24 September 2011

American People: We Will Sing for Our Supper

The American People announced yesterday that they were through trying to make something of themselves, that college was too hard and everyone knows you never use most of what you learn there and anyway who needs that crushing debt when all the jobs that haven’t already been shipped overseas were either not worth trying to get or would soon be outsourced to people willing to work for a third of what they would consider getting out of bed for, that they were through undertaking the years of study and countless hours of patient workmanship it takes to produce decent quality anything, they are not going to bother trying to make things any more seeing as how it can all be made more cheaply by drones or robots working at scale and besides, all opportunity for advance has long since been closed off by the encroaching arms of global trade and wage arbitrage.

Instead, they continued, from now on, we will sing for our supper.

All the folks who make all the useful stuff will earn wages and profits more than sufficient to support a vast industry of entertainers and jesters to add laughter and meaning to their lives.  And that’s where we come in.  We will produce epic films and groundbreaking television shows of every imaginable color and genre, arm and train squadrons of musicians, poets, and acrobats that will conquer the world and lay it waste with joy and tears.  We it shall be who will build the websites, compose the blogposts, edit the videos, design the theme parks and brain up the advertising campaigns until no matter what the physical circumstances of your life, you will feel you are living in the best of all possible worlds, the beautiful pinnacle of ten thousand years of human evolution.

The more you oppress us, the better our protest songs.  The farther our standard of living falls, the better the blues we sing.  Throw us a few cases of good wine and a decent casserole once in a while and you might get a Mad Men or a Mr. Show.  But keep feeding us fake-ass frankenfood and selling us mounds of cheaply manufactured crap, and it’s gonna be The View and Jersey Shore on a 24-hour loop for as far as the eye can see.

The American People then removed their hat, placed it on the ground at their feet as a receptacle for the donations of appreciative observers, and launched into a soft-shoe / ‘rappin Jack Kennedy’ routine in the hopes of earning enough for a decent macchiato to get them through the afternoon.

10 September 2011

Contemporary Fiction: Dreams of Ocean Fantasy, or Scuba Doobie Doo

As one of the last bastions of places to publish contemporary fiction of outlandish quality and unpredictable nature of some our most gifted young writers, we proudly present the following short story.  Penned by one of our old college chums, the self-styled “Artist Alternately Known as Quassam and Eeyore”, the text is presented exactly as it was written, with no guarantees as to its origins or accuracy.  Standard Disclaimers apply.

Dreams of Ocean Fantasy, or Scuba Doobie Doo

Ray Powell had bought himself a new book called "Alec's Big Book about the Ocean."  Ray had over eight or nine books to choose from at the mega-store, but he chose the ocean book because it had an enormous bottle of gin on the cover, and a bowl of nachos.  There was plenty of misinformation about the ocean inside, mainly in the form of quips from Alec Guinness that there used to be oceans on the moon (there is only mud and slush, in fact), and that the ocean is the largest thing on Earth (actually, the moon is bigger).  There were some guest pages by Steve McQueen, mainly concerned with lunar gravity and time travel.

Ray decided to take the book with him to the Raccoon Supermarket where he worked, so he wouldn't have to stop chewing on it.  His job was to paint the Raccoon Supermarket squirrel at various locations in the store to indicate the daily specials, and then paint over it when the specials became ordinary again.  Sometimes Ray would draw it gorged fat on the day's highest-priced fruits or meats, or stuffing its cheeks with newly expensive cheese, or holding its nose and shaking its head at the generic brands.  Other times it would just direct guests to the coin-operated shopping carts, or quietly order them to leave if they had no money.

Before he went to work, he had to check in with his boss and roommate, Tom Bentley.

"We don't have many good prices today, so I want the squirrel to prevent loitering, discourage shoplifting, and interrupt a mugging," Tom said.  "But have it wiping its ass with Scott paper towels."

"I'll see what I can do," said Ray.

"Here, I drew how it's supposed to be."  Tom handed him a piece of paper.  "You can choose one of these two expressions-I'll leave it up to you.  But don't use too much paint."

"Ok."

Ray went to the back aisle and did some thumbnail sketches of the various humid towelettes and damp-wipes to be featured in the mural, but he was more than a little bit distracted with the wonders of the ocean.  "The ocean has two moons of its own", he whispered, carefully tracing a plastic guide for one of the squirrel's expressions (platen #12: disdain/regret), as he propped open his new book.  "Each moon would weigh five times more on Earth than it weighs on the moon."  His brush jumped the form-cut stencil, and wandered free across the wall, gently flowing into winged techno-jellyfish and bursting lunar scallops, and the letters of the word "phobos," over and again.  "If a werewolf went to the moon, it would remain a wolf for eternity..."

"What the hell is going on here?" squirted Tom, stumbling out of his office.  It was three o'clock and Ray had squandered his entire can of paint on a store-wide tableau of highly imaginative science-fiction crapola.

Ray struggled to explain what he had held in perfect clarity only minutes before. "The jumbo shrimp armada..." he stammered, "the great sea cucumber war of 3228... the large-mouth princess..."  He raced from freshly-painted aisle to aisle, bewildering the large crowd of penniless vagrants who had replaced the paying customers, long since directed to the competition by a distorted "photo-luminous" squirrel.

"Why don't you take some time off?" spouted Tom. "Just draw the squirrel drawing itself for a while."

Ray grabbed his book and went up to the top floor of the supermarket, where he could sit in the command booth and watch the 'code browns' scrub out his mural.  Some were using garden vegetables to soak up the toxic paint fumes, and some sprayed the walls with soft drinks to make them less sticky. Soon they had restored the sights, smells, and tactile stimuli of a normal city grocery, and the customers began to trickle back in.  Ray found a suitable corner downstairs and obediently drew a standard present-day land-based squirrel painting a juvenile caricature of itself, being electrocuted.

As the days progressed, Ray's obsession with the ocean became more pronounced.  He would cut out pictures of sea-martians and lunar manta-rays and attach them to his clothing, but his artistic expression remained circumscribed by the Raccoon Supermarket charter. Following Ray's disciplinary suspension, the logo squirrel was never explicitly augmented with submersible artillery or energy defenses, but there was a decidedly aqueous lean to his activities.  The squirrel had never been disposed to fishing before Ray acquired his new book -- it was more often engaged in consumption than production -- but now it seemed to while away the hours deep-water trolling from orbital missile platforms and anti-gravity sleds, and casting shark nets between the outer planets in the solar system.  Ray's supervisor was concerned of course, but he felt the cruelty of fishing would promote sales of machine-grown pork and barnyard slaughterhouse products.

There were several days when the nautical imagery became too distracting, however, and the walls had to be white-washed and flushed with debris.  The struggle between Ray and his supervisor took its toll on the peaceful squirrel as well, straining its credibility, and occasionally dragging it through a kind of symbolic brinkmanship where its every subtle gesture -- a raised eyebrow, an octopus head, or an extra-fluffy tail -- evoked some kind of sexual impropriety or cognitive lapse on the part of store management.  In weeks, Ray was out of a job.

But it didn't end there.  Having mastered the form of the Raccoon Supermarket squirrel, Ray could effortlessly inscribe it onto every sidewalk, dead bum, and piece of garbage in front of the store, where it coaxed once-faithful punters to load themselves into barges and plunder the mysteries of the deep, instead of purchasing high-margin fat-bars and party supplies.  Sometimes it appeared in local periodicals, adorned with lobsters, offering bribes and debts of favor to worthy seamen.

Tom was outraged.  He had known the squirrel since it was depicted wearing diapers, and couldn't suffer to see it employed as a lowly barge loader and shrimp pimp.  He summoned his most violent bag boys. "I want that squirrel back in the aisles by tomorrow," he burbled, "and I don't want to know how."

The bag boys labored all night, and the next day, Tom was greeted by the biggest Raccoon supermarket squirrel he had ever seen, sand-blasted onto the side of the city center cathedral, wielding a snorkel, a chainsaw, and a shotgun, and defiling every living creature in the sea.  "I hate the ocean," and "Shop at the Raccoon supermarket" were tattooed to various parts of its body. Its mouth was wrapped around a sixteen-gallon barrel of double-priced Twin Pines milk.

Tom resigned amid a massive environmental, graffiti, and price-gouging scandal.  His roommate and one-time employee, Ray, went on to paint the most profitable dewy-eyed whale-scapes in artistic history, based in part on his adventures with his friend and mentor Tom Bentley.  The two never stopped being the best of friends, and never faltered in their undying love for all aquatic life, and its watery mass-grave, the ocean.

The end.