I played an obscene amount of Diablo 3 on the Xbox 360. I almost don’t want to know how many hours my girlfriend and I sunk into going through the campaign on each difficulty level. The problem with the previous gen version is that while the PC got all the new patches, and updates, the console versions did not. So when you got to the end game you basically were just left to try and track down the pieces to craft a Staff of Herding or go into the Infernal Machine. I don’t really know that the Infernal Machine is, there is very little explanation in the guide I have, but while I was still having a ton of fun I wanted more. It was baffling to me that they wouldn’t release this expansion as DLC but in the end I wanted to move up to the next gen version anyways so here we are.
The new generation of consoles is definitely more powerful in the graphics category, for proof of this just look at how good this game looks and how much it can handle. With the changes to some of the skills, and the ability to use elective mode, there is a very real possibility that a whole bunch of crazy stuff will start happening. Last night my girlfriend and I were going through some bounties in Adventure Mode, more on that later, and we ended up fighting over 100 enemies at a time and between her wizard skills, my monk nonsense, and whatever the enemies are throwing at you, there is an insane amount of stuff on screen but it looked great the whole time and we didn’t experience any slow down or anything. This is a testament to Blizzard’s programming ability and how much of a beast the new consoles are.
I feel much the same about the sound design as I do about the graphics. I love the little effects everything has. I have a weapon that an early game boss still “inhabits” so occasionally when I attack you hear his roar, or this weapon my girlfriend recently acquired had a pig squeal that went with the attacks. Skills sound unique also, as a monk I rely on my “Wave of Light” skill to help me clear out huge mobs and with that I call down a giant bell which makes a very satisfying ringing sound. The ambient sound is also crafted really well and feels perfect with each of the environments. Last night was a good night for my lady and I as we got to run through The Vault twice and acquire so many different treasures, the music though is this bizarre circus type music that definitely feels ominous in a weird way. Blizzard really knows how to craft worlds graphically and sonically.
The story is rather plain, the crux of the thing is that you are trying to stop Diablo. The additional act, which actually is rather long, throws a new enemy at you but without the buildup of 4 acts the final battle seems a little lackluster. It’s by no means an easy battle, the new enemy really throws a ton of stuff at you, but it lacks the “gravity” the core game has. The real draw, however, is the pursuit of loot and good heavens there is loot to be found. This is specifically tied into the replay factor, which could not be any higher. Adventure mode is a game changer and really adds an excellent end game element to a console version that desperately needed it. I’ve got other games I would like to get through and play some of in general but I find myself bitten with the Diablo 3 bug again. Writing about it just makes me want to play it some more, I just got my first set pieces last night for 2 different sets and I would like to see if I could get more.
There is a great deal of content to be found here and it is undoubtedly worth every penny. If you have a previous console version you can export your saves and start the updated version right where you left off. Some of the challenges carry over, but not all of them, and this new version also seems to have trouble keeping track of the progress for challenges, which can be irritating. If you haven’t gotten into Diablo before, have been waiting for a sale, or just on the fence in general, you should go pick up a copy. There is so much fun to be had that you are doing yourself a disservice by not having a copy of this in your collection. What are you waiting for? Go get some!
Replay Factor: 5/5
With another coming in March, I will recount my Friday the 13th experience of two weeks ago. Backstory: there’s a middle-aged guy who stops into my work every once in a while, always a little awkward. Only-child syndrome or maybe something else. Social norms are not his strong suit. This could not be more perfectly illustrated than by the time he started looking at porn on a computer rental station. I was not there, so it could have been swimsuit models. Could have been something with more kinetic energy, too; I just don’t know. I didn’t ask my coworker, Erin, who was understandably shaken by the public display, to relay all the juicy details.
As far as I remember, she informed the supervisor, and he politely told the man not to view offensive images/video while on the rental stations. The customer became very upset: he was paying for a service, after all, and what does capitalist society teach us if not we get what we pay for? The situation heated up quickly, and the customer was ultimately booted from the store.
This was perhaps four years ago? Even at the time, hearing the second hand account, it could have been some other regular customer that my coworkers had described in this event. Not being entirely sure, and certainly not wanting to broach the subject, I have seen the customer a few times lately. He called—yes, I recognized his strange vocal mannerisms, his speech pattern choppy with cadences like a villainous Christopher Walken, asking about data recovery software. We don’t sell any, so I recommended Data Rescue 3, which worked well enough for me when I deleted all of my wife’s webpage files off my computer, which she had not transferred to her own. Being several years ago, maybe DR4 or 5 has been released. I still haven’t checked because it’s not my problem.
Then the guy came into the store again for no other reason than to ask the same question. Do we offer data recovery services? Where could he go to get that? I directed him to the computer store on campus, recommended the same software that I did over the phone. Each time I answered, he would repeat part of his story, usually a rehash of what I’d already heard—I need some files that got deleted, I heard the files might still be there, I’m having this problem with my computer, etc. . . . The repetition of my suggestions did not sink in the point apparently: we will not fix this for you; you must go somewhere else.
On freaky Friday I made a stop at Cub to pick up some flowers for Valentine’s day. As I stood in the 10 Items or Less(yeah, I am one of the people that cringes every time I see that, half consider buying a Sharpie to scribble in Fewer) line, I heard it:
—So do you fellows offer data recovery services at all?
Keep in mind I hadn’t just given myself a review of the backstory. The question was out of context, without greeting or introduction, and came at me while I had busy-errand-running brain (so seldom do I get to use the car for the day). I whirled around, and there he was holding out a small can of vegetarian baked beans, the kind I like to eat in the summer with veggidogs.
I don’t know if it was panic or surprise, but I exclaimed an enthusiastic greeting, the kind of hello that says, Fancy meeting you here, been a while, chum! That I had encouraged/enabled him didn’t cross my mind until later. To my greeting, he segued to something new.
—I thought there’d be a larger can than this. This is a dollar twenty-nine and there should be a bigger one that’s about a dollar sixty-nine (thirteen squared for anyone paying attention to weirdness here), but I haven’t found it.
—Weird, I replied, only half referring to the bean dilemma. I know they exist, I assured him while he continued to hold up the can for my inspection. Did he want me to take the can? Was I to get a closer look, to inform myself in order to determine the solution to this problem? I took a step back.
—If I brought my computer into your store—
He continued asking the question even though I interrupted him: No, we don’t offer data recovery services. You’ll have to buy your own software or take it somewhere else.
He tried to ask something else, but it became my turn in the line, so I said hello to the clerk and placed the flowers on the counter next to the credit card reader. Then I was in the car driving home, wondering how this guy recognized me from behind.
Digital photography. Images taken in London, England.
John Harrison disembarked the shuttle bus. He ran his hands over his newly shaved head. It felt strange having no hair but he assumed he would adjust to it soon enough. Just think of the money, he told himself. Think of the money. The factory was the best job around and it was difficult to get a job there. He was one of the lucky few, even if he had to lose his hair.
The meat factory loomed before him. It was immense and seemed to stretch off into the horizon. There was a gray hue over the place and the buildings were interconnected and painted neutral dull silver. He rubbed his hands together against the cold as he approached the front gate. Two guards stood at attention on each side of the gate. The guard placed a steel reader against Harrison’s barcode and frowned. “You’re not in the system yet.”
In the distance, three large Maglev transporters glided into a hanger. He saw the door snap down and guards exit.
“Who are you here to see?”
The guard’s question snapped him out of his questioning gaze. “I forgot his name,” Harrison said truthfully. “I was told to go to the administration building and sign the contract.”
A second guard approached. In his hand was a scanner. “Facial recognition confirms he starts today.”
The first guard sighed. “I wish they would communicate with the guard house. How are we supposed to do our jobs efficiently?”
The second guard looked at Harrison and pointed to a building. “Administration is in there on the third floor. Take the stairs the Maglift won’t work until you’re scanned into the system.”
Harrison nodded. “Thanks,” he said and headed up to the building. Even this far away from the processing section he could smell the blood and guts of dismembered creatures. He loved meat but this place might put him off it and he would have to get permission from The Authority to change to vegetarian food.
He entered the building. It was dark but it blocked the smell of death outside. The stairs were off to the side and he raced up to the third floor. At the top he spied the door with a sign reading: Administration.
Straightening his clothes and taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, Harrison knocked on the door. “Hello?” he said opening it a fraction.
The small man in spectacles sitting behind the desk looked up from his holographic projection. A smile graced his face. “Ah, Mr. Harrison. I see you’ve shaved your head. Perfect.” He stood up and shook the young man’s hand. “First job, is it?”
“Just call me Boss. That’ll suffice.” He led Harrison to the desk. “Once the contract is done, we’ll put you to work in the plant.”
Harrison nodded. “Thank you for this opportunity, Boss.”
“Never mind that. Now take a seat.” He removed the contract device from the desk drawer, waved away the projection and asked for Harrison’s hand. “Hand in the device, barcode facing down.”
Harrison complied. He grimaced when the scanner read his barcode and a DNA sample was withdrawn.
“There, all done.”
“Yes. Follow me. You’ll start in packaging. In six months, processing. If you perform well.”
Harrison smiled. Processing was where the big money was earned. It was also the goriest part of the business. He wasn’t sure if he could handle that. Just the thought of blood and insides hitting a conveyer belt for animal food made him feel queasy. But it was money. He was newly married and their application for a child got approved last week along with a house loan. Excellent package deal. He felt they negotiated terms well. In three months an embryo of their mixed DNA would be produced and inserted inside him to carry to term. He was so excited. He could still work till full term of fifteen months. They ordered a girl with math and science skills. That was the future.
“Here we are,” Boss said. “Your trainer is X-38. He’ll upload the information and skill set.” Boss turned on his heel and left.
Harrison looked at X-38. It was a large hard drive with AI interface and monitoring capabilities. “Hello there X-38.”
“Harrison, John. Welcome to the factory.” A cable extended from the side of the machine. “Insert cable to begin.”
Harrison grabbed the cable and felt for the USB port in the back of his neck. He inserted the cable. “Ready.”
Harrison’s eyes rolled up in his head. He felt the information installing new skill sets. He saw short movie clips at the speed of light and felt his fingers imitating the movements. Slowly the eyes closed as the final reboot set to work.
“Download complete. Please remove the cable.”
Harrison’s eyes snapped open. He carefully feed the cable into the side of the machine. Somewhere far off, he heard a faint scream. With the new information downloaded he knew ‘the cones’ were disemboweling and cleaning hair off the meat before final processing. He was so glad he wasn’t a human. He would hate to be food.
Lee Pletzers is a displaced New Zealand writer of the weird, wonderful and grotesque. Since 2001 he has made an impact on the genre world and thrives within its limitless boundaries. Over seventy shorts stories have slammed his name on anthologies and magazines across the globe. Five novels impacted humanity and two novellas were the icing on the cake.
Black and white digital photography.
An iridescent cloud
Descending in tiny bursts
Its spinning flight
With the tiny brilliance of insect wings
Sinews of magenta and green
Flexing in the air
Diving into fresh gardens
And piercing their fragrance
Byzantine threads that live
Twisting embroidery with
Reflecting with velvet light
Femininity compressed like coal
Into a bright birth
Of diamonds that breathe and blur
With a smear of color
And yet I will always recall
The golden desecration
A Victorian collar
Heavy with fashion’s decapitations
Fit for a lady’s neck
Macabre and decorated
With a row of their dainty heads
Dangling like silent bells
Digital photography. All images taken in London, England.
The world was spinning with me and the stench of the burning heart clouded my mind. I heard somebody murmuring something near my ear but it was all a blur. Why did I suspend my disbelief and suspicion even for a minute? How could I have hoped that there a way out of the eternal winter, a road to salvation? Maybe because once you start to walk along the frozen path of the rails, you have nothing to cling on to but hope.
The room around me fell apart; it was nothing more than a heap of faint spots and a distant noise. My fall was over. When my body hit the floor, shards of thoughts and memories pierced their way through my mind. One of the biggest mistakes of humanity was that people were willing to sacrifice others for their own survival or even worse, happiness. And we didn’t change, we never do. Even after the white apocalypse people still thought of themselves first and then, if they had enough energy left, they might have taken others into consideration.
I remembered a day when I was a young girl and I sneaked into the room of the mayor’s son. He was not my sweetheart yet, not for a few more years. We were just friends and I wanted to surprise him, I found some interesting leaves and other trivial treasures and I wanted to share them with him. He entered the room humming a little tone. I almost stepped out from my hiding place under the window when I saw that he was not alone. His father walked after him. I was always a bit afraid of the mayor. He didn’t approve our friendship and he always grumbled when he saw me. His face was a sea of wrinkles with a greying moustache and his voice was low and threatening like the cracking of ice under your feet. I hid behind a blanket and tried to remain as still as possible.
“As you know, son, the Elders met together to discuss the case of the girl who arrived to our town on the rails.”
“A decision was reached. It seems that the Elders of the girl’s town decided to send away the girls when they reach a certain age. This way they could prevent overpopulation and the thinning of blood lines. First, we thought that the idea was cruel but after we discussed every side of the case, we came to an understanding. Sometimes a few people have to suffer for a greater good.” The mayor was caressing his moustache. Suddenly it reminded me of a dead mouse.
“But why the girls? The boys are stronger, they would have a bigger chance to survive the journey.”
My heart thumped proudly. That was my friend standing up for a good cause.
“Because boys and men are needed in the town. Besides, they might rebel why the young women will just do what we tell them.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
Why are you questioning the decision of the Elders? Don’t think too much of your worth, boy, just because you are my son. I am sure it is that useless girl who filled your head with all this nonsense.”
I heard the sound of his hand meeting the face of my friend. I should have tried to protect him but I didn’t. I shut my eyes as tight as I could and prayed that I would not be found out. I felt horrible and at my first chance I climbed out of the window as fast as I could and I ran home without looking back. I left all my treasures behind along with a slice of my conscience. This was what I learnt about human nature that day: we tend to sacrifice others to save our own skin.
I shivered, lying on the floor among the shattered memories, and waited for the darkness to lift.
Black and white digital photography.
Jack waited while Verity slept and was there when she woke, sitting upright and rigid in the darkness. Her movement startled him from a half sleep, the only kind of rest he’d known since the attack that rendered her unconscious. For the first time, Jack felt fear like no other and anger the like that sought satisfaction. He leaned towards the bed seeking her eyes, which were still swollen and bruised, but in the darkness Jack could not discern if she had them open or not. “I am here.”
She turned towards him, “Jack, they’re killing people.”
He lit an oil lamp and returned to his seat. “Try to rest Verity.” She was right. They were killing people. How, he did not understand or why. The idea inspired waves of stomach upset, but not just from the thought of people intentionally harming others.
He wanted to bring harm to them.
Verity continued speaking, “Listen, they attacked me because I spoke to Coroner Daisy Smith and I fear she has come to grievous harm.” She threw the covers aside ignoring the fact that she only wore her underclothes. “The coroner discovered that Harold Jowens was killed with three small metal balls.” Crawling out of bed, across the room to her gown, Verity dug around the fabric and turned to Jack.
He took what she proffered, which matched the same items Daisy had removed from Head Engineer Septimus Leavitt. “He was found by the river. Do you realize that this is the kind of thing, which brought Septimus Leavitt’s demise?”
“Indeed my dearest Jack, I do. The item that propelled these into Harold Jowens and the late Head Engineer is transportable and likely unassuming.”
Jack scrutinized Verity’s figure noting every bruise, “I would very much like to propel these metal balls into whoever harmed you.”
Red colored Verity’s face, neck, and arms and Jack realized just how bare she appeared. She pulled the dress on and climbed under the covers. “I cannot imagine where we might find such a device.”
Rushing out of the room, Jack returned with Lawyer Evelyn Brightmoor and a large piece of paper and pen. “We can mark out all the events, which occurred since the Head Engineer died and any possible related or unrelated oddities.”
Scrunching up her features Verity nodded. “First the Head Engineer dies.”
Jack wrote it down. He added his new use. The fiction book with the new way of death called murder and then wrote down the metal balls.
“What about the peace officers?” Lawyer Evelyn Brightmoor offered.
The ink filled up the paper quickly as Jack wrote. He added pictures of places around Propitious, included the flat where Septimus lived, the river, the clockworks, and the homes of the Accident Construction Workers.
“Jack you have to add those people at the clockworks that oversee the engineers and deliverers, they were operational before the Head Engineer’s death,” Verity murmured.
She was tired, he noticed in the way her eyes closed and opened and her body jerked every few minutes. “You need your rest.”
“Quit behaving as if I am a child Jack Velverton! I won’t have it.” She sniffled. “They are hurting people and we have to stop them.”
Lawyer Evelyn Brightmoor shuddered, “I hate to admit it, but she has a point. Only, we’re three people. They have more and the right to assign uses, at least as if it were the clockworks doing so.”
Jack made a final adjustment to their list, The Good Newsers. That group of conspiracy theorists and crackpots had more sense than Jack wanted to believe as much as it chafed him to think it. He had to drop in on August Varney with some haste and then he wrote down Receptionist Mary Kirkland and Engineer Herbert Juxon. He had gone to Septimus’s flat and there were the books Mary commissioned. The titles appeared on the paper as Jack scribbled them down. “With this, we may compose a list of suspects and a list of potential allies as I fear this is far greater than the three of us. We are in need of assistance.”
Loud crashes reverberated through the mansion. Jack folded up the paper as neatly as he could and stuffed it into his inner pocket. Loud voices called through the building and then a deafening splintering of wood assaulted the quiet of the Brightmoor flat.
“What is the meaning of this?” Evelyn exited the room and came back followed by her husband and two men dressed in the pink and brown uniforms of peace officers. She tried to wrench her arm free of their clutches. Her husband seemed dazed and Jack noticed blood dripping down the arm of his nightshirt.
The two officers went to the bed lifting Verity as if she were nothing more than a housecat. Jack tried to stop them and fell to the floorboards as something struck him on the head. “Leave him alone,” Verity was screaming. Evelyn sobbed next to her husband and Jack’s vision blurred. Darkness claimed him.
In Franchise Decay I look at a movie franchise that has at least two sequels (allowing me to talk about trilogies if I so choose), and how it has remained strong or declined in quality over time.
So, Mission Impossible. Last week I talked about The Fast and The Furious franchise, and how it evolved from a gritty low-level crime franchise, into one of the most successful (and entertaining) film series in history. Mission Impossible has gone through a similar change, though I think the big difference is that Mission Impossible has maintained a more consistent level of quality –even if it has become less serious over time –but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Mission Impossible (1996)
Of course the film series is actually one of many big-budget adaptations of an older show, in this case the show of the same name created by Bruce Geller and airing from 1966 to 1973. I have never seen the show, but the initial film adaption from director Brian De Palma is sleek, stylish, thriller –and I do mean thriller. Though the series is currently thought of as largely action-based, the original film is mainly structured around actual espionage work, the film’s big centerpiece being a complicated attempt to steal a secure file from the CIA, featuring the iconic image of Tom Cruise (the franchise’s hero Ethan Hunt) suspended from cables over the floor. Purists of the series were angered that the show’s original hero was turned into the villain –a traitor who frames Tom Cruise for his crimes, but again, I never saw the original show. Lalo Schifrin’s legendary theme music is used to great effect, particularly in the climax involving a bullet train and a helicopter, which, my comments about this initial entry not being much of an action film aside, is one of my all-time favorite action set pieces. So anyways, fueled by nostalgia and Cruise’s star power the film was a massive international hit and inevitably led to a sequel.
Mission Impossible II (2000)
Cruise and De Palma did not get along, and so legendary Hong Kong action director John Woo was chosen to helm the second entry. The rumor goes that Woo designed his elaborate action set pieces first, and then commanded his writers (including Battlestar Galactica reboot mastermind Ronald D. Moore) to come up with a story around them. I don’t know how true this story is (though it ironically was true of the original film), but it would certainly explain the weird pacing in the film, that finds Cruise, Ving Rhames (returning from the first film as helpful hacker Luther Stickell), and sexy thief Nyah (Thandie Newton) taking on an absurd scheme involving traitorous agents and a doomsday virus that a pharma company hopes to profit off of. The weird nature of the film is that almost all the big action is in the film’s second half, including Woo’s patented doves flying ahead of the hero in slow motion. This movie also introduces idiotically perfect masks and voice changers that allow people to essentially shapeshift –also Anthony Hopkins shows up as the shadowy head of the Impossible Mission Force… for some reason. The film was another big hit for Cruise who decided to let the franchise take a backseat to his other films. A backseat that is, until Cruise became maligned in the media for his bizarre antics involving Katie Holmes and scientology. As a result, Cruise called up-and-coming television wunderkind J.J. Abrams to direct and write, with his long-time writing companions Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.
Mission Impossible III (2006)
This film has taken on a good reputation in recent years, but I don’t view it quite so favorably. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as always as a sadistic arms dealer, and Simon Pegg provides some comic relief, but the film weirdly suffers from the opposite problem as the previous sequel: the dreaded anti-climax. Abrams opens with a big helicopter chase, and fits in another big undercover operation (ala the original film) in the middle, but the film inexplicably peters out in the second half ending on a fist fight in a Hong Kong back alley. Maybe they just ran out of money. The film is okay, but it suffers from a weird tonal dissonance, as it veers between lighthearted adventure (the McGuffin is a never explained doomsday weapon called “The Rabbit’s Foot”) and grim sadism (as Hoffman threatens to torture Cruise’s wife to death for fun). Unfortunately good reviews were unable to sway audiences tired of Cruise’s antics and the film ended up being the series’ least successful. Still, it was a decent hit, and the studio eventually plotted a sequel, hoping to transition the series away from Cruise to an up and coming action star: Jeremy Renner.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
Abrams settled into a role as producer and the series lucked out dramatically with the selection of Brad Bird as the new director. People probably know Bird mainly as the writer-director of animated films like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. In a previous summer column I talked about the disaster of John Carter, where successful Pixar director Andrew Stanton failed to translate his skills in animation into a live action directorial debut. Fortunately Bird makes it look easy, delivering what is the lightest, most-faced paced, and most entertaining entry in the series –by a wide margin. The film works by continually subverting all the technology of the previous films; the masks fail, the magical spy tech fails, even the notes that self-destruct after being listened to fail to self-destruct. The film was a huge hit with critics, and a bigger hit with audiences, seemingly reversing the trend of Cruise films to the point where he decided not to leave the franchise, meaning that both he and Renner will be back for the upcoming sequel.
Mission Impossible 5 (2015)
Which brings us to the present. Still produced by Abrams, and bringing back Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, this entry will see the academy award winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, Christopher McQuarrie, take over directing duties (fresh off directing Cruise in the superior mystery thriller Jack Reacher). One memorable sequence from Ghost Protocol had Cruise using his love of stunt work to actually scale the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, for an action sequence. Similarly Cruise has been caught filming a fight scene for this sequel on the outside of an Airbus while it is actually flying miles above the earth. Abrams tries to maintain a certain level of quality in all the work he’s involved in, and the truth is that all the Mission Impossible films are pretty good. Well… the second one is actually pretty terrible, but at least the chase scene at the end is a hoot! So, just like The Fast and The Furious, the series swing to light-hearted entertainment has my expectations set to maximum –though at least this time there’s no warning signs… which actually means that my expectations aren’t tempered at all and it’s even worse. I guess what I’m saying is that if this isn’t the greatest action movie of all time I’m going to be disappointed.
Next: We’ll have to follow three rules closely as I look at The Transporter trilogy before the imminent reboot (yes, really) that comes out this June.
Digital photography. All images taken in London, England.
They move a group of us from one holding cell to another for pre-booking. Times passes. Then they drag us, one by one, to a station where a huge white guy mashes our fingers onto an ink plate. He rolls our fingers onto forms stamped with our names. When people smear the prints, he gets pissed and more than a little physical. Then they give us the orange jumpsuits and have us remove all our clothing. Our stuff gets sealed in plastic bags and we stand in a line in a large open room. I half wonder if a body cavity search is about to begin. I’m more than a little nervous. Instead they have us dress, OPP in bold letters, and we get our picture taken. Three total, front then sides, each of us holding a number.
It’s just past 6:00 am. After driving for fourteen hours, getting arrested took less than twenty minutes. The waiting then, either in van or holding cells, took six and half to seven hours. I am exhausted. It’s all I can do to stay awake. Then they stand me next to a wall with a phone. I remember the numbers. I’d say it’s a miracle if I thought less of miracles. I call the hotel, half guess with the room number, but Brian answers.
—I’m in Orleans Parish Prison. I would like for you guys to come down and bail me out.
I remember how pathetic the other guy sounded trying to get his friend to help him, so I try to be as polite and nonchalant as possible. Brian tells me they will figure something out once they get up. I guess that’s the best I can expect.
Jail itself is both more and less terrible than I’d imagined.
Less: there are no fights. Everyone is basically civil. There is a TV. People tell jokes/laugh in the common area, and none of them are about raping the new guys. There are windows. We each get a mini toothpaste tube and brush to maintain dental hygiene. How thoughtful.
More: the toilets are metal and have no seats. Criminals seem to understand the connection between toilets and human waste, but few seem to have learned the necessity of getting it in the toilet bowl—dried piss covers all like an exploded soda fountain. Also, for being 85 degrees outside, they air condition the place to feel like mid to low 60s, so I’m always cold. The windows are all frosted and backlit, so, like a casino, your body never has any idea what time it is.
Expected: the food looks terrible, but I never had high hopes. All I remember them serving is tuna on white bread and oatmeal. I imagine asking them if they have any vegetarian options, but know enough not to paint that bullseye on myself. I maintain doubts that the oatmeal is sanitary if it is vegetarian. I don’t eat anything the entire time I am there. With reluctance, I drink as little water from the common room fountain as I dare.
Pay phones in the main area allow collect calls any time, so I call home and tell my roommate, Nate, what happened. I tell him to call my work and tell them I might not make it in Monday. Then I try to sleep forever.
This gets interrupted by court. After a lot of waiting, they put me in front of a judge, though I don’t remember getting a lawyer of any kind. I read the charges on a yellow paper they hand me: lewd conduct and public drunkenness. The judge shakes his head when I plead not guilty to public drunkenness. I think we both know they can’t question my sobriety as no test was ever administered, or I daresay documented. However, he also knows that he can set a court date and force me to return to this godforsaken place whenever he wants, a giant pain in my ass. He drops that charge. Lewd conduct costs me $500 or 30 days in jail.
Back to jail. As the newcomer, I get the top bunk with the torn blanket. I can’t get warm enough to sleep, so I lay there for a little more than a day, when my bunkmate gets released. I move to the bottom and take both blankets. I sleep all day.Superman 3 is on the TV that night after lights out. I watch from behind the bars of my cell thinking, how nice for them to leave it on until it finishes.
I begin to feel unjustly penalized. I hurt no one and showed less than many of the women on the balconies. I try to imagine myself like Gandhi on hunger strike. If I die, they will all be sorry, and I will become a martyr for comedic nudists the world over. . . .
To pass time, I stand at the wall of tinted glass in the common room and look into the controllers office. It’s dark, but I can see the officer eating a Big Mac, looking over the video feeds from all the cells. Many screens are white. The inmates smear toothpaste over the protective covering to get some privacy. The guy thinks I want his Big Mac, so he makes an effort to dramatically enjoy each bite. Vegetarian, shrug. He finally gets annoyed with me about a half hour to an hour in and starts waiving me off. After another half hour of staring at him, another officer comes in and tells me to go to my cell.
A new guy arrives. I give him the top bunk and the shitty blanket. Another day passes. While sweeping out the cells, an inmate brushes my butt with his elbow. When he doesn’t apologize, I try to act tough and hiss watch it! He apologizes. I wonder if this was an accident or prison code to initiate manly relations. . . .
I do not go to the shower room ever. No soap to drop.
After many hours of contemplation, weighing the funniness of my joke to the time spent here, wondering where my friends are, et cetera. . .two officers come in, remove me from the cell. They give me my plastic bag and have me dress. Without so much as telling me of my release (or not to come back), they push me out a side door onto the street. I stand there a moment. Where do I go?
I feel like the Howard Campbell Jr. in Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night. Finally I look to the distance. Tall buildings. I start walking. There will be a Greyhound in downtown. If only I can keep my shorts up long enough to get on one. . .
Black and white digital photography.
Journal Entry – May 18th, 2114
Fresh meat we call them. Normally, I would be there instructor and that’d be it, but we’re short on troops, and the pair of Husks terrorizing the land has required us to empty our garrisons. They need everything. They need everyone. My trainees are now full-fledged fighters, ready to bloody their gums under the branches of battle. We aren’t just meat sacks for these shadows in the trees. You think you don’t have a choice when it comes to confronting your fate, but you do, you have every opportunity to have control over the monsters on the edge of the forest. I’m marching us into the woods, towards the Silent Ring, hoping to draw the devils out into the undergrowth. It won’t be long till the horses are walking into one another, and the birds are afraid to chirp.
We got halfway into the forest when one of the new sharpshooters walked up behind me. She was the one from before, the naturally talented one with the deadeye grip. I knew she’d be good in battle from the get go, so I wasn’t even worried about her. She has had a shit life. She’s always had to fight for everything she has owned. Now she gets to take all that frustration and hate out on the monsters of our world.
“You scared?” I asked her, as we trotted along.
“No, just want to get it done and figured out,” she said. She spoke in a crisp voice, like she was cutting glass.
“God I wish we had more like you,” I said.
“You don’t but that’s okay, I’m happy to have to kill more,” she said.
“Well, containment is the only priority,” I replied.
She laughed and shook her black hair.
“Containment’s a joke. We should handle our problems straight on, like how nature does. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Containment should be the Dol dead on the ground like one of those pictures in the history books,” she said.
A few of the Brawlers ahead of us looked back at her with a mixture of contempt and awe.
“Now, I feel like everything should be a bit easier if we confronted our problems,” she said.
“Not if your problems are gods of blood and bone. Not if you’ve seen a Husk kill a hundred men in an hour,” I said.
She walked away from me suddenly and towards the front of the line. Someone was screaming up ahead.
“At least they’re not shy,” she screamed.
-Sharpshooter Sergeant Ellen Malory
(This will be the conclusion of DOL 39 until a later date. A glimpse into a terrible world, where containing our problems warps our society.)
I’m still in Colombia as I write this, in between hospital visits, cancer treatments, and general hopes. Another thing my stay here reminds me of is how I’ve often thought how much animals get the short end of the stick in this world. As much as I hate cancer and any number of the problems that plague people, I’ve often said that my primary inclination towards charity involves animals. Wherever you see a human suffering, you’re even likelier to find animals that suffer as well, sometimes even worse. But specifically what comes to my mind when I’m here or whenever I hear some breakthrough story in animal behavior is how ridiculous it is when we are surprised by how much like people animals can behave.
Probably 20 to 25 years ago, I remember hearing that only primates (including humans, you evolution deniers) use tools. That surprised me, but I was too inexperienced and unaware to question it much, and the internet didn’t exist to look it up. I’ve also heard periodically over the course of my life that animals aren’t really aware like people, don’t feel pain the way people do, and don’t feel emotions like love, care, or compassion like people. I know one guy who asserted that dogs feel these things, but cats don’t (the argument was full of reductionism which was only applied to cats, like “they really just always want something”). I’m pretty sure it was just because he doesn’t like cats. Either way, decades of new findings, which I would bet money aren’t all really new, so much as new to public science, should have taught us better.
We know by now that crows, dolphins, elephants, otters, octopi, and other animals and even insects use tools without humans teaching them to do so. There is some debate about what constitutes a “tool,” but that doesn’t keep us from being shocked when we make a new discovery, like the octopus using coconut shells. It is like environment pollution debates, where the evidence about what affects things and how much can legitimately be debated back and forth, but we are still stupid if we don’t think that a general “toxins in, toxins out” rule applies: the more trash we throw into the environment, the more that trash affects things. We can argue about what animals are capable of all we want, but in the end, living creatures still display functions of life, and creatures with minds (however tiny) will display mental functions—including emotions.
Sometimes I think the third world knows more about this than we do, because it more often sees animals that have to be independent. In Turkey, there are lots of stray cats and dogs. I saw one adult male cat look out for a little kitten, no more than 8 weeks old. When we would feed them, the adult would let the kitten eat whatever it wanted while it stood guard, then it would eat what was left. The more classically intelligent animals show a sense of humor, playing pranks on humans or other animals. My own cat used to have endless fun running over my head in the mornings when he was no more than 7 weeks old. He would hide behind this atom bomb-shaped lamp, wiggle his butt, and then run out and just trample my head until I got up (this was when I saw it coming—most of the time I just felt his little paws on my face as he ran me over). And who doesn’t know about cats or other pets bringing dead animals to them? My own cat misses me when I’m gone, pining for me for a week usually on long trips, and he’s all over me shortly after I get home. The show obvious grief, longing, playfulness, love, often compassion—dolphins even rescue strangers just like people do—guilt, fear, pain, hopelessness and despair.
My girlfriend’s dog, Luna, is a great example of an animal that exhibits behavior similar to humans. She is the most remarkable dog I’ve ever seen. I’m unclear of the circumstances of her arriving at the house, but Elsy fed her and took her in, and Elsy is her clear favorite human in the world. But this dog is not just desperate for a home. Every morning, Luna goes to work. That’s right, work. I’ve seen the place from a distance, and it looks like a store front or auto shop, but she scratches at the door to get out and goes to that shop every morning after sunrise. There she sits and keeps watch, with her one blue and one brown eye, for shady characters and bad behavior near the shop. She clearly uses some kind of racial or social profiling, as sometimes she selectively chases people at other times like an off-duty cop spotting someone who “looks like a vagabond” and giving them a hard time. At lunch time, she goes to the same little café every day where she waits for the owner to give her food, then she goes back to work. Around sunset, she comes back home and goes bananas to see Elsy (I’ll leave you to picture the various ways dogs go happily bananas). Soon she goes to eat, and goes to her bed, but she will sometimes want to go out for a brief sniff around outside the house after dark and come back in. If Elsy leaves and comes back, she goes bananas again. On weekends, she goes to a different job and often comes home early. Luna used to have a different job, but that business moved across Caracas Avenue which is very busy, and she didn’t want to make that dangerous commute, so she picked this other second job. It’s extraordinary.
If no one is home to let her in when she gets home, she may hang around or keep checking, but she sometimes goes back to her work family and stays there in her big bed. She only likes to eat after Elsy is home. But if Elsy is gone for long periods of time, Luna looks all over the house for Elsy, doesn’t go very bananas, and settles into her bed. She then tends not to eat at the house (only the other places she goes). Then after several days of this, she just doesn’t come back at all—until Elsy does. With Elsy’s cancer, and longer stays in hospitals, and certain cancerous or thrombotic areas that can’t tolerate Luna’s affectionate jumping and pawing, Luna is having to make some of these adjustments again, but Luna is at least happy when Elsy is home. The hospital stays mess with Luna, and lately she has begun eating once I get home instead of Elsy, but she doesn’t really go bananas when I get home except a little prematurely in the hope that Elsy is behind me. I am worried that if things go badly for Elsy, and I of course go back to Minneapolis, maybe Luna will just leave for good, but I have no doubt she will go on with this extraordinary behavior.
What really strikes me when people denigrate or minimize the feelings, intelligence, variety or validity of animal behavior and experience, is how similar this is to what people used to say of slaves or natives—anyone whose culture seemed primitive or more often just strange. Now I’m a huge proponent of consciousness evolution research and theory, and I don’t at all believe most animals are as intelligent as humans, and I still eat meat that is treated in the varieties of ways that society offers it to me, from penned and bludgeoned to death, to organic, free-range, and eaten apparently only after prolonged hospice care. Spending my entire life and energy refusing to accept the realities of the societies I am surrounded by and raising a natural, loving, healthy farm on land that has never been touched by chemicals or Newt Gingrich seems like a really ineffective way to change the world or anyone’s minds. I don’t equate humans and all other animals except as all being equally alive, but I don’t have to pick between equating and minimizing. I would be obliged if we could at least all step out of our denial and admit that, while animals may or may not have degrees and depths of intelligence and feeling less than our own, even if we may not know the extent of their capacities or potentials, they are still on the same path in the same world. We don’t have to personify them to care about them and treat them well, do we? So why do we have to denigrate them to take care of our own needs? What is behind this species profiling? And is it really surprise we feel when we discover how much animals are capable of, or is it fear and guilt for how we’ve previously treated other intelligent, feeling creatures?
The delicate frenzy of spring
A subdued triumph of sky and flower
That greets the pastel birth of shape and color
That rose from spasmodic months
Rocking beneath the earth and inside the tree
To erupt silently and overnight
A blade of grass catching light like a knife
A petal struggling from a black bud
Trees abandoned their modesty
Waving gusts of blossoms like petticoats
Arranged in rows on a manicured stage
Orpheus in the Underworld
Offenbach surging through the DNA
Of branches as dark as dancers’ stockings
As fragrant as the scent that stained their wrists
Dressed for display in spring’s pure boudoir
It is the daintiest season
When Nature’s baroque femininity
Slips into a diaphanous landscape
That is chaste yet flamboyant
Embroidered with innocence and breezes
It is worn throughout the perfumed months
And bulks into contractions of generations
Spinning like silk through life’s endless fabric