23 September 2017

Untitled Novel: The Doorkeeper

[Passage from an untitled novel, written 23/24 September 1992]
The doorkeeper came in, obviously awed by the great magician. “You sent for me, my Lord?”
“Yes,” said Simon. “I have learned that a certain man has come to this city today. This man has come to undo the good work we have done here, and to turn people away from the True Path. Do you understand?”
The doorkeeper stared vacantly ahead, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular, his mouth gaping.
“Do you understand?” repeated Simon sharply.
“I’m sorry, Lord,” the doorkeeper said slowly. “My wits are no longer what they once were, and they wander about like woolly sheep in a blizzard.”
“You’ll have to pardon him,” said Marcellus, “He’s old, and he’s never seen a magician before.”
“I am not a magician,” said Simon wearily. “That’s a vulgar term used by people who do not understand the source of my power. I do nothing—I can do nothing—nothing at all, do you understand me?—without the power of God. A magician attempts to bend the forces of the cosmos to his own will; a man of God submits his will to the forces of the cosmos.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” said Marcellus, “I know all that. But you will have to admit, that it is not every day that a man comes into the presence of a great magician.”
Giving up the point, Simon returned to his main difficulty. “There is a man who has come to the city to undo our work here. His name is also Simon, but he is called Rock, and by that name you will know him.”
“Is he your evil twin, Lord?” asked the doorkeeper.
“Yeah, sure, that’s close enough,” said Simon. Good and evil were meaningless abstractions, but what was the point of rubbing the poor old man’s nose in it? “This man will soon show up here, to break apart our discussions and to confuse our counsels. There is no point in debating with him; I’ve tried, and his mind is like a sheet of iron—impenetrable to the slightest new idea or concept. When God allowed us free will, the only real freedom he gave us was the right to be wrong—” He broke off, realizing that he was wandering again.
“So what about this man, Lord?” asked the doorkeeper.
“What about him? When he comes here—and he will come here, you may be sure of that—when he comes, at whatever hour of the day or night, tell him that I am not in.”
“But what if you are in, Lord?”
“Tell him that I’m not in,” said Simon impatiently.
“I am to lie then, Lord?”
“But what if you’re not in, Lord? Am I to lie then too?”
“No,” said Simon, “In that case, you tell the truth.”
“So if you are in, I lie and say that you’re not in, but if you’re not in, I tell the truth. What if I don’t know whether you’re in or not? Do I lie then, Lord, and say I do know?”
“Whatever you like,” said Simon. “It’s very simple. In any case, and under all circumstances, you tell Rock Simon when he comes that I am not in. Not in. Do you understand?”
“Not in the least, Lord,” replied the doorkeeper cheerfully, “But that will not keep me from carrying out your orders to the last detail. I do not understand orders, Lord; I merely obey them.”
“You may go,” said Marcellus to the doorkeeper.
“Will he do as he’s told?” asked Simon.
“Oh, of course he will,” said Marcellus. “He may talk like a blithering idiot, but he’s really as sharp as we are. Now, what was it you were saying about the relationship between accidents here on earth and the power of God?”
So the rest of the day passed pleasantly enough in such discussions and in the blessings of the power of God. The next day, however, was a different story.
They were at breakfast when there came a cry from outside the house: “The dog’s loose!” This was a scarcely necessary observation, for the dog himself came bounding in to the dining hall with great enthusiasm.
“What is the meaning of this?” said Marcellus angrily, jumping to his feet and addressing the dog as if he expected an answer.
Unsurprisingly, the dog ignored his question. Surprisingly, however, he addressed Simon. “Simon,” he said, in a clear ringing voice, “Rock the servant of Christ is standing at the door, and says to you, ‘Come out in public; for on your account I have come to Rome, you most wicked deceiver of simple souls!’”
For a moment Simon was speechless. The single overwhelming thought that went through his mind was the mental equivalent of a series of exclamation points. The man was clever, no doubt of that. Who would have thought of his using a dog to get by the doorkeeper? Or had the doorkeeper somehow given the show away? The old man had not seemed to be that bright, despite what Marcellus had said. The moment of surprise lost Simon his advantage, no doubt as Rock had intended. Marcellus had left the table and gone off to see what was going on at the gate to his house.
“Go tell Rock that I’m not in—not to him, anyway,” said Simon to the dog.
“Wicked and shameless person,” said the dog, “enemy of everybody alive who believes in Jesus Christ; you see before you a mute animal given human speech to prove that you are a con-man and a liar. Did it take you all night to come up with this lame excuse? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, doing your feeble best to contend with Rock, the servant and messenger of Christ? Don’t get me wrong, none of this is for your benefit; this is for the benefit of those that you are sending to destruction. You are therefore cursed as an enemy and corruptor of the way to the truth of Christ, who shall prove you iniquities which you have done with undying fire, and you shall be in outer darkness.” And with these words the dog ran off, followed by the people, who after all, had never seen a talking dog before. This was a marvel greater even than Simon the magician, and so Simon was left by himself.
“It’s a cheap trick,” he said to himself. But it worked.

14 September 2017

Quotation of the Day

rump is a Frankenstein’s monster of past presidents’ worst attributes: Andrew Jackson’s rage; Millard Fillmore’s bigotry; James Buchanan’s incompetence and spite; Theodore Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizement; Richard Nixon’s paranoia, insecurity, and indifference to law; and Bill Clinton’s lack of self-control and reflexive dishonesty.—Jack Goldsmith
[Source: “Will Donald Trump Destroy the Presidency?Atlantic, October 2017]

03 September 2017

Quotation of the Day

eanwhile, the public servants who are in a position to do something about this—not least the Republican leaders of Congress—sit on their hands. Many of them know that their president is morally bankrupt, congenitally dishonest, brazenly corrupt, and when it comes to the highest duties of his office way in over his head. Yet, whether out of party loyalty, fear, or short-term ideological interest, they do nothing. The annals of history are crammed with tales of political and civic leaders who watch their nations sink slowly or plunge swiftly into decay or destruction, yet avoid action—not so much sleepwalking into disaster but walking wakefully, with eyes wide open. We may be witnessing something like that in real time now.—Fred Kaplan
[in “The Secretary’s Rebuke,” 28 August 2017]

20 August 2017

Theology with the Kids [1985]

[written 20 August 1985]
eaven is an imaginary place in the sky where dead souls go, says my nephew Brandon [age 5]. The souls go fluttering up like butterflies, and God catches them and puts them in His oven for Him and his family to eat. And what can you tell me about God, Brandon, I ask. I know everything about God, says Brandon. You can ask me anything. Fair enough, say I. Who is he? God isn’t a man, says Brandon incredulously. A woman, then? I ask. God isn’t a man or a woman, says Brandon impatiently. God is the floor of a black hole where all the dead people go. The floor of a black hole? I repeat. A long long time ago, when we were all Catholics, says Brandon, then we all used to go to heaven. But now, he adds, now we don’t go anywhere.
Which is real? my nephew Sage [almost 7] propounds. Jesus or God? Well, uh, I don’t know I reply, I guess they’re both real in different ways. You mean like in another dimension? asks Sage. Well, I mean like Jesus is a real person in history, I say, and he was really executed by the Romans for rebellion against the state— I don’t believe, says my niece Rachel [age 11], that a man could really walk on water. How do you know the priests didn’t just make him up? Well, say I, we don’t really know that anything ever happened in history, but the evidence is— What about God? interrupts Sage. Well, God belongs in a different order of reality, I say. You mean, says Sage, that God doesn’t exist. I mean, I say, that God is a symbol we use for the things that are good and true and beautiful. I mean that God is how we express the purpose of the universe. I mean that God is as real as we make it. Oh, I’m sure, says Rachel, like I’m sure God is real if somebody believes in him. Something’s either real, says Sage, or else it’s imaginary. There’s only one kind of reality. But, Sage adds in consolation, there are three kinds of infinity.

12 August 2017


he terrorist attack in Charlottesville, North Carolina, is the kind of event that tests a president’s resolve, intelligence, and guts. He needs to be able to keep a clear mind—carefully not jumping to conclusions in advance of the evidence—a firm hand on the wheel (so to speak), and the resolve to take whatever measures are necessary to restore peace and deal with the terrorists.
I will be straightforward here—I do not believe that Donald Trump has any of the three qualities I mentioned. His actions show the resolve of a bored teenager; his tweets betray the intelligence of a high-school dropout, and his performance so far has shown all the guts of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. He appears to be a man in way over his head—and I personally think that that is exactly what he is.
But looks can be deceiving. Maybe he will abruptly rise to the occasion like—well, I honestly can’t think of an example right now, but at least in fiction unlikely heroes rise to the occasion when challenged unexpectedly. Maybe he will find the resolve to throw the resources of the federal government behind local efforts to identify and apprehend the terrorist. Maybe he will find the intelligence to successfully direct the nation (and his presidency) through this self-inflicted crisis. Maybe he will find the guts to stand up to the white supremacists that seem to have him cowering in terror.
But I personally believe he is the vain, dumb, gutless jackass he appears to be, and he will continue to drivel mindlessly about how all sides are responsible for the car driven by one driver into a crowd in a classic act of terrorism.

Untitled Novel: The Forum [1996]

[passage from an untitled novel, written 12 August 1996]
he Forum didn’t come cheap, Simon said to himself, marvel­ing at Rock’s coup. How had he managed it? The Romans were flocking to see the great magic show, no doubt of it, and the money poured in. It wouldn’t be the first time, he thought; you couldn’t go broke underestimating popular taste. Without think­ing twice Simon disappeared and, invisible to all but unseen spirits, strolled through the gates unobserved and no poorer than he had been before.
The audience was boisterous and unruly; clearly they came expecting a good time. Had word of mouth brought this response? And how many dogs had Rock killed to get the result? How many talking fish had he suborned for the purpose? This was child’s play; a misuse of the powers beyond for trivial and disgusting ends. Simon wafted through the crowd like a gentle summer breeze and soon found himself in front.
Rock stood in the center of the arena, coolly facing the audience. He had no nerves. Simon knew that, but again he won­dered at the stolidity of the man. Rock didn’t enter into it; the man was a boulder, a granite cliff, solid and hard and unmov­able. There was strength in that, sure, but there was also enor­mous weakness. When a cliff crumbled, the ruin was great. Bet­ter to be smoke in the wind than an avalanche—the pain was less.
“Show us your god, Rock,” called out somebody behind Simon. “What makes him so great?”
Simon laughed—he could recognize a shill when he heard one. And as if on cue somebody else shouted again.
“Simon gave us hard proofs—let’s see yours!” The crowd roared its approval.
Rock raised his hands and the crowd fell silent. The man was impressive—Simon had to grant him that. “Romans!” he shout­ed. “You be the judges. I am come to say that I believe in the true and living God and I bring you evidence—hard evidence—solid and irrefutable evidence—that he and he alone is the ruler of the universe. I ask you only to put your eyes and ears in the service of your mind, to see and hear the evidence I am about to put before you. I have seen it—I have heard it—I have felt it—and there are many among you who themselves have witnessed the workings of God in this world for themselves!
“Now you’ve seen the magic tricks of Simon the imposter. These are nothing. Where is he now? Where is he hiding? This is the man I drove out of Judaea for his cruel and heartless tricks played on Eubola, an honest and upright widow. So what does he do then? He looks for new victims, new sheep to slaugh­ter, new jewels to steal. But he is powerless, a whimpering coward who flees the power of God like a rabbit running from an all-consuming brush-fire. He does not dare face me—no, he hides in the darkness and confusion of his lies and deceit, full of fear and delusion. Or why else is he not here to face me. If I am the liar, why does he not show me up? Where is Simon?”
Simon knew an opportunity when he heard it. Stepping invis­ibly into the arena he invoked a stroke of lightning, called for a thunder-clap, and appeared in a whirlwind of colored smoke. There was a collective gasp from the audience, a moment of stunned silence, and then a burst of applause that threatened to bring down the Forum. Simon smiled and gave a slight bow towards Rock. “You wanted to know where I am, Rock?” he asked politely. “I’m here, fool and charlatan, to show you the power of God once and for all.”
Rock looked at Simon expressionlessly. “All flash and noise, Simon,” he observed.  “And nothing but a foul stench left behind. How appropriate.”
Something was wrong. Rock was giving nothing away, but suddenly Simon had the feeling of having walked into a well-planned trap. He felt the quicksand sucking away at his feet, but showed nothing to his enemy. “So tell me, Rock, how comes it that I am not afraid to cross swords with you, if I have not the power of God behind me?”
“First tell me this, Simon the sorcerer,” said Rock, “when you groveled at my feet in Samaria, when you begged me for the secret of the Holy Spirit

02 August 2017

Untitled Novel: Reality Shift [1996]

[passage from an untitled novel, written 2 August 1996]
Heat—suffocation—a sense of overwhelming oppression came over him.  He was sweating like a pig.
“Would you like some roast badger-balls?”  Marcellus’s voice seemed to echo, as if he were speaking through a hollow tube of infinite length.  “My cook makes them from the ambrosia of the Leptunian snake-gods.”
The words made no sense.  Nausea fought thirst for the pos­session of Simon’s soul.  He rose hastily to his feet, groping blindly for the corridor to his private chamber.  “I—it’s—there’s an important—something—” he gabbled.  His vision was beginning to shut down, and before him danced the shimmering heat-waves of a reality-shift.  Time.  There was no time.  A blinding flash of pure insight struck him and he fell to his knees.  Oh God, he thought, let there be time enough—
Something hard struck him, and there was nothing.
Not darkness.  Not light.  Nothing.  The stuff eternity was made of.  Yards of it surrounded Simon like a woolly cocoon, pressing him, cutting off his breath.  Where was he?
“I am come, Simon of Gitta.”
The voice came from all sides, like wind in the trees.  There was something familiar about it.
“Have you?” Simon said.  “What is that to me?”
There was an unnatural silence, as if sound itself had been cut off—the silence of caves, the complete silence of death.  Then the voice came again.  “You don’t know who I am, do you?”  Amusement tinged the question.
“I know,” said Simon.  “I know.  Did you think, Simon Rock, that you would be able to sneak into Rome like a thief in the night?  Did you think you were unobserved?  No, Rock, let me tell you that I have watched your progress every day.  I know the tricks you played on that poor captain of the vessel you came in.  I know how you stopped the wind to plague him, and started it again when it served your purposes.”
“It was the will of God,” said the voice.
“Was it?” returned Simon.  “You have delusions of grandeur.”
“It was.”  The voice sounded a little sullen now.
“It is strange, isn’t it,” asked Simon sarcastically, “just how often God’s will and yours somehow coincide.  Isn’t that a bit thick, Rock?  How long can you keep on using that threadbare excuse for following the whims of the flesh and feeding the needs of the corpse you live in?  God’s will, Rock?  Or yours.”
“They are the same.”  This time the voice was definitely defensive, on the run.
“Ha!” said Simon.  “You admit it.”
“I admit nothing,” snapped the voice.  “If what I want is what God wants, it isn’t because I am making myself equal to Him.”
“Then what is it?” demanded Simon.  “What else can you call it?”
“Humility, Simon the Magician, the ability to stop my thoughts and let God’s fill my mind.  The ability to silence my will and let God’s will move me.  The ability to shut out the distractions of the senses and receive God’s truth.  That’s what I possess, Simon of Gitta, Simon the false prophet, Simon the liar and stealer of men’s souls,” said the voice.  “And that’s what you could do with a little of.”
Simon laughed harshly.  “The ability to blind yourself and grope helplessly in the dark.  The ability to deafen yourself to everything but your own thoughts.  The ability to cut yourself off from the Truth—that God gave you your wits to use them, that God gave you your eyes and your ears and your mind for you to put them to use, not for you to pretend a stupidity you do not and cannot possess.  Save that stuff for your sheep-like followers.”
“Enough, Simon,” said the voice.  “It is God who has given us this shared vision, and it would be criminal of us both to waste it in pointless bickering.”
“Yes, Rock,” said Simon.  “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for the past twenty years.”
“Listen, Simon,” said the voice.  “I will be coming to Rome tomorrow, as you know.  Will you not repent and believe in the Lord?  Will you not do His work on earth?  I warn you, Simon the magician, you are treading close to the abyss.  You and I, or rather you and the Lord, are close to the final moment of truth, and I do not envy you this confrontation.”
“Still confusing yourself with God?” Simon asked derisively.  “Well, Rock, I will not repay the compliment.  I will not ask you to reform, since I know there is no hope of it.  You are too deafened by your own words to know the truth, too blinded by your own light to see it.  But I do warn you, Rock, to stay out of Rome.  You betrayed your Master once.  If you come here—and I say this from the most absolute and certain of foreknowledge, my beloved namesake and enemy—if you come here, Rock, then you will be in the utmost danger of betraying him again.  So take care, my enemy—stay away from Rome, as you value your very soul.  Stay away.”  And with a supreme effort of will Simon pushed back the nothingness and began to struggle to his feet.
But emptiness and blankness refused to retreat, and the voice put in one final shot.  “I thank you for your warning, Simon the magician—for what it’s worth.  But I know myself too well to imagine that I will ever betray my Savior again, and so Rome has no terrors for me.  Farewell—and look out, my one-time friend.  For I know—and I say this from the most absolute and certain of foreknowledge—that you are near the end, and if I have to go down to end your infernal wickedness, then, Simon—it is a sacrifice I am very willing to make.”  And with that the fog cleared and Simon pulled himself to his feet—and found himself facing Marcellus and the other guests, staring at him from the door to his chamber.
“What was it?” asked Marcellus.  “Some kind of fit?”
Simon took one or two deep breaths to clear the Nothing out of his spirit.  “No,” he said.  “It was not a fit.”
“It was a vision,” said one of the guests.  “I’ve seen what happens when a spirit seizes a man before.”
“Yes, you looked dead,” said another.
“Yes, well, in a way I was dead,” said Simon, “dead to this world and alive to another.  Listen, my good Marcellus, could I have a word with your doorkeeper?”
“With my doorkeeper?  Whatever for?”
“I can’t explain,” said Simon, “But I know there is a man coming tomorrow—coming here tomorrow.  And I cannot meet with him.”
Marcellus laughed.  “You—a magician, afraid?”
“I’m not a magician,” said Simon, “and I’m not afraid.  Not the way you mean.  But I know—I know—that this man will bring an end to all our works if he and I are allowed to meet again.  And this cannot be allowed to happen.  So look, man, for God’s sake, let me talk with your doorkeeper!”
Marcellus motioned to a servant, and in a moment the door­keeper came in, obviously awed by the great magi­cian.  “You sent for me, my Lord?”

23 July 2017

Colossal Gall Department [2008]

[Originally posted 23 July 2008]
ou’ve got to admire the sheer chutzpah of it. Chris Mill, the attorney for two of the Camrose cat killers—those were the little psychopaths who tortured a cat to death in a microwave oven and left messages boasting about it for the owners to return to—actually asked for the court to expedite his clients’ sentencing so they could achieve “closure” before returning to school this fall. Words absolutely fail me. This guy is complaining, on behalf of his clients, about the need for them to undergo a psychiatric examination—because they want to get this whole thing over with.
I’m sure they do. Most of us, when caught in a crime, just want the prosecution to go the fuck away. There’s nothing new or amazing about that. Why that should be grounds a judge could act upon is totally beyond me. What the judge ought to be primarily concerned about is the issue of protecting the community from these creeps. The last thing on her mind should be whether the kids get to start school this year with a “clean slate”.
At least Chris Mill’s job is being the spokesmen for this pair of psychopaths. I don’t know what Camrose resident Linda Hugo’s excuse is. “It’s a terrible thing that they did,” she admits, claiming “but it’s now water under the bridge.” Nice of her to be so forgiving of a “terrible” crime committed against somebody else. She weeps for the poor persecuted torturers. “…the mental torment that they’ve gone through is enough” she feels. Wise up, lady. The next time these young Torquemadas decide to go on the prowl, you may well be their victim. When you embrace a scorpion, expect to get stung.
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