last time:  “Teacher. We are using water and energy for the blender. Are we really helping the planet?”

I had no comeback. I didn’t think about it until later that night: reuse water from other sources. Also, you don’t have to blend with a electric device. You can crush the pulp. Anyhoo, since a picture is worth … you know… a bunch of words… check out the details below.

This photographic essay is called Barnabas Collins’ Guide to recycling paper. Photos by Mack Mackenzie Smith.

DSCF0710
You want me to do WHAT?

Step 1: Conquer your fear of garbage. Find a nice trash site that contains the following paper recycling must-haves:

1) a wire coathanger

2) some form of cheesecloth or hose

3) a bucket

4) a mashing tool

5) sheet plastic

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Prepare your pulp

DSCF0713
Well, I say, this wheel ought to do fine for my motorcar.
DSCF0714
My word, some bourgeoise miscreant has done away with a perfectly good electronic organ!
DSCF0720
Oh, fine. Let’s see… paper, coat hanger…
DSCF0718
No, I’m not going to. I refuse.
DSCF0673
You bloody post-consumer paper! Feel my wrath!

1) Rip up your paper into nice, small pieces

2) Add water and white glue to your mixture

3) DO THE MONSTER MASH! Make sure the mixture is mashed thoroughly.

DSCF0681
Zounds! What alchemy is this?

DSCF0692

Step 3: Time to make your paper.

1) Stretch the cheesecloth/hose over the wire coat hangers to make a frame.

2) Use your frames to squeeze and squish all the water out of the pulp.

3) Shape your pulp like sheets of paper. Or anything you like, really. You could make them into masks, wallpaper, biodegradable underwear… hey, use your imagination.

DSCF0700
Thank goodness that’s over. Now just fifty more to go. Sigh.
DSCF0697
Alright, hanger. It’s squishing time.
DSCF0698
Ewww. No one told me it would be this wet. My manicurist will slay me.

Let it dry and voila! Recycled paper. Happy Earth Day, Earth!

 

 

DSCF0706