There’s no torture worse than knowing you were once innocent.
Somewhere in my music memory Stanley Clarke bends a single bass note up, and then back down like a comic sound effect that is utterly bereft of comedy. My car is aimed at Sleep Beach, and I can feel it driving, driving, driving, moving, moving, moving, swift and sure, smooth and sexy, gliding along toward the shore where I’ll drive right on in to the water and find blessed sleep at last. But the second my car hits the sand, it suddenly jumps, in an instant like it was being teleported, across the entire ocean to land on a whole other continent, where it will drive inland for a hundred miles, then turn back around and try again and again and again.
Each time I dip my toe in the pool, and gently begin to ease the rest of my body into the water, it spits me back out again. And again and again and again.
There is no such thing as non-assisted sleep.
So I give in to despair and open my eyes in the dark, hearing every single sound in the whole world, all piped into my ever-shrieking ears on a fatline. I know I’m looking at the ceiling but I can’t see anything but ink, so I move my eyes down toward the door and can just barely, at the edge of perception, make out a tiny green pinpoint that is the light from the smoke detector which is waiting patiently for disaster to strike.
Two sleeping pills in and nothing.
I feel the edge dull just the slightest bit, and I think if I try one more time, just one more time, I can slip off into a few minutes of unconsciousness before my brain realizes I’m trying to sleep and JERKS ME AWAKE AGAIN. Right on the edge of sleep this time, I suddenly hear the sound of some crazy person in the park next to my apartment building. He’s laughing. No, not laughing, a single laugh, just enough to wake up me again. Then silence, a dog barks, then another single laugh, HA! he says. HA! Silence. HA! Silence. About every 60 seconds.
Maybe there’s not a man out there at all. Maybe it’s one of those demons, that pack of demons hiding behind my bedroom walls at night, and they have one job to do, and that’s to make sure I don’t fall asleep before they have the chance to ask me where I’ve hidden the plans to the Death Star.
Then a chorus of demented and tormented souls begins to cry out, all shrieking, all screaming, I AM NEVER GOING TO SLEEP AGAIN I AM NEVER GOING TO SLEEP AGAIN IT WILL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY IT WILL ALWAYS BE THIS WAY THIS IS NOT GOING TO END UNTIL I’M DEAD.
HA! from outside again. And then, a minute later, a cry of rage from this unknown man out there, “Damn toast!” he yells, all his rage at all his life spilled out in two nonsensical words.
And that’s when I decide to speak out loud, “You have got to be kidding me.” And now I’m as awake as a college student on four cans of Red Bull. I’ve been lying in bed since 11 p.m. It’s now 3 a.m. I’ve got to be up at 5:30 a.m., and this isn’t going to end until I’m dead.
And what if I don’t die? What if this keeps going?
There is, after all, no such thing as non-assisted sleep.
(to be continued)
Sometimes you hear something about someone that changes everything. About someone you love – a mother, a brother, a husband, a grandmother. Something that changes your entire life’s perception of that person, and it’s all the harder the longer you’ve known them. And it doesn’t always change all it once, and sometimes it’s not a big thing. Sometimes it’s a little thing, something someone tells you they said, something that begins to subtly echo in your brain with all the other little things you knew about that person, all the little unuttered things about them that rambled around in your brain, little pieces of poison about that person you refused to swallow; but this new thing echoes with them, and droplets coagulate and make a wave, and the wave washes over you, and suddenly you feel hate begin inside. You don’t want to hate that person, but the weight of all that evidence overwhelms you, pummels you, crushes your right hand so that you can never use it again, and all at once the person you knew all your life, the person you loved and depended on, is suddenly hated with a white hot heat of a thousand burning suns, and you are never the same again, especially if the object of that hate has been dead a decade or more. You want to dig them up and scream at them, HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO STUPID FOR SO LONG?
(to be continued)
Your soul is not elastic
everything that happens leaves a mark
sometimes the worst comes from the inside
Everyone who gets close mars it somehow
some kick angry holes in it
some tag it with graffiti
and an occasional few paint Sistine ceilings
So watch and note
who’s got a paintbrush
who’s got a spray can
and who’s got heavy boots and mad feet
and from time to time take a look
at what’s in your own hand
and your own angry dancing footwear
Night falls and cars
open their headlight eyes
brake lights telegraphing signals
down lines at stop signs
Darkness lights lightly on
the city and tiny suns
come to life lining highways
unnatural alarm clocks for nature
One day this will all be gone
tucked under blankets of
mushroom clouds or wormwood or
maybe just hate and ignorance
or rabid unthinking brutality
and cheering sociopaths
spitting and enraged voyeurs
with bloody hands fat on couches
But the trash heaps
will be glorious.
- RGA, 1985 & 2014
If it hadn’t been for my flu symptoms I would have never found out I was the Antichrist.
But off to the free clinic I’d gone, with my diarrhea and my puking and my fever, seeking out the cheapest medical help I could find, due to being in between radio DJ jobs – something that was becoming more and more frequent in my life.
The bored, overworked doctor apparently found something in the lab work, saw something on my scalp, and immediately sent me to the hospital where more tests were run, and then strange, unidentified but obviously important government officials had come to collect me.
I was whisked away to some secret government installation that oddly was populated by as many priests as doctors and other important-looking business-suited individuals. And then finally I was given the news.
“We’ve done every possible test, examined every possible angle,” the spokesman said, sitting in the middle of a great, long table with a lot of people all staring at me, like I was a witness at a congressional hearing. “We’ve examined your family history and the biblical prophecies. We’ve run medical experiments. We have discovered that you have the Mark of the Beast — the telltale sign foretold long ago. We have no choice but to conclude that you are, in fact, the Antichrist, the Beast, the Son of Satan himself.”
I was never one for Bible stuff, but I knew enough to know that this couldn’t possibly be good news, and worse, I’d have huge hospital bills from all the testing they’d done. What I knew of the Antichrist or the Beast was that while he was destined to rule the world, he was also destined to be defeated, and not nicely either – God himself would be coming to roast me alive, and from what I’d heard from a lifetime of Protestant pastors, God was one pissed-off individual.
“Oh, this is just wonderful!” I said. “I need this like I need a hole in the head.”
I didn’t want to be the Antichrist. All I wanted to do was find another radio gig so I could get my electricity turned back on. Now I had to go raise an army of demons and take over the world or something. It just sounded like much more than I was qualified to do.
I had been under the impression that being identified as the Antichrist would mark me for institutionalization or maybe even death, as people were surely aware that the Antichrist was supposed to be evil – an enemy of God – and they’d count themselves lucky to have found me and be able to stop me.
But it wasn’t like that at all. It seemed as if they were happy, as if their long-simmering plans were finally coming to fruition. I realized then that these people had been working for, you know, the other side all along.
From then on I was surrounded by an entourage of complete strangers whose only purpose was to serve my every whim. Every whim except let someone else be the Antichrist. I offered the job to one of them and he turned white as a sheet.
About that time I met Mr. Finnow, and he seemed to be the leader of the group, who always seemed to be inquiring after my state of mind – and refusing to let me leave.
He made sure I had lots of reading material, stuff like Nietzsche, the Satanic Bible, and more than a few religious self-improvement workbooks. They made me watch lots of movies and TV too: Michael Bay films, Pat Robertson, VH1 Classic and so on. They seemed to get off on “The Passion of the Christ.” “Best… snuff… film… ever,” Finnow said.
This went on for about six years. Six freaking years. Finally, I called Finnow and demanded to talk with the theologians, doctors, whoever they were. I wanted to talk some sense into them, convince them they were wrong about me, that they’d made a mistake and couldn’t they please get someone else to be the Antichrist, someone more fitted to the role, someone like Jack Nicholson. He would make a perfect Antichrist.
“I’m afraid it won’t be possible to speak to them,” he told me.
“And why not?” I asked.
He laughed a little and said, “Well, for one thing, they’re all dead, except for the media consultants. We still need them. But the rest were a nasty bunch. They were helpful in finding you, but couldn’t be counted on to toe the party line.”
“You mean, you killed them?”
He laughed louder. “Oh no, they all died naturally, of course. But don’t be impatient, because everything’s almost ready.”
And then one night they handed me a script, hustled me off to a makeup chair, dressed me in the most expensive suit I’d ever seen in my life. I was told that it was finally time to go on radio, TV and streaming all over the world to announce myself as the Supreme Leader. “What the hell do I say? I’ve never been a dictator before.”
“We’re not paying you to think, just to read your script,” Mr. Finnow said.
I flubbed the hell out of my lines, probably one of the reasons I was out of work so much, but they insisted that they had a crack team of editors who would make me sound so much better.
That was about the time I figured out the Finnow wasn’t quite human, and most of his close associates were, as they used to say in the old horror-movie business, actual demons.
After that I spent most of my time in a big conference room, surrounded as always by Finnow and his demonic hangers-on. Usually they read reports to each other about stuff I couldn’t begin to fathom – fear-based psychopolitics, metanational corporate socioeconomic demographics and TV ratings methodology. Frankly, I had a hard time just keeping up… or staying awake. But one day, Finnow turned to me and said, “Well, what do you think we should do with it?”
“Do with what?” I asked, having missed about the last 45 minutes of conversation.
“The Mark of the Beast,” he said. “It’s time to require everyone to take the mark in their right hand or forehead, without which they can’t get credit to buy anything. It’s what we used to do in the credit-scoring game, but this makes it so much easier.
“Now, obviously, it’s ‘666,’ but I was hoping you’d have some ideas on a logo design that would make it buzzworthy and something hipsters would want.”
I tried to clear my head and doodled on a notepad, still a little pissed they never gave me an iPad or a Surface 3. Finally I finished something and showed it to them. “How about this?”
He looked at it and shook his head. “No, no, no. We can’t do that. Out of the question.”
“Now wait a minute. I’m supposed to have absolute power, but now you tell me I can’t have this one simple little thing?”
The smell of demonic sulfur was very strong and Mr. Finnow said, “This is not about absolute power, this is about trademark infringement! You mean to tell me you want the Mark of the Beast to be this…” he held up the paper, “the Toyota logo?” he shouted.
“It’s not a Toyota logo!” But it did look a bit like it.
And things went downhill from there.
One day, it came to a head. I finally said, “I’m out. I quit. As a radio DJ, I’m not used to quitting, but this time I’m doing it. I’ve had enough. I can’t take anymore. I never wanted this in the first place. I’m not going to do another goddamn thing and there’s nothing you can do about it. No more speeches, no more meetings, no more nothing.”
There was pandemonium. There was nothing in the prophecies about the Beast quitting. Finnow was quite beside himself. “This will not do!” he shrieked.
All of a sudden there was a great blinding flash of light. When the smoke cleared, I saw that everyone except Finnow had fled the room.
Only there was somebody new in there with us.
“Mr. Finnow, old friend!” the new arrival said. He was eight feet tall with horns coming out of his forehead and a pointy tail coming out of his ass. He was impeccably dressed and had a container of Vicks in his right hand.
His face was the oddest thing. As he would turn, the light would catch his head from a different angle, and when it did, his face would change. Turned this way, he looked like Bill O’Reilly. Turned that way, he looked like Bill Clinton. Turned again this way, it was Bill Shatner.
It was only much later I realized the pattern.
“You seem to be having some trouble here,” he said in a remarkably good-natured voice, full of mirth and merriment.
“No, no, everything’s fine, fine,” Mr. Finnow stammered.
I interrupted. “Excuse me, but who the hell are you?”
“Oh I like that, ‘who the hell,’ hee hee hee,” he said. “Pleased to meet me, hope you guess my name.” Satan, a.k.a. the Devil, the Foul One, the Damned of the Damned, smiled with every word, and he was so full of laughter and good cheer I had to wonder at his bad reputation. He turned back to Mr. Finnow, who was now visibly shaking. “So, Finnow my boy, you found the Antichrist, put him in power and accomplished everything I set out for you to do?”
Finnow was sweating. “Um, almost everything…”
“Yes, you do seem to be having some difficulty here. I feel your pain. Our Beast seems hesitant to cooperate, doesn’t he? Which is odd because we all know that he’s supposed to be all too happy to help us in our cause, yes? He’s supposed to be just like me, yes? You know, like a son? So if we’re having some trouble, whose fault do you think that is, hmm?”
“I, I don’t know…” Finnow said, looking as if he’d shrink into the floor if he could.
The Devil’s face smiled so broadly the teeth went practically behind his neck. “I mean, you were responsible for finding him, yes?”
Finnow could see where this was going and it was not a pleasant realization at all. “But… He’s got the your Mark on his scalp and everything!”
“Oh, the Mark on the scalp,” he said, still all mirth and merriment, smacking himself in the head like he’d forgotten something. “Three sixes, yes? That would settle it, eh? Well let’s have a look!” He pointed a finger at me and all my hair fell out. As each strand of hair took a dive off my skull, they tickled. “Take a look again,” he said as all the joviality left his voice.
Finnow could barely lift his head, but he did. “Yeah, right there, 666!” he said, like a whiny child who thinks that maybe, just maybe, he might get away with it.
And then Satan exploded. He became taller somehow, and his face began to melt from what at first looked human into a grotesquerie of a monster parade. All the gaiety was gone, and he shouted, “That’s not three sixes! IT’S… THREE… NINES!”
Before Finnow could say another word, he was enveloped in flames, and I heard the Devil laughing maniacally although I could no longer see him in all the smoke. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself…” I heard him saying.
Then everything went black and I was suddenly in a deep, dark hole, feeling as if I no longer existed in the world of reality at all.
****** ****** ******
Next thing I knew, I was back where I started. Back in my old apartment and still unemployed. The electricity was off and my headphones were busted. It was like it had all been a bad dream. It was like none of it had ever happened.
I was almost able to convince myself that it had been nothing more than a dream, at least, I found it easier to tell myself that so I could get out of bed.
There was nothing else for me to do but to hit the streets and look for a job. I was determined to do anything but work in radio again. I’d had enough of demons and devils to last a lifetime.
So I applied for a sales job at Best Buy. As I was leaving the interview, I noticed a lot of people gathered over by the curved Super-HD displays, so I went over to see what everybody was watching.
A guy in a nice business suit was speaking. He had the weirdest face that looked like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Clinton and Bill Shatner all at the same time. Behind him, a mysterious man was standing in the shadows. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is only one person that can save us from our time of troubles. He is a man who is a voice to his generation, or at least to the big money demo. He is a man you can believe in, have faith in, and put your trust in. A man that everyone can love. A man who does not offend anyone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the answer to all our prayers!”
Then the mystery man walked up to the podium.
And then Ryan Seacrest spoke, with an accent so Midwestern it was unearthly, and said he was giving up his work in the media to do something worthwhile for humanity, something that would matter, something that would be important. He was going to accept the mantle of political leadership and help us all to put our silly differences aside and work together in peace and brotherhood, not just here in America but all over the world, and in all major and medium-sized markets.
And everyone cheered.
****** ****** ******
And because evil never sleeps, I gave up on Best Buy and went back into radio. I got the hell out of L.A. and found a small station in an unrated market that played soft, easy favorites twenty-four freaking hours a day. I slept through all my shifts and waited for Ryan Seacrest to take over the world.
Miami, 1997 & Los Angeles, 2006 & 2014
Spacemen see no escape, no god at apogee
Divers find no way out, no drains in the foam
The morning smell man makes his way to his car,
carrying garden hoses for carbon monoxide
And sings under his breath, “The good guy couldn’t break out of me,
The lucky guy got stuck on the tracks, the lover in the tree.”
The hovering helicopters have had their fill
cockpitted superman float up up and away
and the dawn birds sing to me “End this end this end this
end this end this end this end this end this end this end this.”
The good guy couldn’t break out of me,
the lucky guy got stuck on the tracks, the lover in the tree
The dawn birds in the tree, the dawn birds sing to me.