Saturday, February 7, 2009

Esteeming You, Esteeming Me: Parts 1, 2, and 3

I am working for people who are primarily intelligent, rather than serious.
-P. Féval

There is a fine line between brilliant and silly.
-A Blistex advertisement from the late aughts.

This book is dedicated to Thorsteinn Mariposa, Winston Threatte and Johann Saff. Their help has been incalculable. And it would be disingenuous not to mention Ignatius Reilly.

Esteeming You, Esteeming Me
A e-Epistolary Novel in Three Parts
By M.P. Gunnar Nystrom

Part I

Most esteemed Master:

I beg your dignified forbearance in the receipt of this unsolicited communication. Yet I do believe that, in view of the circumstances encumbering my decision to transmit it, it might be worth an attempt notwithstanding its unannounced nature, which, given the circumstances that I am about to unfold, and what we may plenipotentially mutually stand to gain from them and their harmonious resolution, you will be inclined to look upon with some slight leniency of spirit. Allow me to introduce myself: I am Julius Mangwana, formerly the Director of Operations for the International Development Bank of the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, which in former and more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana. Currently I have no title, regrettably.
The nature of my errand is as simple as it is urgent: Due to a sudden and for me quite traumatic shift of political power in my land, an equities transaction that I was in the process of executing in order to found a noble enterprise of animal husbandry has stalled. Caught in the vice grip of political vicissitude, I am forced to turn to new friends and contacts in order to effect its furtherance.
That, my esteemed friend, is where you come in. As a prominent member, indeed a pillar, of your community, I thought it appropriate to solicit your assistance in the prosecution of my unduly stalled equitable husbandry transaction. I am afraid—things still being too uncertain—that I cannot reveal the full gamut of details concerning the transaction immediately, yet if you are interested and can forbear, I can promise you that your assistance will not not be met with gorgeous reward.

Awaiting your gracious reply with advance esteem,

Julius Mangwana, formerly the Director of Operations for the International Development Bank of the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, which in former and more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana; who currently bears no official title other than Entrepreneur


Rod Grumbelius licked his forefinger and thumb, then used the gummy film of spittle to plaster down eyebrows that he had let run a bit wild over the past few weeks. It had been a time spent on the computer, sometimes as much as twelve hours at a stretch, looking for ways to make money. It was the much-vaunted Internet age, after all, and he wanted a piece of the action. His search had not been easy, but this latest lead had his heart thumping in his chest. Thump. It could be a breakthrough. A stalled equities transaction? He could scarcely believe his luck! And judging by the mellifluous assurance of his prose, it seemed that this Mangwana would be a real pleasure to deal with. He stood head and shoulders above anyone else he had corresponded with regarding potential leads over the past month, most of whom were functioning illiterates.
It did feel nice to finally be appreciated for all the halitosis activism he had done in the community, too. A pillar! He couldn’t wait to show Geena, who had no comprehension of the ill effects of stigmatization. Mangwana was obviously a man of sympathy, a man of class. Thump. He clicked reply:


Most cherished Mr. Mangwana:

It was really wonderful to hear from you, though I feel terrible that your transaction has run into trouble. I would of course be willing to help a man of your obvious caliber to escape the vicissitudes of falling political fortune. You can count on me for the full measure of circumspection and discretion that this delicate issue requires.
In closing, let me just mention that I truly appreciate your recognition of my efforts to promote understanding of the putrescent condition that dare not speak its name. Are you too a sufferer?

Yours sincerely,

H. Rod Grumbelius


Send. Rod could feel his luck start to turn already. What a contrast to the past few days, days during whose grim passage he had been shamelessly vituperated for daring to display his organization's promotional signage out on the lawn. Especially that ruthless Mrs. Ritter—how he reviled her!
He felt the garage door rumble to life in its tracks directly beneath his feet. It was Geena. Immediately aware of the sour feeling in his mouth, he swallowed a discus of fragrant chalk and bit off a morsel of the potent cube of gum he had special-ordered from Madagascar for its advertised palliative properties against fetor ex ore, or halitosis. It was overpowering, sending his stomach into acrobatic protest.
He cupped his hands delicately over the offending orifice and tried to circulate a slow exhalation back into his nasal passageways. Nothing seemed amiss, but you never knew.
“Hi Geener! I’m upstairs!”
She appeared in the doorway, looking haggard. She put in long hours.
“How was your day at the plant, honey?"
“Oh, they had me on the Permarection line today, so it was pretty much the same-old. You know. Another hundred thousand pills, another hundred thousand powerful erections in the making, another couple hundred dollars. Some of the other line workers have started popping them. You should hear the noises coming from the bathroom during line shifts and coffee breaks. Come here, give me a hug."
Not a kiss—they hugged, with Rod careful to keep his mouth closed and his respiration to a minimum. Her body offered few soft comforts.
“Well,” he said, “at least you’re helping people out of the doldrums of a miserable love life. Which you are doing on the In Lieu Of line too, of course.”
“That’s a rosy way to look at it. Do you want me to bring some home?”
Rod chortled. “Yeah, roll up a bunch of them in an In Lieu Of and let’s have you some fun!”
Geena emitted a sharp defensive exhalation to ward off the stink that followed in the wake of Rod's laugh, which, noticed by Rod, cut his mirth short. She had developed a medley of strategies and devices for defending her nostrils against his breath assaults. They could be viewed as a fully articulated military arsenal. The stoppers she used on her nostrils at night or during protracted lovemaking were a bunker. The sharp breaths emitted from her mouth and deflected upward by a thrusting lower lip could be seen as an antiaircraft battery. Quick bursts deployed downward from her nostrils, on the other hand, functioned much in the same way as air-to-surface missiles. And lest we forget, let us mention the old standby method of fanning away foul air using the fin of a straightened hand, akin to deploying an infantry brigade. But hers was an asymmetric war to wage. Far from contenting herself with a conventional military arsenal and battlements, she had developed a sophisticated array of stratagems ranging from psychological warfare--usually when she had had a little to drink, and these vituperative excursions could get nasty indeed—to outright terror targeting civilian installations, food resources, water supply and sanitation. She'd never shied from furtively sprinkling his meals with palliative crystals ranging from prescription minerals to powdered celery to fenugreek. There was of course also the red button option, which she had not yet deployed, but often threatened to in moments of brinksmanship: The mutual annihilation of a breakup, with all the collateral damage that implied.
“Aw, honey, I just had some of the gum. I mean I’m really trying."
She sighed, forcing herself to approach him. After grazing her hand over the uncommon furrows and ridges of his scarred face--for it was indeed scarred—she pressed a finger to his chest and began a tired fumble with a shirt button. "Oh Roddie, I didn't mean to make you feel bad. It's not so bad, not at all. Geener loves her big Roddie. How was your day, baby?" Softened, he began to tell her excitedly about the entrepreneurial prospect that had surfaced just five minutes ago, but he didn’t get far before she bent down and gave him a passionless kissÀ to stanch the flow of putrid air. She continued down along the line of buttons until his stomach spilled out through the open shirt. "That’s great. I know you're trying for me baby, and I appreciate it. I really do. Just promise me one thing while we’re making love, baby.”
“What’s that?” Rod asked in a choked gurgle.
She was rubbing an outsized bulge in his crotch. “Just don’t talk or breathe directly into my face."
He promised without breathing a word, and they continued down along the furrow she had begun. Rod wondered what it must have looked like. The priapic Punchinello-like character twinned with a woman tall of stature, flat of chest, stigmatizing of disposition. He thought he could feel himself collide with her In Lieu Of. It seemed like she was always wearing one. At least the device someone contributed to the pleasure of the experience. It felt really good, and started to feel even better as it became dislodged over the course of their session, and began to float freely inside her.


Honourable Sir, Object of my highest estimation,

Allow me, very respectfully, to submit my delight at the enthusiasm which you have evinced in response to my admittedly rather crude e-excursion. Again, I do apologize for having been in the unenviable position of having to contact you in a manner so unsolicited. Yet what a breath of fresh air that I have found in you a kindred spirit who recognizes the fact that we live in an age that can force a man into an undignified position! Such are the vagaries of office; nay, of life itself. But for the grace of Goad I would still be sending e-mails to other prominent members of your community and receiving in response only coarse, suspicion-fired invective, or worse—nothing at all, not even a clipped refusal to help me identify working e-terms of address. I cannot sufficiently express how dispiriting it has been to have to trawl the web to find someone—anyone—willing to help me recover what is rightfully mine. It is as if the great majority of people were repelled by some native property of mine that shines through in what I sincerely believe are politely composed solicitations for mercy and understanding. I do not know what it is that drives this isolationist retreat; so in that respect, yes, my dear correspondent, perhaps I am a fellow sufferer of this condition that dares not speak its name.
Now that we have opened up a line of communication, Mr. Grumbelius, I should like nothing more than to take you into my confidence so that I can again get my stalled equities transaction re-underway. But I need to get to know you. If I know you, and you know me, we can be friends. And if we be friends, we can collaborate on this equities transaction in an atmosphere of perfect trust. Which perfect trust in turn will lead to us both receiving a gorgeous vouchsafement. So tell me something about yourself, and do not be stinting in your revelations.
But here, to show you what a good generous friend I can be, I will tell you something about myself first. I know you most likely are eager to know the circumstances surrounding my fall from grace in what in more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana, but that is all so immediate, so painful. I shall content myself with an episodic narrative from my childhood as we begin our commercioplatonic union:
When we were boys, my brothers and I spent a lot of time out of doors. For days on end sometimes we would steal into the forest. I don't know if you are familiar with the topography of the Republic of Mangwana, but it is a fact that we have extensive and lush tropical hardwood forests; it is equally factual that in these forests are lizards. I can’t say with any authority where the belief came from—perhaps it has been with the youths of my land for an age or longer—but it is also a fact that we believed, strongly so, in what I would now, with the benefit of empirical hindsight, call the magical power of a particular species of lizard. To us at the time though, it was hard to think of it in those terms. To us it seemed much more practical and hands-on than occult. The lizard in question was small, blue, and lightning-quick. At dawn, my brothers and I would sneak out of my father’s presidential compound—what salad days were those, days when the president's family were seen as the friends and patrons of the people, and could walk unmolested anywhere we wanted to beyond the compound walls!—to stalk the lizard which we called 'the extender' in our language.
The lizard enjoyed perching on palm trees, where it lurked in anticipation of insects foolish enough to fly within striking distance of its expert lashing tongue. To hunt it, we used a cord of braided metal. We called the cord the whip, and we used it to strike the lizard dead. I have already said that the extender was lightning-quick. Therefore it was always futile to hunt him head-on. He would catapult himself off the tree as soon as the cord was drawn back to strike. What we did instead, my dear Mr. Grumbelius, was this: Some five or ten meters from the tree, facing our reptilian quarry, one of us would be positioned as a motionless spotter. As another brother approached the lizard's perch from behind with infinitessimal, soundless movements, the spotter would use subtle inclinations of his head and brows to indicate the relative position of the lizard, until the hunter, without ever having seen the reptile, knew exactly where to aim the metal lash. This process of calibration took a minute or two to complete. I myself was very handy with the whip.
Once the alignment was made, the typical result was a single lash unleashed with deadly accuracy. I remember the sounds well: First silence, or the crickets and birdsong that in the forest passes for silence; then the whip’s whoosh and thwack!; followed by the barely discernible rustle as the lifeless extender dropped to the mulch of the forest floor. A successful morning would yield three or four lizards killed in this way, which we would bring back to the compound before my father or any of our numerous minders had risen to greet the day. The lizards were then placed on a sheet of metal and hidden in some out-of-the-way but sunny place. After three or four days' exposure to the burning sun, the desiccated lizard bodies would yield a small quantity of oil. This oil was our prize. Once the oil had been harvested, we would meet whenever there was a break in our duties as statesmen-in-the-making, usually late at night. There would be candles, cowry shells, bottles of beer and expired lottery tickets. Speeches were given, incantations invoked. Often we would listen to powerful Central African dance music on the radio, whose primal beats and exuberant riffs would turn our thoughts to the underlying purpose of the enterprise. Once all the preparations had been made, we would drop our pants and anoint our eager members with the oil. Care was taken to cover every inch and every fold with the musky-smelling stuff, which needed to be absorbed to be effective, and by no means washed off. We supposed in those days that the extender oil’s properties aided in increasing the length and thickness of whatever they were rubbed into. And who knows but that we supposed correctly? After all, these weekly anointments were undertaken in the years of our adolescence, and in those years our members grew by leaps and bounds, as did the hands that were used to apply the oil. It should be noted that I could never ascertain that the dimensions of the vessel where we kept the oil had grown. As the weeks passed, we would tally our progress in a log book. Progress was of course measured in length and thickness, but not necessarily primarily so. Success with the girls in our social milieu was also an important, if more nebulous criterion, and it was in this respect that I personally excelled. In fact, it was even supposed that to enjoy the oil's maximum benefit, it needed to come into contact with the fluids of the vagina. What days! Looking back, of course, I wonder what the girls who were nice to me then would have thought if they knew what slathered unguent they were being exposed to as I introduced them to my member. It is a good thing we kept it a state secret, or it may well have had the opposite effect on my adventures! In fact, Mr. Grumbelius, aside from a certain Mortensen, you are the first person outside the privileged sanctum of my siblings to whom I have revealed by youthful dabbling in the oil of the extender lizard. I do hope you will treat this information with all the circumspection that you indicated you would devote to the details surrounding my unduly stalled equities transaction. If not, word may get around and spoil the prospects for conquest of the next generation of striving African youth. Not to mention that my enterprise of animal husbandry may also be intellectually infringed upon.

Yours in devoted friendship,

Julius Mangwana, formerly the Director of Operations for the International Development Bank of the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, known in former and more tranquil times as the Republic of Mangwana, though currently without an enforceable title


Rod's heart swelled at the implicit declaration of trust and friendship that glowed on the screen. He could scarcely remember the last time he had been treated to such a warm reception from someone, let alone a man of Mangwana’s stature. He was practically a dignitary; or at least used to be. And Julius Mangwana knew how to treat people right. That was very important in friendship. Mangwana was someone who would never chide him about his breath. It was obvious that he had deep roots in a spiritualism that privileged character over tissue, essence above putrescence. And the stories he could tell! Rod wondered aloud how he could reciprocate such frankness. What could he tell Mangwana to convince him of his own native trustworthiness? And how could a story from his life do anything but send its reader into a spiral of depression? He had to be very careful about how he responded. He wouldn't want to put the man off, as he so often had managed to do over the past month as he eased into entrepreneurial life online. He would stay away from screeds, he decided. What was needed was something forthright and disarming. The beginning of a beautiful friendship was on the line. Not to mention the stalled equities transaction, of which his cut was sure to be handsome, even...dare he think it?—gorgeous. He plastered his wild brows back into submission with a practiced motion of moistened fingers. It occurred to him to wonder whether that use of saliva made his brows smell of his breath. A sudden wave of irreverence overcame him. What did it matter? It wasn't as if Mangwana would be smelling him anytime soon. Yes, he thought, slipping into reverie, the future of a beautiful friendship was online.


Dearest Julius (I hope that I may call you by your Christian name),

Let me begin by saying that I know exactly what it is like to have one’s natuve properties objected to. Your letter finds me well. Blooming, in fact, in the warming light of our budding friendship. Ours is a correspondence that could not have begun at a more auspicious time for me, given that I have been going through some personal turmoil. I'm not sure how familiar you are with the ins and outs of my life, but I'll assume here, in order not to risk making what follows purely rhetorical, that you are only cursorily acquainted with them.
You know from your researches into the more respectable elements of my community, of course, of my brainchild, CASH (Citizens against the Stigmatization of Halitosis). We (read I here: I have led a number of recruitment drives, yet despite the interest evinced by various pledges, no one has yet displayed the level of commitment I deem necessary to participation in our public education and organizing activities and were not allowed to rush. Far from it—they were rejected one and all. Some of them, no sufferers of halitosis they, may even have been stooping to displaying interest as an expression of their benighted mockery!) have so far spearheaded several more or less successful campaigns to put this hitherto neglected issue squarely in the public consciousness. We have engaged in halitprop, shock agitation, and guerilla breathing techniques with varying degrees of success. That last approach resulted in one of our most successful campaigns. I don’t mind saying that after your warm letter I feel that I can be entirely open with you, and so feel that I can tell you about my fervid bid to contest an indifferent fate. It was like this: We would walk around in the fashionable stores of the downtown area, selecting prudish-looking personages to confront and breathe upon vigorously. When confronted, these people, certain as they were to react with offense and horror, would have their reactions mitigated and ultimately transformed through catharsis by the slogan of the T-shirt which was the centerpiece of our campaign:

Fuck you! Sufferers of halitosis are real people too!

That was the front slogan. In the back we had: “Our highest aspiration is a respite from the stigmatization of our respiration.”
It was very Brechtian, you know. Or perhaps it was Aristotelian. Which would be better anyway, since Aristotle was a philosopher and not a writer of fictions. In any case, the ambivalence that results when the wisdom of repugnance is confronted with unambiguous humanist morality is a powerful recipe for grassroots change! Many of these personages still reacted with indignation—which in any event is a step above indifference—but I used my well-nigh Senecan powers of rhetoric to convince them that their stance was actually one of indignity. Those, combined with the pamphlets I handed out on the spot, made a lasting impression. So successful a moral subverter was I that there are nearly a score of downtown shops where my personage is no longer welcome. I am too dangerous to their crumbling moral edifice. One more gust of putrescent breath, and it would surely come crashing to the ground!

I handily practiced the art of jarring juxtaposition in these pamphlets:

I would begin by quoting from the existing medical literature:
“Most cases of bad breath are caused by gastro-intestinal disorders, intestinal sluggishness, and particularly by chronic constipation. The unpleasant odor results from an exceptionally large amount of waste matter expelled through the lungs. Bad breath resulting from gastro-intestinal disorders can be successfully treated by correcting these disorders and cleansing the system of morbid matter.”

And follow up with something that highlighted for the reader the viciously vacuous morality and materialist worldview that made such statements possible:
“Disorder, sluggishness, unpleasant, bad, morbid. These, my friends and readers, are all implicit value judgments, and prevent us from seeing the condition of halitosis clearly. A refusal to confront the issue objectively is coded into the very language of the science that posits its own expertise in the matter as the end of the debate, but without offering a way forward. For future public education campaigns, CASH plans to speak not of halitosis, but of the specific organic peptides and carbon chains that constitute the condition's olfactory identity. This is the way to break free of the chains that bind us! This will be a significant step towards the demystification of a condition cloaked in the misleading language of ad hominem judgment and morality since the emergence of over-the-counter breath palliatives at the beginning of the last century.” We furthermore deeply object to attitudes based on the wisdom of repugnance, whose frightening logical conclusion would allow for persecution of anything and anybody that provokes a negative gut feeling.

“The patient should avoid overeating any kind of food. He should eat six to eight soaked prunes and a few dried and soaked figs with breakfast. He must also drink the water in which these fruits were soaked. He should also take plenty of liquids and drink six to eight glasses of water daily. This will help eliminate bad breath.”

“Such normativity is an offense to tact and taste. The cast of CASH refuse to be shunted aside into the categories of patient, case, object, thing. We are not mere things! We are alive, we breathe. The words that we speak are just as valid as those not carried on the foul wind of the oral cavity!"

“The teeth should always be cleaned twice a day, especially before going to bed at night. Metal particles should be removed carefully with toothpicks. In case of decaying teeth and swollen and bleeding gums, a dentist should be consulted. Munching a raw apple or guava after lunch removes most trapped particles.”

“Do they really think we have not already tried everything?! We have all dabbled in the nostrums, the snake oils of the breath mitigation industry. From gums to washes to pills to patches to diets to exercise regimens, we have all done it all. And now they, the medical establishment, have the gall to take an irreducible condition and reduce it to the failure to brush one's teeth or munch on an apple or guava? How can they be so FUCKING atavistic?"

I’ll admit, my dear Mangwana, that my contempt for the medical community has deep roots. My father was a general practitioner with something of a fetish for the immune system and the GI tract. He, well acquainted with my condition from the beginning, subjected me to the most awful treatments imaginable. Again and again I was told, ‘No son of mine will have halitosis!' It was terrible. The deep antipathy of Grumbelius genes (save my own) toward bad breath is something that needs to be looked into by a qualified team of anthropologists and evolutionary biologists. One of the cranks he took me to see called himself 'The Shepherd of the Large Intestine.' The man was dangerous, I tell you. His technique called for maximum invasion; for patient sacrifice on the altar of attrition against pathogens. When I was twelve, he opened me up as casually as if I were a piece of mail, replacing the contents of my large intestine with a bacterial culture he had formulated for the purpose of breath beautification. Halitectomy he called it. It worked, but only to a point. A month or two later, I recall very vividly, I ejaculated for the first time. I won’t say I had an orgasm, but never mind. The thing of note is that the activation of my sexuality trailed in its wake a reactivation of my halitosis. The two are bound breath and ball. And this time, without the cloak of familiarity to mute its effects, the smell repulsed even me. So you can imagine, my dear Mangwana, that in spite of the favorability of other sexual circumstances, my impressions of sex are strongly associated with feelings of disgust and inadequacy.
Once it was recognized that the brutal ministrations of the GI man had failed, it was on to an immunologist, Dr. Genauer by name, currently stripped of his license and without a medical title. That one thought I had lupus. The prescription was as absurd as the diagnosis…since my lupus was either congenital or acquired or degenerative, the chief thing being that it could not have been drug induced, since at the time, my dear Mangwana, I had never touched any sort of drug, this renegade immunologist reasoned that if I were given a cocktail of the drugs known to induce drug-induced lupus, my natural lupus might be overawed by the homeopathic approach, and so beat a retreat. My father Alvin (who after all was only an osteopath, God rest his soul) agreed to the plan, and I was given a debilitating course of arrhythmia-stoppers, tuberculosis drugs, and anticonvulsives. Never had I spent days under such a cloud! Though of course I have since—right up until I found my calling as an e-entrepreneur, that is. I felt as if my whole body were being oppressed by the gravity of a liver suddenly defrauded of its innocence. The worst part about it, beyond even the fact that the drugs did induce a drug-induced lupus that nearly killed me, was that if anything, my breath got progressively worse. Can you imagine what it is like when everyone around you has been recoiling and scurrying at first sniff for as long as you can remember—can you imagine what it would be like to see them take yet another horrified step backwards? As if my soul were corrupted. And I were a contagion.
The next thing that happened in the course of my father’s dilettantish efforts to cure me is what caused me to run away from home and permanently sever relations with him at the age of 12À. Seeing that his primary gut feeling had failed him, my mad immunologist moved on to his ancillary gut feeling. A conference was held, and he was given the go-ahead. Dr. Genauer came by to pick me up one morning in his Plymouth station wagon (which was painted a shade of matte black, rather an odd and somber shade for a factory model station wagon). A little red roof-mounted siren blared as he pulled up. He probably calculated that it would amuse and disarm me, but coming from a man who had basically bombarded my liver and immune system on a shits and giggles flight of medical fancy, it was a foreboding portent to my young mind. Unable to walk, I was carried to the car and laid out across the backseat. Genauer began to deliver a lecture about lupus which was quite involved. I kept slipping in and out of consciousness from what I now recognize as the drug cocktail’s constant hangover, and sometimes had trouble hearing him over the roar of wind through the window he doubtless kept open to avoid having to suffer my stench, but this much I gathered. The way he was speaking was not a doctor's usual way of speaking about a condition, which is to say about symptoms, indications, prognoses, etiology, what have you. No, Genauer was talking about etymology, about folk medicine, about wolves. My case was of particular interest to him, he said, because instead of exhibiting a wolf-shaped pattern of disfigurement across my face—which is where some think the name lupus derives from—I exhibited the breath of the wolf. He maintained that my breath was uncommonly hot, a property it shared with the breath of the wolf. This was not something the medieval physician Rogerius, whose work he was keen to expand upon, had ever encountered. The fact that I had responded to the drug treatment, he continued, albeit not 100% positively—a pronouncement of his that continues to perplex me to this date, given that my breath only got worse—had led him to believe that this next stroke of his might be just the thing to cure me of the breath affliction. He began to mutter a grim mantra: Breath for death and death for breath. Even now I can hear Genauer’s papery voice turn the phrase over and over. It’s enough to make one shudder, Julius!
It seemed to me—though I could not be certain from my supine position—that we were going faster and faster, and that Genauer was getting more and more excited, almost working himself into a lather. He said something about lupus being a classical disease whose successful treatment would require classical methods. Perhaps, I heard him say, if I can line up the jaws just so...
At length I could feel Genauer slow the vehicle and roll to a halt. We were surrounded by tall spruce and poplar. I had begun to swear uncontrollably, the newest symptom of my drug-induced lupus. Genauer, ever the homeopath, told me to shut the fuck up. He pulled a collapsible wheelchair out of the trunk, unfolded it into service, and placed me in it with two brutishly hirsute arms. I was rolled up a small embankment and parked at the edge of a ravine, at the bottom of which cowered a chained wolf. At this point I remember saying something like “fuckshitcockass!” as Genauer strapped me to the chair with a series of crisscrossing belts. He then threw a stone at the wolf’s ribcage. It snarled. My dear Mangwana, the snarl of a wolf is a distinctive sound. Not one that is easily forgotten. Nor, my friend, is the sensation of careening down an embankment in a wheelchair with the sinking feeling that one is going to tip over at any second, and that when one does finally tip over, one will be unable to stave off the inevitable impact to the face, as the mobility of one's hands has been limited by an unhinged immunologist; and that even if one does make it to the bottom unscathed, one will be met there by an aggravated wolf in chains.
The tipping never occurred—else I would likely not be here to engage in this delightful correspondence with you—but what did occur may have been worse still. Can you guess what the criminal doctor's designs were for the encounter between me and the wolf? Shall I tell you? I honestly don't know if I can at this stage of our friendship—which surely you will recognize as a work still in progress—so shameful and damaging were the results of that humiliating excursion. But very well, you must have something in exchange for your delightfully candid revelation about the lizards, so I will state the facts of the matter briefly, but without pride or relish. How I wish I could have forgotten about this shameful episode, let it fade into oblivion's fog! Once we were at the bottom of the ravine, Genauer inspected the wheelchair rig to see if I was still properly strapped in, which I was. He then wheeled me closer to the snarling wolf, whose color was a mixture of gray and beige, of dusk and dust. As Genauer wheeled me forward he began to chant something in Latin: Canis lupus in extremis is the only part I can remember. At this distance, the wolf looked ill-fed, mangy and mean. It strained against its chains and snapped at the air, obviously excited at the prospect of what looked to be captive food. I began to cry through my torrent of uncontrollable imprecations, sobbing to Genauer my entreaties to be freed between. Let me go! I cried. Fucking halitosis does not merit such fearful treatment! Asscock! Big words for such a recent addition to this earth, I’ll admit. But it was at this precise moment, my dear Mangwana, that the embryo of my socio-intellectual conscience was conceived.
At some point the inevitable occurred: The wolf smelled my breath and I smelled his. If my breath seemed momentarily to rob his snarl of its menace, I must say that the hot tendrils of lupine breath that came wafting off its snout were truly an olfactory atrocity. I protested, straining violently against my tethers, swearing all the while. I thought this exchange of breath may have been the point of the enterprise, but worse was still to come. A few minutes into the face-off with the wolf I managed to put to Genauer the question why? His response was as conceited and practitioner-centric as you by now may have come to expect of the monomaniac doctor: This is medicine as epistemological magic, my unfortunately stricken son. If classical medicine chose to attack the symptoms with an eye to the spiritual dimension of the physician’s enterprise, and if the renaissance got some inkling of the roots, and if modern medicine has enshrined these roots within a reductionist-deterministic matrix, my newly hatched neoclassical medicine represents a holistic synthesis of all three united behind the power of the word. The word, you see, is the keystone on which all higher understanding ultimately rests. If one's understanding of the word fails, so does one's understanding of the world. It is in this light that I propose to treat your lupus in the very deepest, most logical way. He spoke with the thunderous authority of men who have never had a conversation.
But I must have given him cause to give me a homeopathic verbal belting, because to conclude his speech just before wheeling me into the endgame of my encounter with the wolf, he said: Now shut your fucking mouth, cuntface cockmaster! I will elide what happened next, my dear Mangwana, out of a profound sense of self-respect. Suffice it to say that despite a temporary soul-tremor and a more long-lived disfigurement, I emerged from my lupine tête-à-tête a young man of conviction.
Which is not to say that I am not without my problems even now. Do you know how I have felt for most of my conscious life, Julius? I feel and have felt as if, at any given time, there was somewhere else I ought to be. And I am not talking about the romantic desire to be somewhere else that seduces the traveler. Rather I feel that, because I constantly make the wrong decisions about what to do with myself, where to go, which foot to step out of bed with—I feel that as a result of this grim concatenation of failures, I fail to occur in the sense captured in the dictum handed down by my father: What you are, be so fully and wholly, not partly and divided. There is a dream I have been having that illustrates my point beautifully. It’s a classic dream of culpable omission. Note that I did not say emission, should your august mind have wandered there. In the dream I am at home, just beginning to waken and make mental preparations for my morning toilet, which as you might sleuthishly guess involves vigorous cleansing of the oral cavity. As my head clears, I realize with a start that I was to have been at the airport over an hour ago, that I am about to miss my plane. The flight is important, a significant trip to a major destination where I am to pursue a crucial agenda. I know no more than that, and the thought of missing the flight scares me shitless. That’s just one of our expressions in America—think nothing of it. Of course, in the dream I am immobilized by my inability to get out of bed. Literally. And as I lie there agonized, my hearing jumps into the breach where my body should have been, and tunnels in on the public announcement system at the airport. It is a female voice, haughty, a hullo type, saying again and again, Repeat, this is the final call for the boarding of the craft. Would passenger Rodney Grumbelius please report to the gate? This flight and all it signifies will leave irrespective of your presence on it. It will leave you behind, make no mistake. You can imagine this feeling in a dream, no? And you would think that waking up from such a dream into your real life would feel something like catching yourself in a chair teetering on the brink of crashing to the ground, only it's not like that for me, because that dream is only a play within a play, if you see what I mean. In my case, my dear Julius, the chair crashes to the fucking floor.

With reverence for your person and generalized pity for your fallen condition,

Rod Grumbelius


Rod was exhausted after writing the e-mail. How would Julius take it? The fallen African banking despot had shown every sign of being compassionate and tolerant hitherto, but one never knew. The hour was late, and Rod’s powers of paranoia typically reached the high-water mark around midnight. He decided to redeem his mood by glorifying himself. This meant self-abuse of the strokingly imaginitive variety, yes, but the dissipative effects of this exercise were mitigated by the recycling, via a paper bag, of his own breath for purposes of sniffing and, as it were, glorification. Mid glory, he thought somewhat ruefully that he was what they called a paper-bagger. Once glory was achieved, he bedded down with a peaceable mind despite the knowledge that Geena would turn away from him and his breath when he entered their conjugal bed. At least he himself didn't mind it, so it's not like she was in the majorityÀ. She wasn't even a quorum. This is indeed what happened, though they managed to engage in a pleasant banter about the progress they were making in their lives' projects as they drifted from Lethe's tributaries into the main stream. Geena reported that she was being considered for a possible promotion to line manager at the In Lieu Of factory due to her sober disposition and commanding presence. Good things were afoot in R&D too, she said. Something that could benefit them all. Rod responded by proudly advising her that he had won a shade over $300 from an offshore online gambling site…though receiving payment was another matter. He had won betting on political futures, but they had revoked his membership and negated his winnings after repeated and progressively more strident attempts by Rod to give CASHPAC itself an IPO, so that sufferers could be rewarded in more ways than one when antistigmtization legislation was passed. He insisted that having won in the first place was what counted, not the collection of the prize. Mmm, Geena yawned. Just before giving the myoclonic jerk that signifies sleep, she drowsily related a workaday anecdote that Rod found very troubling. People on the In Lieu Of line, including her, had begun receiving poorly worded e-mails from mysterious but apparently very rich Africans who needed help liberating frozen capital in exchange for a handling fee. It was plain to everybody that it was a scam. What a dumb con, huh Roddie? It stinks. Jerk.


By morning, Rod was really worried that his new prospect might not be as watertight as he had thought. He had wisely refrained from bringing up with Geena his own correspondence with a mysterious African gentleman—she had mercilessly dissected his enthusiasm for Internet lotteries and dark horse stock picks over the past few weeks, and there was no reason to think she would exercise restraint in critiquing his latest prospect, however bright it may have been in reality. But could it really be that Mangwana was not on the level? Mangwana of all people! Now that he thought real on the matter, hadn’t the press written something about the whiff of corruption wafting the Mangwana clan? Not that he read the papers, but he might well have glimpsed such a headline while waiting in line to buy breath mitigation products. It sounded plausible enough. Mangwana Clan Fingered for Dirty Diamond Loot.
The next thing he knew, he was encountering Geena in the stairwell. Theirs was a delicate balancing act of outward affection, inward repulsion, outward self-repulsion, and inward self-affection. They hugged, mock muzzle-kissed, parted, and let out respective sighs of relief. Bye Roddie, bye Geener—hello day. An accord-based freedom.
Rod decided he would begin the workday by taking his first baby steps along the course of what the big boys in the investment world would call a comprehensive risk analysis. He typed “Republic of Mangwana" and “corruption" into a search engine and surveyed the instantaneous results. The world of information was at his fingertips, just as the world of money would be when he and Mangwana had soared into the firmament of e-enterprise! There were dozens of hits, many linking to fan sites devoted to the work of Carson Crumpler, a paperback writer who had written a series of in the Republic of Mangwana. The series was entitled ‘Jungle Bungles.’ In his excitement, Rod failed to notice that Crumpler was a fiction writer. And a relatively tawdry one at that, which he might have ascertained had he been more thorough in his comprehensive risk analysis and has bothered to read any reviews. In his hasty excitement, in his inability to grasp the subtleties of fiction, Rod mistook this Crumpler for an accomplished chronicler of the political ins and out of a real African state. Everything he read he eagerly accepted as fact. Clicking on a link called Bungles: A chronology, he read about dozens of morbid acts of corruption committed by the Mangwana clan with horror. It frightened him to think that he might have been contacted not by a petty scammer, but by a true big-time criminal. But what could he possibly want with Rod? Why not someone with more means? For a moment he wondered if he should alert the authorities. But then he had a realization: It would have been one thing if Rod was rich. But he wasn’t. And that could only mean that Mangwana was being serious. That he was on the level. And besides, in none of these allegations or links to allegations was Julius Mangwana fingered. In fact, Julius Mangwana was mentioned nowhere at all; his record must have been clean as a whistle! All signs pointed to Horatio the father and his coterie of venal generals. Hadn’t Gibbon—that great fact-rooted fellow—said something about there being a bastion of integrity who reared up in the waning days of every empire to put everyone to shame? Perhaps Julius Mangwana was that bastion. Rod felt his submission subside into shame. He couldn’t believe he had been so qui to doubt this man, who after all was giving him the chance of a lifetime. Rod coughed uncertainly, momentarily recoiling at the inhuman stench emitted from the bastion of his own person. Unphased, he tabbed into another window and surveyed the scene.


Most estimable co-correspondent,

I crave your dignified indulgence for the replying to you in so rapid a fashion that it might appear to be rash, yet I am beginning to feel the weight of time burdening my shoulders, and wish, if you'll allow it, to engage the overdrive gear in the vehicle of our blossoming business friendship. This because I have been suddenly forced into hiding. Mangwana in loco sanctorum est. I see in these straitened circumstances a pretext for broaching the ultimately indelicate matter of my family’s calamitous fall from grace—and the stalled equities transaction whose loosing will, I hope, form the merestone of this new friendship.
Let me begin at the beginning and end at the end. As a result of certain deals concluded with the American government in the heady initial days of our independence, when my father came to power after successfully seizing our nation's mineral and forest resources—though of how one goes about seizing such resources I've never been entirely sure, having simply accepted my father’s baritone words as gospel—which reminds me, incidentally, of one of my father’s first confidence and nation-building efforts during my youth, when he brought a team of shamans and national ecumenical religious experts, not to mention a bevy of transcribers and interpreters, into the presidential compound and had them collaborate, on what he and we all almost drunkenly referred to as the Gospel of Mangwana, a work that naturally drew its inspiration from the Book of Mormon, that great inspiring beacon that my father kept around the palace by the dozen and read zealously every time he evacuated his bowels, Goad rest them, of what was left behind in the mornings once his favorite dish of monkey and tamarind had digested—but regardless, as I was saying as a result of these certain deals concluded with the Americans, we enjoyed, as our country’s ruling cabal, a high degree of security and wealth, which in turn bred a certain complacency. It is a common enough story in post-independence Africa, a tale that moves from glory to decadence to decay, then, finally, calamitously, to abandonment by the geopolitical titan when it sees that its interests have moved on—and the violent succession struggle that inevitably follows.
Well, having some kind of head on my shoulders, if I say so myself, I realized from an early age that the source of my family’s and nation’s wealth, while substantial, could be whisked away at any time. I therefore at an early age—at least as soon as I had outgrown my reptilian distractions, the lineaments of which I have already outlined to you—began to work to amass independent wealth. What are the sources of independent wealth in sub-Saharan Africa? At first I looked at where I might be able to add value to the raw materials we controlled before export. At 25, I set up a pulp and paper mill along one of my country’s great rivers with financing and technical assistance from an enthusiastic Finnish firm. I was quickly on my way to building a national champion. But I will tell you now, my dear Mortensen, the effort was resented. Nervous generals, equating my enterprise with political muscle-flexing, thought I was scheming to stage a coup, and pressed my father to subject me to a martinet-like tax regime, which he did, Goad rest his evangelical soul. This constraint, combined with the our distance from global centers of consumption, were the twin labia that put the kiss of death on my project. If only there had been more welcoming labia in their place; what money there stood to be made!
My second project repeated the mistake of wishing to produce a useful good for export, this time jet engine combustion chambers, which I had identified as an attractive niche given my nation's rich cobalt and titanium mines. These elements, you see, are used to forge the superalloy of which the robustest parts of the jet engine are built. But I won’t get too deep into that, given what I believe to be your lay status when it comes to materials science. Suffice it to say, my dear Mortensen, that this project encountered opposition from every quarter, but most notaby from your Department of State who’d no doubt been gently prodded by your titans of military contracting. My plant never even got off the ground, my good sir: The cobalt mine itself was mysteriously saturation-bombed shortly after the Economic Foresight Ministry of the Republic of Mangwana went public with our solicitation for investment. The mouth of the mine was welded shut by the intense heat released as the insides of the mine burst into flame and the tunnels and shafts collapsed and deformed. Millions of dollars of equipment had to be written off to the maddening clause that does not provide coverage for warfare or Acts of Goad. No one knew why, no explanations were issued. Publicly, it was attributed to the rebel faction fomenting on the nation's unruly southeastern frontier where the forests of one nation meld with those of the next unnoticed and unseen. But I continue to suspect, the kind of surgical strike for which your airborne forces are justly famed. The pilots may have been South African, but what, really, is the difference? There was no recourse, no appeal: Africa!
My third effort at enterprise, my dear Mortensen, was slightly more savvy given the particular political dispensation that held sway in sub-Saharan Africa at the time, though perhaps not savvy enough. Space rockets, as you may know, are best launched somewhat close to the equator. A few years back our foreign ministry was approached by a German rocket scientist in whose proposal I instantly recognized a kindred spirit of boundless enterprise. He wanted to lease a parcel of land in one of our many backwaters for the purposes of launching experimental rockets into space. I sat in on the meeting in which he approached our ministers. He was a wide-eyed, wild-haired sort of fellow, a shade over 40, with a look of despair about him. His appearance was rumpled, fuzzy, and did not inspire much external esteem. Because apparent poise and power is of prime importance in the world of African gladhanding, the man was laughed out of the meeting. He gave off a whiff of weakness and irresoluteness, and such was the cruel vanity of the ministers that they took full advantage, in their own limited sense, of the opportunity before them. The opportunity, that is, to gratify their egos in lieu of the chance at economic development that I saw. The German left humbled and hobbled: As soon as he began reacting defensively, they had clawed into him mercilessly with accusations ranging from Nazism to pedophilia. I’m not sure if they were thinking about exorcising the ghosts of colonial oppression. Maybe. One minister, the Minister of Defending Culture I believe, went so far as to accuse him of being a shameless fraud, and that he himself would have been just as capable of designing a rocket as this man. You can imagine, my dear Mortensen, how difficult these sentiments must have been to convey from the perspective of the interpreters, who are typically a rather delicate breed of people. The session, you see, had to be simultaneously interpreted, for despite the presence of a Goethe Institut in the capital, not a single one of our ministers (not being scholarly types) had good enough German to get on with the chap, and he refused to speak English or French, both of which were the languages of our sometime colonial overlords. And even if they had been capable of addressing him in German, our ministers would have refused, given that the alien general tongue would not have afforded their particular tongues the leeway needed to give the hapless rocket-German a good lingual lashing. I do suspect, now that I look back on that sad meeting, that the interpreters may have been somewhat sparing in their conveyance of the literal import of what the feckless ministers said, given the relative vanilla-flavoredness of his protestations once they were filtered back into my tongue. To judge by his words, he seemed hardly ruffled. But his pinched and drawn and screwed face conveyed another meaning entirely. In my experience, interpreters have been prone to withering under the gazes of the people whose words they are interpreting when discussion grows too heated. Conversants also find interpreters to be convenient targets for their overflowing ire, and they often make relatively easy prey, being either female or slight or subconfident. Back in the good old days of internecine war, interpreters were known to vanish during the course of negotiations between renegade generals when points grew too sore or too sticking. The end of the fruitless meeting came when he was given to understand that his proposition might in some quarters be understood as a de facto violation of Magwanan sovereignty. And this, intoned the Minister of Defending Culture with thick menace, was a capital offense.
At any rate, I had intended to be brief, as my father’s deposers are even now likely attempting to sniff out my well-chosen hiding spot. And yet what an injustice to spare such a discerning and deserving interlocutor my eloquence? Gah, an insoluble riddle—I will move on, as move on I must! Despite its offensiveness to good taste, I saw in the ministers’ intellectual cowardice a certain opportunity. I let the meeting conclude as grimly as it had to, and the German rocket engineer fled under a cloud of disgrace. Seizing a cringing interpreter by the scruff of his neck, I trailed the little delegation in my automobile at some remove, and waited until they had reached the sweltering tarmac of the international airport to approach the German. Once I’d caught up to him through the shimmering screen of heat, I began by apologizing for the conduct of the feckless ministers, and hoped that he had not been too put off by his experience to entertain entering into negotiations with an alternative and more understanding branch of government. His initial response was understandably cool, but when I told him that I personally owned a sizable swathe of jungle out in the Republic's eastern wilds and would be willing to let him pursue his space program on it unencumbered by many of the kleptomaniacal restrictions that the government itself would be likely to impose, the sluice of a mutual understanding began to heave open. He gave me an idea as to his requirements for materiel—it was nothing I couldn't handle. I gave him some idea of my requirements for a lease payment, which was nothing he couldn’t handle, the sluice being bidirectional. I also wanted, I said, to have at least some of the rockets he fired into space to be emblazoned with my name and likeness. He protested that if my likeness was emblazoned on one side of the rocket, its center of gravity would become destabilized, posing a safety threat. My response, naturally, was that in that case it would be better to emblazon both sides with my likeness, or the entire circumference rather, since rockets don't have sides. He said this was something he could live with if it passed safety muster. I continued by demanding that the paint in which my effigy was done would have to be robust enough that it would not disintegrate during take-off or possible reentry. This was something he might be able to look into. There was another demand I was itching to make. My crowning demand. I wanted the rocket be anointed along its entire length by extender oil. Yet at the moment I began articulating this demand, an ancient cultural wisdom, one that had shepherded my forebears through cataclysmic times of dearth and despair, reasserted itself in my mind with forbidding wisdom: Forbear, and bite not off more than you can chew. And so I held my tongue, for the anointment of an entire rocket with the oil of the extender lizard would surely extirpate it from its native Mangwanan range, setting a terrible precedent for any other people considering letting their delusional monomanias take wing. It was an act of dignified forbearance, just like your forbearance in countenancing my initial unsolicited communication.
Consider it, my friend: The first likeness of an earthly countenance soaring through the solar system would be mine, that of an African. A face taken from the continent where men first learned to walk on two feet, now selected to preside over the heavens. A glorious flouting of our colonial past! A glorification so—


At which point Rod could stand it no longer. His confidence in the man was back, and was standing at full mast. How could he help it with all this talk of rockets? Paper bag billowing open and closed over his mouth, Rod glorified himself. But an uncanny feeling came over him. And his mind fastened on a curious notion. It was all those bits and bytes of porn flying through the air at any given moment along the invisible but depraved paths of the countless wireless networks that hectored his city’s air and its denizens’ tissue, penetrating his body with all their mockeries of love and attraction, streaming through every inch of him, even—and this is the ultimate mockery—through his earnestly extended member! It was driving him to distraction. He tried to fix his thoughts on the extender oil-lubrified rocket, on the potential countenance of his gracious correspondent, but no matter how hard he trained his mind on these distant objects of desire, it was always the ubiquitous porn that asserted itself; just as fish had evolved gills to master their aquatic environment, so he had developed porn gills, always receptive, the better to negotiate the medium of his day. Glorification as abstraction: As he climaxed, he thought that, more than terrorism, more than banality, more than the relentless celebration of cretinous stupidity and the destruction of the social and physical worlds proceeded unchecked, this ceaseless glut of porn, both invisible and obvious, was the ultimate foil foregrounding the entire age he was living in.


—bold and so proud that the world would have to embrace Africa as the center of humanity that it really is!
Needless to say, this private spaceflight initiative never got off the ground. I do not know how I deluded myself into thinking that the subsidized space contractors of Europe and the USA would allow free (and African at that!) enterprise to make a thrust into space. And of course they didn’t. After no more than a year and no more than a pathetic number of launches of his special compound-tubular rockets—one of which I saw in person, though this rocket disintegrated, as did the glory of my face adorning it, much to my disgrace and the disappointment of the bevy of fine women from the capital I had persuaded to come along—my German was muscled, through the instrument of his foreign ministry, to move his operations to a place deemed less sensitive to the interests of the interested parties. No matter who I contacted to plead my case and managed to convince against the odds, there was always someone higher who would not relinquish the mallet bearing down on my plans for amassing independent wealth. But the barriers to private enterprise and progress thrown up by the insidious alignment between government and kept science is not my subject here, my dear Mortensen. I will forbear, as forbear I must.
I moved on, as entrepreneurs do, as did Falkenknecht (I think was his name). The next thing I did was to bring in a sustainable development consultant. In the sense of sustainable development of profits, that is. He was a nervous, manic fellow in whose proportioning the Lard's occasional miserliness was amply reflected. An American who had followed the sea of high finance, as they say, and who had jumped ship to placate his guilt at that nation capturing so great a share of the world's profits and savings by ringing it with military bases and rattling it saber with the constancy of a klaxon. But that too, my friend, is neither here nor there. What this man recommended at first gave me some pause. It was that instead of producing useful goods, he recommended that I focus my efforts on two fronts: Loans and leisure. The first goes without saying, and it was something my father before me had already been doing with panache. I still required some tutelage, though, to get aboard the aid-loan-parlayed-into-pure-theft bandwagon. The second prong of my miserable little consultant's two-tined plan was to set up a national marketing, distribution and collection system for the value-adding products of the new millenium: Beer, tobacco, and games of chance. The future, much as the past, belongs to vice products, he said. I would be a beer and games mogul, a self-made man of leisure.
The story is as short as it was successful: The rise of Julius Yellow Lager, Julius Brown Slims and Julius Great Games Limited was meteoric. One report generated by my consultant estimated that my clever use of marketing—using brigades of soldiers as merketeers-by-intimidation would not have flown where he was from, but he was licking his chops in the knowledge that it was perfectly acceptable in the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, which in former and more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana—had succeeded in capturing 65% of the sum total of Mangwanan disposable income; basically every drop of liquidity possessed by everyone other than the four or five rich families that controlled the constabulary and needed to be given kickbacks to ensure that proper use could be made of the soldiering clans. Just like the ‘development’ loans, the leisure tine was essentially an act of brigandage, so initially I could not see what was sustainable about it, but my diabolical little consultant was quick to explain that it was hardly the source of the wealth that made it sustainable—it was the wealth itself, for lucre sustains itself by committing autonomous acts of brigandage once it becomes hefty enough. As well question the sustainability of the force of gravity itself! What I mean is that after a couple of years, the populace had become thoroughly alcoholized, internally tarred, and indebted to my game bomas (Swahili for palisaded stockade, my dear Mortensen, which was part of the attraction, that the games were conducted in wild places where human leisure could be pursued against the backdrop of leonine calls and hyenic cackling), and Julius Enterprises, like an imploding star, had collapsed under the weight of its own force of attraction. But the money, the only thing that was important, the assurance of my independent wealth in perpetuity, the positive cipher that presided over the moral and cultural tatters of the Mangwanan republic to zero out the balance sheet of history, the thing that was sustained, remained. And my grim little consultant proved himself deft once again in his propositions for how to ensure the continued gravitational pull of what I had amassed. It was invested, appropriately enough, in similar schemes hatched all over our dark continent.
I keep trying to tell you that I am going to keep it short, and I am, it's just that I need to make sure you understand what has happened before we get down to the level of the modalities of my stalled equities transaction. To end, let me begin by saying that I think, as with most things of great attraction, the very size of my expanding capital began to attract the wrong kind of attention over the long run. In short, the very attractiveness of this amassed pull led to the generation of a kind of emergent property—a revilement of my person. In a word, I became unpopular. The coup to unseat my father may have been as much about me as it was about him. Or rather, it may have been as much about him as much as it was about me. The generals and their comrades in wealth had chafed enough under the yoke of jealousy. While my father and I were in Switzerland conferring with our banquier, the venal shock troops of Central African revolution moved in on the compound. Well, my money was in no great immediate danger, so it looked as if my plan to hedge against the inevitable collapse of the house of cards has worked. But the leading families left in the wake of my pursuit of the fruits of the sustainable egg were bent on revenge. They devised a succession of brilliant ruses to defraud me of my rightfully gotten wealth, cynically assembling behind the shibboleth that they aimed to return to the people the wealth that I had got by defrauding them of their inborn dignity. Bombastic to be sure, but effective: In the profundity of their wisdom, the people lined up to suggest deviant plans for how to get at my wealth. Some of them even worked. There were straw men behind shell corporations behind dummy entities behind wrinkles behind folds behind one cleverly concealed subterfuge after another. Not suspecting the ruthless deviousness of my fellows in wealth, I succumbed to many of their tricks.
The stalled equities transaction then, is this: Seeking to unite my dreams to see my people recover after the blow dealt them by Julius Enterprises with an earnest desire to produce something useful, and which would not come under negative scrutiny by Western interests bent on monopoly, I have decided that I want to sink what remains of my capital into an extender lizard breeding scheme to be conducted in a remote part of our fallen republic still under the control of my family's militia. The project would be labor-intensive, generating employment to benefit the local populace. The product would also encourage reproduction, leading to a demographic boom in the war-ravaged eastern half of the country. By both multiplying the populace and giving them to tools to control their natural environment, and giving males enhanced sexual confidence to boot, my people’s natural dignity and confidence would be restored, beginning with the eastern half of the country, and hopefully from there sweeping into the equally blighted west on the strength of the momentational/gravitational forces with which I had become so well acquainted during my stint as Head-Master of Julius Enterprises, Ltd. In order to get the project off the ground, I will need to sell off my assets and roll the proceeds into a holding company that will mind the project. But I can do very little in my own name due to the spectre of accusations hanging over me: Crimes against humanity! How man will debase himself in the pursuit of his objectives!
At any rate, this accusation and all the other turmoil effervescing around my good name is why I need a reliable, discreet and unknown partner. And this, my dear Mortensen, is where you come in. Are you interested? If so, let us enter into the operational phase of our friendship. And please: I should esteem it a favor if you were to rest assured that the modalities I have resolved to finalize the entire project guarantees our safety and the successful transfer of the funds.

With an esteem that you cannot fathom,

Julius Mangwana, formerly the Director of Operations for the International Development Bank of the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, which in former and more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana (Currently without a title beyond the ignominious unofficial moniker ‘criminal against humanity.’)


Rod was shocked, hurt, sore, sour. He felt destabilized. Why was Mangwana calling him Mortensen? How would Mangwana feel if he were addressed by a random Bantu name? Mocked is how he would feel! What had he done to make the man make a mockery of him? Perhaps he was not to be trusted after all. After all, why should eloquence be taken as an index of trustworthiness? Some of the nicest, most trustworthy people in the world might be illiterates for all he knew. He tore his eyes from the screen, eager to be free of its grim foreboding.
He needed something to restore his confidence before he confronted Julius over the inconsistency so that he didn't betray himself as weak-minded and overly sensitive and lose his chance at helping manage the capital to found the extender oil farm. Mangwana had hurt his feelings, true, but Rod couldn’t very well come running to him with such a girly grievance. The choice was natural: He would go back to the grassroots political activity that had won him Mangwana as a correspondent in the first place. He wrote to his local assemblyman, or representative, or the big man of his township or ward or riding or whatever you called it:



Cherished Dispenser of Political Favors and other Graftings:

I, a concerned Citizen, which status gives me stature, am writing to You on the auspicious occasion of the first anniversary of the inaugural of my Political Action Committee, CASH (Citizens Against the Stigmatization of Halitosis), also known as CASHPAC, in re a potential campaign contribution that I may be making in the name of CASH, should I be coming into the windfall of Big Money (cash) that may be accruing to me indirectly as a result of the very work I do as the founder and spokesman of CASH. The contribution would be made with the understanding that you might be able, from your lofty perch, to do something in the way of effecting lasting change in the breath perception landscape. Without going into the somewhat indelicate matter of whether you too are a sufferer of the putrescent condition that dare not speak its name, I would incline to suppose that your refined sensibilities allow you to appreciate the position of those who do suffer. The vigilantly enforced perimeter of non-intimacy inside which we are forced to live hampers our efforts in spheres ranging from the romantic to the professional, the athletic to the platonic-leisurely. Our position in the world is that of a trapped animal hemmed in by a ring of people with their backs to us, who move in unison at all times to avoid our approach. It is insupportable. Considering that it takes considerable deftness of perception and socialized motor coordination to be able to pull off such perfectly executed evasions, I would submit that the non-suffering public has a true access of intelligence and skill that we might tap in the course of reeducating them, which is where I am hoping you will be able to come to our assistance. I should esteem it a favor if you do, my good sir! Being, as you are, the estimable Chair of the congressional Committee on Primary Education (CCCP-E) of this fair state (in which everybody knows there is plenty of foul breath to be found), I was hoping that my soon to be forthcoming contribution might persuade you to divert some educational funds into bankrolling a breath module in freshman health classes across the state. The cost would be very modest, especially compared to the millions spent annually in this state alone by pedlars of ineffectual breath-masking agents. Which leads me into the second tine of my two-pronged approach: Masking agent prohibition. What are the classic arguments in favor of prohibition? Productivity and health, served up with a vigorous side of morality, my dear dispenser! And I believe that my campaign fulfills both criteria along its proposed path of righteousness. On the score of productivity, let me argue that too much of our state’s valuable attention span and disposable income is being spent on masking this ultimately irrelevant aesthetic offense. Not only that, but were the stigmatization of the putrescent condition that dare not speak its name to be countered once and for all, the resulting workforce productivity gains, and hence tax dollars accruing to your coffers, would be colossal. Think about how much more productively people would be able to work together if the enforced zone of non-intimacy were to be spirited away! Romantically, too, the relaxation of the stigma would allow for more pleasant unions between sufferers and non-sufferers, perhaps ultimately leading to the putrescent gene being bred out of the population, or even fully bred in, which would have an equivalent palliative effect by virtue of default familiarity, the relative merits of which I shall abstain from commenting on at the present. You can probably guess the side I am partial to. For a more detailed exegesis—one that outlines the synergies and bottom-line effects in all their resplendent pageantry—of the productivity component of my initiative, please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address in the header, as well as a handling fee of $20, and I will be happy to send you a prospectus. Remember to make your check our to 'Head Master – CASHPAC.'
On the score of health, let me begin by proposing that we conduct a mutual thought experiment. One of the larger health issues plaguing the minds of the original temperance movement, though one that seldom received mention, was the issue of vomit asphyxiation while sleeping. And while only truly extreme abuse of mouthwash combined with soporifics or barbiturates could mimic this effect, imagine the following: A man, a sufferer of bad breath, gets up groggy one morning—let us say he tippled vehemently the night before in order to forget himself as a sufferer—and sets about his morning toilet, which includes swishing a large amount of mouthwash around the offending orifice. He then proceeds to choke on the mouthwash. This can lead either to an acute fatality, or, what is much more common, to an aspiration-related pneumonia, itself fatal in many cases. Statistics have not been kept, since no one has been very interested in the condition except as an indicator of other afflictions until now, for instance Lupus, but you can be sure that mouthwash-aspiration pneumonia takes a grim toll on health spending. Not only that, but the constant bombardment of halitobacteria with noxious pills and rinses feeds a vicious cycle of ever-greater use by creating superstrains of survivor-bacteria.
And then, my dear Dispenser, let us not forget the moral component. In the case of alcohol, feelings at the time ran strong that the liquid brought out the devilish side in the tippler. The case here is much the same, although by way of an inversion, since alcohol unleashes a devil, whereas masking agents force the true persona of the sufferer into hiding by cloaking it behind pungent layers of supposedly neutral but in truth quite offensive wintergreen. This cloaking of the true person is an insult to freedom of expression, and is an offense to the rugged individualist spirit that makes our state great. I am not so sure that the language used in cloaking agent advertisements should be covered by the first amendment. Cloaking agents also take an aesthetic toll that I have hitherto not mentioned: A toll payable in the inflated currency of creeping homogenization.
But I vacillate. What I am proposing is quite simply this: That you effect a statewide ban on all breath-masking agents. Anything short of stomach cultures designed to rehabilitate demonstrably ailing stomach chemistry is considered by CASH to be an offense to good taste and, quite seriously, an impediment to public health, and we have reached a point where their availability on the market has become an intolerable affront.
I realize, of course, what powerful special interests are arrayed behind the offensive assortment, and know further that you must at some point in the past have been under the sway of their swarming lobbyists. Being awash in cash from their insidious commercial pursuits, they may even have handed out free samples of their wares, to which I hope you failed to take a liking. But I expect that, as the principled man of reason that your voting record shows you to be, you will be able to resist the siren call of corporate cash in favor of the much less morally tainted CASH cash, lest you should find yourself awash in the tide of angry CASH activists. Of course, it is not my business to tell you how to run your affairs; I just hope that my reasoned arguments and the promise of a contribution to your political fortunes will sway you to stand on the side of principle in this latest stand in the battle for public health.
But before closing, let me suggest to you the outlines of my plan for the freshman health breath module, which I think will be of some interest to you as a statesman with a declared interest in the workings of education. To start, consider the successes in abuse mitigation achieved by the freshman health DARE modules across the country. It is that kind of cross-cutting epidemiological effect I hope to achieve with the breath module, though here it is the abuse of other humans for the way their breath smells we hope to mitigate. Like DARE, my module needs a catchy acronym, for which I have settled, as a provisional measure, on BABB: Betterment of Attitudes toward Bad Breath. The acronym serves our purposes well because it is folksy, giving short shrift to off-putting medical jargon. It also makes a point of not beating around the bush. Mike, my program is not about such touchy-feely notions as 'awareness' or 'consciousness.' No: It is about straightforward betterment. We are going to improve the attitudes of our morally exhausted youth, who have made the adolescent lives of so many thousands of sufferers so miserable. No more will the halls of our education-correctional facilities ring with epithets like dragonbreath and assmouth—or ozostomosÀ if the teaser has a penchant for the classsics. Best of all, the acronym is positive: It chalks the problem up to an attitude, not to an essence. Of course we do say essence before putrescence, but never mind. What I am trying to say is that the youths enrolled in the program will feel that there truly is some hope for them to improve.
Here's what I expect the program to look like, in brief (again, you may obtain a full prospectus by sending me a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with a handling fee of $20; in his instance, regrettably, CASHPAC does not accept cash, the reason being that we are often called on to prove our existence by furnishing our doubters with stubs of checks made out to CASH): We begin on a light-hearted note, let's say a one-act play done by professional daytime actors that problematizes breath and brings the dialectic of historical breath attitudes to light. It could be a sweeping sort of affair, 45 minutes infused with grand thespian scope, something depicting a boy smitten by the affliction failing to make friends, then careening downhill into his adult life when, due to the low self-confidence bred into him by the coordinated reaction of his environment to his breath, he fails to excel in any field of endeavor, never mind the romantic. Then, in the middle of the one-act, the scene dissolves into a mise-en-abime, with the ostracized adult envisioning a play that might have been shown in freshman health to save him from his fate as a hated mouth-stinker. You get the point, something snappy—if I get my way with that Big Money I was talking about, I may even commission a college-educated playwright. Anyhow, in the day that passes between the first lesson and the next, the students will be asked to write up their reactions to the play. The next day is envisioned as an object lesson in progressive groupthink. The idea is to get them to grapple with the question of technique: How will situations like the one suffered by the boy in the play be avoided in the future? This part of the module will allow the instructor to draw on certain Buddhist teachings by advocating acceptance in favor of mitigation. Dissenters may even be subjected to the classic Buddhist cathartic aid of whacking them on the head with a cudgel. The third lesson will allow the young students to try their acceptance techniques out on guest-breathers, which function I would gladly serve alongside fellow members of the suffering community. Here is where the dialectic is put to work. Historical humanist progress, forged right here in the freshman health classrooms of America! Should the dialectical technique break down, however, as odd and against the odds as that would be, CASHPAC has another few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to reeducation.
Just for a moment, I would like you to imagine, if you are able, a high school as a cleverly disguised prison, whose purpose is to prevent its inmates from acting sociopathically when they are released. You and I are enlightened people, are we not? Therefore we would like this prison to be an institution of reform rather than punishment. Through this altered lens, is it not easy to see that the next logical step in the battle against the stigmatization of halitosis would be to associate such stigmatization with unpleasant experiences? Not knowing if you are my intellectual confederate in this matter, I will truncate my message to you and leave it at that.
I trust that this communiqué has convinced you of the seriousness of my purpose and the organizational and mobilizational powers of CASHPAC, dispenser. You can expect to be subjected to brutish guerilla breathing techniques by my phalanxes of exhalers of morbid matter if my request does not meet with compliance.


H. Rod Grumbelius
Head-Master and Sufferer-in-Chief, CASHPAC


At the end of which correspondence he was feeling positively priapic, and no longer negatively so. He decided to move forward with the collection of his gambling proceeds. Rod had once read an inspiring business communiqué whose addressee was referred to as a 'troglodyte,' and who in the course of the letter was threatened with 'feel[ing] the sting of the lash across [his] shoulders.' He felt that this was precisely the tack he needed to take, predicting automatic success for himself. He performed an expanding-pincer plastering maneuver and hammered out a letter that would have made the author of the lash quip proud.


The time to write to Julius to ask him about his disturbing use of Mortensen had come. Mortensen for crying out loud! Could it be some sort of coded message that Mangwana would be better disposed to deal with him if he were of Scandic, instead of Grubelian extraction? Which of course would be intolerable. All those uniformly happy exhalers of spring-scented odors—fucking abysmal. Yet just as he was about to open Mangwana's epic and epically confusing message, a communiqué from his uncle appeared unbidden, there to roost in his inbox. He cringed reflexively, then felt a small pocket of what he knew from prior experience to be the extremely foul breath associated with moments of foundering insecurity escape his trachea and migrate miasmically from his mouth into prone air. Damn you Uncle Ghol!



Last you wrote, you mentioned something I found encouraging. You said, let me remember correctly, that you were planning to use what you called ‘the web’ to make money. That's good, but everybody knows its true and proper name is the World Wide Web, or Internet, so I think you should keep that in mind when you are communicating with clients, contacts and regulators, just so they do not get the impression that you don't know what you are talking about. People are very sensitive to things like this, proper terminology and such, and you wouldn't want to go shooting yourself in the foot so soon after getting your toes wet, so to speak. So from now on World Wide Web it is, and the capitalization is essential. You remember how I taught you an intensive module on capitalization and punctuation one summer because your parents were too lazy to perform their pedagogical duties by you, don't you? Of course, you'll probably just forget about my advice as soon as you read it, just like you disregard everything told you by the people in your life who actually care about you. You'll probably go right on using 'web' or some other such vulgarity that you mistake for fashionable argot until it costs you an important deal. But that is just my realistic take on the prospects of my admonition meeting with success. I hope you will at least have the decency to make proper use of language when addressing me, the uncle who taught you so much, so much of which was forgotten.
But onward, and anon, to the point of my message! You say that you will turn the World Wide Web to financial advantage, and let me begin by saying that I am very gladdened simply by the idea of you turning those idle hands to labor. This suggestion of enterprise is truly encouraging. But there are practicalities to consider, a hundred ins and outs that would never enter your mind unless you had an interested relative looking over your shoulder. You say that you intend to make money by cultivating business relationships and providing e-business services. So my question to you then, nephew, is simple: How does one cultivate business relationships on the World Wide Web? Further, how does one create, much less close deals on the Internet?

U. Ghol

The question was very similar to another rhetorical question his uncle had been asking him for many years running: How does one go about getting a job, Rod, just out of curiosity? The impotent teenage fury he associated with any interaction with his uncle welled up and suppurated at the base his throat. He ground down on either thigh with both hands, which is what he always did when he was angry or violently frustrated. His right grip relaxed, though, when through his right pant leg his hand discovered in the jean pocket an unopened, that is to say wrappered, In Lieu Of. That surfboard Geena must have put it there, but why? What need had he for a convenient, long-lasting internal menstrual blood vessel? Vessel in the sense of receptacle, not conduit.
Regardless, he thought, Ghol was the issue here, not Geena, whom he could ask later or not at all about the In Lieu Of. He fingered the vessel and felt there was something else afoot. Something lumpy. Permarection pills! That was something Rod had even less need of, though Geena never seemed to understand that his priapism was by default. But onto Ghol. Ghol! The sanctimonious bastard made him feel about three inches tall every time the two of them shared contact. He remembered well the terrible string of summers when Ghol would spirit him away from his carefree band of friends whose only affair it was to frolic in the glorious outdoors, a gang of exuberant lads busy pulling the legs off a frog or some other hapless animal, so that he could cloister Rod in his mildewy basement and drill him in the arcane particulars of grammar and orthography. The memories were painful, and he seldom confronted them, but there was one thing he knew for sure: By the end of that string of terrible summer internments, his social awkwardness, which had been bad enough to begin with, had been buffed to a brilliant luster. The first few summers were mostly what his uncle referred to as medleys of grammar and spelling, which, intolerable as the loss of his youthful freedom was to him, were fine enough by contrast to what was to come, since those were systematic disciplines that Rod could dig, but he remembered the last summer with Ghol, the one before his freshman year in high school, as a particularly noxious form of torture. This was the year that he began to experience extreme curiosity about his body and some functions he had hitherto not known himself to be in possession of. That tension, combined with the portent implied by Ghol's last module, called Errata of Punctuation and Capitalization, boded ill. Ghol's reasoning was that now that he was about to be sent up to the big leagues (Ghol still viewed high school that way, and he thought he could redeem his own social failures by turning Rod into a capitalization and punctuation superstar), Rod would benefit from learning the lesson that not all things, neither in language nor in life, are easily systematized, and that to succeed, the individual must be able to master thousands of tidbits that do not correlate, and among which no thread can be drawn. He may have learned a lot in the end, but it had been more than awful. So rigorous was the course that, in what should have been a summer of innocent abandon, Rod had aged considerably, growing out a full beard and sideburns, and blooming, down below, into what seemed his cumbersomely full adult dimensions. For all that though, he gained not an inch in stature. Now his evil sexual impulses would forever be associated not only with halitosis, but with spelling too. Who could remember that the British left the period off the end of etc, while the Americans clung to it doggedly? Who could remember the historical morphology of the comma, ending, now, finally, in its use pretty much wherever the writer deemed fit? Worse, who cared other than Ghol? That ball and chain of an uncle had even goaded him through and quizzed him on the basics of comma use in the major western European languages, but not German, since Ghol couldn’t produce the r at the back of the throat, which he found embarrassing. A few of Rod’s goatee hairs may or may not even have turned gray on the day it was made clear to him by Ghol that he would be expected to complete a module in early modern hyphenation. All these years later though, on reflection it seemed clear that this was where he derived his penchant for the educational ‘module.’
Yet the modular summers were no more than the start of his troubles with Ghol. Throughout high school and college, and continuing right down the rail of the dozen or so years thence, Ghol had applied consistent and considerable pressure in steering Rod in the direction of a 'salaried position' that would give him a shot at 'real money' and making it, an expression in no need of single quotation marks. At first he had confined himself to sending Rod how-to books on how to polish his resume, how to outperform the unseen competition in an interview, how to 'network' and otherwise position himself so as to appear to be the sort who could be trusted with capital, inside information, or someone's nubile daughter. Lately though, he seemed to have been demoted in his overbearing uncle's estimation from someone with wide open prospects—I believe that I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I think you could do anything you wanted in life, Rodney, if only you listened to me and learned how to act—and who needed only to focus on the fundamentals of good character and sound judgment in order to have everything fall into place, to the type of slightly unsavory relative who had to be given huge amounts of instruction just to be assured survival, along with the occasional tip about where there was quick money to be made, in the hopes that one such suggestion would finally pay off so that Ghol could wash his hands of him. All of which could be summed up as a descent from career to fast dollar. And of course there were the never-ending inquiries into the state of his halitosis, which had to be phrased in written form since for many years Ghol had shunned his nephew's physical company, finding it all too awkward to stay beyond the orbit of his nephew's breath while socializing, but too repugnant to bear on those few occasions of lapsed vigilance when he blundered within its terrible nimbus. Which was more of a blessing than anything else, since Ghol was a physically intimidating man who exuded hostility toward the sum of choices that was Rod.
Rod could bear it no longer. Before he could possibly reply to Julius, he would have to see off this avuncular threat to his equilibrium. Ghol would at last have to be dealt with, and vigorously. Come what may, this time he had to assert himself. He was thirty-four years old.


U. Ghol,

you will of Course be surprised to receive from Me what you will inevitably consider a coarse Reply to your Missive. you will not have thought Me capable of it, but it is true: I am drawing a Line in the Sand. Let Me begin by saying that your Communication was received with a Contempt bordering on Fury. I hereby protest vigorously against all past and any future Presumptions and Pretensions on your Part to dictate to Me what the Course of My Life should be. you are hereby informed that no further such Steerings or Proddings, or even Admonitions will be welcome within the Fold of My Consciousness. If you are not able to confine yourself to a more respectful Manner of addressing Me, I must warn you that any future Messages sent by you to Me will be subject to cursory Deletion without so much as an Examination of their Contents.
That being said, it brings Me great Pleasure to inform you of what is poised to be the first Success in My newfound role as web Entrepreneur extraordinaire. I have been contacted by a distressed African seeking to invest some Money in a Project, yet who is unable to do so because of an unexpected Blow of State has occurred in his Country, and who wants Me to provide logistical and organizational assistance in furthering the stalled Equities Transaction that forms the crux of the whole dilemma. I am considering providing Succor to the Man on the Merits of what I consider to be his Refinement and seeming Pedigree, but I am of course doing all that is needful to make sure that this Deal checks out, in Case you were worried. Not that any Mention of such Worry will be tolerated.
In sum, My dear Ghol, I would like to submit that All is going well for Me, minus some of the usual Disappointments on the domestic front. In Conclusion, as you know, I value My Relations, else I would not have tolerated You all these Years. But I would like to emphasize that I am quite serious about My Line in the Sand. It is a rectilinear Streak whose Integrity you must not violate.

yours in proud Fury,

N. Rodney, web Entrepreneur


Now he was ready.


My dear hyper-relished Mangwana,

Let us be honest with each other. I am a man of integrity and probity. You know this of course, else you would not have contacted me. Yet nonetheless I find myself in the position of having to highlight this for you, since in your last communication you evinced certain irregularities that might have led a more deeply suspicious man to believe that there was something, as we say over here, off about your most recent correspondence. Not to say that I am calling off my assistance in the stalled equities transaction, not at all, just that I wish to submit, in case you are not familiar with the usage, that it was slightly off in the sense that milk or fish can be off, i.e. when it is lightly tinged with putrescence. Not as putrescent, of course, as my breath condition, for that would be absurd. Unless you too are a sufferer, of course, though even then I fail to see how you could suffer in equal measure as—and I hope I do not taint my carefully cultivated reputation for modesty by saying this—someone bordering on being a medical marvel. The shepherd of the foul peptide chain! But nevertheless, a certain offness was in evidence, both in your correspondence and in some other circumstances to which I have recently been made privy. Why, for instance, did you call me Mortensen, Mr. Mangwana? Is it proper that a new and cherished friend, and one that may be instrumental to helping you sail into financially happier waters, should be addressed by anything other than his proper, given name, unless it is a name arrived at in affectionate mutual jest? What I am to make of you calling me Mortensen? Who is this bloody Mortensen that I should be confused with him? There are few things you could say to assuage my mounting fury regarding this point. Either you are making an advertent mockery of what I took to be our friendship, or you sent me a message intended for someone else—though I hate to think of what that might imply…or could it be, Mr. Mangwana, that you mean to send me some sort of coded ‘message?’ Should I be reading between the lines? Is there a middleman Mortensen somewhere out there in the mysterious world of equities transactions I should get in touch with? Is your life in danger, Julius? If it is, and if there is anything I can do for you, please send me a more unequivocal signal than I was able to parse from your latest confounding message. I urgently anticipate your dignified response to my bemused inquiry.

Yours in a cocktail of indignation and confusion,

H. Rod Grumbelius


Rod felt good about his newfound decisiveness, so much so that he decided to pen the opening salvos of his one-act, but he did not get far before the cha-ching cash register sound he had selected to indicate incoming mail from Mangwana sounded from his tinny computer speakers.

Esteemed Rod!

How can I forgive myself for the extremely nasty worry that I have brought on my new friend? How can I smooth your troubled brow? I am so sorry to have brought to your mind these terrible suspicions that there may be something off about my person, or what is even worse, my stalled equities transaction. Which of course there is, but only in the sense that it stalled in the first place at the hands of my wicked relatives and the devious generals they hold in their thrall.
It may not be forgivable, but I hope to convince you, in as brief a span of letters as I am able due to the urgent need to flee from here to an alternative loco sanctorum, that it is explicable. Mortensen was a friend of mine, my best one in fact. He arrived in my nation on a mission when I was no more than 20, he would have been 40, and such were his generosity of spirit and skill with animals, people and words, that his fame spread throughout the land until it reached the very upper strata of our small nation. I mean it reached me and my family. I contacted Pastor Mortensen and had him brought to the capital when he was able to spare a few days from his duties out in what he called the benighted and goadforsaken jungles, which I thought was quite humorous. As the name suggests, Mortensen was a Dane, son of Morten, son of Lars, son of Søren. He was gigantic, red-faced and friendly, to the point where his all these qualities transcended themselves, went outside of themselves so to speak, going from personal trait to pure concept. Mortensen the Friendly Red Giant. And Lard-fearing in the highest.
Anyway, once we'd met, it did not take long for us to become very close friends. It was a bit rocky at first, though, since in the beginning all he wanted to know was when I was going to accept Christy as my savior. I say Christy because I honor Mortensen's memory by refusing to take the Lard's name in vain, a habit from which he weaned me using every fiber of his being, including, on one occasion, the fibers of his muscles. I found his single-minded bent and overweening piety a bit of an irritant at first, and wondered if he might have been a poor addition to the rarefied atmosphere of Palace Mangwana after all. But a dutiful and attentive bodyguard of mine had the sense to take lean on him after his muscular proselytizing to give him a clear picture of the ROM’s lines of power. Mortensen’s faith was so pure and fervent that it prevented him from seeing how dangerous it was to try to convert a member of the family at the head of a repressive Central African dictatorship by the sword. Yet my guard had similarly muscular powers of persuasion, and Mortensen came around to accepting the worldly truth of my untouchableness. After that it was all outsized sanguine friendliness.
We got along smashingly, did everything together. I showed him how to eat heart of palm fresh from the tree, showed him where all the good fishing holes were around the capital, even initiated him into the secrets of the extender cult, which is more than can be said of any other westerner that I know of. He attended our feasts and balls, slept with our women, learned our language. But like all things that start off with such promise, it was doomed to end tragically, and did. Mortensen was in our country for about five years before the inevitable happened. Quite simply, he made the mistake of evangelizing in a remote forest community whose faith in spirits and metempsychophagia was stronger than what he called his Evangelium. When Mortensen told this deep jungle band that he possessed an abiding connection to the spirit world, they wasted no time in quartering, boiling and skewering him, a practice which in some parts of my country is thought to confer the spiritual properties of the kebab on its consumer. I will spare myself a review of all the horrible details, of which there are plenty reported in the back issues of the normally spineless Danish press.
The news destroyed me, the more so because I felt that his demise was in part my fault. You see, I had generously endowed his mission, and he had used this money to extend his reach into the most dangerous parts of the jungle, places that would have been inaccessible to him without the Mission without End helicopters and hover-pirogues and spectacular stage equipment that my money (earned with the ultimately immoral beer and gambling proceeds, as you will remember, whose ignoble origin steered me toward good works) bought. Equipping my missionary friend with this hardware tickled my pride at the time, though I know looking back that it was wrong to send him so deep without a military escort. How naïve of me to presume that missionaries did not need military escorts!
When I say that the news destroyed me, I mean this in a literal sense, at least with reference to one part of me, namely my emotional-associative memory, which really is me when you think about it. I heard the news and went into a prolonged state of shock, weeks and months that suggest themselves to the mind only as a great blankness. Why did I call you Mortensen? I will put it simply, outlandish as it is: Mortensen has stayed with me in death. You see, whenever I feel myself drawn to a friend the way I was to Mortensen, and you are such a one, my brain begins a process of gentle substitution. It may be the name, as in this case. Other times I have played on inside jokes once shared with Mortensen, fully expecting them to be understood by my new friend. How is your mission going? I will ask these new friends. Do you need money for a new helicopter? I hope the extender oil has done as well by you this week as it has by me! I hope this is not making you uncomfortable, cherished Rod, but I must say that the feeling with you is as strong as it has ever been. I imagine you every day as a robust, red-faced Dane, though I know clearly that in this case you have the additional characteristic of rank breath, which you have been very careful to explain. I appreciate the lengths you have gone to in making yourself a distinctive friend. So please do not be offended that I called you Mortensen. It only means that I like you—Rod.
I suppose it will not be a violation of my departed friend’s trust—he is gone after all, and he left me the names for just such an occasion—if I let you know how I settled on your name in my time of need. Before he set off on his final mission, Pastor Mortensen drew me aside, all business, gravitas and pondus. He presented me with a deep, grimy hat worn by generations of his peasant forebears. It contained dozens of names printed on pieces of paper. He told me that if the day should come that landed me in serious trouble and he was gone, he had contrived to bestow the Lard's deferred blessing on me in the form of these names, which he said were tinged with the blessing of the Sock-raiment (here again, I cherish his memory). So when the time came to go through my list of thousands of e-mail addresses and settle on a mark for furthering my stalled equities transaction, what name did I gazette in Mortensen's Lard-blessed hat but Rodney? Actually it was Rådnei, but I think the Lard would be a miser not to extend his blessing to cognates.
Please, Rod, you have to trust somebody at times like this. Please tell me you will accept a check for any incidental expenses that you may incur in assisting me with my stalled transaction. I am as desperate as I am honest.

Awaiting your response in faith,

Kaarlo Pigg (now that the rapacious generals and their lieutenants may or may not be onto me, I must cleverly conceal all traces of my passage to prevent a trawling e–worm from apprehending me), formerly the Director of Operations for the International Development Bank of the Geopolitical Entity, currently a Military Dictatorship, which in former and more tranquil times was known as the Republic of Mangwana; currently without an enforceable title, though unjustly encumbered by the occasional title bestowed in mockery.

P.S. Please Rodney, my sympathy and natural affinity for you notwithstanding, never again utter invective and Mortensen’s sweet name in the same breath.


For a moment, all was beauty and truth and elysian calm in Rod’s little den over the garage. Convinced by Mangwana's explanation—what a man of feeling he was!—Rod was feeling buoyant, and neither halitosis nor any of his other dysfunctions could seem burdensome to him. He proceeded to glorify himself with the assistance of some of those billions of invisible bits and bytes of pornography resolved neatly and compellingly on the screen for his benefit.
Glory, however, had it price. And elysian calm can easily give way to wracking tempest when there are powerful forces at play. Hard on the heels of his glorification, Rod noted the arrival of another message from Uncle Ghol in his inbox. He began to sweat.


Rodney, you insolent little prick,

What is the meaning of addressing your dearly respected uncle in this humiliating way? Not only do you ignore My founded advice and justifiable directives, but you spit on Me by saying that you will categorically mock any efforts put forth by Me on your behalf out of pity or compassion in the future. This is truly unheard of. I don't know what to say to you. It will not stand, and I expect you to recant. Recant! And I will be at your door if you have the temerity to use the vulgate ‘web’ so much as one more time.
Another thing you can be sure of is that you have no chance in hell of successfully concluding the deal you mentioned unless you involve Me. And should you fail to involve me, I will be forced to contact the authorities, since I have more than a sneaking suspicion that the course of action you are about to take is highly illegal. Just tell me: How does one go about being an e-entrepreneur when the activities one undertakes in this capacity are all eminently illegal?

In wrath,

U. Ghol


Rod was beside Himself. Couldn't anything in his life ever go right? He plastered his unruly brows down until they looked as if they had been applied by maquillage and did the only thing he absolutely knew would console him at such a moment. He keyed in username inlieugirl, password cappedbloodiskeptblood, and watched Geena's e-mail account resolve on the screen. Her avatar was a sweet-looking woman whom she did not resemble in the least. But what fun! There had been times when he had been feeling truly desperate and he had penned inflammatory e-mails from her account to people he had been loath to confront as himself. Being able to monitor her correspondence with the world at large at the stroke of a key was also a key unguent that he used to slather his paranoia; it was the dynamo that powered the gears of his plan to ultimately abandon her. What secrets of Geena’s life were on offer this time? He employee newsletter from In Lieu Of and Permarection, Inc., some mercenary stock tips, then chain letters and advertisements for dodgy pharmaceuticals, an e-mail from someone named Julius Mangwana, a call to frustrated lovers to enhance the length of their quivers…wait! An e-mail from Julius?! What a coincidence that Geena’s name was one of the chosen names in the hat blessed by the Lard! But he’d sooner be garroted than let Geena have any fraction of his gorgeous reward. Better see how far their socioplatonic relationship had progressed before it was too late.



I am offended that you should choose to address me so coarsely. If you do not believe in the veracity of my predicament and the offer that I am prepared to make you, why, then I do not believe in your ability to assist me in the least. Through your dismally distrustful nature, you have forfeited a wonderful opportunity, and have left a potential leader of African enterprise in the lurch. I wish you nothing but unsatisfying sexual encounters for the rest of your life, as I can well tell that you are a woman who craves such encounters but lack the social graces, not to mention the corporeal charm needed to precipitate them with any regularity. So be warned: I am in perpetual contact with the spirit world, and have spells that can make you more barren and frigid than the south Siberian steppes if you cross me again. Even if you choose not to trust or assist me, I demand respect. It is my birthright as a member of the glorious Mangwana clan!


Rod's ears could heard the brazen ring of opportunity. Here could be a way to free himself of Geena faster than he’d ever imagined. And he could do so as he freed himself from financial constraint for the rest of his life. The gemini solution. Two birds or what have you. Then, without further ado, he turned his hands to labor (to borrow a phrase from Ghol), thrilled to be setting the machinery of his own liberation in motion:


Mr. Mangwana,

I believe your powers to be about as authentic as your "stalled transaction" and your whole back-story. You do not frighten me. You demand respect, but what you deserve is a resounding cock-punch.

And my sincerest wish for you is that you rot behind bars and receive daily groin-centric hose-whippings.


Geena Sanchinelly


Barren! Frigid! Once Mangwana cast his cowry shell spell on her, or however modern Africans went about casting spells—he wouldn’t be surprised to find out that curses could be transmitted electronically, which would be a clear improvement on the bits and bytes of pornography that anchored the current paradigm of the invisible electronic world—what he meant to think was that it would not be long before she was on the straight track out of his life. With her gone, he would be all breath and no bang, at least not as far as she was concerned, and would have made significant strides toward the self-realization that had been deferred for so long. He’d be an unburdened e-entrepreneur! The situation as it stood, well, it was delicate. There was not much love lost between them, and yet she very much enjoyed certain of his endowments. He couldn’t claim to like it quite as much, release at the end of the tunnel notwithstanding, but he submitted dutifully to her advances out of a prevailing sense of obligation. Not only as a man, but as a debtor. He owed her money, you see, and did not feel right about asking her to leave while that was the case. Besides, how would rent get paid in lieu of that highly reliable In Lieu Of check? How would he pay for the connection to the web that was already now beginning to produce the fruit whose flesh would lead him out of financial darkness? It was all very complicated, emotionally and financially, but Mangwana's black magic was just the x-factor he needed. He clicked send. Rodney Grumbelius, master of puppets!
But his work as co-pilot of Geena’s e-mail account was only half complete, for here was a missive from the ominously named Carson Crumpler, a man he had never heard of before, and whose presence in the inbox caused Rod’s brow to furrow and send the just-plastered eyebrows into disarray. As he read, his arms swiftly wandered into the akimbo thigh-grinding position.


Hey Geena,

What’s happening? I’m writing to let you know I've been thinking about you at odd moments since I met you at the contraceptive expo in the High Sungirdle Dome. I hesitated to write until now, not quite knowing what to say, but now I’ve at least worked up the courage to try. I know that you have a stable life, have a boyfriend, a car, maybe everything you think you need. And it's on account of that boyfriend of yours that I finally found the excuse and the strength to write. I know that proximity blinds and it’s darkest under the lamp and whatnot, but from here Rod strikes me as a terribly unappealing, negative fellow. I generally divide the people I meet into negatives and positives. You are a clear positive, and Goad knows I am, too. And it is just as clear that your Rod is negative. I guess what I'm saying is I'm confused about what you see in him—there are a lot of other fish in the sea to net.
Honestly, are you aware of what seems to be your boyfriend’s main leisure-time activity? He has this group with a membership of one that goes around trying to drum up popular sympathy for the sufferers of halitosis. It's pathetic, and he probably hasn't swayed a single mind to ignore the wisdom of its attached nose's repugnance yet. CASH, truly, is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. The condition is disgusting—I’ve had bad experiences with halitosis in the past, and I have little tolerance for it. I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up getting in over his head and somehow getting you in trouble. And his group’s stated aim is to ‘reprogram the entire nation’s nose-cortex-behavior circuit.’ Just as a heads up, have you heard of their motto? It’s ‘Our highest aspiration is to respire without stigmatization.’ How fucked up is that?

Let me know if you’d like to meet up sometime. I’m a classy guy.

Carson Crumpler


Contriving to get rid of Geena was one thing. He didn’t really care what became of them as 'us,' but he would not have his integrity sullied by the likes of this feckless contraceptives conspirator, this pedlar of petty insights, this obvious philistine. Musing about what to do, his anger slowly gave way to the mischievous planning of a counter-attack. Beyond foiling the man's bid to woo Geena away from him with a series of intelligent e-maneuvers, he envisioned a more visceral sort of punishment for Crumpler’s transgressions. Giving his fancy free rein, Rod imagined fitting Crumpler's head with a fishbowl-type helmet and saturating its tiny atmosphere with the vapors of morbid matter mustered from the deepest reaches of the Grubelian bowels. He would exhale into the bowl through a length of tubing until Crumpler asphyxiated on the putrescent vapors.
But first there was the matter of an immediate response to this e-incursion. He shuddered to think of what might happen if he did not stave off the assault quickly. The truly worst-case scenario would be for Geena and Crumpler to get together and drive him out of the apartment for failure to meet his payment obligation, in which case he would not only be without a roof, but without access to the web, and would forfeit his shot at the gorgeous reward.


Hello Ron,

I love Rod, not you, so don’t bother. You couldn't possibly do for me what he does. Also, he's not negative at all. Negative people don't get things done, but he's a successful e-entrepreneur with a stake in the biggest lizard farm the world has ever seen. Not only that, but I'm really proud of his political engagement. It takes courage to take on a society's fundamental unquestioned assumptions. I think you’re only hating on him because you hate on yourself. My advice to you is to grow a pair!



The morning had caused in Rod what Rod himself perceived to be an interesting transformation. For the first time since his guerilla breathing campaign over a year ago, he found himself acting decisively, 'with authority' as the saying goes. Not only had he told off Ghol, but he had confronted Mangwana and forced him to come clean about Mortensen, as well as defended his territorial integrity against Crumplerian incursion in a most intelligent way.
If he had to guess, he would say that it was the web that was allowing him to act so decisively and tap into such a variety of personas. And that was just it: The web was allowing him to be whoever he wanted to be at any given time. The short, fat, wild-browed man with halitosis sitting at his messy desk could easily use the right combination of words and timing to channel a more impressive specimen. He realized with a start that the possibilities did not end at business, or at telling off overweening relatives. They were as endless as friendship and romantic entanglement itself. At which maybe, given Geena's demonstrated susceptibility to alien advances and the get out of jail free card that this gave him, he would try his own hand. He navigated the now calmer e-waters of the advancing afternoon to a popular online dating site. He would see what was out there, write up a profile for himself, and have a little fun while he thought about how to move forward with the Mangwanan gambit.

Basically, I have no time to build relationships between modeling, school, and gigging. I am a hot single chick, and I just want to find a hot man to eat me out. I'm tired of hooking up with guys who want more than just hooking up. I don't want to please you either unless for some odd reason I feel like it....basically I will use you to eat me out, but it would be an honor for anyone to even touch me...forward me your picture and we'll see what's good.


I am a beautifell, well-travald, well-read women looking for Mr. Rayt at this point. I am luving, frendly, and real good with the sac. Am looking for short-tirm, long-tirm, or nsa fun. You: Be tall, gentill, have sweat brath. Send a pic and yewl get one from me.


Well that one wasn’t going to work. Not every personal ad could be a vien of pure gold. And he wanted to get away from this picture paradigm what with his scars and all. Though there was no keeping him from using a picture of someone else, of course, and then just chalking up his changed appearance to the vicissitudes of time's ineluctable advance. It would cast him as a man with a unique depth of inspired character.


I am not a shallow woman. What I care about is not how you look or dress or how much money you make, but how you make me feel. What I want is to experience the depths of passion with a man who understands that I love being a woman, and who loves being a man. I am sick and tired of all the poseurs and freaks who have no idea how to treat a woman. And if I have to explain it, well then let’s just say you should stop here. Anyway, enough about the outcome. I am a 30-something o.a.f. with a steady, remunerative—here again, if you don’t understand this word you may as well stop reading—job with room for advancement. I like the sea, the lakes, the forests and the town. I like animals and humans and books and theater and orgasms. I like Wilde, Kerouac, Plath and Pynchon. Some movies I like, but most of the time I feel oppressed by their desire to hold me captive for two hours. I like cooking, traveling and being held. Tightly, or I may buckle. You are a swm who shares most if not all of these likes. You know how to read and comment intelligently on the content of a newspaper, yet do not go on at tiresome length about topics that do not interest me. You do not play the stockmarket, and are not chasing the coattails of a get-rich-quick scheme. You have mastered the four basic operations of arithmetic. You make me laugh and come. Other than that I don't really care. I always follow my mother's sage advice—never try to change a man, honey, that’s bu hao—and thus have pretty significant experience in putting up with men's flaws. Being o, I am pretty good at putting up with things. Forbearance is a great catalyst for romantic chemistry, baby. And you better fucking understand this last sentence.

-The Duchess of Lovelornistan


Rod’s interest was piqued by this o.a.f., though he had no idea what was meant by the unfortunate acronym. He knew very little about those people she had mentioned, other than the mere fact of their authorship, but the fact with Rod was that he hated literature; he hated depictions of a world he could not have, and of men he could never be—but other than that he felt that he would make a pretty decent match for her. He decided to throw together a profile and be the first to deploy a tentacle. The first order of business was coming up with a picture that negotiated a reasonable path between awful truth and outlandish fiction. Darkness and obscurity were key components here, for they would help account for the difference in his appearance by the light of day. He used shadowy and handsome in an image search and sifted through the results. Most of what came up were pictures of actors that he plainly could not use. But there was one that grabbed his attention. It was a picture of a mugger half-glimpsed in the act of wrenching a purse from his defenseless victim. The picture had been posted on a McGruff-inspired neighborhood watch website. In compensation for the image's violent overtones, the fellow was quite handsome. To boot, the man was in possession of a considerable paunch, just like Rod. The man may have been a head and a half taller than Rod, but who could tell without a frame of reference? His height may as well have been indeterminate. He downloaded the image and set about editing it to remove the victim, crudely replacing her terrified face and contorting body with a large suitcase that he, or the criminal, now appeared to be inexpertly heaving at. Why? Who cared? Rod was very pleased with himself, and considered pausing for glorification before addressing his intriguing o.a.f., but considered, at the last minute, once he had laid hold of his sizable member and begun his glorious exertions, that the energy might better be saved for the o.a.f., or even for miserly Geena when she returned, who he thought might need a reminder as to why he was there, given the situation with the brazen interloping contraceptives pedlar.


Name: Cassidy Samuelsson
Age: 26
Profession and passion: E-Entrepreneurship
My favorite thing to do on a Saturday night: Other than pleasing o.a.f.’s, wrenching unyielding suitcases from their berths in dark, dank, needle-littered alleyways.
Favorite color: Sombre
My biggest flaw: Immodesty
My favorite authors: Wilde, Kerouac, Plath and Pynchon. Great men all.
My favorite word: Essence (as opposed to putrescence). Character over tissue. All part of being an oswm.
Currently, my most engrossing project: Providing intermediary logistical assistance for the establishment of a highly profitable lizard farm in Central Africa. All without ever having to go there, I think.
The sexiest thing I can think of in a partner: Lack of total idiocy. It’s harder to find than you might suppose. I can tell at first glance that half the girls on this supposedly upscale dating site are functional illiterates. If you feel the same way, let’s get together!
The pace of my life is best described as: A dignified trot across life’s stage. I will not be hurried by the rhythms of mechanical production or advertising! I am an ambler, a stroller, a peruser of scents, beauties, and hazard. You cannot snap a finger and expect the mechanism of sound and fury to start ticking on command.
What I like - or dislike - about what I do for a living: I like very much the potential to make millions of dollars by providing logistical e-services and bringing my spirit of enterprise to bear on any array of situations and modalities; yet I dislike the fact that hitherto during my spell as an e-entrepreneur, I have not had any face time with my business contacts, since I esteem them wonderful men.
The type of family I come from: My family might best be described as a fun-loving gang of people who, well, love each other. Gosh, where to begin? Suppose I tell you about it over a mug of scrumpy?
The amount of fame and fortune I’ve achieved in my life is: I don’t care about fame. It is a vehicle piled high with undesirables taking vicarious part in what they perceive to be a worthy departure from their quietly desperate lives. Fortune, however, I have not shunned. I have brokered some deals that you may have heard of. My business partners are involved in pulp & paper, rocketry and animal husbandry. Not to mention capitalized leisure. They are good at what they do, and so am I. How could I not be with a name like Cassidy Samuelsson? My earnings are remunerative; there is no glass ceiling when one's confidence and compelling personal charm are ratcheted to my matchless levels. Did I mention that I like scrumpy?
My most unusual or impressive skill: Cervical massage.
If I could be anywhere right now, it would be: Entangled in the arms of a woman who loves being a woman, and who at least does not mind scrumpy and the difficult conversations it brings. The backdrop needn’t be spectacular. A man who is bored at home will be equally bored on a voyage or in beautiful place. Someone who shunned neither fame nor fortune must have said that.
If I was given a million dollars: First of all I would like to mention that I dislike the use of the simple past here as opposed to the conditional. Honestly though, were I given a million dollars, it would amount to no more than a drop in the bucket.
The role faith plays in my life: Faith does not bear being described. Even the best have failed in their attempts. It is the ineffable; I am miserable. I long to discuss these matters of faith in a more intimate setting, perhaps over a steaming mug of English scrumpy. I find the taste of mulled apples conducive to discussing the teleological suspension of the ethical. Is it not clear that I believe in the strength of the absurd?
My personal motto or creed: Essence above putrescence, as I've already said.
My dearest memory: The memory is not dear for its content, but for its lesson. I would have been about three. I was standing outside my house, torn up about something I could not have, a cookie or some such. God knows it wasn’t a breath mint. I was crying my eyes out, making as much noise as I could in order to solicit the sympathy of the outside world, still stuck as I was in this cocoon of thinking that my passions and miseries had the power to stir the world in their raw form. Suddenly there was a deep rumble at the horizon of my hearing. I grew nervous. Something was challenging the sovereignty of my outrage. I tried to cry louder, as loud as I could, but it only grew louder and more frightening, until finally it had become an intolerable roar that drowned out the very passions I was feeling, never mind my voice. I fell into a kind of shocked stupor. In the very moment that the last vehicle in the hundreds-strong biker gang finished roaring past our driveway, my father stepped out onto the veranda. "That's how the world at large feels about your concerns, son. If you want anybody to care, you've got to have something to offer."
Informal essay on what I am looking for: I have been with far too many women, seen far too much of human nature, and gazed way too deeply into the mystery of sex to be able to say honestly that I am looking for any particular thing in a partner. There is too much that is amazing. In arch dating-scene language, I suppose my criterion in this: You are not an idiot. We’ll see what’s good. It would be an honor for anyone to even touch me.


That was all Rod, except for the bit about faith, which he had lifted from other sap's profile. He had no idea what it meant, but it had a grand, mysterious ring to it.


Dear Duchess of Lovelornistan,

My name, in case you have failed to run across it in the course of your researches for a suitable mate, is H. Cassidy Samuelsson. I possess a remarkable range of qualities that are totally in line with what you seem to be looking for. They fairly jump out from my profile, so I won't list them here. Needless to say, I am very interested in meeting you. I am an o.w.m. with bright prospects and a crushing need to please a woman who loves being exactly that. I know what you mean by 'the way to treat a woman' from long training: Gentle and attentive by day, attentive but rough at night. I will hold you upright. In this point I believe that our interests coincide precisely, dear Duchess.
I would love to hear from you, and look forward to rescuing you, if I may, from the doldrums of an unfulfilling love life.

From the man on whom you can count for all the needful discretion, as well as the other needful needful, which of course is inseparable from that needful discretion,

Attentively yours,

With romantic anticipation,

H. Cassidy Samuelsson


The Duchess must have been in a bad way, for her reply was swift.


Herr Cassidy (I assume that is what the mysterious leading h stands for),

It was good to hear from a man who seems to be on the same page as me. I confide that many of the responses I receive are crude excursions penned by illiterate ogres who I can be sure lack even the basic sophistication involved in being a good kisser. You have obviously progressed beyond that stage. But do you have the sophistication to steal second base? Despite being o, I have quick eyes and a twitchy arm, so beware.

Herr Cassidy, suppose we engage in a confidence-building measure instead of rushing into things? Why don’t you send me a more well-lit and docile image of yourself, in anticipation of the same from me?

Frau Herzogin (the ball is already in the air, bound for the second-baseman's outstretched mitt)

P.S.: So, you are an o.w.m.? Do tell!


Rod wasted no time in finding a new picture. He went back to the McGruff website where he had found the image of the obscure mugger. He resumed the thread where he had left off, and discovered to his great Pleasure that the case of the midnight mugger had been singled out as one of the area’s big neighborhood policing successes. The suspect's name was Tadeusz Kapuscinski, and the site took obvious delight in putting the man's mugshot on public display. With a grin, he cut it and pasted it into his image editor. There he substituted a mountain panorama for the graduated mugshot backdrop. It would be jarring for her to gaze on so somber a face set against a background of such majesty. But effective nevertheless, because it would go some way toward setting him up in her mind as a man with considerable reserves of character, who suffered from a certain toothsome Weltschmerz, and who was not about to be swayed into thinking that existence was pleasant, or even acceptable, by so simple a bribe as a scenic vista. It would get her gears spinning, plunge her into thoughts about the ways in which to begin pleasing so profound and impossibly miserable a man. The contrast was perfect; he thought he (Kapuscinski, that was) looked like one of those dehabilitated Russian intellectuals sent out to farm potatoes in the Siberian taiga. He had seen a documentary on them once. Confronted with his halitosis, she might even think his condition a symptom of general world-weariness, and try all the harder to be a solicitous mate. She would make him tea and sort out his correspondence as he wheeled through the firmament of e-enterprise. The plan was watertight. Breath-proof. Complete. But what was O?


Dear Mrs. Dr. Dutchess of Lovelornistan (I cannot string together multiple titles in German, since I do not know how to punctuate them, though I recognize your attempt at humor, and have done you one better, albeit in West Saxon),

I have attached my picture, and hope that it meets with your satisfaction. If it does, I do not see what could possibly prevent me from reaching second base, as I have already begun my dive. As for my status as an o.w.m., well, it's true, but I'm not sure I want to get too deeply into the issue before I have met you. Now how about a picture of you?

Attentively, perhaps roughly, yours,

H. Cassidy Samuelsson, IV (I do have a long lineage), e-Entrepreneur


Dear Kaarlo Pigg,

I appreciate your position, and would not dream of compromising it by addressing you by your real name. Which of course is Kaarlo anyway. Meaning that I’ve already transgressed against your interdiction, for which I’m sorry. Why don’t I call you Piet Biesterveld instead? I think that by now the bridgeheads of trust have been erected between us—certainly enough words have been exchanged to construct a substantial edifice—and that we are ready to lay down the main span so that commerce, and benefit, may begin to flow. I declare that I am ready to receive a remittance from Kaarlo Pigg, I mean Piet Biesterveld, or any of his deputies, be they named ever so variously, for the purpose of covering expenses incidental to our forthcoming enterprise. Piet, now that we have come to know each other more than a little bit, I don't mind if I ask you a question concerning your tastes: Do you like scrumpy?

Esteeming you,

Rodney Grumbelius


dear deluded relative, (web!)

you want to come knocking at my door, do you? web! flying in the face of all your wisdom, i am about to reap the first sweet fruit of my efforts in the field of e-enterprise. if you need me to help put food on your table, just say so. after all, you are a dearly respected relative. but i will not be strong-armed into parting with my hard-earned cash just because you think your foolish efforts to indoctrinate me with your limited financial worldview should throw off a return. (web!)

with sincere wishes that you may be knocked from your high horse and feel the bracing earth beneath your feet once and for all,

n. rodney Grumbelius, aka Cassidy Samuelsson, e-entrepreneur extraordinaire, IV


The next thing he knew, Mangwana had written back:

Dearest business partner!

How I relish the flavor of those words in my mouth! In my country, a friendship that progresses into the realm of business is the highest form of interaction, taking joint stock as it does of a man’s need for both bread and boon-companionship. I am proud of the stage to which we have progressed, especially given the fact that you are an American. You are my first American friend and business partner! Vive les Americains! The feeling is one of intoxication. Now that I have you, I hope you will not be offended to know that, ultimately, I would like more. Which is not to say that I wish to devalue the uniqueness and individuality of our commercio-platonic sociofriendly union, or to topple you from your perch of parity with Mortensen, just that there is value in the great capitalist shibboleth of there being virtue in volume, which I am sure you understand, being an e-entrepreneur. I personally wouldn't be surprised if you were insinuating yourself into the good graces of any number of other sons of deposed African despots even now. Do you have any other friends who might be interested in purchasing shares in the extender farm? They must be upstanding citizens of course. Not that I would expect anything less of the pillar of his community that you are.
Here is the thing, my dear Grumbelius. You will soon receive a check, which I have already had my deputy in North America address discreetly to you and put in the mail. Once it has posted to your account, we will draw on it to cover any and all expenses that crop up. I would like to prepare you now for some of the expenses that we may incur: When one is dealing with sums as large as those we will be getting into, transaction fees can be considerable, especially in view of the Africanness of the transaction site. So that is one thing, and it is preferable to have those fees paid from another source, so as not to molest the integrity of the principle, which would negatively affect a number of modalities. There is also the matter of bribes. You cannot imagine how far and wide one must spread the grease of bribery when one wants to turn the hands of central Africans to labor en masse, especially when the project involves breaking a taboo against reptile husbandry. Fortunately, every taboo can be overcome by exceeding a specific potential measured in dollars. I hope you will not cringe to know that a good deal of our incidental expense fund will be consumed by various acts of bribery. What is it that is said in your country? Ah, to make an omelet, sometimes it is needful that eggs be broken. And rest assured, the moral balance of this equation will be positive. This is a good thing for Africa, my dear Grumbelius. Let the dynamo of indigenous economic growth begins to spin!

With my highest hopes for harmony,

And giddy thoughts of gain,

Yours in perfect faith,

And with esteem,


P.S.—I have been relishing thoughts of scrumpy ever since I read of it in my youth in those schoolbooks shipped over from England. Perhaps we can use it to toast to our mutual success in the south of England once my stalled transaction has been helped along its was and the lizard farm is up and running.


He had signed off using just his first name! All the more reason to keep Mangwana to himself and not bring other mercenary business partners into the fray. Before Rod had a chance to reply, a response from the Dispenser of Political Favors and other Graftings arrived:

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for your concern regarding my initiative to reform our tax code. Below is my tax code reform Action Plan. Each point has an Action Item that lets you know what you can do to help the Cause. It is time the Silent Majority stood up to make its voice Heard.

Thank you for being a concerned Citizen, and thanks for your Help!


The Dispenser


Before the pain of enforced anonymity had time to boil over into outrage, there was another e-mail. They just kept piling up. He began to sweat at the thought of all the clever responses he would need to pen. This one was from the bad old doctor he had thought he would never hear from again:

Dear Rodney,

My how time has flown since my successful treatments of you! My mind wandered back to that idyll the other day when I diagnosed a new patient with severe autoimmune halitosis. He was young and reminded me very much of your own precocious use of profanity. You will be happy to know that my interest in you is as keen as ever. I like to think of myself as a thorough physician. I did a little poking around and saw that you've lately become civically involved. That’s great. I am really sorry to see that your breath has suffered a relapse, but at the same time I am glad to see that you’re taking enough responsibility for your condition and your own happiness to form a social network and support group for fellow exhalers of morbid matter.

The truth is that I am writing to you on a painful errand. I’m not sure if you've heard—I try to stay out of the headlines as much as I can, in bad times as well as good—but I have been faring badly. I have legal troubles, Rodney. That is to say, I don’t have enough money to navigate the stormy legal seas that have foamed up around me. It pains my professional pride to ask, but I was wondering if, in appreciation of everything I did for you in the name of tough medical love so long ago, you could find it in your heart to lend me some money. I'm faced with a malpractice suit that’s stretched me to the limit. Actually it’s more a matter of criminal malfeasance. You see, I was relieved of my right to practice some years ago in connection with a wolf-hating (that’s lycophobia if you’re wondering) family of litigators, so there's the added criminal dimension, which makes securing help all the more important. I know it's a stretch, Rodney, but if there is any gratefulness and recompense in this world, I know you will not stint in helping me. I need ten thousand dollars to top off my lawyer's retainer to help me make a down payment on retaining my freedom.
I want you to know that your contribution will be doing more than pad the legal defense fund of a disgraced immunologist. Far more: If I am cleared, which I will most certainly be if I manage to amass enough money from grateful former patients, it will pad the annals of medical science and pave the way for a new era of clinical treatment. I have made a discovery, you see. It came to me, as they say, inter lupum et canem. The important thing, I realized, was not the bite of the wolf, as I had thought for so long, but its breath, its aspiration, its spirit—regardless of whether the lupus is causing bad breath or not. As with empirical research, in the practice of philological medicine, progress can be quite sudden, and often comes after a period of bad stagnation. You see, I decided to pick up my Plutarch after a long period of neglect. And right there, in the middle of all those questions and answers about fraternal love and the systematic bias found in Herodotus, was a passage about the wolf. He begins by outlining how it is a known fact that the flesh of a sheep killed by a wolf will be more tender than average. Being the great philosopher and writer that he is, Plutarch does not stop there, but instead sunders bone to get at marrow. No mere osteopath he! Winnowing the wheat from the chaff, he arrives at the conclusion that flesh from a sheep killed by a wolf is not the tenderer because of the crushing power of the wolf's jaws. No, it is because the breath of the wolf is so extraordinarily hot. That is to say, it takes what is raw, such as the morbid matter that constitutes the olfactory vector of halitosis, and cooks it. Now all I have to do is work out the chemistry of what exactly is going on with all those volatile sulfur compounds. It’s back to the old orgo books for me!
This has been a major breakthrough, Rodney. Not only have I realized that the human body ranges from raw to well-done, but now I know that when psychosomatic functions fail and the body careers down the raw axis, the breath of a wolf can be used as a homeostatic regulator. Do you need me to paraphrase this for you Rod, so that you see the implications? Imagine the applications! After this story breaks, I wouldn't be surprised to see half the ranchers in this country sell off their herds to begin breeding and ranging their traditional sworn enemy. Once the wolves mature into strong, dependable breath providers, they will be trucked off to medical clinics across the country, where their hot exhalations will turn the tide on the autoimmune diseases that plague the union. Wolves curing asthma; wolves curing arthritis; wolves curing Sjogren’s; wolves curing osteodegeneration! There may even be an erectile dysfunction application. I'm getting too excited to go on, and must end here so as not to get ahead of myself and have my expectations shattered when the book of statutes is flung in my direction. I need my medical license—as with many things, deep appreciation and a sense of loss arrive in the same breath. Please help me!

Yours in kind desperation,

Edelwolf Genauer, a latter-day Wilhelm Reich

P.S. Someone once wrote that, whereas the brain was long thought to reside in the head, the truth of the matter is that it is borne on a wind blowing off the Caspian sea. This may not be exactly correct, but it is exactly this sort of acrobatic thinking that is required if the medical profession is to be furthered.

P.P.S. I would of course be willing to treat your relapsed lupine halitosis according to the state of the art, even before my license is reinstated, just as a show of appreciation for your support.


After reading Genauer’s entreaty, the physical world intervened. Errands had to be run, food consumed, teeth brushed, tongue scraped, wash gargled, vernal freshness pill popped, love made at some remove—with breath held. He couldn’t help thinking about some of the doctor’s wild assertions though. A cure for O-ness? And for erectile dysfunction (although his dysfunction was probably the opposite of what was meant)? But Rod was too smart to go in for that crap. How could Genauer expect Rod of all people to fall for such a cheap ruse? If it sounded too good to be true, then it certainly had to be.
When Rodney returned to his command center late in the evening, his head was spinning with all the responsibilities that had to be satisfied, all the commitments he had shouldered in his intrepid quest for e-fortune. Julius was his first priority, of course.


Dear dear Dear (at this point I think it is appropriate to omit your name entirely, given its politicized nature and the confusion enswirling what to call you),
You cannot imagine the lovely feeling that welled up inside me when I saw that you had ditched all formality, and even discretion, by signing off using only your first name, thus committing yourself completely to my friendship and trust. What a glorious friend you are! I have to dig far back in my memory to find your equal in the spirit of abandon and acceptance, and directed toward me by a fellow human being to boot! But I digress. I may return to the subject later though, with your permission.
On the score of business, I would just like to say that all is in place and in order. I am awaiting the check and will happily disburse the money to cover any fees. I am also satisfied with your explanation regarding any potential irregularities, i.e. bribes, unscheduled fees, and all the other little vagaries and inconsistencies that attend the doing of business in Central Africa.
On a more personal note, I would like to let you know about some of the things that are going on in my life, and to seek counsel from you on at least a couple of points. It seems that word has been getting around that I am starting to do well for myself as an e-entrepreneur. As you might expect, family and friends are keen on sharing in the benefits of my enterprise. As we say in this country, they want a piece of the action. You'd think they never heard of working for an honest dollar!
The main problem is with my uncle Ghol, who now seems to view his years of tiresome lecturing as a financial investment, and his nephew as a financial instrument. He has said that I am not fit to handle the modalities (btw I love it when you use that word!), and has even threatened to try to derail our transaction by involving the authorities, since he thinks there must be something illegal about it. Which of course is nonsense; why should helping someone establish a lizard farm be illegal? What do you think I should do, Dear (may I call you Kaarlo again?)?
The other thing is a love life issue, or an issue of the modalities of my day to day life in general. Stop me if you don't want to hear this (or just disregard it and skip to the next section, I guess, since the limited state of the technology keeps this e-mail from being interactive), but today my girlfriend Geena (have I told you about her already? Why yes of course I have, she’s the one whose e-mail I check occasionally) asked me to go on a walk with her. Walks with her are always bad news. I know: Most boyfriends would not recoil in self-loathing and passive aggression at the suggestion of a romantic stroll. Yet this was no ordinary walk. You see, Geena has developed this theory. She thinks that if I exercise a little bit, get my blood moving, my legs in stride and so on—she thinks that if I do this I will begin to emit more tolerable expirations. When of course the whole point of being in a committed relationship, as a sufferer that is, is to achieve a respite from stigmatization. She hasn’t told me her line of thinking of course, it's just that I can tell she's really eager for me to do it, and whenever she gets that way, her eyes fixed hazily on some distant goal, her knees all wiggly, I know it's somehow related, at the end of the day, to breath amelioration. What was I to do? Had I said no, then she wouldn't have had sex with me, which is really the only thing keeping us together, something that is not desirable per se, but which I maintain for reasons of pride and practicality that I won't get into here. And it doesn't stop there. If I hold my ground, she will deny me the most basic of relationship services, including dinner and a bed to sleep in. In the end I said yes, as I always do, and off on our stroll we went. I understand that the breath bothers her (it seems to bother just about every cretin I have ever encountered). You know the truth of the matter is that I think that she may be right about the effect of a raised core temperature on the abatement of foul breath in light of some new medical research I have come across; but being made to jump through hoops like this and having to undergo Geena’s hand-in-gullet FDA inspection before she'll assent to have sex with me is bullshit. Especially when she knows that sexual activity is a trigger for foul peptide production. The worst part is that she thinks I should be spending most of my days finding ways of freshening my breath so that we can make our relationship better. Evidently my lack of a desk job leads her to believe I have nothing better to do with my time than waste it on an interminable search for the El Dorado of breath elixirs. The situation is enough to make a man desperate, Kaarlo, because if I can’t effect a change in the breath perception landscape at home, then what can I do?
Then there’s the matter of the sex itself. I may not have much to offer in other fields of endeavor, but I do have a lot to offer in the sack, as we say over here. These traits—priapism and size—are what persuade women to hold on to me despite some of what the prejudices of our day deem to be flaws, including shortness of stature and distension of paunch. Regarding the priapism, you must understand that it is really more of a disadvantage for me than you might think. When I pop a tent, it braves the elements and stays up all night. Or day. Or all day and all night. Once its structural rigidity withstood an endurance test of more than 60 hours amid a howling gale of unrelenting passion. By the time the tent implodes, I am completely spent, useless for days. Predictably, Geena makes the most of this robust structure. Coming from a promiscuous part of the world—I hope you will forgive me for taking the liberty of assumption—I think you have some understanding of what it's like to be roped into a woman's service for hours on end like this. And yet you cannot fathom what it is I’m going through, since for you, extender oil or not, there is no difficulty in lowering the flag between sessions. The blood in the lingam, my dear Julius, is said to aid the nerve endings in their registration of sensation, and typically this works out for the unambiguous benefit of the possessor of said lingam. But when the flag flies in perpetual patrio-priapism for 24 hours or more, this enhanced sensation begins a slippery slide toward the excruciating. For example, as I pen this to you, even now I am experiencing the heights of pain. This is what happens when the unwitting sufferer of priapism and halitosis goes for a walk with his Geena!
The funny thing is that Geena thinks it’s the permarection pills that are doing it. She works at a factory where that stuff is made, and she’s always coming home with them. I humor her by pretending to swallow one occasionally. It makes her feel good about her work. But even more than the pain, the problem is that I feel Geena does not love me for me. It’s much more about the lingam for her. And this is the reason I pretend to take the pills—to stave off even greater excesses of idol worship.

I hope to hear from you soon, Kaarlo.



P.S.—I have written you with some very personal and very sensitive information. Naturally I trust in your native discretion with what I've told you; I know I have nothing to fear from that quarter. My real concern is that our relationship might be taking a turn for the formal, the stilted--in short, the scripted and stifling world of international business. All business and no telling details from Julius makes Rod a sad boy. Please send me some news of yourself, something bearing on your memories, your hopes, loves, dreams. More details about your stalled equity wouldn’t be bad either. Heaven forbid that this correspondence should end in a stalled emotional transaction.

P.P.S.—I forgot to mention another problem I seem to be having. It's Dr. Genauer, that dangerous crank I told you about. He's managed to look me up, and he wants money. It seems like everyone I ever knew is looking for a handout! Without being rude, I wish to steer him away from the very notion that I could be viewed as a source of funds. How do you think I should proceed, Kaarlo?


It was time to write to that insolent Dispenser.


Loathed Dispenser,

How dare you? Are you an absolute cretin? If not that, then I must take you for a total illiterate. Or worse, a common hater of the morbid matter borne on the breath of those who suffer from the putrescent condition that dare not speak its name. I wrote to you with a specific political errand in mind; I'll have you know that I spent a lot of time drafting that initial correspondence to you. What I received in return was an acknowledgement of a communication I never sent, an errand I never ran, a favor never begged. In the best of circumstances, you suffer from a highly incompetent dictation secretary or mailing department. Because I am of a generous disposition, I will proceed as if that were the case. And if I currently have the honor of addressing the Dispenser's secretary or some other inferior, do not think that you will be able to evade the guerilla breathing techniques to which the dispenser will become subject if CASHPAC's demands are not met.
Let me outline my demands to you one final time. This will be your last opportunity to respond favorably and coherently before I am forced on behalf of all sufferers to take decisive action against your reputation and coming re-election campaign. Guerilla breathing techniques are only the beginning of what we have at our disposal in CASHPAC's political action arsenal.
CASHPAC demands that:
You effect change in the breath perception landscape by:
Breaking the ring of social exclusion that isolates sufferers of the putrescent condition that dare not speak its name in that:
You fund a Breath Perception module, designed by CASHPAC, for integration into freshman health curricula across the state, which module shall consist of, for instance:
A catchy acronym, with my Board of Directors' provisional choice being BABB (Betterment of Attitudes toward Bad Breath);
and a theatrical exposition of the socio-historical breath dialectic (I am in the process of considering scripts submitted by a number of playwrights with previously published freshman health scripts even now);
with a personalization of the themes introduced in the play in order to revolutionize the students' orientation toward issues of breath and people of odor;
to be followed by Martinet-like physical discipline administered to the recalcitrant;
and concluded with an interactive breath acceptance module, in which an assortment of suffers are to be brought in to contrast the students' newfound theoretical tolerance against their reactions to a representative cross-section of real-world people of odor, which conclusion shall complete the dialectic and result in what we at the frontlines of the battle to de-stigmatize halitosis refer to as catharsis;
and in that:
You sponsor and hammer through a Masking Agent Prohibition Act, with language and stipulations of CASHPAC's choosing.
The state stands to gain much in terms of both productivity and social harmony as soon as my recommendations are enacted, as I’m sure you know, having read my initial correspondence. Please do not delay, Dispenser! The fate of the next several generations of sufferers of the putrescent condition in question rests squarely on your shoulders. Do not forget that your tax coffers will also swell to voluptuous proportions as a result of my bi-tined plan, which you will be able to use to sponsor any number of other boondoggles in the name of maintaining the dignity of your office.
Should you have any questions about my demands or the nature of my module or the language of the Act that I wish to be put on the books, or for that matter about the toll taken on the state's gross domestic product by mouthwash aspiration pneumonia and related conditions, feel free to send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, along with a $20 inconvenience fee in the form of a cashier’s check, and I will be happy to respond exhaustively to any question you may have.
Allow me to close by repeating my earnest hope that you have hitherto resisted and continue to resist the pressure to sell out brought to bear by the masking agent industry. God only knows how many times they've tried to buy me off with smarmy offers of cash and weekend getaways to the Isle of Vernal Exhalations. Be strong, Dispenser, be strong.

Duly signed by a correspondent who hopes dearly not to have to pen an epistolary indictment against you, or to get CASHPAC's machinery moving toward unseating you as a result of your failure to act according to the conditions on which my planned contribution to your campaign is contingent.


Rod was about to pen a response to the disgraced doctor, but a response from the Duchess got to him first.


Dear Cassidy,

Thank you so much for your picture—and for your forthrightness about everything. It is not often I come across men willing to admit that they are o.w.m. I of course put my status as an o out there from the start so that guys know what they'll be getting into, saving both sides a lot of trouble. You should see the way some guys act when they find out about it unexpectedly. It took a bit of coaxing to get it out of you, of course, but you are really being wonderfully solicitous, all things considered. I would just like to say that you look really good in your picture considering that you too are a sufferer. I guess your condition is not very advanced. Or maybe the picture was taken some years back? Whatever the case, I am going to take the step of attaching my own picture here. The next step will of course for us to arrange a meeting, but remember, it will have to take place someplace where there is room enough for my rack. The rack is not in the picture, since I am lying in my bed, but I will have to bring it over when we meet. There is no way around it.

Possibly yours,

The Duchess

P.S.—There is a little joke I sometimes tell about being an o.a.f. I'd like to tell you. An o.a.f. goes to the doctor, and he asks her, are you sexually active, and she says, no, I just lie there. I always say there’s nothing like a little humor to get you through the o challenge…


Well this was exciting. She wanted to meet him! He breathed into his cupped hands and sniffed the captured breath to make sure he wasn't dreaming—his breath never stank in dreams, which made it a highly reliable test. Good news all around: It stank. This good fortune was real! Rod scrolled to the bottom of the screen and drew a deep breath before opening the attachment. It took a moment for it to come up, but suddenly she was there. Sure enough, she was Asian. She also appeared to be a bona fide female. And there was no one else in the picture with her, so the single part was also probably true. Of course, if Rod had really been thinking, he would have paused to ask who took the picture. But intoxicated as he was by the rather intimate picture of this new woman looking profoundly relaxed in her bed, he wasn't really thinking. From the picture, he could not really tell what the o in the acronym referred to. Perhaps it was something related to an attitude, a preference, an experience. The Duchess also happened to be heartbreakingly beautiful. He wrote back:


Dear Duchess!

Thank you so much for sending me a picture in kind. You are right that the next step is for us to meet. I would of course like that to happen as soon as possible, being very keen on you from all you've said and showed me. One thing puzzles me though: In your e-mail, you said that you appear in the picture without your rack. This is incomprehensible to me. Even though you are lying on your back in bed and gravity may be distributing it across a wider area than normal, still, your rack is very much there. Of course, you may be thinking that I am the kind of guy who absolutely needs a huge rack in my life. Let me assure you that this is not the case. Shapeliness counts for a lot, as do the minor constituent features of the rack when all is laid bare. But let me stop here. I do not wish to offend you with a bunch of misplaced talk about your rack before we meet. Besides, we all know that so many racks make an illusory first impression. They may be nothing without support, and they may not deliver all they are hyped to do when it comes down to brass tacks. So please, don't be self-conscious about your rack when we meet. I'm sure we both have more than one surprise in store for each other!

There is one other thing, actually, before I leave off, and that is the matter of being a 'sufferer,' as you called me. I must say that I find myself slightly baffled that you were able to suss me out on this point. The mere fact that you are willing to meet with me knowing that I am a sufferer leads me to believe that you are an emotionally advanced lady. As you probably know, the condition has little effect on those who truly and properly love the sufferer.

There. I’ve led off quite a ways from second, and am beginning to work up the courage to bolt for third if the pitcher’s attention slips. But what if I’m caught between bases?

Do you want to meet tomorrow?


H. “Cassius” Cassidy S. (an admirer)


She replied almost immediately:


Dear Cassidy,

You really do have a wonderful sense of humor. I appreciate you deflecting attention from the rack (which is so burdensome that I sometimes find myself calling it the scaffold, though of course I couldn't do anything without it), and I can clearly see you've developed your own healthy way of dealing with the condition. I cannot agree with you enough that the condition is something you can see past if you look to the essence of a person. Character over tissue—I like that. God knows, there’s not a whole lot of backbone in my tissue.
About ‘sussing you out,’ I guess I just picked up from the tone and timbre of your writing that you are a man with considerable depth of feeling, and that you look on your condition as something more than just that. Maybe you see it as an experience with an important lesson on suffering to offer the soul. That second picture you sent me says it all.
So yes, I think we should meet tomorrow. I can have the van drop me off at your place tomorrow evening. How does that sound to you? And Cassidy, I think you've already rounded third. I don't see what could stop you from scoring at this stage in the game. Unless my rack gets in the way of course!

Your trembling duchess (inasmuch as the rigidity and weight of my rack allows my body to tremble)

See you tomorrow!


If you’ll permit a brief digression into the heights of a loftier perspective, dear reader, the truth was that there was one major thing of which Rod was unaware: At no point were he and the Duchess referring to either the same rack or to the same condition. But, being unaware, Rod felt that he was on a roll. He esteemed himself. He wanted to savor the feeling of his imminent smashing success in the world of online dating, but he knew that momentum was too precious a phenomenon to squander, so he wrote to Genauer while he was still way, way ahead. He decided that he would try a new strategy to rebuff this latest pathetic supplicant.


Dear Dr. Genauer:

In lieu of responding himself, my client Rodney Grumbelius has charged me with replying to your brazen solicitation in my capacity as his attorney. First of all, you should be aware that offering to render medical services without a license, even if they are provided free of charge, carries severe criminal penalties.
My client wants me to let you know that your correspondence, never mind the shameless panhandling of financial support to salvage you from a legal tangle of your own making (and a deserved tangle at that) was unwelcome. Your person provokes seriously unpleasant repressed memories in my client. In order to preserve his peace of mind, both I and my client request that you refrain from contacting him again. As you a surely aware, an order to cease and desist is never more than $500 away.
Just as a personal aside, I would like to add that I find your methods highly suspect. Who ever heard of using the breath of an animal to treat a medical condition? I fail to see how the etymology of the word lupus, which itself is hardly a settled matter, can be enlisted in the treatment of a devastating autoimmune disease, from which, it should be mentioned, my client does not suffer. I strongly believe that it is generally quite foolish to look for higher truth in the meanings and lineage of words. I submit that it may be too much to ask that a word yield any sort of truth at all. Comparative etymology is at most an entertaining parlor game.

Stay away from my client, Dr. Genauer.


H.M.S. Chatwyn Higginbotham, esq.

Bothnia, Higginbotham and Murdoch
“Your Malpractice Solution”

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Gah! What a see-saw: no sooner had he inflated his ego to Zeppelin-like proportions with the brilliant barrister ruse than an irate e-mail arrived from the desk of Uncle Ghol.



This brash insouciance from you is truly astonishing. I cannot even remember the last time I was addressed from such a perch of disrespect. It must have been in the high school cafeteria it was so long ago. I want you to know that I am not kidding about knocking on your door. I have braved your breath before in the name of doing you some good, you know, and I'm not afraid of doing it again. What is this Cassidy Samuelsson nonsense? Going around referring to yourself by some outlandish name! E-entrepreneur! You are nothing more than an overgrown brat with atrocious breath. I aim to teach you a lesson you won't soon forget. One more thing: How does one go about deposing from his high horse someone who is indisputably in the right?

U. Ghol


Damn that uncle Ghol! All of a sudden Rod felt useless. It may have been the discouraging threat-mail from Ghol, or it may have been the day's lamentable priapic episode finally catching up with him and sapping him of his rhetorical energy, but he found that, in the face of this awful e-mail from his extortionate relative, he had nothing to say. Let him come. Just as Rod was about to fall asleep on the keyboard with his entire undercarriage still painfully athrob, his fellow scrumpy enthusiast wrote to him. His friend, his motivator and mentor, his number one business partner, his black knight in shining armor, his—Mangwana!



Do not be surprised when the world tries to reach out and ensnare you with its insidious tentacles. As you well know, the same happened time after time to me when I attempted to light out and buttress my glorious financial fortunes on an independent footing. Even now the malign forces in my nation are attempting to defraud me of my birthright. The important thing, my dear Rod, is to be strong.
And Rod, I must be frank and say that you are being little more than delusional when you suspect our relationship of tending to the formal. It was my conviction that our relationship was only continuing to deepen with every day that passed. It is my belief that your behavior is charged with a nervous energy that is not justified on the basis of the circumstances of our relationship per se. It is my belief, further, that you are letting your doubt regarding the other people in your life, particularly those who would like to float on the tide of your rising fortunes, cloud your vision of me. Rod, it is I, Kaarlo! Piet! Julius! Shhh! The same frank and congenial friend you have come to rely on as a trusted associate and regulator of all modalities. And besides, doubt as to the firmness of a friendly relationship is a very common response in the run-up to a colossal joint business venture. So fear not, dear fearfully estimable business partner. If you send me your phone number, I will call you up like any other friend and chat with you about the weather and the winds of history. We can discuss our formidable sexual exploits. Or possibilities for further offshore investment once my lizard farm starts to throw off profit like sparks raining off a dynamo. And if you want to sample my hopes and dreams, dearest Rod, you will almost certainly feel the metallic tang of currency on your tongue. Early experience and rough tutelage have taught me that there is little else worthy of pursuit in this fleeting earthly life. One thing that occurs is that I am still highly interested in investing in the world of entertainment and leisure. A friend of mine told me that in your country, they are so far advanced that they are bundling the stocks of companies that purvey leisure in all its guises into something called mutual funds, which are then available for sale to the general public. Is this true? If so, it is a most enchanting development. In fact, it is a highly refined sublimation of my own earlier initiatives with Julius Yellow Lager, Julius Brown Slims and Julius Great Games Limited. Profits from leisure conducted remotely, from leisure whose moral component is surgically removed through a delicate management operation—it’s exactly what is needed, Rod! And it is needed in more than an abstract sense. I actually owe a bothersome nephew of mine a gift in the form of a financial instrument. So maybe I could convince you, my friend, to splash out on one of these funds and transfer it to my nephew’s name in the understanding that you would be compensated more than generously when the time comes to disburse you your gorgeous reward from the profits thrown off by our lizard farm and the global extender oil empire over which we, as friends, will preside; which reward I have already said your efforts will not not be met with. I am quite sure you will agree readily to this, of course, but now it is my turn to bring my own doubts about the relationship to light.
What are you willing to do for your gorgeous reward, Rod? Will you do anything for it? I only ask because I need to know that I have involved myself with a top quality business partner who is willing to do all it takes to ensure the success of our well-generating venture before we proceed to the next step of reviving my stalled transaction.

In esteeming anticipation of fraternal business fidelity,

K. Pigg

P.S.: You wrote that you occasionally check your girlfriend’s e-mail account. But do you take it a step further and send mail from it? The reason I ask is that multiple e-mail addresses could be very useful to us as we begin to prosecute the various modalities.


Dear Kaarlo,

You will scarcely believe what I have to tell you. I am not sure I believe it myself. Something happened to me yesterday that gave new meaning to the idea of woman. For some little time now, you see, I have been exercising my considerable reserves of gentlemanly charm on the Internet. Online dating sites, you understand. I started by setting up a profile and a screen name, then paged at leisure through the possibilities for not being alone. Not that I’m technically alone, since I have Geena, but you know how it is. She just doesn't see me. I was just putting my feelers out, trying to get a taste for the waters. I’m not much of a browser in the end, though. No, I’m more of an all or nothing kind of guy, and I soon began corresponding with a woman who really grabbed my attention. It was on. She said that she had a good job, that she enjoyed being a woman—and from the way she said it I knew well all the nighttime passivity that implied, which boded well, for if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s being ridden (so objectifying when one is a short man…how many times have I had to tell a woman it's not all about the lingam!)—and that she had internalized an important lesson from her mother about never trying to change a man. Encouraging departures from my depressing norm, I can assure you. Well, our correspondence grew steamy (as we say over here, not without a shadow of a reference to your steamy tropical forests, which thrill us with thoughts of all sorts of things going on under their concealing canopies) fairly quickly. You of all people will have to admit that I am pretty good at gaining people's confidence online and drawing them out of their shells! It is this ability to connect quickly with people in a virtual setting that gives me the makings of such a brilliant e-entrepreneur.
I don’t mind telling you that very soon after we began corresponding, there was talk of advancing around the points, or bases, that form the corners of a baseball diamond. Being a Central African, Kaarlo, you are probably not familiar with the meaning of such base-running talk between the sexes. The four bases of the diamond, you see, refer by way of euphemism to the various sexual acts representing progression toward the fourth and final base—home plate, intercourse, fertilization, scoring. In a word, putting one on the board. You see, then, how this kind of talk constitutes a sort of informal declaration of sexual intent? I tell you Kaarlo, she was bent on it! Or perhaps I should say she was sagging toward it.
At any rate, I sent her a picture of me, she sent me a picture of her. The picture of me showed me in a brooding mood, accentuating my native handsomeness. This woman—she calls herself the Duchess—termed herself, in the parlance of the online dating world, an o.a.f. I had a pretty good idea of what the last two letters meant, and her picture corroborated that she was indeed an Asian Female. Yet I couldn't make out what was meant by the o. I thought it must be to do with her relationship status in accordance with the typical structure of these acronyms, but I couldn't come out and ask her point blank since I had gone ahead and described myself as an o.s.w.m. or o.w.m. to capture her attention. And she did seem very intrigued by the disclosure, although no amount of cagey flirtation could get me much closer to the reality of what is was to be o. One thing I was able to discern as our meeting drew nearer was that there was some sort of medical dimension to it. For a moment I began wondering whether it could have something to do with halitosis, since she appeared to be versed in the language I use to describe my own condition. But that couldn't be—it would be too perfect. Did you know that in my entire time as the Sufferer in Chief and Head-Master of CASHPAC, the organization has failed to recruit a single female member? Maybe they just suffer in silence on this as on so many other fronts.
There were other oddities I could not account for; much fuss was made over her "rack," which over here is a somewhat coarse term used to mean breasts. The thing that got me was that she spoke of her rack as something both burdensome and—get this—detachable. Medical science has got us very far, but this would be something else. And even if they were detachable, that would be an improvement over Geena’s, which came pre-detached by virtue of virtual nonexistence. When I tried to engage the Duchess on the point and find out more, her demure response was that I had a good sense of humor. I had a feeling it hinged on this O-ness business. Whatever it was, I decided to take the chance and set up a meeting. One gets so lonely, you know, when one is an e-entrepreneur and has so little offscreen contact with the human family.
The other thing you should know before I go on, Kaarlo, is that the picture she sent me was unmistakably of a devastatingly beautiful woman. I mean the kind who could break your heart with one lingering look. I was worried I wouldn’t measure up. And the kicker was that there was no sign of a missing rack!
We met yesterday, in the evening, which worked out well because Geena was working the graveyard shift at the In Lieu Of plant. It was around nine when the van pulled up, as planned. I had set the table with our finest china and stemware, and had brought out some chips and ranch dip that I opened about a half hour in advance to let their intoxicating smell move around the furniture and mingle with the rafters. And there was enough scrumpy on the table to found a half-serious scrumpy enterprise to boot. I had put on some of my very favorite lite music and dimmed all the lights to deflect unwanted attention from any facial imperfections she might not have picked up on from the professionally done pictures I sent her. I was ready.
As the time approached, I went out onto the porch. I thought being there when she pulled up would give me a master-of-my-domain look. The night outside was dark and cold. To me it seemed that the light streaming out from my porch into the inky nothing was the only light in the world—until the van’s highbeam daggers tore through the gloomy fabric to reveal my driveway. And it had seemed that my heart’s thumping was the only sound in the world—but my reverie was broken when the van’s diesel engine gurgled up alongside it. A third sound was added to the mix when the van's sliding door deployed and my Duchess was lowered to the ground on a motorized platform. I can’t describe how powerfully that third sound affected me—sandwiched between my heart's beating desire and the throaty approach of its potential fulfillment, it was my destiny being lowered into a cargo bay for shipping across the seas of reality until it settled into place with a click.
The Duchess was standing on the platform. That is to say she was upright. That is to say the centerline of her body was perpendicular to the plane of the platform. In reality her legs lent her stance only nominal support, if any. What was really holding her upright was a four-posted frame, or scaffold, with two top-mounted crosspieces and a system of belt harnesses looping under her shoulders, chin and groin. The belt harnesses were mounted so as to move back and forth across two perpendicular tracks that furrowed through the crosspieces, such that each harness could be slid along the rail from the point at which the tracks intersected to the edge of the frame. This allowed the Duchess to move with the incremental motions of a puppet as she dangled. The entire structure stood on castors, and when the platform hit the ground she rolled off it and began to list sideways down my driveway. I watched until she managed to seize the scaffold's handbrake and grind to a halt that nearly tipped the entire rig. I remained motionless as she then inched her way toward where I stood on the porch, giving an endearing little gasp of exertion every time she planted a floppy tread on the asphalt.
True to the picture she had sent me, Kaarlo, this woman was breathtakingly beautiful. And there was nothing about her to indicate that her breasts might be prosthetic, though I’d soon know for sure.
I realized with a start what an ass I was for just standing by as she struggled. Remembering myself, I surged out and made her acquaintance, taking her by the rig she dangled from. I rolled her inside, pausing to get a better grip before heaving the entire structure over the threshold. Does this act have the same significance in your country as it does in mine? I shuffled about for a second, not knowing how to properly get the meeting started, then pulled a stalling maneuver wherein I returned outside for a moment to tip the Med-i-van driver. He declined my little gratuity, claiming to be more than adequately compensated by his madam in the first place. Though he did have the graciousness to conceal any offense taken. Was this apparent handicap what was meant by o? I asked the man about the nature of his employer’s debility. He demurred, protesting that part of his job description was to exercise utmost discretion. But then he tilted his cap at me confidentially and said he was sure that despite the Duchess's odd manner of locomotion, her effect on men was mesmerizing. I could believe that. And with that he drew the tongue of the platform back into the vehicle and sped into the inky night.
I returned inside, scared that I might already have alienated her. What if she had heard me interrogating the driver? What if I had made her self-conscious? What if she didn’t feel esteemed? I approached slowly, not knowing what to say. She appeared to know exactly what to do, however: As I neared, she leaned into her harnesses along the tracks and turned up her beckoning rosebud mouth. Clearly the cosmetic imperfections that my artful photograph had managed to conceal had not put her off in the slightest. I leaned in to kiss her, then asked her her name.
"Yu Sting," she said.
“I’m sorry—Justine?”
“No, Yu Sting!”
“Pleased to meet you, Yu Sting."
“What’s wrong with you? I said you stink!”
“Well of course I do," I said. "It's my condition."
“My God! Is that what my breath smells like too?"
“No, of course not,” I said. “Clearly our respective conditions have entirely different manifestations."
“But I thought you were an o too.”
“Well, I am. It’s just that in my case, well, the breath thing is a part of my being o.”
“Oh. I guess my immunologist left that off the symptom list to be delicate. Well you seem to be holding up pretty well for being osteodegenerative. That’s good. I guess you can just pop a breath mint if you need to. Which is more than I can say--I can't exactly pop a skeletal stiffening mint."
“Osteodegenerative? Uh—oh. O…ooooh. Ah. Okay. Okay. O."
“What the hell are you talking about Cassidy?"
“Nothing. What’s your name?”
“That doesn’t matter. You know me as the Duchess, and it is as the Duchess that I can be your world. Now take me and show me you know how to treat a woman who’s mushy in the bones!”
Well Kaarlo, let me tell you, after experiencing what happened next, I think I may no longer be ready to swear off sex after all. I gulped down an expensive Malagasy breath-freshening cocktail and trolleyed the Duchess into my room. There I saw what she meant by needing someone to hold her upright. Soon enough I had worked up the nerve to begin undoing her harnesses (and let me tell you, this harness removal business makes unhooking a bra look like child's play, particularly when the body in harness is more like a jellyfish than an endoskeletal featherless biped), and as the last one came undone I found that she was completely unable to rely on her own two feet (or knees or hips or backbone) for support. She slid down me like a fluid. She sagged into the floor like a gel. I was worried about her internal organs. I caught her mid-collapse and she gave an exquisite moan. So it was true that women liked being supported. Somebody without the benefit of a rigid internal structure is hard to hold on to. To keep her from running through my fingers, I had to lunge straight ahead, which landed me squarely on top of her in bed. Her whole body felt like a warm, pulsating assemblage of memory foam. I did the needful, though here I'll exercise the discretion that too is needful by sparing you, and more importantly her dignity, the intimate play-by-play.
It could not have been more fortuitous, Kaarlo. As you know, my frustrations with the life of the bedroom have lately come to a head. My essential problem with the sex act, if pressed to state it aloud, is the theoretical inexhaustibility of female lust. It's the again and again and again that gets me. If you don't want to go again you're a bad sport. If you do go again, or again the second or third time over, it takes an eternity, begins to hurt, begins to sap the very marrow of life it is supposed to recharge. It is a dynamic that reduces the male to mere lingam. A lingam that, no matter how hard it tries, always leaves a hole behind, the same hole it found. All the more so if the lingam is outsized and monopolizes yonic attention in the first place. I don’t think I would have developed my problem with priapism if it hadn’t been for all the pressure to please multiply. When it comes down to brass tacks, the sex act always leaves the individual in its wake in its attempt to merge into the categorical, the generic. It's not about my sexual, never mind emotional fulfillment. In a way I feel that the true nature of female desire is so profound that what it boils down to is nothing less than a desire to consume every last scrap of the virility of the male, to integrate his maleness into her by consuming it and refusing to give it back. It is a terrifying prospect, Kaarlo!
The thing about the Duchess that redeems her from the ranks of insatiable and covetous womanhood is that because of her o-ness, she must by definition be content with what I give her. You see when she is lying down and gravity can act on her completely, she lacks the wherewithal to overcome it and reach out her hand for more. And what I give her is one go of it, whenever I want to and for however long I want it. Bone-mushiness liberates the lingam! And let me just state for the record, I hope without pushing the bounds of due delicacy or (Goad forbode!) molesting the integrity of the Duchess in your mind, that in addition to the intellectual thrill of having one's lingam untethered from bottomless female desire, the physical sensation of sleeping with a woman without a load-bearing structure is matchless. It's not that she lies there motionless. The Duchess is not what you might call a 'limp fish.' She is a woman of ardor. But instead of finding expression in hungry thrusts and tugs, her passion runs through her flesh like a charge, a ripple, a jiggle. It is soft and yielding to the point of incomprehension, yet at the same time firm and springy. Flesh like memory foam, yes, but even more than that, her whole body feels exactly like a breast, Kaarlo! Far from prosthetic, her breasts are in fact universal.
It’s strange—the longer I remained on top of her, the more distinct grew my feeling that aside from the yoni itself the parts of her body existed without relation to each other; they were non-specific, a generalized mass of erotically charged flesh without an anchor, without beginning or end. Again I was scared that I might be doing her internal organs some harm by bearing down too hard on her poorly caged chest, but she told me not to hold back. Her skin and muscles flowed to conform to every inch of my body, pliantly accompanying my every motion. At one point I couldn’t help but imagine that I was wearing a garment of flesh. Just thinking about it makes my legs turn to jelly, Kaarlo! Rack indeed! Do you suppose that she draws similar comfort from my soft jiggly bits, namely my paunch and love handles? And if so, do you think she would appreciate if I were made up exclusively of such materials?
But to answer your question, Kaarlo, well, I cannot exactly say that I will to anything for the reward, because that would be nonsense. I am willing to do many things, even most things. I suppose I would do anything less three or four things that I would only do in the most exceptional circumstances, and one which I would never mention, let alone do. What exactly do you have in mind when you say anything anyway?


Moments later:

Oh and Kaarlo!

I have to add that things are going very well for me on another front as well. If the measure of happiness ended with mere financial gain and base sex, I could of course by now have retired and died a happy man. At least as of yesterday. But I am a more complex fellow than that, and I happen to believe that there is a social dimension to the elusive state of being we call success. I guess you could say I believe in enriching my community. It is just this dimension that I am starting to flesh out. You yourself identified me as a pillar of my community in your first communication to me; I want you to know that I really appreciated that. But the fact of the matter is that until very recently, CASHPAC's gains in putting an end to halitosis stigmatization were largely illusory. You see, for every successfully executed guerilla breathing halitprop tactic or rottenmouth street theater® performance that got people asking the right questions about our culture's attitude toward halitosis, for every one of those successes, ten failures were being perpetuated in homes and classrooms across the state. Attitudes are like parasites: By this I mean chiefly that they are reproduced along with the host. With every baby, a potential stigmatizer of halitosis is born. A few years into my activities as CASHPAC’s Head Master and Sufferer-in-Chief™, I began to realize that we were never going to make a lasting structural impact unless we made some headway into precisely these sites of attitudinal dissemination. Young minds are the currency by which CASHPAC measures its holdings, and we aim to capture as many of them as we can.
It was then that my idea for the freshman health breath module was born. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the concept of freshman health, Kaarlo. Basically it is a standardized class taught to students across the state in their first year of high school, contrived to influence their lifestyle and consumption choices in such a way as to make them healthy and happy as productively consuming adults. The importance of avoiding promiscuity is one thing. Another is avoidance of emotional extremes (such as those fostered by participation in idealistic political activities and other moral acts) and privileging taxed pharmaceuticals over self-prescribed street narcotics. As with all high school classes, freshman health is naturally also designed to inculcate blind respect for whomever happens to be in charge. We would of course like nothing more than to get to young minds earlier than this, but we’d be fools not to take advantage of a natural interface like the freshman health curriculum.
At any rate, to cut to the marrow, the sharp minds on CASHPAC’s board were not long in realizing that this was precisely where students' attitudes toward halitosis could be affected best. They were a captive audience. I sought the approval of the board, and the CASHPAC rank and file were soon busily at work. First came the matter of the module itself. This was hammered out over a series of Stalinesque all-day-and-night work sessions presided over by me, the master of all day and night sessions, and attended by scores of prestigious educators and other interested parties and sufferers. Devising the curriculum itself was the hard part. Once that was in place, the lobbying came together pretty easily, carried on the tide of the righteousness and efficacy of the module itself. I won’t pretend false modesty here, Kaarlo: Through a series of mailings, well-placed contributions and conspicuous public protests, we've managed to have the issue of the freshman health breath module put to a public vote: We call it a ballot initiative over here. But it’s basically a sublimated form of the bloody street battles waged to shape public policy in your part of the world. The election is coming up in a very few weeks, and with several of the key political and economic grandees of our state having come out in favor, we are all but certain of victory. For instance, due to the anticipated medical savings, every important insurance carrier in the state has lent the module its support, which, by the way, we intend to call BABB (Betterment of Attitudes toward Bad Breath), if we get our way. If you like, I can send you copies of their endorsements. Have you heard of mouthwash aspiration pneumonia, for instance? Support from the business community at large has been unexpectedly broad. Not only have we secured the endorsement of a consortium of oil concerns (derricks, platforms, pipelines and the sulfurous airborne compounds that enswirl them have a mysterious way of engendering bad breath—or it could be the rampant drug use and alcoholization of their staffers—and the readiness of the roughnecks to make a mockery of the minority who suffer, albethey large, has polarized the working environment and significantly dampened overall extraction morale, which has had a predictable effect on the balance sheets of just about every oil major—further evidence that halitosis stigmatization is a malaise that affects our society at its very kernel, though I probably needn’t preach that to the choir!), but we also have the support of every veterinary clinic in the state. Why should CASHPAC's breath module draw the support of the veterinary community? This is a fair question, and I will give you a fair answer. For some little time now, an underground movement to refuse treatment to dogs brought in for breath-related problems has been gaining currency in their community. Some of the movers behind the movement are hardliners who think that all canine halitosis treatment should be categorically refused, but there is also a moderate faction that believes that only emergency clinics should shed the service. The thinking is that too many resources in the dog and cat servicing industry are taken up by efforts to address what is basically a superficial but ultimately insoluble problem, and the veterinary alliance sees our freshman health module as an opportunity to score a few points for a related cause. They are of course considering for the kimono dragon, whose breath cannot be tolerated by a normal nose if not treated with daily washes. If their alliance makes a large enough contribution to our cause, we may even consider expanding the module to include a canine component.
And even if the module is voted down on election day—Goad forbode—the fact of the matter is that we have any number of influential legislators nestled snugly in CASHPAC's pocket as a result of clever insinuations that we might be willing to make campaign contributions. We haven't yet made any contributions, since the bulk of our funding is formally ‘pending’ until the lizard farm throws off my gorgeous reward, but this is a mere formality, and it makes our tack all the cleverer. So you see, the state congress could just as easily be our vehicle for infiltrating freshman health classes across the state with our progressive message. We may be a movement rooted in the will of the people, but beyond that, we have no need for the people!
I wonder, Kaarlo, if you are sufficiently schooled in the civic workings of my country to know that success in introducing the module will deal a double blow to the powers that be. I admit that considerable subtlety of perception is required to fathom this, but the module necessarily promotes an extreme form of political consciousness. This is the kind of thing usually given a wide berth by freshman health classes, which makes it nothing less than a subversive project. And that’s what CAHSPAC is all about: We’re panprogressive. Once CASHPAC opens up this chink in the armor of fossilized thinking, we see great potential for synergistic progressive effects. That is to say, the sky is the limit.
All of which is not to say that the initiative does not face problems, for it does. We face well-organized opposition from the halitosis mitigation industry. The truth is that the mitigation industry is a tireless foe. Tireless because it consistently manages to infiltrate our meetings with the most shameless provocateurs—you should have seen the stoolie they sent to our last quarterly meeting! In order to pass as a sufferer, he had induced vomiting before coming to the meeting. I do have to admit the sophistication of this ruse. He didn't have solid references in the community, and we let him in on the strength of his breath alone. The problem was that he hadn’t anticipated how quickly the stench of vomit would dry up, which was noticed by everyone as soon as it did. To us, vernal exhalations smell like a village of rotting corpses. But to get back to the story, at this point the rank and file took matters into its own hands, went berserk, and gave the exposed agent a merciless breath beating. Foe because its lobbying arm has managed to adroitly block our every legislative initiative to date. It never ceases to amaze me how many truly intelligent and canny people are roped into reactionary causes! I've locked horns with these people at a number of public forums, and even though there is no doubt that they are in the service of evil, I will be the first to admit that they know exactly what they are doing. They are professionals. They have mastered the language of their morbid causes. All of which to say that this breath module showdown is the greatest challenge we have ever faced. We must hone our language, we must file our rhetoric to a piercing point of Damascene sharpness!À If we prevail as I expect we will, CASHPAC will have lost her political virginity, and will come to be seen as a savvy contender and anyone's match.

The sky is the limit, my dear Kaarlo!


Mangwana’s reply was quick. It had to be no later than five or six in the morning in his part of Central Africa. Truly, this was a sign of seriousness of purpose, of hard work, of commercioplatonic resoluteness.


Most wonderful correspondent, friend and colleague!

I must begin by telling you how happy I was to receive your good tidings. It is no mean feat to effect the conquest of a woman with no more than a keyboard and a dream of mammary comfort, never mind completing that conquest in spite of several flagrant, not to say fragrant obstacles that would deflate the prospects of all but the most ardent devotee. Do not think that I am not thrilled to be regaled by these vignettes from what is a most interesting life! It seems that I get to know you better and better almost by the day. Your habit of promoting camaraderie through confession is both admirable and welcome. Whenever I think that I know everything there is to know about you, there is always some fresh surprise.
My only concern, my dear friend—and I say this out of a profundity of brotherly fellow feeling—is that the Duchess may not be a suitable partner for you in the long term. Please forgive me if it appears that I am stirring up the ashes of what eminently is not my business, for that is not my intention. It’s just that I sense that this Duchess might easily become a burden on you, given the extent of her debility. Have you considered all the services you would be called on to perform if you and she became entangled in one of sex act’s least desirable outcomes—a relationship? From what you say, I would suspect that she is incapable of doing much beyond flailing around in her harnesses. Let me be straightforward to the point of unseemly bluntness: Can she dress herself? Is she able to evacuate her bowels unassisted? Believe me, my dear friend Rodney, I have been in my share of relationships tainted by a fatal flaw, and I am only trying to prevent you from repeating the blunders of my own starry-eyed romantic nonage.
But make no mistake: If you have within you the extremes of care and ardor that are required to love someone afflicted by a more or less gelatinous skeletal structure, and if you sense that she requites by finding ways to please you that are in accordance with her debility, such as equipping her rack with lacy or transparent harnesses; by being willing beyond mere motionlessness; and by managing to transcend her enforced passivity through language—if these things are so, then you may dwell easily in my blessing. There is one more thing that seizes my now inspired quill: Do you think that your gelatinous Duchess might be interested in collaborating with us in reviving my stalled equities transaction, in the hopes of getting the lizard farm set up even sooner than would otherwise be possible? The reason I ask is that you have described her as an intelligent woman, and since she has been underprivileged by biology, I thought it might be a nice gesture to allow her to enjoy privilege and esteem in some other field of endeavor. If you do think she might be interested, please only tell her if, in your judgment, she would make a reliable and discrete partner. Power over who is given knowledge of this business opportunity is a heavy responsibility, Rod, and I hope that, as my lieutenant, you will not take it lightly. I impart this cautionary note only because I do not think you should have notified your uncle Ghol of our enterprise. Speaking of whom, is he still bothering you? If so, I would be more than willing to bring his troublemaking to a swift conclusion.
I quite understand your emotional difficulties with the reprehensible inexhaustibility of female desire, of course. I agree—if only all women could bear a greater likeness to the beautiful picture of the breast you paint! That most splendidly comforting of glands! At least in their mental makeup.
As to the exploits of CASHPAC, you deserve a hearty round of congratulation here as well. What you describe is notable. I have started to think of you more and more as not only a good, but a truly great man. Not only have you managed to identify a touchstone issue for your time and place, but you have managed to galvanize your community and political institutions around it. I believe every word! I would naturally love to read some endorsements of CASHPAC's political activities, and would esteem it a favor if you were to send me copies of the same.
Finally, there is the core matter of our business enterprise, and I do hope you will forbear with me for bringing it up at the end of what I had intended to be a purely sociofriendly correspondence. Have you received the check yet? I ask because there is someone in my country who needs to be bribed, and in shortest order. If the funds are in place, I will forward you the particulars that circumscribe the bribe. Also, I’ve been meaning to follow up on the matter of the leisure fund with you. Would you mind purchasing a share in one of these funds in my nephew’s name in anticipation of having the cost as well as a courtesy fee added to your gorgeous reward when all the modalities are harmonized? I realize with a fullness of understanding that this is an irregular favor to ask. The fact of the matter is that I promised to give him a share in just such a fund some time ago. But I’ve been unable to make good on the pledge due to the straitened conditions that plague my once profoundly robust finances. The fact is that I am scared and ashamed to have him or anyone on his side of the family find out about my difficulties. They are quick to jump at the faintest whiff of lost status, and I do not wish to give them that pleasure with only a few weeks left before the stalled transaction is successfully resolveds. Won't you please assist me in this little matter of personal honor, dearest Rod? If you do this for me now, I will have abundant proof that you can be counted on when everything and more is at stake. I should esteem it a favor.

Yours with a superfluity of esteem,

Kaarlo Pigg, a forlorn seeker of lost status on life’s highway, but otherwise without a title :(

P.S.—My nephew’s full name is Robespierre Chesterton Mangwana Bundu. Please do not misspell any of his names when purchasing the deed to the fund. It is a lamentable but all too true fact that international institutions of finance love nothing better than to defraud an unfortunate African!

P.P.S.—As a token of my esteem, I would like to share with you a small regalement from my time as a fixture of courtly life in a Central African dictatorship. Once, when I was around 10, there was a disturbance in the order of things in the Republic, and it got so bad that it looked as if my father might be violently deposed. Because the Republic was seen as a bastion of stability in the region, the tumult elicited an outpouring of sympathy and assistance from neighboring states and great powers alike. We received troops, helicopters and communications equipment, all compliments of our fretful allies. It got to the point where the entire court would flock to the capital's military airstrip in the afternoons to see what would be coming in next. Bets were placed on how many planes there would be, and whether there would be any that contained helicopters, certain types of missiles, or even bags of money, which was common enough in those days. I am not ashamed to tell you that I profited handsomely from the bush handicapping that flourished amid this uncertainty.
One afternoon was particularly charged with anticipation. We were expecting a plane to come in courtesy of the flamboyant dictator across the jungles and lakes. He had called my father weeks before the tumult to tell him how deeply concerned he was about regional stability, waxing eloquent about the need to form regional security alliances and hold joint military exercises. How would he contribute to seeing off the threat. That was the question on everyone’s lips.
It was just after noon, and the heat was coming off the tarmac in hallucinatory waves. The plane came in so low that it looked to me like it had been suddenly catapulted up above the green of the jungle canopy from the forest floor. It looked uncertain, wobbly. It flew slowly. I thought it might have been straining under a crushing burden. The air was viscous, and the plane moved with tortuous sluggishness, as if it were struggling to negotiate an novel medium. At last it hit the ground with a piercing thud and squeal, then caromed back up into semi-flight before making more definitive contact and beginning its taxi. It really was straining under a crushing burden. The cargo was too heavy for the brakes. It was going to overshoot the end of the runway. All we could do was watch with our hands clasped in deference to destiny. Then came a wrenching shriek of metal as it tore through the perimeter fence and disintegrated in the trees. Cowering, we waited for the explosion. Our wait went on for three minutes and forty-five seconds. At which point some of the more intrepid handicappers gingerly rose out of their crouches to approach the wreck. It was not long before the rest of us could see them running back and forth, waving excitedly. I ran over to see why. It was unbelievable! The neighboring despot had sent is a plane stuffed to the gills with beer; such was his scorn for my father. The pilot had survived the crash. He said that although he knew the plane was severely overloaded, the despot’s men had trained guns on him and forced him to take off. I later learned that the craft had carried enough beer to make the Guinness Book of Records for aerial transport of beer. Inside was a banner signed in the hand of our flamboyant neighbor. There were two things that could be done with the beer, it said. The first was to rush it into the hands and heads of the authors of the revolt if time was on our side, which ruse was almost guaranteed to meet with success. The second, if our situation was more dire, was to concentrate our defensive forces around the beer while we drank to forget about the coup and hoped that it could be put off for as long as we could stay one step ahead of our hangovers on the alcoholic’s hamster wheel. For good measure, the despot pompously claimed that he could drink my father Horatio under the table. Which was an absurdity, considering that my father, Goad rest his soul, could drink like a Siberian.
When my father called him up on the red phone to demand an apology, the voice at the other end of the line responded in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. The joint exercises were never held.

P.P.P.S.—Please never again mention your paunch and love handles in an e-mail addressed to me. I found it indelicate, not to say disgusting.


That night, once his latest episode had slackened, Rod slept very well. The compliments from Julius, combined with his enthralling tale of Central African high adventure, had boosted confidence and bolstered spirits both. He slept in and never even saw Geena between her return from the night shift and departure for morning errandry and who knew what else: Carson Crumpler? What was more, when he stepped out to greet the glorious day that had dawned some six hours earlier, he found in the mailbox an envelope addressed to himself. This was a rare enough occasion in itself, but given the circumstances, he was almost sure it marked his come-uppance as an e-entrepreneur. He ran inside and opened it greedily, eager to savor the details. The envelope had been made out in an elegantly flowing hand, he noticed, though the hand had misspelled the name of the town he lived in, which distracted somewhat from the anticipated splendor of the moment, and caused him to grind his hands momentarily into his thighs. The check itself quickly made up for any disappointment though: $29,763.00 paid to the order of Rodney Grumbelius. He couldn't help but grin at the thought that this was the merest drop in the bucket of what was to come. The check had been sent from an address in Ontario, he noticed. The issuer was a company that did business under the name of Lizard. A quick web search revealed them to be registered as a limited partnership in Markham, Ontario: Your sheet siding experts! A brilliant ruse by Mangwana to outsmart those of his countrymen who would defraud him, in other words.
All was sweetness and light, and Rod proceeded to glorify himself. It should be mentioned that when pursuing the craft of autostimulation, Rod had worked out some psychological tricks to avoid the onset of priapism, mostly involving childhood memories. Genauer and his wolf figured strongly into the antifantasy. Dodging that bullet meant that he was now able to marshal all his faculties for his trip to the bank, a stock brokering outfit, and the Small Business Solution Center. The modalities were his to harmonize!


My magnificently well-intentioned and moneyed friend and associate!

While none has been keener than I to promote the tone of fraternal camaraderie in our correspondence, I propose to phrase this particular installment of our ongoing exchange purely in the language of a business report. This for the reason that I have a number of items to report, and that it would be reprehensible if my emotions were to get in the way of a clear transmission. And mind you, these emotions are flying at full mast. If I were to breach the ethic of professionalism that I wish to run through this e-mail like a red thread, I would likely end up saying that I would like to meet you in person, dearest Kaarlo. But that is the sort of outpouring that I will save for a later occasion, once the tough work of transactionalism is behind us and we can savor canapé drinks together under the congratulatory tropical sun. I therefore propose that between my writing of it and your absorption of the same, this e-mail be considered to constitute the Minutes of the first official Mangwanan-Grubelian Business Meeting.

Julius Mangwana and Rodney Grumbelius have entered into a joint venture doing business under the provisional name of Mangwanan-Grubelian Golden Triangle Joint Venture Enterprises; and

*Part 2*

The first act of said joint venture enterprise has been to deposit into the account of the Grubelian half of the enterprise a check drawn on the account of Lizard Ltd. in the amount of $29,673.00; and

While transporting the financial instrument from the domicile of the Grubelian half of the joint venture to the banking institution (name of bank and account details available to the addressee of this communication for a nominal handling fee of $20) by means of the company bicycle [currently being leased from CASHPAC, another of Mr. Grumbelius's successful attempts to occur in the world], Mr. Grumbelius was run off the road by an unscrupulous driver, likely as a result of said driver taking exception to the company vehicle's prominent advocacy for the destigmatization of halitosis;

Wherefore the Grubelian half of the joint venture modestly proposes that some of the business entity’s bribery slush fund moneys be used to requisition the re-emblazoning of the company vehicle to make it a less likely target of road rage. This should require no more than $300.

The depositing of said check into said account proceeded smoothly, although the Grubelian agent of the transaction noted that the teller behind the bulletproof glass followed a set of obnoxious internal procedures to a T by calling in her manageress to vet the transaction, which manageress responded blithely, saying 'Oh sure, this guy's a major political player, a real pillar of this community' before asking the Grubelian half of the venture if she could pose in a photograph with him; and

After this Mr. Grumbelius proceeded along his trajectory of enterprise-related errandry, which landed him in the second instance at the offices of a well-known brokerage firm, in which locality he proceeded to purchase a mutual fund in the name of Robespierre Chesterton Mangwana Bundu on behalf of the Mangwanan half of the venture, for some $5000, i.e. the minimum initial investment, of the certificate for which fund Mr. Grumbelius is now in possession, and as to the disposal of which he is currently patiently awaiting further instruction, not to mention remuneration for the efforts and expenses incurred in its procurement on the occasion of his gorgeous reward; and

In order to complete the polygon of his trajectory the Grubelian half of the venture undertook, on his own initiative, to convey himself to Grossman's Small Business Solution Center, where he commanded the peons employed at that locality to draft a sample letterhead for the joint venture, a copy of which sample is enclosed in the present communication as an attached file;

It is requested that the Mangwanan half of the joint venture vet the letterhead with regard to its suitability for commanding respect and awe in the doing of business in a variety of industries and sectors across national borders, and provide comments as necessary, such that the letterhead can be burnished to the perfection that behooves the noble enterprise of freeing up capital in the name of a Central African lizard farm that will provide the world with an enhancement to sexual pleasure the like of which has never been seen; and that, further, the Mangwanan half provide instructions not only as to the disposal of the mutual fund certificate mentioned above, but also with regard to the nature, volume and target of the act of bribery which is to be undertaken on the Mangwanan half's behalf in order to facilitate lizard farm permits;

In the estimation of Mr. Grumbelius, his newfound osteochallenged love interest would make an excellent addition to the joint venture team on the strength of her integrity, wit, intelligence, desire to be solidly compensated for her efforts in the field of financial services, and strongly suspected ability to put up money as needed as a function of the malpractice settlement that is doubtlessly the source of her lined coffers, such that by dint of the predicate of the whereas, be the wherefore hereby motioned, that the Duchess of Loverlornistan be added to the roster of the joint venture;

Whereas in conclusion Mr. Grumbelius would like to express his desire that a speedy stop be put to his Uncle Ghol's troublemaking, with the caveat-request that the Mangwanan half of the joint venture pause to clear the means of such stoppage with the Grubelian half before it is undertaken, in order to prevent Central African levels of violence.

Your devoted partner in enterprise,

H. Rodney Grumbelius, IV

- Dictated but not read -

P.S. The copies of the accolades bestowed on CASHPAC are momentarily to be withheld, as they have nothing to do with the joint venture, and would only serve to distract from the business at hand.


Rod emitted a belch of satisfaction. Composing that business report had been almost as nice as sitting down to a piping hot mug of scrumpy. He had really occurred: While rendering a faithful account of duties successfully undertaken, he had managed not only to keep his personal feelings for Mangwana from getting in the way of lucid reporting, but he had also carved out a space for himself beyond what Mangwana might have thought him capable of. He had demonstrated that he was both worthy of job benefits and willing to fight for them by submitting his request to have the service vehicle reemblazoned. Was wasn’t someone who was going to accept workplace harassment and injury without recourse. He had also provided further evidence to corroborate his stature as a pillar of his community. He had shown his dedication to the life of entrepreneurship by taking the letterhead initiative; which further went to show that he had the qualities of a natural leader, since he had been unstinting in describing how he had gone beyond his assigned task. Not only that, but the structure of the report showed that he had truly mastered the formal requirements of business writing. All without ever taking a course! Which was something that Mangwana would no doubt be impressed with. And then there was the matter of the mental acuity he had demonstrated in submitting a reasonable hypothesis as to the source of the Duchess’s suspected wealth.
An altogether satisfying experience!
At which point a lusty female sigh sounded from his little tin-pan computer speakers to signify an incoming mail from the Duchess.


Dear Cassidy,

I’m writing to you because I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been shorn of my lovelornness. I may now just be the Duchess, full stop. How did this happen? I’m giddy! It’s wonderful! You, Cassidy, have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you know exactly how to treat a lady. The way you didn’t mind my rack, but just patiently worked around it—that was gallantry. The way you met my O-ness head-on, and were unafraid to admit to the repugnant form that yours was taking—that was backbone. They way you were in bed; the way you just took over and executed all the movements my body is incapable of making; the way you truly appreciated the way I am and the opportunities for satisfaction that my body presents; the way you keep your digs and your personal tastes fairly modest despite your involvement at the heights of global entrepreneurship—all that was impressive. But it’s not only that, it’s that scuttling little way you move, the way you use so many words to make absolutely sure that you’ve expressed yourself fully and leave no doubt that you’ve gotten your point across, the way you really seem to relish the finer things in life such as scrumpy and, well, me. That makes a real man Cassidy. I’m falling for you.
There are just a couple of things I’d like to clear up before we take things any further: Are you really familiar with those authors you mentioned in your profile? It’s OK if you’re not. Because you’re pretty smart after all. I mean you’ve managed to navigate the real world to a position of prominence. It’s just that you don’t seem very booky. Maybe that’s because you’re so focused on perfecting your own life as it is that you can’t drop the reins for even a second to take in the flavor of a life imagined. Maybe that’s what makes you so successful. Maybe that’s why I like you so much. This intense realism, this intensity of focus. This being to wedded to the real word that fiction becomes an intolerable extravagance, a tawdry escape. Am I right on this point Cassidy? If I am, it seems like a wonderfully paradoxical opportunity: To seek escape in you would be to land squarely in the lap of the real world—admittedly in a relatively successful take on it.
I personally have long liked fictions. There just comes a point where taking solace in them seems more and more tragic. When every time you come up for air starts to seem like a huge disappointment. Like surfacing into a terrible broken world where everything is somehow not right, where everything is too much, where the beach is slicked with oil and where a fog of soot daubs the horizon, whereas below is the wonderful reef world teeming with life and sunken treasure and allure, but all of it so unreal because it can’t be enjoyed without bringing down the poisoned air of the surface, which thought, that reality, makes it seem all the more attractive: The rapture of the deep. I don’t mean to be overdramatic here, Cassidy. It’s just that I want an escape from always having to escape. And if you don’t enjoy works of fiction, well, maybe then you’re the one for me.
There’s another thing or two. There’s the picture for one. That sure didn’t look like you. But that’s OK. I think your scar is a sign of character. There are two kinds of faces that are not beautiful: There are fortresses, and there are ruins. And yours, Cassidy, is a fortress.
Finally there’s the O-ness: I’ll get right to the point. Is your degenerative? Because if we’re going to plan an existence together and yours is, we’ll have to make some provisions for end of life care, since there will come a point where you too are in a rack and can no longer help me when I’m flopping around. I still don’t quite understand the nature of your condition, to be perfectly honest, but that’s OK. As I go through life I feel more and more that it’s about acceptance, and not understanding. And I really admire that you are able to pursue entrepreneurship despite the affliction/
Please answer my questions; please tell me you want to see me again; please don’t be too good to be true!

Your devoted Duchess


Dearest partner Rodney,

I have always been somewhat mystified by the tendency of Westerners to draw such jagged distinction between relationships of commerce and relationships of pleasure. I sense very strongly in you just such a need to compartmentalize these aspects of life, which for us always seem intimately and inseparably connected. Witness the lack of stigma that toward prostitution in my country—a boon to all involved.
I understand the distinction can be useful when you are dealing with people of a less than trustworthy nature—those whose only objective is to defraud and then forget about you, and to whom shamelessly posturing as your best friend comes as second nature. But what you must understand is that, for the most part, we Africans are as genuine as the tropical sun. We wear our hearts on our sleeves! We mean what we say in business, and we say what we mean as friends! You must believe every word! Therefore, there is no need for you to engage in the type of stilted correspondence with me of which your most recent e-mail was a conspicuous exemplar. I must say that, other than the welcome factual news of the deposit and the purchase of the fund, on which more soon, your business report bored me halfway to tears. It was appalling. Do you see how honest I can be? And that is saying a lot, for it does not behoove a man of my origins and rank to cry. I did cry once in my adult life, on the terrible occasion of my dear friend Mortensen's death, but that was different—I should hope that in the case of our fortuitous union between Africa and the West, things will not come to such a grim head.
I was, on the other hand, very touched that you appeared to be on the verge of expressing the sentiment that you wished one day to meet me in person. This is perhaps something that can be arranged, though it would be premature to undertake such a move at the present juncture. Like you, I envision our union in the flesh as a celebration of feats accomplished and foes vanquished; not a precipitate rushing into each other’s arms, a refuge-seeking from a world that would oppress us. That way we will be able to appreciate each other in the fullness of a mature mutual esteem. Notwithstanding this, it would be lovely to meet you and those close to you in the flesh sometime. Let us discuss this when the time is ready to fall from the tree.
Now for a little business, Rod (see, I'm not afraid of mixing this kind of cocktail!): Let me begin by stating that I will be responding to your wherefores materially below, but that I first have a few whereasses of my own to announce, this for the eventuality that my pursuers force me to flee. That way I will at least have taken care of the most significant part of this communiqué before being put to flight. I think I would do well to write this in shorthand, or telegram-style, but I'm afraid my penchant for precise expression will prevent me from abbreviating myself until absolutely necessary.
As you understand, things here are very tense. I am receiving almost daily reports from my sentries that I may not be able to elude my pursuers another day. As it is, I am almost out of known safe houses, out of fortified bivouacs, out of palisaded bomas, and may soon be forced to flee to a neighboring country, where things will be difficult for a different set of reasons. For instance, we Mangwanas are personally unpopular in many of the neighbor countries as a result of my father’s rogue missile tests. Regrettably, some of my intelligence points to the possibility of the e-mails passing between us being intercepted. This means that I am not at liberty to speak to you of certain details of our business relationship. In particular, I will not be able to discuss the identity, location, nature, etc. of the stalled equities transaction from which your gorgeous vouchsafement will be drawn in other than the most oblique terms. We are up against a tireless foe, Rod, and we must be clever if we are to avoid being annihilated.
Here is my plan for our joint venture as we move into the next few weeks: I will be addressing all my attention to the task of identifying who needs to be bribed and how much will be required to secure their favor. This was all laughably easy when my family was in power—it wasn’t so much a matter of bribing then as it was a disbursement of benefits with the virtual certainty of gracious compliance. But now that it is unclear who wields the power in my country and what their demands are for the service of turning that power to my benefit, the matter of bribery becomes a thicket. It will push me to the limits of my energy and intelligence. I have many eyes and ears, but I must rely on the power of Julius Mangwana’s analytical skills alone if I am to navigate the thicket successfully. Even among my own tribesmen, there are those who would like nothing better than to dupe an unwitting African!
Each need identified by me translates into a check made out to you. Enclosed with the checks will be the details governing the modalities of the bribes. Note that there may be some instances where you will be called on to advance a bribe before I am able to send you the matching check. At such times it is of utmost importance that my instructions be followed without hesitation, for it means that the need is truly urgent. Otherwise why would I put as good a friend as you in such a situation? You have my word that I will try to keep such requests to a minimum. It is so important to be able to trust one's business partner at moments like these! Note well that the slightest betrayal of trust could mean that our entire correspondence, the work that has gone into constructing the edifice of a dream held in common, will have been for naught. This is the willingness you must promise me in exchange for your gorgeous reward, Rod.
I anticipate between 6 and 10 bribes being necessary. Once these have been effected, the stalled transaction should be free and ready for instant promotion into your account, at which point I ask that you reserve 20% for yourself and forward the remainder to an account to whose details you will be made privy in due time. But these are precisely the details [where this money may be retrieved and where it must be sent] that I cannot reveal to you by conventional communication, for fear of losing my entire stake. My proposed alternative will be a uniquely African form of communication that you must decipher and act on with celerity. All of which is to say that I am going to be sending you several pieces of African art in the mail. There may be carvings, there may be weavings, there may be poems. Taken together, these will constitute a message, the deciphering of which will lead you to your gorgeous vouchsafement. The exact nature of these pieces and the encryption that they use will be unknown to me—this way my fortune will be impervious to torture if I am captured. Even the art team is run on a fragmentary basis—no more than a few numbers will be known to any one member of my stable of artists. Meaning that in the end, only you, Rodney Grumbelius, will have a clear picture of things, and that you will have to safeguard it and your own security accordingly. Once these pieces start arriving, avoid black Africans at all costs! Take this as your rule of thumb. Report them to the police without fail; initiate deportation if possible! Mark these words: If these men know what you are in possession of, you may reckon with their intentions being sinister. They are anti-Mangwanan, and that means that they are anti-Grubelian.
Rod, my men have told me that it is time to move out. Please confirm receipt of these instructions. Also the mutual fund certificate may be mailed to the below address:

Chesterton Robespierre Mangwana Bundu
100 Mt. Whitney St.
Klamath Falls, OR 97601

One last thing: With regard to the points in your business report, I submit that a) your uncle Ghol can be easily muzzled by a simple overture. He'll never know who sent my men, and will be too scared to speak out; and b) that I wholeheartedly support and second your enthusiastic vetting of the Duchess as a business partner. With your mutual consent, I will begin sending her checks to fund bribes in exchange for a share of my soon to be freed lizard capital. There is one thing though, it’s about your service vehicle and the incident you described. Let me begin by saying that I think it’s regrettable that my business partner should have to be persecuted on the street. Yet in some sense you must understand that the general public may not be ready for your barrage of destigmatization efforts. You may be running a foolish risk in subjecting them to it, especially on the road, where in America I have heard that people are angry anyway. It is foolish to provoke them, Rod. I do not support it. I do want you to reemblazon your service vehicle forthwith, yet certainly not with Mangwanan-Grubelian Golden Triangle funds. I do not wish to become an accessory to your political activities. Forgive me, but I just don’t think that halitosis is something I can get behind. You said yourself that you have well-placed enemies. Goad knows I don’t need any more of those.
Also, about the letterhead, I do like it, but you will remove the reference to CASHPAC. Like I said, I do not wish to become involved in these activities. It is an unhealthy conflation of then commercial with the political with the personal. It smacks of an agenda. It reminds me what people in your country call lobbying. Frankly Rod, it offends me.

Yours in passionate anticipation of gain,

Kaarlo Pigg


Attn: Manager, CASHPAC


Mr. Grumbles,

What you are doing has to stop. My husband and I moved here because this was a quiet neighborhood where we could braise our children. We moved here to be in a place where people had nice jobs and nice habits and cultvaided nice manners. We had high hopes that we would have nice neighbors, and we do. But you're not one of them! Instead of having a nice job and nice habits, I think you have no job at all, and God knows your habits are terrible. I've seen you come out of your house in the afternoon wearing nothing but that tatty bathrobe more times than I can count. It's disgusting. I'm pregnant now you know, and I’d sooner drop dead than allow my kids to see a man wearing that kind of outfit with tufts of hair and fat poking out and god knows what else! And pasting your eyebrows down with spittle like that...for God's sake respect what other people might think if you can't manage to respect yourself. I bet you didn't know that my husband has a pair of binacyulars, that probably wouldn't even occur to you. Oh no. But he does, just like I think most people in neighborhoods like this do. You’ve got to know if there’s anything untwarred going on in your neighborhood. There's nothing wrong with it either. My husband says it's like having a gun, except in this case it's even better than having a gun, since even if you have a gun, how are you going to protect yourself against what is going on if you’ve never even see it? Maybe is you had a scowp. Well, you don't even want to know what my husband saw you doing when he used his binoculars to protect himself against what you might be up to. Neither did I. The worst thing is that that you were doing it every time he tried to protect himself by looking. He said once when he was home sick from work he looked at you for a while through them (he's cute he calls them his field glasses) and it made him so sick he was cured. And that's just wrong.
But no job and awful habits weren't enough for you, were they Mr. Grumbles? You weren't contend to stop their! I know what you're doing with that disgusting little group of yours. Sedition is what my husband calls it, and I support it. I mean I support him, not you. You think you can use the house next to ours as a base for organizing illegal activity opposed to everything that makes our this country great?! You think the house next to ours is some kind of safe house where you can run around in your robe without a job trying to kill the government? We elected that government, Mr. Grumbelius, and we stand by it right or wrong. What's wrong is you running around and trying to shove your awful little condition down everybody's throat as if everything was fine and dandy. It's so awful it makes me want to vomit. Don't think I haven't heard what you've done to women in town as they innocently went about doing their Christmas shopping. You should be put in High Sungirdle Correctional.
My husband and I have the law on our side, Mr. Grumbelius, and we are not afraid to use it. That’s the last thing we’re afraid of. We suggest that you get a job and quit while you're ahead. Burning the stupid signs about bad breath you planted in your front lawn isn't the worst thing your neighbors can do to you, not by far. My suggestion to you is that you go by a suit and get some self-respect. I don't know what else you've been doing up in your little office, but if I find out I'm not keeping it to myself. Also, you better shape up fast, because we are going to have a block party next weekend and you will never live it down if you ruin it for us by crawling out of your hole to breathe on people.


Bellinda Ritter


Dear Rod,

Please don’t be angry with me for contacting you again. I did get that e-mail from your lawyer, and he seemed like a nice enough fellow, you’re lucky to have him on your side, but I just had to write you. Very sporting of him to agree to compose the e-mail from your address. I’m writing both out of a sense of medical obligation and personal need. What I have to say this time is really important, so please read this. The last time I wrote to you I was in a rather compromising position. Down on my luck, I was begging for money with nothing to trade on but my past good works. I'm still down on my luck of course—the jury has been selected and the trial is going to kick off in just a week or so—but I’m no longer a beggar. Far from it: I’m a chooser. What’s more, I’m a medical professional, and the nature of my choice is to reveal to you the true nature of your affliction. I know you put up a brave front about choosing to live with it, and I know you make a big stink about getting other people to accept you for who you are and what you’ve got to work with, but surely the thought must have occurred to you that this is not really who you are, not all you’ve got to work with, that you are sick and can get better, past bad experiences notwithstanding. Come on! Don’t you think so? You’re better than having to accept a fate of bad breath and ostracism. For God’s sake, you’re Rodney Grumbelius! You should have the world in your pocket.
I know what it is now, Rod. I know what you have. A lot of new things have come to light in the course of my researches, a lot of new and interesting things that are going to benefit a lot of people. But I want you to be the first. Truth be told, I was writing to you with the intention of selling a diagnosis, but you know what? I'm feeling generous today, so you can have the diagnosis for free. It's Sjögren's syndrome. How about that? I'll bet you didn't even know what Sjögren's was until today, much less that your every connective tissue cell is a screaming manifestation of its pathology! Basically an autoimmune, white blood cell thing. Which of course means that I was on the right track with you before, just maybe not in exactly the right dip in the correct scientific furrow along that track.
So you have Sjögren’s. But what are you going to do with that? Nothing, that’s what. You could take it to a doctor and have him beat his head against the wall over it for all the good it is going to do you. The fact is that no one knows how to treat Sjögren’s but me. It’s highly experimental of course, like all my treatments, but in my humble opinion it's your only chance at a cure. So here's what I propose: You top off my lawyer's retainer with $10,000 to help me get through this legal bother, and in return I'll treat and cure you. And no wolves this time, I promise! I suspect that $10,000 isn’t much to you these days given the business circles you seem to have gotten yourself into, so anything over and above the ten K would of course be appreciated. Good medical treatment is priceless in a way, after all. Not that the size of your payment beyond ten K will affect the quality of your treatment—I'm not that kind of doctor!
And oh! One more thing before I forget: Once I’ve been exonerated (that is, removed the moral smirch staining my name with money, the best of solvents for grimy spots), what say you and I go into the wolf-breeding business? The validity of my lupus findings is still indisputable, and the idea of mobile lupine lupus treatment units is still going to make a rich man of the first person to make it happen. With my expertise and your capital, the sky is truly the limit!

Life is short Rod—you have to trust someone at times like this!

Yours in medical fidelity,

Edelwolf Genauer

P.S. The reason I had never thought of Sjögren's before is that nine out of ten times it affects women. And between estrogen playing a part and the prodigious endowment of your masculine features, it just was never an avenue I had thought to look down. Sorry.


For a brief moment, Genauer's e-mail to Rod was what the bomb at Alamogordo had been to Oppenheimer: A destroyer of worldviews. Could there some truth to the swirling mushroom cloud of words before him? Was he curable after all? Was he wrong to commit himself to a life of infinite resignation to bad breath? Was it evil to live a life of resignation when he could choose to have faith? Gah! Maybe such questions were too deep to fathom for a man with serious business transactions on his mind. Whatever happened, one thing would always be the same: Even if there was a cure somewhere out there for him, he would never give up the field-tested battle standard that he bore so proudly on behalf of other sufferers. By God, he would remain the Head Master™ of CASHPAC to the bitter end, even if his breath smelled like a scratch and sniff advertisement for the Isle of Vernal Exhalations. He would never turn his back on his foul-breathed shipmates lacking the $10,000 Genauer charged for treatment. Rod just wasn’t that kind of helmsman.
Just the knowledge that he would remain true to his roots made him feel much better about the idea of diverting $10,000.00 of the bribe monies to top off Genauer's legal retainer. It gave him a thrilling buoyancy. But hadn't Mangwana said that all the bribes were very important, and that missing a single one might jeopardize the principal and cost them their gorgeous reward? Sure enough, he might have to wait until the modalities were in place until he made his bid for a cure. Cure. With that word came the sinking feeling, for the first time in a long while, that what he had sought to celebrate might be pathological after all. And if anyone could get to him, it was Genauer. The contrast between this revenant feeling and the CASHPAC slogans he had hidden behind all these years could not be stronger. It loosed an early memory of his acquaintance with Genauer from the seabed of his subconscious mind.
It had happened after his first appointment with Genauer, as the good doctor was dictating his note. It was many years ago, but Rod could see an uncorrupted version of it flickering on memory’s canvas. He was in the waiting room, and his father was late to pick him up. He was flipping through a magazine when he heard his name spoken from beyond the partition:

“Rodney Grumbelius, age 13. Patient was brought to my practice last Wednesday with complaints of chronic halitosis. Heart rate normal, bp 120/80. Oral cavity exhibits symptoms of thrush. A few small-diameter circular white lesions on tongue, excess production of saliva. A somewhat elevated rate of respiration. Subjective complaints of vertigo.
Patient presents with highly fetid expirations. Notably fetid. It smelled like absolute…scratch that.
Patient presents with highly fetid expirations. They were initially difficult to evaluate qualitatively due to their extremely…overwhelming nature, which blinded my better medical judgment. It was only once I had stoppered my nostrils that I was able to achieve evaluative proximity and assess the expirations. Expirations fetid as noted. Extremely so, almost as if there were some intelligent design behind them—an intelligence of repugnance—as if they were calculated to trigger the perfect cocktail of puantes [stenchy] olfactory receptors. It felt almost like a provocation. For a moment I could feel myself getting angry. I asked myself why he couldn’t have done something about this. Of course I choked it back. The expiration smelled like complete…scratch that.
Patient presents with highly fetid expirations. The nature of the expired odor is, as with any odor, difficult to qualify verbally, especially within the parameters of the professional lexicon. But as the set of presented symptoms is unique in my experience, it is my considered opinion that an attempt must be made. My colleagues will forgive me if I venture beyond the pale. The initial impression is deeply, deeply visceral. As if some odious message were being communicated by a malevolent force lodged within the patient's viscera. The odor initially hits the nose in an extraordinarily violent bouquet of eggy sulfur…indicating a high level of hydrogen sulfide and other volatile sulfur compounds. The next wave of the odor consists of a transition from the eggy VSC smell to a more generally putrescent smell, I suppose of polyamines, suggesting a diverse and overabundant population of oral flora.
In order to be able to approach the smell without being blown away—as occurred, contrary to my ethic of professional detachment, even through stoppered nostrils—I thought to scrape the posterior part of the tongue with a cotton swab and sniff the residuum after it had been left to dry. I did this, but found the scum to be only partially representative of the full palate of breath-borne odor. Indicating that the digestive system or lungs must also be involved in the production of the…peculiar odor.
But to call the odor variously eggy and putrescent is not enough. I have a less than serious colleague, not without his prescience, who might refer to it as eggworthy, but even that falls short of the mark. What I am talking about, what I smelled, must be deeply imagined to be believed. Imagine you are walking past a manhole on a hot summer's day and your nose is greeted by the full bouquet of the effluence of a hundred thousand GI tracts. That sick seaside smell of an estuary cum sewage seep. There you have patient Grumbelius. Imagine the bag of takeout leftovers that you forgot over by the radiator for a week. Go on to imagine the steamy burst of livid stink that rushes out into the room when, unwisely, you open it. There, in that bag, you have patient Grumbelius. Or at least a note flowing from his symphonic mouth. Imagine a slurry of carrion and offal suspended in a medium of landfill juice—topped off by a steaming turd for a canapé. There you have patient Grumbelius. It would of course be a grave oversight not to mention the vomitous note that maintains an even volume as the scent plays out. But it’s not unadulterated vomit plain and simple. No, it's mustier, more complexly tinged. Aged. Imagine this: It’s a rainy afternoon and you are holed up in the dirtiest, darkest bar reckonable. It would be unnatural for this nasty little watering hole not to smell like vomit, would it not? Vomit is what it smells like. But imagine that you are tempted to trace the source of the smell by sniffing along the kickboard where the stools and patrons’ shoes line up. You smell an olfactory palimpsest of the first order, an encrusted ode to hundreds of nights spangled by thousands of inebriates whose heady decoctions came up as surely as they went down. The vomit has been dried, cured, piled up, mixed together and ground in with dust and dirt and peanut shells and mold and pitch and chewing gum and rubber. This film of soil is slightly wet with the humidity of the day, and the wafts coming off it seem guided by the heaving pulses of wind and rain drumming the window. This bilious soil of decomposed enjoyments, this record of a thousand forgettable nights, this outrageous warning to the wisdom of repugnance, is breathing through the day, breathing out the night. It is somehow alive with all the shells and casings of the spent motive impulses that drove the patrons to imbibe. Here again you have patient Grumbelius, with a breath that somehow seems to wish you ill. Each little waft like a punch and a provocation. It occurs to me to wonder what one might see if one were able to somehow color the organic compounds in his expiration, and if one could then by some clinical sophistication succeed in capturing its activity on camera; might one not then see some motive force or violent impulse carried on the breath, illustrated by the breath, dealt out by the breath?
Look at me, this is getting ridiculous. This is not how a doctor talks. This is not how a doctor thinks. Fiddlesticks! All the same, even the most orthodox physician would have to admit it smelled like complete shit.
I guess I like to think of myself as a conscientious physician. Sure, occasionally I'll say or do things that other physicians don't or won't understand. Nonetheless, I’m exploring veins and seams they’ll never guess at. So I like to tell myself. Who has smelled patient Grumbelius’ breath? Who but me would even want to try? I saw the look on the nurse-practitioner's face. That rosy, dimpled face, otherwise so cherubic and content, now contorted into a shocking grimace..
Let me explore a final descriptive metaphor before ending this tape. Nobody will be able to say that I did not make every attempt. What do we have so far? We have in the Grubelian expiration this complex clinical palimpsest of sulfur, rot, excrement and vomit. But there is something else besides, and to get at it—I think I might see how, but you will have to bear with me. You will agree that breath is most often associated with spirit, and that from this natural pairing we radiate out into notions of lightness, airiness, ether. Air. Oxygen and nitrogen and carbon dioxide and argon. And, increasingly, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide. Aside from those exceptions, though, all that is light and inert and innocuous and fragrance-free. Noble. I would contend that, in the Grubelian expiration, there is a flat-out contradiction of the entire accepted line of reckoning pertaining to breath. The boy's exhalation is of the earth, not the air. I smell on it the death and deadliness that things deep in the earth conjure and convey. It is six feet underground and wormy. There is something primitive and monocular and slithering and malevolent and anaerobic about it...perhaps patient Grumbelius is a canary in a coalmine, perhaps he is somehow the measure of what wanton pollution and environmental degradation is doing to our collective health. Perhaps, lodged deep in the source of those fetid expirations, there is a cry for help.
To conclude, I will simply note that the patient suffers from fetor ex ore, idiopathic but likely multiple and autoimmune in nature. And that we have here an odor whose strength is likely unique among patients who are not terminally ill. I will speak to the patient's father regarding a course of treatment, which I fear must be radical. I see an opportunity to wield some of the more obscure prescriptions in my toolkit.

The memory was repugnant—there had been wisdom in suppressing it. Now he had a strangely familiar but oddly out of place feeling: It was the same feeling he had experienced days earlier when, in the midst of glorifying himself, his mind got stuck on the notion that his pleasure was not pure, that it was somehow corrupted by the bits and bytes of porn that never ceased to stream through the air of the modern era, providing it with the default invisible backdrop to everything that was ever said and done. Could it be that something grim was afoot—stalking him through the bytestream?


To: Rodney Grumbelius, Provocateur
From: The Freshness Consortium
Re: Felony market infringement, in terrorem

Dear Sir:

Through the good offices of a congressperson representing your state, it has come to our attention that you have illegally been conspiring to suppress a sanctioned commercial activity whose interests we represent. We’re pretty sure you know who we are. Yours is a crime otherwise known as felony market infringement, and is explicitly prohibited by both Federal and State Statutes of Terror. Please be advised that any additional public or private acts committed by CASHPAC in order to prohibit or otherwise curb the use of breath-freshening products will be interpreted by our legal team as an act of countercommercial terror, and will be prosecuted to the full extent and severity of the law.
In particular, you are hereby called upon to:
Disband immediately as an organization and in so doing notify all members that the activities in which they have participated are illegal and carry severe criminal penalties (if there are any questions regarding the law and the penalties it provides for, do not hesitate to send us a written inquiry along with a $50 handling fee);
Surrender for immediate destruction all material currently or at any previous time involved in the incitement to aforementioned seditious activity. Such material includes but is not limited to: Flyers, direct mail pieces, campaign-type lawn signs, badges, pins, sashes, T-shirts, bras and any other articles of clothing emblazoned with your organization's insignia;
Take out advertisements in media outlets of whose number and nature we reserve the right to inform you at a later date in order to apologize publicly for the loss of income and goodwill incurred by our clients as a result of your seditious activity. These advertisements are to be phrased in such a manner as is deemed appropriate by us alone.
Publicly endorse the use of our clients’ products for the same amount of time and at the same level of public exposure hitherto devoted by your group in order to suppress their use.
This list does not claim to be exhaustive. Our clients may well seek punitive damage compensation in addition to the above. Please note that, should you fail to comply with the above demands, we will be turning this case over to the authorities, who will (we are informed) look to make an example of you in order to deter future acts of countercommercial terror. Should you be convicted of felony market infringement, you risk incarceration, deportation and complete asset liquidation, to name but a few possible consequences.

Please be assured that both we and the group of enterprises who together constitute our client are reasonable people/entities. It is just as much in our interest to avoid high-profile criminal and civil proceedings as it is in yours. Restitution through arbitration remains a possibility, should you wish to pursue it.

In terrorem,

The legal emissaries of the Freshness Consortium


All was plunged into confusion and despair. Rod ground his hands into his thighs and winced so hard that his face narrowed into a chisel. He plastered down his unruly eyebrows but could derive no comfort from the act he normally used to restore his balance. His belly heaved up and down with fear and fury. Where was the way out? What could he possibly do? Out of pure desperation, he attempted to glorify himself, but one thing he had not reckoned with was the shortage of blood in his head, most of which had dropped into his stomach and feet as the full horror of the threat mail dawned on him. When, as he began his desperate bid to glorify himself by thinking about the gelatinous naked Duchess, still more blood was diverted from his head, Rod lost consciousness. This is the way he remembered the dream he then had when he woke up—

Rod was a child again. In his family home, with his parents and all that awful bric-a-brac they kept around, the crap that would outlive them all. Soon his Uncle Ghol came by to spirit him off. One of their little weekend excursions. When he pulled up, it was in the black Plymouth station wagon Genauer had used all those years ago to drive him to the quarry at whose bottom the chained wolf was waiting, a model Rod now recognized as a hearse. Rod stood in the corner as Ghol and his mother and father exchanged pleasantries. His back was up against where the walls met, and he was trying hard to take fast shallow breaths and limit his intake from the atmosphere to what he could recycle in his cupped hands—he deserved no more than this tiny recycled mouthful of diminishing returns—but his efforts weren’t enough, and the adults kept inching away regardless. Isn’t he doing a good job keeping his needs modest? they would say. A good boy who knows his bounds and keeps his breaths fast and shallow and stays in the corner to keep his breath far from our noses! But shuffling feet gave the lie to hollow encouragement. Once the ritual adult pleasantries had been exchanged, Ghol donned a WWI-style gasmask and beckoned Rod to step into the car. He turned on the siren as they drove. Rod kept asking where they were going, but Ghol's response always came in the form of a question: How can you know where you are going to end up if you haven't yet made it there? The gasmask revealed no expression on his uncle’s face.
And then suddenly they were there, gliding in through the wrought-iron gates of the Isle of Vernal Exhalations, which in his dream was not an isle at all, but a gaudy amusement park. Once out of the car, he could hear coming from no place in particular a constant gentle aspiration that went on and on and unnaturally on. A welcoming committee was quick to form around them. In it were two classes of people: Doctors and marketeers . Nods were exchanged between Ghol and the committee’s grandees, and before he knew what was happening Rod was being swept into the heart of the amusement park on a tide of bony scientific shoulders. As he turned to look back at Ghol, his uncle slowly removed the gasmask and waved goodbye. He could see the outlines of the mask indented into the skin of his uncle’s face. Rod kept his eyes on his uncle's tapering hand until he realized that he was no longer looking at the actual thing, but at the retinal memory of the thing.
The procession neared a building smelling strongly of spearmint. Its walls had an strangely ragged quality. Once they had drawn close enough, Rod could see that they were constructed from a rubbery composite of discarded gum (the pieces of which were still semi-distinct, their garish colors preserved and indentured by chew marks), gum wrappers, empty tictac boxes and travel-sized bottles of mouthwash. The strong smell of the gum repulsed him, and for the first time in his dream, Rod struggled against the grain of the action. But it was useless: their entry into the spearmint-smelling building was inevitable. As he flailed with dreamlike fecklessness, his hand glanced across the door molding, also made of the disgusting gumcrete construction material. The overpowering smell and tacky feeling that stuck on his fingers made him flinch. Inside there was a merry-go-round called the Halitosis Round-a-Whirl: An Object Lesson in Moral Complicity. His keepers plopped his small but fat and flailing body down into a high seat that sank down and produced a powerful hiss as his weight was transferred into it. The hiss was accompanied by an acrid mist that stung in his eyes and burned in his lungs. Struggling only caused the seat to sink back down and emit the hiss and mist all over. The burning mist continued to trail from the nozzle beneath the seat as the merry-go-round began to spin. He looked around, and it did not take him long to realize that his high chair with a bucket seat was in fact an outsized canister of Binaca. It was sickening, but that wasn't all. As the round-a-whirl began to spin faster, powerful jets of wintergreen and tea tree oil shot from nozzles that hung from the ride's roof. Rod looked on helplessly as a projector screen was lowered in front of his Binaca bucket. Mitigation is the only way was the first thing to flash on the fabric. This was followed by Who are you to think that vernal freshness is not a desirable objective? and Your surroundings decide what is offensive and what is not—not you. It dawned on Rod that the ride was built on a synaesthetic principle: With each new moralizing tidbit that flashed on the screen, his nose would flinch at yet another odor commonly held to be fresh or clean as it was heaped atop the unbearably noxious witches' brew of mints and essential oils under whose yoke he already suffered. Unmitigated halitosis is as antisocial as premeditated assault--your breath is a clenched fist! Roses and rosehips. Men in coats taking notes. Marketeers suggesting maybe some baking soda toothpaste. High margins to be earned off baking soda. Once, in the Roman Empire, an administrator in Gaul was garroted—to squeeze both the stench and the presumption from him—when the proconsul learned that he flaunted his bad breath. Pine, juniper and slippery elm. Whirling round fast now. Snatches of nodding heads and beady eyes. Contraceptives are available for a dollar, and it is immoral not to use them if you are not prepared to accept the consequences of not doing so. Refusing to use breath fresheners and expecting social acceptance is a fallacy of the same order. Vanilla. Heather. Iris. Why do you reverence your most disgusting trait? Pathology renders no benefit! Soap: Eucalyptus, arnica, balm mint, bay laurel, calendula, cedar, chamomile, fennel, comfrey, ivy, witch hazel, aloe vera. It was too much. Rod began to scream. Suddenly the doctors were up on the ride with him. It took three of them to hold him down as the fourth, a fished-eyed and poker-faced man, approached with a dirty toilet bowl scrubber. Hints of a smile as runnels of water streamed off the dangling filaments of toilet bowl scum: This is what we'll use to clean you out once and for all, you rotten mouthstinker!


He woke up with a funny taste in his mouth. His mood would need some serious palliatives if he was to prevent it from dragging him down into a mire of cowed inaction. What a terrible dream! It was enough to anger him: How had he not been able to see through Ghol's plan? And why had he been unable to escape the Isle once it became clear what he was in for? Why hadn’t he spoken up for the rights of sufferers everywhere when confronted with the insolvent morality of the breath mitigation establishment? Even worse, the whole thing was that it was a big lie, a big farce, because Rod’s breath never stank in dreams, that much he knew. Worst of all, why, when he was able to dictate the terms of his waking life so well, was he not a lucid dreamer? He shuddered to think that the dream might have something to say about waning resolve, wasting wherewithal…even worse than the doubts though, he thought he could detect a fruity shiff of the Juicy Fruit cum construction material that he had dug into as he clung desperately to the doorframe in the dream. But this had to be cast out of mind: There were things to do, people to be replied to with utmost severity, money to forward, the reception of hand-carved artifacts to anticipate—not to mention his gorgeous vouchsafement. He ran for his computer.
In the course of the short plod from bedroom to 'office,' he had worked up enough resolve to reply with what he thought would be alacrity and firmness of purpose to the teeming undesirables who wanted nothing more than to shoot him out of the e-entrepreneurial firmament through which he was so gallantly soaring. But the computer had another plan. No sooner had he fired it up than it reminded him that it had been 45 days since he had updated his antivirus definitions, and would he like to do so now? Piercing doubt was always around the corner, and now it was upon him again: Didn’t it seem like only yesterday he had been updating his definitions after being served a reminder that they were, at that time, 40 or 50 days old? The worst part was not really even the plain fact that time was passing, and quickly. Worse was the hollow way his passage through this waking life was being marked. Instead of milestones hewn out of basalt or granite and imprinted with poems and ciphers to tell of his exploits and the dramatic passage of the seasons, all he had were these frosty reminders to update his virus definitions. And what grim reminders they were: Even here, on the stage hosting the most fundamental of human passions, those concerning mortality and the slow drawing of time's veil across being’s brief canvas—even here he had to suffer unspeakable indignity!
To regain his composure, he decided, he would have to begin work on his already quite famous one-act.


Halitosis Rex

Curtain rises. Powerfully stirring music set in D-minor fades away. The lights come on to reveal an ordinary cafeteria in an ordinary elementary school. In the middle of the space, a lone boy of 9 or so is seated in a cafeteria cubby. He is an attractive lad with an intelligent, even heroic face: A vessel fully capable of accommodating brimming success. Forehead resting on a supporting palm, gaze downcast, body cloven as closely as possible to the supporting structure of the cubby, his small frame appears to be crushed under a great burden. He is barely picking at his food.
The rest of the little diners in the cafeteria are seated concentrically around the boy, staggered in three tiers. They are not seated in this way in order to direct their attention at him. On the contrary, the circles are designed to achieve the greatest geometrical efficiency of separation between the boy in the middle and each of the rest of the diners while adhering to the three-stage pecking order that governs their relations. The boys in each of the circles are talking animatedly amongst themselves, often yelling over the boy in the middle to make a joke or make themselves heard, but they pointedly avoid addressing or even looking at the outcast at the hub.
The action begins when the boy in the middle pulls out a pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum and makes a show of opening it, pulling out a stick and starting to chew. After a moment he breathes into cupped hands and takes a few tentative sniffs. The spotlight falls on him while everything else fades out. The ensuing soliloquy is set to a softly stirring score in F major.
Rex: Boy this gum tastes somethin’ terrible! I wish I could just keep the taste I normally got in my mouth, which I really like. I reckon the problem is that none of my classmates like the way my breath smells. They think it’s narsty. They won’t talk to me; nope, they won’t touch me with a ten-foot pole. You see the way they're setting? They set in one of three rings pending on how popular they are. See the boy way over there, fella with the cap? That’s Jack. He’s real popular. He gets to set right up in the corner. Funny thing is, things are as good now as they’ve been in a long while. Used to be they’d lock me in a closet at lunchtime. That done changed when teach said it was inhuman. There could be a lawsuit. It's an improvement all right—leastways now I can see what's going on. Just wish I could make me some friends. That’s why I bought these chew-em-up sticks. (Sniffs his breath) I think it's working. Never give up, that’s what my momma says.
Rex scoots his lunch cubicle closer to the innermost circle, and the reaction is immediate. In a perfectly choreographed evasion, the inner circle shifts its center to reflect Rex’s progress, moving with a fluidity that would be the envy of any six-sigma organization [such as the Grubelian-Mangwanan joint venture of lizard husbandry, for more on which the reader is encouraged to consult the endnotes. Note to director: Please make sure to leave room for G-M JV sponsorship banners]. Meanwhile, the two outer circles, while preserving their original centers and shapes, begin to rotate around the center ring in opposite directions in a maneuver designed not only to prevent Rex from piercing the middle ring and gaining proximity to the ranks of the most popular little diners, but also to minimize the exposure of any given individual to Rex’s breath as he probes their defenses. Try as he might, Rex is unable to break the first ring. The more tenacious his efforts, the faster the amoeba of the inner circle shifts its shape, and the faster the outer circles spin [Note to stagecrafter: The cubbies of the two outer circles should be track-mounted and controllable by an offstage motor. The idea is to get them spinning at dizzying speeds] This goes on for five minutes.
Rex: Why won’t y’all let me in? Why can’t I et with y’all? Can’t y’all see I’m trying? Why I'll wager my breath smells finer'n'a peach right now.

Jack (the most popular boy): We all know that Juicy Fruit gum smells finer than a Georgia peach. The problem is we know you still smell, ahem, rextremely bad on the inside. (Jack looks around with eager anticipation of the mirth to come, and the laughs do come, reluctantly at first, but then rising to a crescendo of mockery). See, Rex? You’re gonna have to do way better than that.
Rex: But why y’all gotta be mean to me just cause I got bad breath?
At this point the action freezes. Rod Grumbelius, CASHPAC’s founder and Sufferer-in-Chief, walks onto the stage to deliver a few cameo lines.
Rod: Hi, I’m Rod Grumbelius. You may have heard of me before. If so, it’s for a good reason. I represent the forgotten segment of society that suffers from something called the stigmatization of halitosis. That's a fancy way of saying ill treatment due to bad breath, or dragon breath discrimination. Now I want you kids to pay attention to this scene. What we are discussing here is something every bit as important and fundamental as civil rights, or freedom of speech, or the gold standard. Ask yourselves the question: Why should Rex have to be without friends just because he has bad breath? Does the problem really lie with Rex, or does it lie in the faulty attitudes of his classmates? Think of what you’ve learned in BABB so far.
Action resumes.
Jack: Cause it’s gross and we don’t want to catch it, that’s why.
Chorus: Yeah, because it's gross. Durn gross!
Rex reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pill, holding it up to general scrutiny.
Rex: Awright. So y’all don’t want my breath to smell no more? Fine then. See this here pill? When I went to the doc he done said I could take this to cure my breath, said it's almost guaranteed to work. But he also said it might could damage my liver. What do y'all think? Want me to take it?
Chorus: Aw heck yeah!
A little boy in the inner ring stands up.
Joey: No! I wouldn't want Rex to hurt his liver on account of us. That would be wrong. I mean maybe he could just change his diet or something. He eats a awful lot of dingdongs. Or heck guys, maybe we could just lay off the feller for a while. I mean there’s a buncha us boys toot all the time, but you don't see them in the middle with no one to talk to.
Chorus boos.
Jack: That's it boys. I think we've got ourselves a traitor. A little softie who likes jerkin’ off to stinky breath. Looks like little Rexie just made hisself a friend. Come on boys, let's make Joey put his nose where Rex's mouth is!
The inner circle corrals little Joey while the middle ring slowly contracts around them. Each member of the phalanx uses one hand to cover his nose, leaving the other free to displace a struggling Joey into the middle with Rex, who in the meantime has discarded his palliative pill.
Now the action freezes and Rex is spotlighted getting up on his cubby. His face is grave, tragic as he begins the aside.
Rex: Do y’all see what I am up against here? It’s like I’m not even a bona fide person to them. I am my breath & so they hate me. For years I’ve tried to live like this. But I cain't do it no more. I won’t.
Now Rex freezes and Rod walks on.
Rod: Hey kids, hope you're enjoying the show. I'm just coming on to draw your attention to what is about to happen, which is an embryonic example of the guerilla breathing techniques I was talking about when I was invited to come talk to you as BABB’s speaker of the week. Now as the play goes on, I want you to keep in mind that this is a dramatization.
Rod walks off and the action resumes.
Rex: I’m gonna breathe in their stinkin little faces is what I’m gonna do. Makin me into a stinkin Judas for chrissake!
Rex steps off his cubby podium and grabs the nearest boy, whose face screws up in mute terro
Rex: You were never my friend. You had to let my breath get in the way. And if your ain’t my friend, I reckon that means you're my enemy, and this here is what you get. (Breathes on the boy, who collapses in a cinematic swoon).
Chorus: Gasp!
There is a general struggle to scramble for the wings, but such is the rigidity of their elementary hierarchy that the outer ring will not part to let its social inferiors through making them all susceptible to Rex's offensive.
Rex: Who's next? (Reaches out at random and horsecollars another boy attempting to flee. Rex breathes on him, which results in all the blood draining from the boy’s face. Rex pinions him to the ground with his knees, lowering his face to within inches of the captive's.
Rex: That’s right boyah! How do you think it felt all those years? Huh? I’ll show you how it felt you little bastard! (Leans in for the knockout breath—it looks like CPR, only it's anti-CPR)
Sensing the danger of their situation, Jack gets up on his corner cubby-podium and addresses the crowd.
Jack: What is wrong with all of you? Are you just gonna stand there while this...this mouth terrorist attacks us and spits on our right to breathe pure breaths? Are you gonna let him shove that crap about bad breath being just as good as good breath down your throats? Down your throats?! There’s a reason they call it bad breath, fellas, just like there's a reason we used to keep this turdmouth in the closet. Now I know you boys in the inner circle must be bone-weary of having to breathe in the secondhand stink that drifts over to you from Rex at lunch day after blessed day. So what I suggest, and it's going to involve some sacrifice, is that you take this troublemaker down and force him to keep his breath to hisself. You’ll be making history boys. Now do I have you with me?!
Chorus: Aw, heck yeah! Let’s get him boys!
The little diners now turn back the tide on their escape and close on Rod. Rod tries to put up a defensive breath wall by beginning to hyperventilate, but their advance is grimly resolute. With napkins over their noses and tears streaming down their cheeks, they soon have him trapped. Jack, having overcome his revulsion and walked over to the action, applies a square of cellophane film to Rex's face. The curtain closes on the scene of Rex’s vain struggle.
But: Through the curtain who should appear but Rodney Grumbelius!
Rod: Well that's all folks. Like I said hopefully it won’t get this grim in your real-life experience. But what’s that they say about drama being to provoke thought rather than to define reality? Of course, I shouldn't be asking you...I mean, come on, a dramaturge asking high school students what is the purpose of drama? Like you have a fucking clue! So if for some reason you little boys and girls didn’t get it, let me stop right here and spell it out for you. Let me begin by addressing myself to the question 'what is socialization.' Well, socialization is the act of overcoming the violent and antisocial impulses of the self and joining in with the flow in the interest of the greater good. Socialization is performed both voluntarily and by law. Examples include refraining from killing or otherwise maiming the old and weak, adherence to the slaughter rule in baseball, and conquering one’s personal revulsion to popular trends in order to purchase wares and entertainments for sale on the mass market to the end of the greater good. In the event of halitosis, CASHPAC is following a three-pronged approach toward the end of socializing the public at large with respect to the minority who suffer. What we are doing here constitutes the first of three tines of the fork with the power to destigmatize halitosis. We are using the dramaturgical arts to provoke a sea change in the way you approach people who suffer. After what you saw today, you know that an insensitive approach to halitosis truly can lead to unwanted death. And that will land you in the clink. The second tine comprises the confrontational guerilla breathing tactics and other forms of urban political theater. This has been held up to public ridicule by an inexplicably hostile press. The same sanctimonious assholes who cover every other civil rights movement with the type of objective reporting that befits questions touching the innermost reaches of human dignity. Why not us? Yet I wish to state here for the record that CASHPAC does not plan to abandon this second tine, this de facto bulwark ensuring our presence in the public consciousness anytime soon. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know. These first two tines represent efforts to provoke voluntary socialization. But ultimately, CASHPAC does not take too rosy a view of human nature. CASHPAC is also working actively to bring about legislation to make halitosis socialization a legal requirement. Of course, I cannot get into the details of the statutory approach here, since even here I can never be sure that the breath mitigation industry has not seeded the audience with conspirators and provocateurs. Suffice it to say that we have been working closely with a number of state and national politicians to ram rafts of bills through legislatures around the country. These bills will make it illegal to give voice or other embodiment to breath-stigmatizing sentiments. In summary, it should be stated that all three tines have been honed to morsel-spearing sharpness.
Well, now you know. Soon it will be illegal to prey on the social vulnerability of those who suffer. On behalf of CASHPAC and all those who suffer, I advise you to submit to voluntary socialization before it's too late. Thank you for your time.
Curtain call. Deeply inspirational music. Fade to black.


To: [The Dispenser of Political Favors and Other Graftings—real name redacted by publisher]
Bcc: Julius Mangwana
File attachment: The_Suffocation_of_Rex_Blankensxhip_Or_Halitosis_Rex_a_One_Act_play_by_Rodney_Grumbelius_E_Entrepreneur.doc

Attention Dispenser:

Being the straightforward man of action that I am, I have decided to circumvent the hounds of the law you chose to unleash on me. I will not dignify those connivingly amoral barristers with a response. What I will say is that you should read the attached. It represents the final version of the one-act play that I have formulated as a spur toward the final destigmatization of halitosis at the secondary school level. Needless to say, I rejected all of the manuscripts submitted by the playwrights I called on to tender proposals. None of them being sufferers themselves, their efforts had no more dramatic effect than my juvenilia in treatment of the subject. You would be surprised to learn how quickly one can write an effective and harmonious one-act play when one feels its subject deeply and is touched by the power of the muse.
Too, your machinations notwithstanding, I have already succeeded in putting on my little dramaturgical piece in the effort to spearhead halitosis destigmatization at a secondary school in the area. Needless to say, its effect was positively Brechtian. Soon after viewing it, the sufferers in the audience had turned the tables on their tormentors by breathing blithely in their faces. And do you know what, Mike? They say there and took it.
As for your none-too-veiled threats, dear Dispenser, let us just say that I am not very concerned. I am prepared to lead my followers to insurrection, should it come to that. It sounds as if you are quite far gone and very serious indeed about protecting the sordid interests of the breath mitigation establishment, but there is just one thing I think you should know before you go about making good on your threats, and that is the fact that there are more people than just we sufferers who are going to resist your reactionary intiative. You see, in just the brief span of time that has passed since my last communication addressed to you, CASHPAC has succeeded in enlisting a number of allies in its cause, people known generally under the heading of 'People of Odor.' And let me assure you, dear Dispenser, that this is a truly fearsome coalition that you DO NOT want to go up against.
Consider, Dispenser, the ragtag bunch of people who may come calling at your good office if you fail to reverse course and come out in favor of sufferers, the BABB module, and mitigation prohibition. Why, just to think of their teeming masses makes even me swoon with anticipated putrescence, and I have quite a tolerance: Terminal cancer patients, conscientious objectors to showering, those steeped in south Asian cuisine, high school students recently returned from expensive drug-free trips into wild lands, unrepentant hippies, the criminally insane...the list goes on, Dispenser. The best part is that a lot of my wider constituency is not employed on the 9 to 5 circuit, meaning that they can be mustered en masse to come to your office during business hours.

Time to turn the tide, Dispenser—time to turn the tide!

H. Rodney Grumbelius, Sufferer-in-Chief and Head Master, CASHPAC; E-Entrepreneur

Part II

So this is what it was like to be in the ring. To be a mover, a shaker, a contender; to be fortune’s elect, to be the object of envy, to be forced to dodge, parry, sidestep and spar to better or just maintain a position of loft. The stakes were high, and the violent swings in this Grubelian saga of conquest were almost intolerably suspenseful.
Rod realized he did not know what time of day it was. He hadn't been paying attention—was it night or day? Well, actually it was neither—there was a soft sort of twilight coming in through the window. He knew that he could easily ascertain the time of day by looking at the lower right corner of his computer screen, but he didn't want to run the risk of having to read another offensive piece of correspondence. One ended up feeling a little fragile when so often buffeted this way and that by the crashing waves of fortune. Suddenly a brilliant idea hit him: He would go outside and check his mailbox! He had checked his mail at some point during the last 24 hours, he was sure, so he reasoned that if there was something there, it was dusk, and if not, morning. This was empowerment.
Enlivened and inspired, Rod jumped off his swivel chair and displaced his paunch and lingam down the stairs and out the door. The scene outside was shrouded in a nearly impenetrable fog that left him none the wiser as to whether the light was coming from east or west. He stumbled down his driveway through the soupy halflight, fumbling for his mailbox, with whose manufacture he had commissioned a foundry. And this not only to assure that it would be heavy enough to shatter the arms of any foolish teen whpo decided to take a bat to it, but also to give it a progressive, destigmatizing shape. It had been cast in the shape of an open mouth (a mouth that suffered)....but yes, forget that, there it was! In addition to the normal handful of offensive commercial solicitations, there was a telltale package from Markham, Ontario. It was a tube with his name on it, courtesy of Lizard Ltd. Before he had a chance to open it, he found himself compelled to hurry inside to conceal the stirrings of his priapic excitement.
Rod was sprawled out on the floor of the living room scrutinizing what turned out to be a telescoping tribal spear—now collapsing it to make it shorter than his lingam, now extending it to make it at least three times as long. Mid-amusement though, and quite unexpectedly, Geena walked in. The garage door hadn’t opened.
“What’s that you got there Roddie? Proceeds of your fabulous cross-border E-enterprise? And put that away. Not now.”
He leveled a look at her. Smug, but not too smug. "Wouldn't you like to know!" He collapsed the spear and put it in his pocket at her approach. Then he stood up and tucked himself away. Addressing her, he decided to employ the tactic of curiosity. Looking up, he addressed himself to her. “How goes, Geener? Jeez, tell me what you've been up to. I haven't seen much of you lately what with my entrepreneurial and political engagements.”
She smiled, disarmed. “Whatever you say, Roddie. For me, it’s what hasn’t been going on, that's the question. One thing I’ll say is that life’s starting to seem stranger than fiction. One of the scientists at the plant has been doing a series of experiments, and he's found something he thinks may make In Lieu Of and all its employees rich beyond our wildest dreams. You see, he may have found a sex position that not only enhances the chances of conception for couples with infertility, but also increases the likelihood of vaginal orgasm by like an order of magnitude, meaning that girls will start having them at like 16 instead of 23—but only when the woman is wearing an In Lieu Of. And it has to be worn just so. The other amazing part is that it enables multiple and extended male orgasms. You see..."
Rod tuned her out. Who cared? The only more certain way to lose your money than gambling was giving it to a scientist. Or a woman. Fuck sex positions! Cross-border e-enterprise was where it was at! He lent some thought to his telescoping tribal spear. It was exquisite: Crafted out of hardened aluminum, instead of coming to a sharp point, this particular model of spear terminated in a safety-enhancing knob. It probably also helped it fly under the radar at airport security checkpoints by making it seem less deadly. The spear was also incredibly light; it both telescoped and detelescoped quicker than a sneeze, and was adorned by streamers that seemed to have been taken from pompoms. The garish baubles of the brutal huntsman! And if Rod’s gut feeling was correct, it could probably also be used as an antenna.
There were no tell-tale markings on it at first glance, but he had never supposed that it would be easy to unlock the key to his gorgeous reward, never. It would require hours, if not days, of careful scrutiny, analysis and deduction.
At length, he could hear Geena wrapping up her monologue. Rod excused himself and plodded upstairs. Before studying the spear more closely, he would establish a theoretical basis for his investigations by reading the pamphlet that was included in the delivery. "The Figuration of West Bantu Spears," it read, "—An Exegesis.”


The Figuration of West Bantu Spears—An Exegesis
By Eugen Kribbendorf

When game is abundant, what scene is more common that that of the west Bantu tribesman stalking boldly through his bountiful home territory, spear in hand? From a certain perspective, man and spear can be seen to form a unity that, during the hunt, seeks to consolidate its own indivisibility by, ever so briefly, extending that unity to a third actor—the hunted prey. Man wields spear, yes, but the spear, if crafted in accordance with the ancient principles of West Bantu spearmaking, also leads man by acting as a sort of dowser that not only locates prey through certain of its mystical endowments, but also gauges the readiness and worthiness of individual animals to act out their role in the sacred, life-sustaining hunt—see the spearhead waver between individuals in a pack, settling finally on one with the pendulous certainty of a compass needle—to submit, as it were, to its fate in the natural order.
More than mere weapon, the West Bantu tribesman's spear is a symbol of power. A tribesman's spear is a token of his martial status. For instance, when a tribesman dies, his spear is laid on the pyre with him. In addition, when a tribesman is taken prisoner or made a slave, his spear is taken from him not just to make him less physically dangerous, but to neutralize him spiritually, to sever his connection to the ancestor spirits.
Because it confers status and participates in the holy trinity of hunter, weapon and prey, the manufacture of the spear is circumscribed by a variety of rituals and taboos. For instance, like Hephaestus, west Bantu spearsmiths are ritually dosed with low levels of arsenic while at work. This misshapes them, and so guarantees their continued allegiance to the guild of spearmakers, since once misshapen they are unlikely to be taken on in any other field of endeavor. Also, spear shafts and spearheads are subjected to a number of ritual performances before they can be used in the hunt. One of the most mysterious of these involves the use of an ass, forty virgins, a deep sea diver, and a vulture, which space constraints will not allow me to get into here beyond mentioning the obvious late Islamic provenance of the entire ritual.

Spiritual Mechanics
The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to grasp the mechanics of west Bantu spears is that, when thrown, in addition to the gravitational and magnetic forces at work on the shaft and head, the spear is acted on—so maintain its makers and wielders, who know infinitely more about it than I do with my mere five years of embedded reporting on the matter—by a series of forces that are most properly described as spiritual. That is to say, the spear, when embraced by the trinity that defines the moment of the hunt, the spear transcends its nature qua spear in order to become a "regulator of being" [my free translation from the Wolof] that, through the conscious action of the hunter and the submission of the hunted, balances the "natural equation" [ibid]. Thus, on west Bantu hunting grounds, it is no uncommon sight to witness an inexpertly thrown spear correct its course mid-trajectory if the hunter is otherwise worthy; or for that matter to see an animal running to meet the spearhead when otherwise it would have missed. This is something that no amount of time as an embedded anthropologist can prepare you for. Allow me to relate an experience I had during the springtime monkey hunt in the forests of the Republic of Mangwana. It all began when my guide J…
The remainder of the pamphlet’s page was redacted in the manner of an intelligence document.
On a neon green post-it note appended to the pamphlet, Rod read the following text, scrawled in an elegantly flowing hand:
“You are holding in your hands an updated testament to precisely the ancient unity mentioned by Kribbendorf. The craftsmanship that went into the making of this late modern adaptation of the west Bantu spear is evident in such touches as the uniformly perfect fit between segments, the even lustre of the metal, the swift deployment potential inherent in its hollow design, a potential that does not come at the expense of rigidity or fleet flight; and of course the deadly effect of the weapon when the knob is removed and replaced by a spearhead. What is more, the weapon’s multiple utility can be seen in every corner of the continent, from Soweto to the Sahel, where hunters have hung up their loincloths and beat their spears into entertainment shares by fitting television sets with the spears two by two. The late modern adaptation of the West Bantu spear, you see, is no less notable for its ability to convert electromagnetic waves into currents, than to dowse blood.”
And then the kicker, which made Rod salivate with stupefied greed: “In order to decode this spear, you must subject it to a dialectical analysis. Combine what you know of it culturally with what you know of it materially. This is your addend. Feed the result of the addend's initial analysis through an algorithm that should be evident in the synchronic totality of this message. Next, take the immanent product of your regression and divide it by the remainder of the thesis. This will be a lengthy step requiring considerable computational power. Yet do not fail! For if you persevere, your reward will be not only handsome, but gorgeous. The synthetic product at the end of your journey may be millions of times more valuable than the spear itself, in which vein it may be said that the spear exhibits the emergent property of dowsing, not only blood and entertainment, but money, the social measure of all excellent things."


Rod was provisionally at a loss as to how to interpret the spear and Kribbendorf's exegesis, never mind the note, but the mere fact that he had received a potent weapon in the mail and was beginning to assemble the clues that would lead him to his ultimate reward emboldened him. He dashed off replies to two of the undesirables who were trying to derail him.


Mrs. Ritter,

A certain communication from your e-mail address has been brought to my attention by my correspondence filtration staff. The mere fact that I am choosing to pen a response myself is indicative of the gravity of the offenses you have committed and conspired to commit against my person, and which shall forever be recorded in bits and bytes for the benefit of my prosecution team and for the edification of future generations. While it is true that I am very angry, I mean for this to be an outline of the legal consequences of your defamations, point by point, and not a piece of ill-considered ad hominem correspondence such as your own. And you should know that I have retained legal counsel to advise me on each of these points, a certain Strathclyde with long legal pedigree. To begin on a non-legal note though, I think you should have your husband write your defamatory e-mails in the future, since your mastery of the written language needs to be 'braised.' Or is that beered? You ignoramus!
1) Tort of slander. The defendant has falsely contended that the potential plaintiff is not employed. Should this matter go to trial, the defendant will be unable to controvert evidence to the contrary in the form of numerous cashed checks and other entrepreneurial bank account activity. Armed with such proofs, no court would fail to punish you on the basis of your scandalous libel. You should be aware that if, as you say you plan to do, you go public with your accusation, you will be held liable for any losses to the considerable stream of profit about to flow into my coffers. Of course, this is a subtlety you might not be able to grasp. All that can be said is that the defendant ought to seek legal counsel. The defendant’s life and affairs will quickly become shrouded in an impenetrable fog of failure and misfortune if this piece of magnanimous advice is not heeded.
2) Tort of intentional intrusion upon seclusion. The defendant has unwittingly submitted a written confession to the effect that she and her husband make a habit of spying on the plaintiff through a pair of field glasses, evidently in order to observe him in various states of undress. The motivation may be unclear—one might guess at photographic appropriation of the plaintiff’s effigy for purposes of sale and profit—but the illegality is beyond doubt. Tort law provides for grim punishment of seclusion intruders. The defendant should also be aware of the public contempt in which she will be held if news of her flagrant violation of the plaintiff's privacy come to light. Mrs. Ritter is hereby advised to retain a lawyer!
3) Tort of slander II. The defendant has maintained that the plaintiff uses his residence as a base for the organization of seditious political activity. While it is true that the residence is used for political organization aimed at overturning the existing order of things, such overturning is extremely limited in scope and does not require an overthrow of government or in any way entrain large-scale economic disruptions such as would be covered under statutes of sedition. The defendant has also furnished indication that she may have been involved in the destruction by fire of chattels displayed on the plaintiff’s property which fall under the protection not only of the First Amendment, but also of the very cornerstone precept of private property upon which the entire body of western law is erected. Thus far from the plaintiff falling under suspicion of sedition, it is the potentially revolutionary acts of the defendant that must be called into question. A liberal reading would place the defendant's real and planned activities squarely within the definition of blasphemous libel. The defendant is again advised to retain counsel. Or ‘council.' Hate crimes are a very serious matter.
4) Tort of conspiracy to assault. The defendant, in addition to admitting to past hateful crimes of destruction committed against the chattels of the plaintiff, has made a written statement wherein she threatens to commit further acts of either trespass, property destruction or physical assault on the person of the plaintiff, either independently or in conspiratorial league with third party assailants. The words have been spoken, and the clenched fist has been 'braised.' The plaintiff can reasonably claim to be fearing for life and limb, with no preference as to which limb or member he fears the most for. The plaintiff does not rule out proceeding with a criminal assault charge, should the authorities wish to prosecute the matter, which has been duly brought to their attention.

Rod Grumbelius (A private citizen and entrepreneur represented by Strathclyde & Cone, Attorneys at Law)


Dr. Genauer,

Consider yourself past warned. That’s what I consider you, at least, and I'm the principal here, so you had better pay attention. If you thought yourself clever when you sent that e-mail, if you thought you were pressing my buttons, if so you should reconsider. The fact of the matter is that I wouldn’t mind if physicians like you (you included) and the wolves you plan to use in your absurd treatment all went extinct on successive days. Not a whit, bit or jot. So instead of indulging your worthless offer of a hollow treatment, instead of dignifying your diagnosis with the eager worry you so sadistically enjoy seeing in your patients, instead of running back to you, as it were, I have a little something else in mind called a class action suit. I’m going to find other people in the autoimmune world who have suffered at your hands, and together we are going to clean you out. I don't care that you've already fallen on hard times and we stand to gain little. As the principal, I insist on restitution on principle, no matter how small. So dig your heels in, because if you hope to emerge from this with even a nubbin of a medical career, you better be ready for a dogfight. By the way, did you ever treat someone named the Duchess?


The next few days saw the arrival of several more folkloric consignments, as well as a number of checks and associated exhortations to bribery. The one was usually combined with the other. When he wasn’t lurking in wait for the mail carrierÀ behind the windowbank next to the doorjamb, he was at the bank transacting e-enterprises.

1. The Malian Blade

The carrier had brought him a padded envelope. Inside was an etui that contained: a) An obsidian dagger; b) A hammered tin cup; c) Needle and thread; d) A flask of arrack; and e) A six-pack of rubber vaginas. There was also two instructional pamphlets, one of them by the venerable Africanist Herr Doktor Eugen Kribbendorf. Here is what the mister doctor had to say:

Malian Infibulation and Pharaonic Circumcision – A Practitioner’s Guide
By Herr Doktor Eugen Kribbendorf

Mankind typically esteems practices which have been carried out since antiquity. For instance, mankind esteems language, since it keeps misunderstandings from occurring. Discipline and hard work are also esteemed, since they prevent fields from lying fallow and all the misery that would entrain. Just so, certain African and Arab cultures esteem the practice of pharaonic female circumcision and vaginal infibulation, which have been practiced widely since the dynastic era. Of late, observers in the West have begun to criticize the practice as 'barbaric,' 'cruel,' and 'horrific,' to name but a few of the fulsome adjectives used by these armchair moralists. I pose the counter-question: What do these hypocrites know of keeping track of women within a pastoralist context? Surely not as much as I, who have spent nearly three years with the Malian Touareg as an embedded anthropoligist as they drove across windswept wastes, herded, pillaged, and generally carried on with their way of life. You would grant, then, that I am in a unique position to report on the relative merits and demerits of any of their cultural practices I might have encountered, no?
Actually I do not wish to report on the merits and demerits of the practice, which I find to be a tiresome topic. Let us just assume meritoriousness a priori. Ask a Muslim. He or she, whose experience surely surpasses my own brief cultural embedding, would be a much more authoritative source. Just by way of summary though, they would probably adduce that the meritoriousness is the result of curbed meretriciousness, enhanced faithfulness, and slightly reduced body weight, which, combined with the savings of energy that otherwise would have been squandered on senseless acts of passion, since said reductions and savings apply to fully half the population, has a demonstrable effect on reducing total tribal caloric requirements (TTCR).
What I do wish to treat of in this practitioner's guide are the surgical parameters that govern the respective procedures. My hope is that, by bringing these noble cultural features within the ambit of modern clinical medicine, I can make a contribution, however slight, toward their legitimization in the hitherto roundly contemptuous eyes of Western observers who little consider and less know the benefits to be gained from their practice. So sit down, take your shoes off, and set your stethoscope and prescription pad on the table. You may also want to put on some relaxing music, for there are many modalities to learn about, and lite music is known to aid in retention.

Module I: Pharaonic Circumcision

We begin by sedating the patient with halothane, conditions permitting. From a clinical standpoint, general anesthesia is preferable, though tribal sensitivities may privilege local anesthetic in order to more thoroughly involve the patient in the performance of the process. Once the anesthetic has begun to act, it is time to place the patient's feet in stirrups, and to cinch them in place. The first stage of the operation calls for a reduction, or a trimming—which is probably the best way of thinking of it, since the labia are no more discontinuous from the female body than a strip of fatty tissue is from the meat to which it is attached—of the labia majora. This is accomplished not via a scalpel or, God forbid, an even cruder device, but by means of a computer-guided tissue laser that cleaves to the contours of the unwanted tissue without occasioning the risk of infection (especially UTI and staph.) normally posed by the sloppy sections formerly typical of the procedure. The tissue is prepared for laser section by spreading it laterally outward in both directions and then affixing it to the surrounding dermis via temporary sutures or hooking retractors, so that it can be sectioned from the interior, further reducing the risk of unwanted oversection and associated infection. We begin the laser section slowly—very slowly, so that we can get a feel for the machine’s capabilities and any lag that it may exhibit in processing keyed instructions. The practitioner's primary concern is dual: First, to ensure neatness of the section. Theoretically, the laser should be able to part the tissue with ease. Yet if the patient has been raped or has masturbated overzealously, there may be scar tissue present to complicate the section. Second, the doctor and his surgical staff must continually monitor the patient's reactions for pain. This practitioner’s guide aims to eliminate pain from the operation, in keeping not only with modern interpretations of the Hippocratic oath, but with the spirit of the ancient procedure itself, which is aimed at cheating sexual desire of its profound ability to occasion pain. The last thing we want is for patients to associate this procedure with unpleasantness. Once we have parted the right labium from its pelvic anchor and stanched the flow of blood (which should ideally be minimal in any case due to the laser’s de facto cauterizing effect), it is time to perform the section of the left outer labium. Remember that past clinical performance is no indication of future operational success. You must exercise the same vigilance in this laser section. The practitioner's injunction to symmetry dictates that the left labium be sectioned in a manner symmetrical to the sectioning of the right. Barring this, malpractice may come into play, given that the operation is being performed at a Western hospital. If it is being performed at such a hospital, remember that the biological material removed must be disposed of in accordance with the guidelines for the disposal of medical waste in your area, notwithstanding any pressure that may be brought to bear on the surgical staff by the patient's family members. And there is no reason to feel badly about this: The benefits of the operation remain the same regardless of what is done with the parts that are removed, something that is attested by tribal and Islamic sources alike, and which is challenged only on the grounds of the narrow superstitions that continue to dominate the collective mind of much of the region. If you do feel obliged to make a concession, why not hold a piece of the removed tissue up for the gallery to scrutinize? Your gesture will be both perfectly legal and greatly appreciated.
The final step of the labial section is to smooth the edges of the cuts with a rasp as needed, and to close the wounds by suture or staple. I and many of my colleagues would recommend suture, since staples may leach discoloring iron and cause the patient anxiety during the period of recovery. The procedure with the labia minora is much the same, although here the tolerances are lower and the physician has to exercise extreme vigilance in protecting the urethral opening and avoiding an unintentional section into the clitoris that might frustrate attempts at a clean section once its time has come.
Now it is time to move on to the kernel of the matter, the final solution: The removal of the clitoris. Hone scalpels and minds alike, surgeons!—for this is going to require every ounce of your personal and professional wherewithal, especially if you have never performed the operation before. First it should be mentioned that this is usually the point at which the patient begins to demonstrate unwillingness to continue her participation in the operation. If she did not know it before, and she may not have, given the young age at which some of these girls are brought to hospital, there is nothing like a clitoridectomy to bring a patient’s attachment to her clitoris to light! At this point it is at the doctor's discretion whether to administer another dose of general anesthetic or to page a member of the psychiatric ward, preferably with the requisite experience in non-Western gender issues. In any case, it is best to act quickly and decisively, as is always the case in the OR, though not without the necessary measure of circumspection and good judgment. It may be necessary to consult the tribal elders present, for instance, who will assuredly loathe you no less for seeking their counsel. You who have known the girl by setting eyes on her vulva.
At this point it is doubtful whether you will be able to continue using the laser, since the clitoris will need to be more or less dug out by feel, and there is no match for a physician's judgment. The real risk of using the laser inheres not in the risk of causing damage, for instance to the vaginal wall or urethral opening in the event that the laser or patient should slip—though this is of course a consideration when the laser is not equipped with a trigonometric governor—but that, by failing to remove all the bundles of nerve endings housed in the clitoral tissue, the whole operation is at risk of futility. You see, there are documented cases throughout the Horn and the Sahel of cliterectomies resulting in unintended enhancement of sensation in the remnants of tissue neglected by the surgeon. Which is a great injustice to the patient, for the physician's slip can leave the patient in a state of continued vulnerability to sexual passion, the most common result of which is the patient’s dire misfortune in the form of an honor killing. In order to make sure that you are removing every fragment of the offending passionate tissue, it may be a good idea to monitor electrical activity in the hypothalamus during the operation; I like to think that this is an area where western science, far from invalidating or eclipsing an august cultural practice that traces its roots to the earliest known civilizations, can actually enhance it, by ensuring that it is executed in lockstep with the spirit that motivates it. By penetrating the patient's brain to make sure that it is no longer receiving any signals from the clitoris, we also immunize ourselves against potential malpractice suits brought by irate tribals when their womenfolk fail to display the chastity supposedly guaranteed by the operation. An EEG log will stand up against a circumstantial tort claim every time, colleagues! Personally, I also consider penetrating the sexual regions of the brain of a woman undergoing a cliterodectomy to be a sort of coup de grace. How elegant that we should be able to tap into the neural receiver while excising the transmitter! And what a service to the patient it is to be able to tell her definitively when she awakes that clitoral sensations will not be a part of her future! I don’t feel the least bit bashful about calling this true progress.
At any rate, in terms of the section here, I prefer to begin at the bottom of the tissue, working my way up to the clitoral glans. As in cardiac surgery, using an obsidian blade is advisable—the cutting edge of such a blade can truly reach molecular thinness! In so doing, retractors should not be necessary, given that you have done a good job in the initial stages, since in excising the labia minora you will have pulled off the clitoral hood that might otherwise get in the way of a clean section. While performing the cliterectomy, you will enter a terrain fraught with a kind of uncertainty that can only be called epistemological. Of that fact that the clitoris exists there can be no doubt. But where exactly does it begin? The EEG will help you here of course, but in terms of tactility, how can you know? After all, the only clitoral feature susceptible of immediate recognition and palpation is the glans clitoris. Much of the crus clitoris is buried, and still more melds seamlessly with the labia minora. As for the entire corpus cavernosum, it is practically impossible to remove the entire structure cleanly if it is not in an engorged state. The ardent practitioner would of course argue in favor of its engorgement here, in the name of thoroughness. But what of blood loss? Personally, I have never attempted cliterectomy on an engorged structure on a patient with full civilian rights, and I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone else do so either. If you insist on following this quixotic course, I would recommend local anesthetics in the amide family to constrict the local vasculature.
But for us others, not being the size of a tiny clitoral probe, we are left in a dithering state of uncertainty of where does this begin and where does that end and what will happen if I make the sagittal cut just a little bit deeper? What do we do? We do what we always do when faced with epistemological uncertainty. Excise what we do not understand. Your duty is to remove the clitoris. Without knowing precisely what is and what is not the clitoris, you make a deep enough cut into the tissue to make sure that you've got to the roots of it. The tissue itself knows what it is, knows what it belongs with, and will heal accordingly. As for worries of disfigurement, isn’t that beside the point? The very fact that the clitoris is now missing is a matter of intellectual beauty.
Now you are finished, and it is time to suture, daub, disinfect, apply ointment and gauze packing, and to write out a generous prescription for opiates. Congratulations on your successful attempt to fuse modern medical science with an cultural observance of the most august extraction!


Module II: Vaginal infibulation

In this module—which is optional—we really stretch the bounds of the Oath. Nevertheless, we do so for the good reason of preserving familial harmony in a culture eminently worthy of our protection and stewardship. Why infibulate, you may ask, when we have already addressed the problem at its root? The reason is both as simple and as complicated as the essence of womankind. We have not addressed the problem at its hole. We must remember that after a cliterodectomy, while we may have removed a woman's desire to copulate, we have not limited her ability to do so, or, what is more to the point, to be copulated with. In order both to protect both a woman’s chastity and to guarantee exclusive access to her womb, tribal elders may elect, in consultation with a medical professional, to have that woman’s vagina sewn almost totally shut until she is married.
But no more of these justifications. I am a hired knife, not a pamphleteer. This is how to do it:
More halothane. Calm elders.
Remember that the object here is to create a vaginal fortress, to turn the receptacle into a closure. Does a bioengineer content himself with the work of a tailor? Far from just sewing together what remains of the labia and hoping for the best, the object is to actively promote the formation of scar tissue to create a dermal bridge across the vaginal opening. Therefore we in the infibulatory vanguard choose not only to close the vagina with about fifty sutures placed little more than a millimeter apart, but to apply vaginal cryotherapy to promote scar tissue formation. Note that the vaginal opening must not be closed entirely! Even if you are not a gynecologist, you should know that menstrual blood is discharged through the vagina. Some of the more radical infibulators out there do of course advocate total infibulation and menstrual relief through catheter bypass, but I do not consider this to be a proven method. Barring complications due to surgical difficulties or tribal objection, the freezing treatment can begin as soon as the sutures are in place. Begin by manually oscillating the pen-shaped cryo-probe across the closure. The cold freezes through to a depth of several millimeters, effectively barring entry to blunt probes once the tissue has healed. It is important to attach temperature sensors to the tissue while performing this step—just imagine what desperate acts of lust would become possible if some sections of the dermal bridge were more frozen than others!
The next thing we want to look at is post-op treatment. Unlike the Pharaonic circumcision, whose result is manifest as soon as the scalpel's work is done, infibulation requires extensive post-operational treatment before the operation can be considered a success. What I recommend and practice at my university hospital in the rare cases where infibulation is called for is a course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Administration of hyperbaric oxygen promotes scar tissue formation and increases Type I procollagen gene expression in healing ligaments. These effects are associated with the improvement of their tensile properties. You will of course need to convince the woman’s coterie of elders that these follow-up treatments are not a foil for an affair you are conducting with her. I can offer no better advice than to admonish that you be open and forthright about it. If need be, observe due delicacy by wearing a veil.

The other booklet was smaller, and of much lower production value. The ink smeared in Rod's grip, but here’s what it said:

Attention: Not warrant for true people’s practice. Set intend for instructional for childish. Hard by prepare for medical career, benefit humble for wealth. As health well. Cutting honed in mind first, then in shadow of model rubber, finally in people's medical center. Toy before tool.

Note to supervisor: Real wound bleeds, so Dixon Poon & Co. Head Shops to the World recommend topping up pocket pussy with FD&C Red #40, which provide even seepage of showblood through rubber vasculature. Maximum reality effect early train young in hard facets of life!

1. Spreading lotus
First move pin back pink petals of pocket pussy. Pins not include, easily procure in arts and crafts bin or other modality. Next move simulate local vasoconstrictor with arrack, generous gauze ready for deploy bloodsoak. Practice flash daub. Hone in mind, hone in shadow, always focusing on glorious future in people's medical center. Rich benefit for woman too.

2. Even cut even better
Cut outer petal and nub, nor stem nor stalk. Slow with blade, splash with arrack as tissue parts. Daub Red 40. Most important begin at top of one petal, draw down until come off in clean ribbon. Not too deep! Recommend adult supervision for first few cut. Now move for next, enhance pocket pussy symmetry complementary petal. Goggle hard for surety. Make sure disinfect pins for reuse. If biohazard dumping facility in your immunity, consign shorn petal thither. Now inner petals, very very caution. On this model pocket pussy, inner petals outstanding, so simplicity. But toy before tool also mean seeming success can fool. Tell your littles: Not every lotus will be similar as pocket pussy! But celebration no use, much remains. Salve with unguent, daub with masterstroke, apply packingage.

3. The nub
Nub most important part, so Dixon Poon & Co. Head Shops to the World recommend pin or strap pocket pussy in place on "operating table." Again, maximum reality effect stilt-elevated road to people's hospital and rich satisconfections. Splash of arrack, but surgeon no touch! Manufacture make denature expensive, so misrestraint prerequired. Now get down at eye level. Make notch left notch right. Work in farther, massage notch into furrow both side. Plough through thorough, first side one then side two. Until middlemeet. Same daub salve and gaze packingage. Hope you did good job, bring patient out of coma into happy future.

4. Learning more
Master any industry through speed and reliable logistics. Early lesson benefit extreme! So after first operation, Dixon Poon officially recommend one day off, then next after for “big time surgery." Use next five pocket pussy, do quick and reliable. Next "reach out for book customer” by ordering more D. Poon P. Pussy on secure online order page. Master of logistic flow equal import as knife stroke of stripping lotus petal for glory success.

Have fun, and merry breakfast or happy birthmas!

Note: Also, new blade can be order. Simple request for $10 catalog.


Rod put the pamphlet down and seized the obsidian blade between his grime-smeared fingers. Despite the menace of its dull gleam and scimitar curvature, it was light in his hand. He turned it over. He probably didn't need to perform the operation exactly the way Kribbendorf or Poon recommended, that probably wasn't the point. But he did want to make a trial cut into one of the rubber vaginas, just to see. He hefted one in his hand and considered it, then came down with the blade, his intent to cleave the pubis replica straight down the middle to see if the birth canal might harbor a clue. But as soon as the blade had sunk in halfway, it crumbled under the strain. Dixon Poon & Co. Headshops to the World had not been able to source real obsidian, it seemed. This was lacquered toffee-colored sandstone, and there was no evidence of design in its disintegration.


2. The High Atlas Rug
A few days later—days punctuated by trips to the bank in which the bank's manager had been trying more and more insistently to establish the 'exact nature' of his relationship with Lizard Ltd., to which he could only respond that it was exactly that, natural, as natural as the propagation of fit lizard genes through reptilian generations, as natural as the tendency of a properly entrepreneurial idea to throw off profit—a few days later Rod was worried again. Without a point of departure to crack the cipher, he hadn't been able to make heads or tails of the tribal artifacts. Nor was Mangwana answering his e-mailsÀ; Rod feared for the man’s life and his own future. The only contact he had with his e-associate was through the intermediary person of Robespierre Chesterton, who deflected any questions he asked about Julius with new bribery instructions, often several times a day, and curtly formulated to the point of martinet-taskmasterliness. The biggest problem was that the Lizard Ltd. checks weren't keeping pace. Rod’s account was as down as he was! He had pocketed one of Geena's checkbooks while she was at work, and would have to use it before the week was out. Which meant that his own demon conscience had now been piled atop the bevy of bloodthirsty ill-wishers that surrounded him and could imagine nothing more satisfying than if his e-venture were to come to nothing more than a cindrous husk. Rod began to rock back and forth, grinding hands to thighs.
Just as he began to moan Julius’ name in soft despair, the doorbell rang. Ju-ding-li-bing-us-dong. Ju-ding-li…wha-bingdong! Bingdong! He charged down the stairs in his robe, unshaven and reeking of sweaty despair in addition to the standby VSCs, putrescine, cadaverine and what have you.
He opened the door with the dramatic swiftness that became the gravity of his e-enterprise in the solemn physical form of a consignment. It was indeed the non-African mail carrier, smoking a large cigar and wearing his stovepipe hat, an accoutrement that seemed not only to fill the entire doorframe, but to stretch halfway to the wispy crescent moon perched on its tail just above the horizon, where it capped the cap that capped the carrier.
“Hi there Mr….Grubbles. Package for you. From abroad, foreign feeling.”
“Oh, great.”
The carrier handed him a clipboard with a form on it. "Just sign here. You're not a foreigner, are you?"
“No, no. Here, give me that pen.” Rod signed.
“And here.“
Rod signed.
“And here.”
Rod signed.
“Just one more Hancock and she's all yours.” The carrier took a long drag on the cigar and produced a volume of smoke that seemed to cloud Rod's entire field of vision. It smelled repugnant. Rod turned his nose up and quite plainly wounded the carrier, whose gestalt was apparently as fragile as it was ridiculous.
“Very good,” he sniffed. "Your package.” Bruised self-feeling notwithstanding, the carrier presented the bag in a sweeping motion that emphasized the solemnity that distinguishes the execution of the duties of any office taken seriously. It was quite heavy. He fixed an eye on this iconoclast of a civil servant, who was plainly waiting for affirmation. But what Rod couldn't understand was how people could take their duties so seriously in an age where bits and bytes of pornography crisscrossed their very cellular structure everywhere they went. Not to mention that there were graver and more pressing issues to take seriously, like the plight of the ignobly suffering. But he thought better of saying anything, instead nodding his head in the kind of understated sympathy he thought the situation called for, whereupon the carrier turned on his heel and proceeded up the street like a grave messenger from another age, skyscraping stovepipe plowing a furrow through the dense atmosphere of cigar smoke like a towering freighter parting a blanket of morning river mist.
Rod shut the door furtively and fell on the package like a starved beast. Inside the bubblewrap-lined mailer was a leopard skin sewn expertly into a cushion. It was quite nice. He nuzzled against it, breathing in the virile mustiness of the savannah. Very nice. But what did it mean? Was it a simple reminder that predatory instincts would serve him well in this line of work? Or was he being served grim notice that he stood to forfeit gorgeous reward and pelt alike if he disappointed his partner in reptile husbandry? Was it the markings that were significant? But how could a pattern produced by a force so wanton and devoid of intrinsic meaning as nature—how could such a pattern predict meanings made by men, unless there was a key? A sudden impulse told him to lay his head on it and see if inspiration might issue from close congress with the pattern.
It wasn’t soft the way a cushion should be. In fact, the fill seemed to be a sheet folded over on itself, not like a regular cushion at all. He heard a crinkling when he shifted the position of his head. Rod sprang to his feet and ran upstairs, cushion in part supported by the physical token of his mounting excitement. Soon he was splayed out on the floor of his office with it and what remained the sandstone Malian blade. The blade stub was still plenty sharp—who knew that mere lacquer could cut so well?—and the seam came undone with ease. He pushed the cut to either edge of the long side of the cushion and held it upside down. A rug spilled to the floor, along with this piece of promotional literature:

Abu Sbaa: Your Number One Rug Source!
Article number: 74
Article name: High Atlas Rug, genuinest

When they are not preying on caravans or raiding rival villages, the tribal weavers of the High Atlas make rugs with symmetrical designs. The field contains a square, rectangular or diamond medallion. This is the richest part of the rug. Within the medallion there may be one or more diamond shapes. All parts of the rug, but the medallion shapes especially, bear on the complex spiritual lives and worldviews of their weavers. For instance, it has long been thought that multiple diamonds are indicative of a secret heresy; that a scattering of woven diamonds across a lattice, arranged just so, far from mere decorative flair, is really a way of advocating prophets in addition to Islam’s accepted twenty-five, or even, as some say, the abominable notion of a godhead that is multiple, perhaps infinite. Moreover, the arrangement of shapes within the lattice gives an indication of a weaver’s attitudes to the moral questions of the day. A medallion that gives the impression of chaos, for instance, will in these times indicate a preference for terrorism. Yet a subtle derangement of the terrorist asymmetry, such that the various chaotic elements are joined together by brightly colored strands of a conspicuous dye to a hub, be it centralized or in extremis, reveals tacit advocacy for a caliphate. The rest of the field may consist of lattices, all-over motifs in rows or columns, or bands of geometric motifs. Such decorations contain information that is generally more narrowly tribal. Rugs bearing the woven insignias of extinct tribes are hugely valuable on the international market.
Roughly tracing the historical rupture brought about by the Copernican revolution, the older rugs tend to have no borders or a very narrow border; whereas newer rugs set the patterning within a frame that emphasizes the smallness of what even the most powerfully ordered mind or art can accomplish in a universe finally recognized for its endless indifference and indifferent endlessness. One esteemed rug critic has wryly noted that in light of the new, humbler framing, we may be forgiven for accusing the more ancient weavers of hubris. As if proximity to the divine, or worse, simple self-assurance, were a measure of ignorance. Another thing that bears mentioning here is the correlation of technical progress in weftmanship to a decline in the overall sense of artistry and—for lack of a better word—soul. Most schools of rug criticism chalk this up to the speedier production times made possible by the new looms and random weave pattern generators, but there is a renegade postcolonial school that holds that any perceived qualitative degradation is an intentional product of the pure religion’s abhorrence of representation coupled with a kind of ultimate effacement of the self. Or, blusteringly, that such degradation lies squarely in the eye of the disenchanted and increasingly desperate beholder, greedy for a lattice from which to import meaning into an irrelevant life devoid of struggle. Whether dating from the old era or the new, though, the rugs are made to tell the family history of the weaver, and although there is no definitive way to interpret them, the overall field, the motifs, and especially the medallion, are significant. Rugs may outline the ancestry that a clan claims, or else detail the provenance and size of the family's worldly wealth using an ancient and obscure symbolic language. On the score of such symbols, some historians claim that Islamic rugmakers were the ones who invented many of the currency symbols known around the Mediterranean. To this date, there are many lively debates in rug criticism about currencies and symbolic denomination. A favorite leisure activity of rug critics embraces this ambivalence by reading rugs as balance sheets and playing a Monopoly-type game in which different rugs serve not only as the board, but as notes of currency, property deeds, and the object of the game itself. Yet these matches almost uniformly end in arguments and even fisticuffs—a stake in kind blooming into a stake in blood, token traded for sword, amusing toil for deadly tool. There is no one way to read these woven riddles.
We will pause here to relate a story which we hope the reader will not deem us too partial to narrate, since it concerns James Aberdeen Abu Sbaa, a former operating officer of the concern. The officer in question was once involved in just such a board game when an argument broke out. A typical dispute, it concerned the relative values of a crescent set within a diamond as opposed to a diamond underscored by two crescents (picture the Koh-i-Noor set atop the Golden Arches). It began as usual with arguments drawn on the game’s supple system of unwritten precedent existing only to be challenged. The stakes were high: That particular match’s players had started off as a party of critics and merchants traveling in the mountains. As they came to a high pass, the band was quick to spot the tatty weatherbeaten corner of an old rug jutting out of a pile of scree rubble. Stopping to investigate, they uncovered something spectacular. It was a buried rug caravan with a haul of rugs rivaling the finest the region had ever produced. By the time they got to the bottom of the rubble and wreckage, they had uncovered well over a hundred immaculately preserved pieces with estimated value running into the millions of dollars.
More than the rugs themselves, the excavation revealed a story. As they and the handful of camels and nomads hanging around the pass excavated the rubble, they also uncovered the humab remains of the caravan. It became clear what had happened: The caravan had been halted at the pass by brigands. Judging by the bullet trauma to the bones of both the caravan members and the brigands (distinguished by the sharpened teeth at one time common among roadagents in the High Atlas), the caravan resisted. And it was the firefight that assured the incident's entry into the archaeological record: The pressure pulses generated by the volley of gunfire must have pulled out the stops on the rockslide in whose piled scree the combatants lay preserved. It would have happened quickly. Brigands and caravan members were both dusted off to reveal grisly poses of petrified martial astonishment.
The party of merchants and critics saw in the outcome of the encounter a sign that distribution of spoils was determined neither by righteousness, nor even by force of enterprise in arms, but that both were overruled by chance, or what they agreed to call divine election. In distributing the spoils of their find, they decided to stake it on a game of rug monopoly, the winner of which would keep all the woven booty. And so the dice were cast.
The game was at this critical juncture when the dispute broke out: Sal Qomian, an Iranian-American rug baron, had just been awarded the deed to one of the game’s more valuable rugs, giving him the monopoly on a stretch where he hastily proceeded to build an array of auction houses and bazaars. On the next turn, Aberdeen Abu landed on this property. The dispute centered on how much he would have to pay now that he had pulled into the caravansary. Qomian contended that the weave of the rug argued for one sum, Aberdeen Abu for another. The difference was enough that, in the former case, Aberdeen Abu would be forced to sell off improvements to some of his own more lucrative properties, and thus in all likelihood forfeit his chance at the woven booty. The argument about Qomian’s rug—whose field was studded with crescent arches in whose saddle rested the Koh-i-Noor—gained in momentum and ire, until each player had chosen a side based on a combination of self-interest and natural sympathy, and had fallen to hurling the most scandalous insults at the other side. The tension built until at last Qomian drew a gun, thinking to settle the dispute with the speedy authority of a bullet. At which point Aberdeen Abu went into convulsions. Everyone gathered round him. Once the shaking and frothing had stopped, he sat bolt upright, eyes clear and distant, and announced in a lifeless monotone—as if possessed by some agency not used to forming syllables on his lips and tongue—that the true value of the rug in question had been determined by Allah as one-seventh of what Qomian claimed, for the simple reason that in the eyes of Allah, mankind was likely to exaggerate his pitiful claims beyond what was reasonable, just and true, by a factor of 7. After he had spoken or been spoken through, Abu Aberdeen collapsed and had to be revived with smelling salts. His behavior might have been taken for that of a shameless charlatan in other circumstances, but in the event, the revelation was respected. His mixed heritage had roots running deeply into both Sufism and the Scottish Enlightenment, which gave whatever he said an air of authority that appealed to both the rational and the religious of the bunch, and which his fellow competitors refused to question.
Not long after, Abu Aberdeen won the game. Once back in Glendale, Qomian promptly filed suit seeking to recover what he stood to gain but for Abu Aberdeen's tort, yet the suit had to be dropped in shock when Abu’s gambit was exposed as lunacy. A few days later, Abu outlined the second part of his revelation. In a letter sent to all the players, he argued that regardless of the ordained value of the rugs, such value was abhorred by Allah as profane, especially considering that none of them had worked to earn the rugs. In order to cleanse himself of a victory he neither wanted nor needed, it went on, he had undertaken to incinerate the entire inventory of rugs discovered in the mountain pass. He was promptly dismissed from the Abu Sbaa company. Interestingly, some rug interpreters now hold that the pattern of the diamond set within the crescent arches is a foretoken of coming destruction.
Another aspect that any rug saveur needs to keep his eye peeled for are the fringes. For instance, many say that fringes deliberately teased out and tufted in place with date palm resin or camel ejaculate indicate belief in the heresy of fixity, which holds that human works are capable of a perfection that would render them permanent, and that the creation of such a work would herald the dawn of a golden age. This heretical sect seeks the coming of the messiah in the world of art, and closely follows events in galleries, exhibitions and presses around the globe. There have been whispers for some time now about this sect carrying out underground trials and gory executions of artists they accuse of messianic pretension. By the same token, fronds that are allowed to lay slack are thought to evoke belief in a kind of humility bordering on indifference to earthly efforts and achievements.
Congratulations on your purchase of an authentic ABU SBAA High Atlas rug. May it grace your floor with ancient meaning!
Rod spread the rug out on the floor and took a look:

The motifs are significant. But that was like telling someone who didn’t know how to read that there was meaning to be found in a book. What was he supposed to be looking for? By what key was he supposed to read this rug, which, however beautiful and mysterious it may have been, meant nothing to him? After all, he could be looking for a name, a number, a city, a sequence, anything. What did Islamic heresies and revelations concern him?
Rod considered the rug deeply. Its fronds were nearly nonexistent, eaten away by years of mites and abrasion. There was no indication as to whether they had been slack or stiff with pitch or ejaculate before time got to them. The other possibility—that the fronds had been removed deliberately in order to communicate a certain hostility toward the yearning human heart—was one he could not afford to ignore.
And what of the fact that this rug, like the proud old ones, had no border? Did the weaver—Mangwana?—mean that the rug had to assume a tautological absoluteness in the mind of the beholder if the riddle was to be solved? That the rug was an end in itself? That to be understood, it would have to assume the tendency of the universe to expand?
Rod also had to wonder at what features the narrator of the promotional literature left unmentioned. Like the liminal area between the frondroots and the rug proper, which in the case of the rug he had been sent was a shade of dark brown that the weaver may originally have intended to be black. Which made him think, given these weavers’ demonstrated tendency to dabble in the profound, that his rug credited the existence of evil. It made him shudder. But how was the acknowledgement of a satanic force supposed to help him claim his gorgeous reward? Exasperated, he flung the piece of promotional literature onto the rug and discovered that it had another, handwritten side:

This rug is a map. It reveals the city and street on which the bank whose account number was revealed in the other consignments is located. Once the rug is deciphered, all that remains is the password. Good luck. But whatever you do, remember to filter the remainder of the thesis achieved in the scrutiny of the West Bantu Spear through the subcritical region of the diachronic différend we see here.

Of course—richest part of the rug referred to a bank. Rod looked over both sides of the literature a number of times. He decided that, although it was originally intended to be helpful, the handwritten side ended in a kind of provocation. The diachronic différend be damned! Solving this riddle would require the same boldness of him that he had exhibited in switching over to e-enterprise in the first place. He had to take a gamble in the direction of his thinking: He would assume that what ‘High Atlas’ really meant was that the city he was looking for was located along a northerly latitude, or at least the northern part of a given region. After all, that was more likely than the branch being located anywhere in the High Atlas range itself. He wondered if maybe he should open his atlas to the page that contained Switzerland. He looked at the rug again. What city outside an urban planner’s fantasies was built in a symmetrical network of lattices, diamonds and crescents? Rod did a little hip-grinding, and had to open a window to ventilate some of his breath out of the room.
If it truly was a map, surely there would be something geographic or topographic about it that could help narrow down his choices. The first and most salient fact of the map was that it depicted a city that was perfectly symmetrical. He considered it carefully, allowing its shapes and patterns to slowly muster themselves in his mind. He took another bold step, deciding to take the pyramid shapes around the urban medallion for mountains. After all, they weren’t animate. They could be depicted. So he was looking for a symmetrical city set in a loose caldera of congruent hills. His gaze drifted over the rug again, and this time something new caught his eye: A blue thread of vanishing thinness running through the caldera from on an NW to SE axis. It must be a river. And there was another set of markings in the medallion that, by a stretch, could be taken for flames. He would take a stab and guess that these represented places where forest fires had occurred. No, not that, nature’s fires flouted symmetry: These little conflagrations were the scars left by massive ordnance exploded on a testing range. He wouldn't be surprised if these perfectly spaced detonations had left the scorched land covered in an obsidian glaze. Now he noted that outside the medallion towered mighty peaks row on row.
Feeling utterly positive about the parameters and modalities, Rod went to fetch his atlas from the shelving unit. Geena must have used it last, the towering wench! Unable to reach it conventionally, he tried scrabbling up the face of the bookshelf. Availing nothing. He tried jumping. It worked to the extent that he was able to reach the level of the atlas. But to the extent that he did not have enough hang-time to get his fingers around the binding and pull the book out clean, it did not. He repeated his futile hop several times more before finally, exasperated, he kicked his foot out at the unit. Besides making Rod feel better about things, this jarred the structure loose from its wall anchor. Suddenly the book that had been so far out of his reach came looming down, and before he could react to what was happening, it and every other book in the shelf crashed down over him. He struggled to free himself, but could not. He yelled out, but no one was home. He kicked and heaved, hemmed and hawed. Nothing. Nor would his neighbors hear him, this being the middle of the workday. And even if the ruthless Mrs. Ritter heard him beseech his surroundings for succor, who could expect a demonstration of mercy and human feeling from that quarter? No one, that was who, least of all he! On top of it all, Geena wasn't coming home until well after midnight. So there was nothing to do but struggle, and struggle he did. Rod struggled and struggled and struggled, his efforts growing weaker and less frequent as time passed, like those of a caught fish spending its last life on the deck of a trawler. He squirmed and felt his foot bloom with pain, then grow wet. It must have been the business end of that Malian cliterodectomy blade. How it smarted! Exhausted, Rod looked about and saw that he was no freer than before. But what he had managed to do was to clear enough space and headroom to be able to look at a book and leaf through its pages. In the succeeding hours, he was able to scan the atlas cover to cover several times, combing every page with aquiline vigilance for any resemblance to the strict geometries of his High Atlas rug. It was a rug that would go well in an e-entrepreneur’s future mansion.


Dear Uncle Ghol,

I know You are probably still hopping mad about our little dispute. But this time I haven't written to debate You. I'm not going to sit here and debate with You. The reason I am writing to You, Uncle Ghol, is that You are a learned man. Only You are smart enough and trustworthy enough to help me solve this latest riddle. Or riddles I should say. You see, my business partner is a wanted man in his country (actually a former country which now is more like a state of distress than a nation state), and being a wanted man makes it hard for him to communicate plainly. So instead of simply sending me the details of the bank account that I can tap into for my gorgeous reward, what my esteemed business partner has done is to send me a variety of consignments of mysterious African tribal artifacts that together point the way to the answer. You are a learned man, Uncle Ghol. What is to say that You could not look at my consignments and help me decipher them? I have come some way toward cracking at least one of them myself, but I need to draw on Your encyclopedic knowledge of history and geography to help me see clearly. Speak to me Ghol! Please won't You come over and help me pore over the West Bantu Tribal Spear and the Malian Clitorodectomy Set and the High Atlas Rug?


P.S.: If You’re not interested or are still too angry to be able to help, consider the fact that some of the gorgeous reward soon to be my due could be coming Your way. After all, the bank account that we might mutually draw down to a charred nubbin of its lofty balance is probably located in the alpine fastness of Switzerland!
P.P.S.: I am sending you some of my preliminary thoughts on these matters in an encrypted archive attached to this mail, along with pictures of the artifacts, scans of the pamphlets and instructions included with each of the consignments, as well as some of my observations. You have to forget your differences and reach out and trust somebody at a time like this, Uncle Ghol!


Ghol wrote back a few hours later:


Yes, we can settle our differences later. The important thing is to band together to secure that gorgeous reward for the glory of our family. The first thing that occurs to me is that we will need satellite maps. Strictly current. You see Rod, we might be looking for a different kind of city. Your complaint that there is no strictly symmetrical city out there—it doesn’t hold water, much less liquidity. Just think of all the perfectly proportioned monstrosities being plopped straight onto the map these days. I'm talking about subdivisions, Rod! That, by God, is where the answer lies, in the subdivision, that double-edged monument to man’s godlike landscaping ability on the one hand, and to the depressing banality of his vision and undertakings on the other. But now, thanks to us, comes the redemption of the whole project of the subdivision: The idea of the subdivision may have fostered wild misery alongside wild profits in the past, but once we pair your rug with a real diamond-shaped subdivision in a caldera surrounded by the weapon testing sites, we’re off to the races. All that stands in our way is a subscription to a high-definition satellite imaging service. And solutions to the other riddles.
A couple procedural items: I hope you won’t be put out by this, but I have to request that I be exempted from coming over to your house, or at all meeting you in person. I think that video conferencing technology has come far enough that we should be able to collaborate without meeting muzzle to muzzle. That is the condition that hinges my help: Surely you can do your Venerable Uncle that courtesy?
Also Rod, I know you're well on your way, but in case you should need a reminder, and even if you don’t, let me issue one uttered originally by a man wiser even than I. And it is this: The man that sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the world’s tapestry will by that decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fateÃ.
By that token, I would like to reveal that I have a very good idea that the bank you are looking for is located in the Dzungarian basin of northwestern China. How’s that for a thread of order? I believe that although your rug shows the city loosely surrounded by mountains, the rug's lack of a border indicates that its internal features are more absolute than meets the eye. Read this way, a loose caldera becomes a basin rimmed by forbidding mountains, such as the Celestial Mountains and the Altay Shan. Further evidence is provided by the thin blue thread representing the river, the shape of whose course is very promising. Moreover, Altay, which is the most likely settlement for our subdivision to be found in, is located in the northern reaches of China, which to some extent accords with your interpretation of high atlas. The area also generally harbors China's nuclear testing sites, so I think that we really have a very good candidate here.
One last thing, too, before I sign off and let you go sign up for a good satellite imaging service: Based on the story about Aberdeen Abu, I wonder if it might not be a good idea to burn the rug once we have interpreted it. Not because we wish to turn our backs on wealth like he did, but because if the borderless rug aims at totality on the one hand, but serves as a cipher of a treasure external to it on the other, then the rug's totality can only be truly achieved by destroying it. After all, what’s to say the means can't be the same where the motivation differs? What do you think?


Hey Roddie,

I didn’t really get a chance to talk to you about it the other day, since you were being so angry and so secretive. Also I couldn’t get very close since, you know. So I just wanted to send this e-mail to kind of clear the air and get it out there. There are a couple of different things I’m thinking about, I guess. The first is just that I generally have some concerns about our relationship. We haven’t been making much love lately, for one, and it also seems like you're being really secretive and distant too. So is there anything going on that I should know about?
And another thing is that after I helped you out of the rubble of books and you had brushed your teeth and we put the shelf back up together, I noticed that there was some money missing from where I usually keep a little stashed away. I totally realize that it could have ended up between a sleeve and cover or disintegrated in the woodgrain of the shelf or something when everything came crashing down, so I'm not accusing you or anything, just wondering if you saw it or know what happened to it. Or even if you know what happened to just a little bit of it, or have an idea where some of it might be so you could recover it and put it back in the stash. Is there something wrong? You know you don't need to worry about money, at least not very much. I mean you can ask me for it, as long as it's for a good reason like some of the new breath treatments I keep hoping you’ll look into.
Well, I guess that's it. I'm just getting the feeling that something may be going on, which if there is I want to know about it. It's a shame we're not closer these days, Rod. These are exciting times for me, what with the sex position discovery at the factory and all the money we stand to make from licensing. I just wish I could share it with you and be able to count on you for support if the discovery leads to difficulties or pains.



As with most attempts at communication from that quarter, Rod thought it judicious to ignore Geena's e-mail. She was keeping her eyes open though, so he had best be cautious about leaning on her for support. Maybe he could smooth things over by feigning interest in whatever discovery they had made at the factory that she kept prattling about. Hell, maybe there could even be some money in it for him.
But what gall on her part to suggest that he might be guilty of petty thievery. As if someone who was a rising star in the e-entrepreneurial firmament, not to mention a playwright and respected political activist, could seriously be suspected of stooping to that! It was all so absurd. He had begun to drift into a reverie about the glorious defense he could put up against her in a civil case if it should come to that. His lawyer would be named something special, something powerful, like Strathclyde or Cone or Hohenzollern, and as exhibit A he would present to the jurors that estimable piece of correspondence wherein Mangwana called him a pillar of his community—how they would gobble it up!
He was trying to puzzle out how he and Strathclyde or whatnot could slam the prosecution with an aptly chosen exhibit B when the Mangwana e-mail alert went off. Cha-ching! Julius had written! The man was safe and Rod could feel his reward calling him from afar!


Dearest companion in enterprise,

My nephew Robespierre Chesterton tells me you have been pestering him about the $300 you need to reemblazon your organization's service vehicle. This is a very serious matter, and I have had to spend ten minutes breathing shallowly in front of the computer to calm an angry tremble that has been afflicting my hands. It is not so much you asking the favor of Robespierre Chesterton. It is the unbelievable gall in evidence when you threatened to appropriate the funds from the checks sent to you in earnest confidence to settle the modalities in the manner deemed expedient by us. A $300 re-emblazoning of your service vehicle is just not a modality deemed expedient by us! One thing I cannot help but thinking is that you would never have dared act so brazenly, had we two been introduced in person. That you would think to steal from the hand that has picked you up from your economic despondency and sent you on a gadarene course toward scintillating wealth; who do you think you are?
Honestly Rod, I do not know what to do now. Robespierre Chesterton has been at my ear all night urging me to terminate my partnership with you, just as a matter of honor, no matter what it might mean for future of the stalled equity, the joint husbandry, the reward. And to be perfectly honest Rod, I have half a mind to do as he says. It is not every day a gob of insulting spittle flies straight off the screen and dribbles down my chin. It is not every day that my closest business partner and advisor reveals himself as an agitator and clandestine warmongrel in my mist. Et tu Grumbelius!
But my practically-minded side tells me to forbear with you, to let you come forward and confess what dark forces fomented such arrogation. If I were a harder man than I am, Rod—or perhaps I should still say esteemed Rod, for I am not without my esteem for you even now, even with an eye to the straitened modalities of our partnership, such as they are—I would break off our cooperation with utmost celerity and acumenical resolution, based on your grand conspiracy to infract, which, even if it went unnoticed, would untimely throw a spanner in the works of a felicitous partnership just now beginning to bear heavy fruit. But being African, in addition to making me a hard man, perforce makes me a believer in second chances, second acts. The deception is necessary, but a deception nonetheless. So please consider this a yellow card, my dear business partner.
But a yellow card tells you little of how much you have offended me. My hands insist on trembling. Why conspire to betray a trust that has so lately budded, Rod, especially in view of the remunerative modalities of our enterprise? Why squander that on a fraudulent bid to reemblazon an extraneous service vehicle? You know that money is needed to lubricate the modalities, to grease the relevant personages until their inclination to assist becomes resonant with our aspirations. But let me impress something upon you: The money that Robespierre Chesterton sent you by way of Lizard Ltd. is not to be scoffed at. We may expend it, but it is not expendable. We may forward it to people who are trifling, but the money itself is no trifle. We may dispose of it in whatever way, but by no means should we be frivolously disposed towards it. Good Lard Rod, it is our working capital! And if you aim to continue prosecuting this partnership with me, this you must realize. These sums may be meager, it is true, but they are all we have to work with until the gorgeous reward is disbursed. Let me ask you a question Rod: How do you think fortunes are made? Do you think it is by acting as if money did not matter? No, better: When you are building a house, would you think it wise to mine bricks out of the foundation to cobble your driveway? Goaddim it Rod! Needless to say the time is long past when I was considering redubbing you Road. A single consignment and a couple of well-placed pourboires away from gorgeous rewardedness, and you abandon course out of pure greed. Is it not fair to say that you embody all that is wrong with globalization?
Has my tremble begun to rub off on you? I still do not think you grasp how serious your contemplated infraction would have been. This is a very serious business indeed, Rod! I have told you of the circumstances and modalities surrounding the raising of my stake, have I not? Suffering and forfeiture of happiness were involved—that much I admitted to you outright. I am from and of Africa, am I not Rod? Wouldn't you have to be imaginatatively deficient to suppose that bloodshed was uninvolved in the raising of my stake? For a man who has hitherto displayed so much wherewithalic acumen in the ordering of his affairs; for such a pillar! I would be surprised indeed if you had not guessed at the truth. And what of the ruthlessness that you yourself have put to use in your own political battles...did I err when I took your measure that first day? Forgive me for voicing these doubts, but you need to know that this is a deadly business we are involved in.
Rod, I am not the type to resort to idle threats. I am not going to sit here and threaten you. But on a parting note, let me tell you what happened to the last partner in enterprise who forsook and betrayed me. Simply put, he was skewered. I know, I know, your language has a lot of euphemistic, vestigial usages that have been divested of their original meaning through passage of time and sedimentary deposits of what you call civilization. And usually when you say that someone was 'skewered,' you mean that his condition, his essence, his whatever, was laid bare by words or gestures or other acts peripheral to the real kernel of the matter, his body. It is the same with 'roasting' or 'slamming' or even 'destroying.' But the Mangwanan language has no such brushstrokes of civility. When a Mangwanan says that a person with whom or through whom he has prosecuted business dealings was skewered, he does not mean that he was ‘skewered.’ He means that he was SKEWERED. I am not an academic Rod, so forgive me if I seem to have trouble making my meaning clear. But this is what I think I want to say: There was a time when each word was fundamentally linked to its meaning. Mangwanan retains this, English does not. We do not have many writers in the confederation of turmoil formerly known as the (estimable) Republic of Mangwana, but those few we have write in a way that is not at all what you would call 'mannered.' Their work is unlike anything you have ever seen. They write in a way that is 'manly.' I bracket the phrase because the practice is of itself manly, since women should not and do not write in greater Mangwanaland, just as they do not and should not experience sexual pleasure thanks to our venerable practice of pharaonic circumcision, and we do not—hence the quotes—want to get into a post hoc ergo propter hoc sort of situation. Our writers would never be accepted in the funhouse western world of letters, and you know why? It is because their every phrase is as natural as a grunt or moan—their sentences are like finished objects wrought by the gods themselves and conducted down to earth by these worthy authorial emissaries. Our 'writers' (we have two) you see, are actually no more than scavengers of incomplete evidence. What I mean to say, and I’m trying to be direct here, direct even though your tongue has become severed from its roots at the seat of the soul, is that their sentences are like, for instance, a shell found on the beach, or a roadside jacaranda shedding blossoms onto the tar. As obvious as the moon, that's what they're like. Natural, but distant, irreproachable, sphinxlike. That's why no one wants to read a Mangwanan writer's work. I mean who wants to look at a picture of the moon when it’s up in the sky on display to begin with? Perhaps the blind or mentally infirm could benefit from having the work of Mangwanan writers declaimed to them, as this might reconstitute the wholeness of their shattered and blinded worldviews. Whereas you, your writers—and do not think I find umbrage with you personally, Mortensen, Lard knows that's distant from my mind—you prize originality at the expense of accuracy, honesty, justice itself. The problem is that you attempt to dissect the bird in mid-flight instead of describing the beat of its wings or that briefest flash of corona as it eclipses the sun when you look up. And not only that, but you do not honor the lineage and meanings of words themselves, warping them as you do to perverted temporary ends. Mangwanans understand that the ordering of words is elect and original, that ancient meaning brooks no dispute. But you, you kings of slang and awful descriptivism, you make your livings dishonoring the meanings and proper placement of words.
This is my meaning: A Mangwanan's relationship to language is that he uses it to skewer the world. But getting back to my original point, my earlier fraudulent business partner was a South African, also very sharp, very conscious and active in his community. He was involved in fuel sourcing for the rocketry venture, and his scheme was to claim that a tanker bought with my money had been stolen when he had actually simply resold it to a band of rebels in the southeast. He suffered a fate grimmer than Mortensen's. The gospel of this Mangwana is printed on banknotes, and woe to him who transgresses against its iron edict.
So please, Rod, for the sake of our mutual sanity and health, let’s stay the course. After all, you can reemblazon as many service vehicles as you want once you've collected your reward.

In wrath,

Kaarlo Pigg


Mangwana’s tremble was contagious. How could he have let Julius down so badly? How could he have lost sight of the main attraction of the whole business relationship, which had from the beginning been and would always continue to be the very fact of Julius' trust? If only it hadn’t been for that offensive and brusque Robespierre Chesterton, he wouldn’t have threatened to siphon off funds in the first place. All he could do was hope that Julius would calm down in the fullness of time.
For now Rod needed to contact the Duchess. She was the only one who could salve his open wounds. All that suffering she had been through. Quick glorification might have been enough in the past, but once he had tasted the Duchess’s comforting amorphous flesh, there was no going back. She needed to contact him, too. She’d been sending him e-mails every day, though he'd been leaving them unopened aside from that first one. He had set an autoresponder to incoming mail from her address in which he pleaded business and promised that he would get back to her as soon as he was through this critical phase. Now he wrote to her.


Dear Duchess,

As I write this, I am going to imagine that we are sitting down together to a pitcher of hot scrumpy. I want you to pretend you are sharing it with me as you read along, that way it will be more like a conversation. I want you to feel relaxed, so go ahead and loosen your harnesses; just dangle.
I would like to begin by saying it’s very good to see you and to be sharing this festive beverage with someone who can appreciate it. Proceeding onto the main order of business, I would like to give you an update about the very exciting things that have been going on around here since the first and last time I met you. Let’s just say that I’m closer than ever to collecting the fruits of my e-labor and attending my coronation as an internationally feted e-entrepreneur. Chin-chin! No no, that’s not how you hold scrumpy during a toast. It's like this, with two hands, see? I must say you propose a mighty fine toast for someone who is so, well, osteocompromised. And I’m so sorry for not getting back to you before this. Please don’t think I was trying to blow you off! So far from it, dear Duchess. So far. Mmm, isn’t it delicious?
If you must know, the reason I was so out of touch is that I was just trying to maintain my focus and sanity at a time when I needed it most. I want you to know that I've been thinking about you this whole time, and planning. Planning for us to enjoy the moment together. You see, I want you to come with me to collect the reward. It will be so romantic, with you sloshing along in your framework in distant lands and me being O in my own way, which is something I can tell you more about on the flight. And it will also be a kind of homecoming for you, come to think of it. But now that the most arduous of my labors are over, let me give you a brief sketch of what's been happening.
Since a couple of days back all the pieces have been in place save one, and I'm pretty sure that even that one's about to arrive. And with the help of my hideous uncle Ghol, too, the pieces have been mostly interpreted. Let me tell you what I mean. And yes, by all means, let us first refill our mugs—here you go. Because he was being hounded by unscrupulous adversaries in his native country, my business partner was forced to find a foreign associate to help him resettle a large sum whose safety was jeopardized by the turmoil in his country. I was an obvious choice, being a pillar in my community and whatnot, and I was only too glad to help him. So we kicked off our transatlantic venture and here I am, knocking on heaven’s door, with my heaven being a gorgeous reward of wealth on this earth, taken from his resettled sum as a handsome consideration. I did the needful for him to be able to access and resettle his funds, the details of which I can’t get into right here. Oh! Well cheers to you too, Duchess dear. Salud.
But because my partner is still being hounded by rogue elements, he has been unable to transmit straightforwardly the details linking to the account where I might claim the gorgeous reward for my involvement in the enterprise, the net result of which will be a continued joint enterprise, but this time in reptile husbandry. What we aim to do—and I want this to stay between us and this pitcher of scrumpy—is corner the market for reptilian garments and accessories the world over. And that’s just one part of it; we’re going to market an unguent I can’t even tell you about. To think: All over the globe fine ladies will be bedighted by reptile skins bearing the imprimatur of Cassidy Samuelsson & Co.! Anyway, so instead of giving me the details in a way that risks interception, my partner cooked up a plan of genius, just genius, whereby he sent me packages containing African and other artifacts with hidden clues and highly encrypted information.
I have to admit that I would not have been more than half equal to the task myself, but between you and me and this pitcher, sometimes intelligence boils down to knowing where to look for help. So I brought Ghol into the picture, the one who schooled me in classical punctuation and hyphenation if you'll recall. He needed a little sweet-talking, since the truth was that we had been bickering, but when I explained what lay at the end of this whole affair he just melted. Melted! So he agreed to help, and at his urging I used some of my live-in’s money to sign up for a satellite imaging service that he thought would be useful in interpreting the evidence. Did I tell you about my live-in?
The things my partner has sent me so far are these: 1) A multipurpose West Bantu tribal spear; 2) A Malian children's cliterodectomy and infibulation practice kit; 3) A High Atlas rug. These things were all admittedly quite mysterious to me at first blush, but that horrible Ghol and I just had a videoconference where we put the pieces together and parsed the clues, and this is what we found:

Let me just top myself off here…there we go!

Like the rest of the consignments, the spear came with a piece of literature that celebrated it as product and artifact. Along with the spear itself, it also constituted some kind of clue. After reading it over many times, we decided that what we were looking for was the answer to a math problem. Ghol is the mathematician, so I couldn‘t really follow what he was doing, but the instructions were all there in the literature. He grew fed up with me for not being more useful myself, but what did he want? I'm an entrepreneur. All I know is that he worked some analytic magic and told me, once he had done, to tear the antenna apart. Once I had separated all the segments, he told me to cut them open lengthwise. What we noticed was that each segment had a number stenciled onto its inner surface. Since there were nine segments, we were pretty sure that what we had in hand was a bank account number. But Ghol did not stop there: He fed the number through an algorithm and scrambled it. Then he divided it by the remainder of the thesis. Finally, he arrived at a dialectic totality which we have reason to believe will make us rich.
The next thing was the cliterodectomy kit. I took the initiative in interpreting this one. Because the first one had been so complicated and required so much in the way of brainpower, I suggested that the answer to the cliterodectomy component would be much simpler. And it was. Having a bank account number in hand, I reasoned that we must be looking for a location or name—especially since the language of the associated literature left no scope for numerology. Mali seemed a little too straightforward—cheers!—so you know what I came up with instead? Poon, Dixon Poon. The piece of literature claimed that the set had been made by 'Dixon Poon & Co. Headshops to the World.’ Well I looked it up on Google, and there's no company out there by that name. However, my research tells me that there is a bank in China called the Poon People’s Bank.
I would be foolish to reveal the third clue to you right here over this pitcher of scrumpy, so I will forbear for now. Let me just say that Ghol and I both had a strong inclination as to where the bank might be based on the rug, and that it looks like we hit the nail on the head. So now all we have to do is wait for the last consignment to arrive with the password, and which point I will call the bank to confirm, and off we’ll go.
If you think that all sounds very positive and can't wait to go help claim what is rightfully mine, then you feel 100% the way I do. What's that you propose? Another toast? Of course. Here's to you and your enthusiasm to fight the good fight. Ahhh—it's never tasted so good, has it? So let me move on to yet another order of business: Appropriations. You know that I have a gorgeous reward waiting for me somewhere (I can’t reveal where just yet, not until we meet in the drooping flesh). The thing is that I have run out of overhead for some of the capital projects I'd like to get off my plate before we go away to claim it. So I was wondering if you would be willing, just this once, to give some assistance in exchange for enhanced future consideration, which is not to say that your future consideration would not be very handsome in the first place. It has to do with my organization's service vehicle. After all, we need to look good going to the airport together—mugs high! The other thing is that you’re going to need to put up the money for the tickets—unless of course I can convince my live-in that the trip’s involved with my being know, let me pursue that tack first before I trouble my fiercely proud Duchess with any further appropriations questions. The thing is that if she can’t come through for whatever reason, I’m kind of in a bad way with my business partner for the time being, who suspects me of untowardness in the way of appropriations.
When can you come over, Duchess? I can’t wait for us to support each other, one after the other, one on the other. Besides, there's something I need to try out with you.


H. e-Duke Samuelsson

P.S. I just discovered that the scrumpy was expired. Shit! Well at least it seemed to get the job done for me. How about for you?


Rod typed up a list of things to do.

~~From the desk of a thoroughly modern power broker~~

Write to Geena to ask her about this sex position business
Practice it on the Duchess
Get the last consignment & interpret it with Ghol
Get your tix and go
Check Geena’s e-mail account again to make sure that Crumpler bastard isn‘t causing any more problems

He surveyed this open field of his intentions. It was beautiful. And all he had to do was follow the steps.


Dear Geena,

Baby I’m sorry I’ve been like this. I am. It’s nothing to do with you or with us. Baby it's me. Yup, all me. I've just been under so much strain with all this stuff going on in my business life. It may seem bizarre to you based on what little you know, but I too am on the cusp of a great breakthrough. But that's all virtually assured. You seem to be under some similar strain, so let's talk about you baby. Let's do.
I want to hear all about your factory’s discovery when you get home. Hell, I want to feel all about it. It sounds really exciting for you, and I think for me too if I remember correctly. Something to wait and see about I guess.



He was exhausted from the excitement, the frantic communication, the shadow of coming glory beginning to shimmer on the horizon. He fell asleep, reefs of glorious visions marching through his head. Some time later, he woke to the bingdong! sound of the doorbell ringing. It was the baroque mail carrier, cigar smoke billowing up around the outlandish outline of his stovepipe.
“Morning, Sir," he called out affably. "Another package from beyond these shores. And sorry for disturbing what looks to have been a deep sleep!"
“Ah, that’s all right," Rod yawned. "I don't mind losing sleep over an overseas consignment, not at all." At this point the salvo of halitosis molecules shot from Rod's mouth began to do battle with the exhaust billowing from the cigar. The tussle was fierce, but it was no secret who won, for the carrier was the first to recoil.
"Good God, Sir, I hope your package is something approved by the ADA!”
Rod exhaled forcibly in anger, sending the already vanquished smoke into chaotic agitation, as if the very tar in it objected to keeping company with the foul organic chains that were Rod’s essence. The carrier’s infraction would have to be handled with brusque authority.
“Very funny, Mr. Carrier. You know, for a man who otherwise seems to take his office so seriously, you should know that discussing private medical matters with the citizens on your route is generally frowned on. And with all the deliveries of CASHPAC hate mail you’ve made to me here, you should also be well aware that I stand at the head of a powerful dynamo of political agitation which, when agitated, can make sure that certain civil servants are replaced.”
The carrier's face was frozen in a sphinxlike grin haunted by wreaths of smoke. For a minute he continued to puff on his cigar, fixing Rod with a stare from the tiniest black aperture into the storm of fury gathering across that hazy gulf. The man harrumphed. "And you, Sir, should know better than to turn up your nose at a man with a penchant for Havanas. I’ll have you know that I have been well aware of your breath for some time, but chose never to say anything, both as a matter of professional courtesy and out of a grudging admiration for the bizarrely pioneering work done by your organization. After all, cigar aficionados have to put up with similar slights. But you've sprouted an attitude, Sir, and I don't like it one bit. Now if you'll just sign here, please. What’s that they say about the personal being irrevocably political?"
Rod stepped forward and accepted the smoke. The man was right. He was getting too big for his britches. Shamed, he signed a shaky signature.
“And here.”
“I know I know, and there and there.”
“Sir.” The carrier nodded, about to spin on his heel. Rod made as if to say something, stammered and halted, finally managing a choked apology.
“Very good, Sir. Perhaps from now on our respective miasmas can coexist amicably as I thought they had done in the past. Good day to you.”
Rod stooped to gather the consignment, got his arms around it, gave it a heave and faltered. It was nearly immovable—and the carrier had been waltzing down the street with it as if it were no more than a box of packing peanuts! He got down into a squat, and after several attempts managed to heave it so that it just barely cleared the threshold. As he crossed the plane of the doorjambs, the weight in the box shifted so dramatically to one side that it knocked him over and pinned to the ground for the second time in only a few days. Would he be pinioned for long hours under the weight of his dedication to his e-enterpri$e? Not that there would be as much benefit to such prostration this time, since there was nothing to flip through, and what was worse, no hidden cash to promote. Rod struggled, at length freeing his squat Punchinello’s frame. He paused to compose himself—and got a strong whiff of what the incensed carrier had been talking about in the bargain—before charging up the stairs to fetch what remained of his Malian cliterodectomy blade. Once he had cut the twine and rent up nearly a dozen layers of boxing tape, he tore at the wall of the box until its spherical passenger rolled out onto his foot, reopening the wound inflicted by the surgical blade's broken edge when the shelf had collapsed atop him only days before. What had come to rest on his throbbing foot was an outsized ball with a slightly irregular shape. He had no idea what it was. It looked like a brobdignagian glazed munchkin, and it gave off a strong must. Rod rolled it across his floor a little to see what would happen. Large wafers of glaze flaked off. He put a wedge of it to his mouth and discovered that it was sugary sweet. Reflexively, he gulped down another flake. Once the ball had rolled to a standstill, he saw nailed to the ball the following piece of promotional literature:

Bumble & Rayde, Your Paleolithic Sourcing Expert
“By distinguished appointment to quite a royal majesty”
Our motto: A feel for the earth we live on—whether its shape, its weather, or the conditions of its creation—is bound up with an appreciation for the significance of traces, shadows, reflections. Shadow is everywhere: A hillside draped in the fraternal shadows of neighboring peaks, or the frivolous obscurity of a passing cloud. A wind shadow cast onto the water by a coastal hill where sails limply luff. The tectonic shadow of a rocky crag mirrored in the sudden drop of the coastal shelf. The shadow of a landmass glimpsed from beyond its horizon in a trace of heat and dust. The shadow of an ancient union seen in the profiles of sundered continents. The shadow of a bygone era, not only glimpsed through but cast by the very words we use to speak about it. The shadows of our own thoughts in hazes and vacuities that haunt our minds. And, most tangibly, such shadows of the earth’s bygone eras as are found in bones, prints and middens.

Megatherium Midden Ball

Congratulations on the happy occasion of being the proud possessor one of the world’s few surviving megatherium midden balls! Megatherium, commonly known as the giant ground sloth of South America, went extinct about 10,000 years ago, and has left us only a very few traces of its passage through the world, including some skeletons, a few dozen footprints, and the occasional midden ball such as you see here. The scarcity of these final reminders of the existence of one of the greatest creatures ever to haunt creation has made them tremendously valuable. The mere fact that you are reading this places you squarely among the world's elite, and should more than make up for the fact that what you have come into possession of is actually no more than a gigantic assemblage of urine-coated fecal matter and various neolithic foodscraps that the ancient sloth thought valuable enough to embed midst its midden for the event of a future food shortage.
It is thought that middening in megatheria came about as a result of efforts to preserve and hide a single choice morsel that it wanted to be assured of enjoying later. From the balls dissected by science so far, this morsel usually seems to have been a partially chewed leaf cud, which can be expected to have undergone a slow fermentation process in the midden that made it especially savory. Paleontologists rightly conclude that a heap of broken midden balls should be read as a book of pre-Adamite revelry.
This particular midden ball comes from a dig near Montevideo. Your megatherium midden ball should not require too much maintenance. After all, it's needed nothing but non-interference for these past 10,000 years. We suggest that you place it in a glass case at constant room temperature, and at a humidity of 50%. Enjoy your Bumble & Rayde midden ball!

Rod did not hesitate for a second. There was only one way to interpret this. This was plainly a latter day replica, and the promotional literature clearly hinted that the delectable morsel that he sought would be found in them middle of the midden ball. The password was in the core—it was as simple as that. He grabbed hold of his glazed sandstone scalpel and set to work on the huge stinking munchkin. He knew he was right as soon as he had shorn off his first ribbon and the room filled with a sharp barnyard stink. This was no 10,000 year old midden ball. It was a sugarcoated globe of fresh manure. He didn’t need the scalpel any longer, and flung it aside with renewed purpose. What a relief not to have to destroy a valuable neolithic midden ball.
At first the going was slow, but he was soon elbow-deep in a manure excavation enterprise he had to admit was rather efficient. Before long a sizable crater had erupted on the globe and spilled a heap of dung tailings on the floor. He took a long breath to settle himself for the big moment, which a reckoning told him was only one or two fistfuls away. Breathe in. Breathe out. Settle down. Mandala. Meditate. Hand ready. Reach. In. Seize. Discard. Repeat. And. And—he was in, in!—in the middle, ladies and gentlemen, in the middle was another little munchkin, looking very much like another, much smaller midden ball. But when he squeezed it, it crumbled into a hundred little pieces. The real thing, he had a feeling. Obviously not from a giant ground sloth though. He sat down, confused and no closer to cracking the password, and he very much doubted that the Poon People's Bank would give him more than a few guesses before it red-flagged him. He pinged Ghol and called him up on the video screen.

Ghol: Yes
Rod: It's the last item. It got here today.
Ghol: Yes?
Rod: It was a small real midden ball concealed inside a gigantic fake midden ball.
Ghol: And what did you make of that?
Rod: I don’t know. Could the password be ‘midden?’
Ghol: Was there a pamphlet included this time?
Rod: Yes. A sheet, a little piece of literature.
Ghol: And did it mention the word 'midden?'
Rod: Yes. It called the thing a 'megatherium midden ball.'
Ghol: Well that should tell you that midden's not the answer. They wouldn't run the risk of being so direct. No when so much is at stake.
Rod: Okay.
Ghol: I think they’re playing a much subtler game. We've seen that there's a vague thread uniting the clues given by all the other artifacts, right?
Rod: Sure.
Ghol: So we need to find the password that fits both the specific instance of the midden ball and the larger context in which it was sent to you. It's nothing we haven't done before. You know, this is the type of thinking I was trying to encourage in you all those years ago, when I taught you that module about langue v. parole. Remember?
Rod: Vaguely. Are you trying to say that you might have an idea about what the password might be?
Ghol: Of course. They don't call me Lightning Pole Ghol for nothing! And I’ll have you know that parole has an alternate meaning.
Rod: Well?
Ghol: It means password.
Rod: So what’s the parole?
Ghol: I want you to tell me what you think first. After all, this whole thing is your deal. I'm just the consultant.
Rod: Well, in that case I think the password is 5,000.
Ghol: How’s that?
Rod: Look at the pamphlet (holds it up to camera, pauses). It suggests that the tasty morsel is in the middle. Now, the real morsel in the middle is just a crumbling turd. Which leads me to think that we're looking for the middle of something figurative. Something like a number. And the only number mentioned in the literature is 10,000, the middle of which is 5,000. And that thing about the humidity at 50% backs me up, am I right? How's that for a parole?
Ghol: Interesting. ‘Midden’ is a combination of middle and hidden, is it not?
Rod: I didn’t know that.
Ghol: Well it is.
Rod: Which is to say…?
Ghol: Just that it means something. I’m not quite sure what yet, but this is the road we need to be going down. Give me a second. And keep holding up the pamphlet for me to see.
Rod: Okay. Mind if I have some scrumpy?
Ghol: Shhh! [Minutes pass] Okay I think I have it. 5,000 is a start, but if you’ll notice, the pamphlet says that the tasty morsel is midst the midden, right? Read differently, this means midst the middle of what’s hidden, if you follow my drift. Now what do you think that means?
Rod: I have no...
Ghol: It doesn’t matter what you think. I'll tell you. We start by identifying what's hidden in the literature. Now what's that? Forget it, I'll tell you. Go to the top of the literature and look at all the language about shadows. What’s hidden is the source of the shadow! They say that understanding presupposes an appreciation of reflection, so we’ll take them at their word. Okay. So if 10,000 is a reflection, what is its source?
Rod: I haven't the...
Ghol: I’ll tell you. It’s one over ten thousand, or .0001. You with me so far?
Rod: Sure. Where do we go from here?
Ghol: We divide by four. That’s what’s meant by midst of the middle. Get it? So that gives us .000025.
Rod: But what kind of password is that?
Ghol: It’s a shadow of a password.
Rod: So you mean now we have reconvert it to a fraction?
Ghol: You nitwit, no! Look back at the literature. Look at it closely. What do you see?
Rod: Well, pretty much the same thing you...
Ghol: I’ll tell you what you see. That words constitute another kind of shadow. Don't you see that the answer is to convert the decimal into words?
Rod: So the answer is 'point zero zero zero zero two five'?
Ghol: Exactly!


Esteemed bwana and prized business partner,

In case you were wondering, I’m happy to report that my hands have finally fully stopped shaking, and that I’ve decided to take a charitable view of your delirium. I have also sent Robespierre Chesterton into exile. Actually he fled into exile when someone gave him a tip that I was going to have him executed. It hardly took a genius to surmise that his plan was to either do away with me or turn me into his vassal so that he could enjoy the bounteous benefits of running the reptile farm on his own. I understand that he can be abrasive, and I feel a serial concatenation of profound apologies welling up to bursting in my chest for what you had to endure at his hands during the time I had to go undercover. But rather than expressing them one by one, please, I should esteem it a favor if you were to just accept their cipher in summary: Sorry.
But let us talk of better things, you and I. Since my stalled equity came unstuck thanks to your efforts, I am happy to report that preparations have begun in earnest for our joint reptile husbandry venture. After eluding my pursuers, I managed to turn the past few days to my advantage by surveying the plot. I have been very satisfied with the progress, as I’m sure you will be, too.
Let me tell you what I saw. When first flying over my corner of the cone of silence in my old single-engine rattletrap, I was surprised by how much the parcel had changed from the old days. You see, the same plot had once been used by my German cohort in rocketry, so I was already familiar with it. What I saw was a series of major hydro and earthworks. In the middle of the parcel, land was being graded along a variety of intersecting meridians to form crocodile containment pools. Alongside the road toward the southern edge of the property there was work in progress on the foundations of the iguana and frog breeding houses. The din of progress was unmistakable even from the lofty height of 500 feet! Between the snaking roads and rivers and the symmetrical patterns of the waterworks in the middle, I felt like the whole project had some mystic meaning, as if it were a mandala or meditation on the meaning of order and chaos. Pursuant to which it must be said that great things are afoot, Rod. It is as if the trajectory of my life, after many years of erratic striving, is finally evening out into a true line. And why? Well, let’s look at the facts. How did I start off? Dandled on the lap of privilege, that's how. And although I learned how to manage holdings and people from my father Horatio, and although I learned from an early age how to cherish the best in human relationships from my dear friend Mortensen, still there was something missing. In my pulp and paper mill plan, and also in my rocketry scheme, I did not recognize the cultural world order in which it is forbidden for Africa to stick its neck out in a strategic industry. Lesson learned. But then I went on to violate the sanctity of my own people’s livers and lungs when I founded Julius Yellow Lager and Brown Slims, as well as their amenability to fate itself when my Great Games division was launched. That was unnatural. In lizardry and extender oil extraction, however, I think I have found a more neutral industry that will allow me to benefit self, country and world without ruffling any feathers.
We have a position here for you, Rod. I was talking to my foreman on the ground, and he has no objection to you running around and managing our e-operations once we have ensured successful modalities with regard to breeding and skinning and tanning. This you could of course do remotely, but I think we would both like to avoid having our glorious cooperation be a case of never the twain shall meet? Furthermoreover, I personally have no objection to you bringing your political activities over to Central Africa with you, though I'll have to clear your pro-halitosis agitation with my ground crew, since you presume to cast a pall of doubt on their worldview. I agree it would be best if you could continue your noble activities from where you are. After all, abandoning a righteous political activity in favor of a mercenary cause in Central Africa would probably go some way toward eroding your pillar. But let me just say that you will have your work cut out for you. There is always the issue of worker discipline to think about.
On a personal note, I must inform you that a piece of one of my front teeth has come off. We shall not live forever, my dear friend and business partner, so let us profit while we can! I trust that the modalities for the collection of your gorgeous reward are nearly in place. If I am correct in my appraisal of the timing, then you have but one more consignment to receive before you have your answer. At which point you will be able to proceed to the bank in question to collect your money in person. This being necessary to confirm your identity, the sum in question being what it is.
So come dear Rod, let us collect our lizard skins and gorgeous rewards while we may!

With an esteem becoming a man reformed,

Kaarlo Pigg

PS – You will prefix any term with which you address me with Bwana in the future, will you not?


Rod would have to proceed very cautiously, he realized. This was a very serious business, and he was treading on thin ice. There was also a new wrinkle: This latest e-mail from his partner, mentor and friend made it startlingly clear that there was more at stake than just the reward. Depending on how he proceeded, he stood to gain a position somewhere near the helm of an international husbandry concern. And there was a big difference between a gorgeous reward and a gorgeous reward combined with an executive position. He had already earned one, and now he would have to parlay that confidence and success into the next. At least it looked like that insolent R. Chesterton character was out of the picture. Good riddance!
But that didn’t mean he was in the clear—he had a feeling that he was not fully redeemed with Julius, that the man was somehow testing him. Rod wondered what he could do to impress upon his business partner that his head was still in the game. Rod wanted to be viewed as a trusted and essential deputy in the husbandry concern. Reasoning that fortune favored the bold, he set to work drafting a response. It would have to have all the elements…

Dearest Bwana Kaarlo,

I am ashamed I did not think to append this respectful term of address to your name in the past. And I can’t express how happy I am that the tremble in your hands has calmed, and that we can continue with our enterprise unimpeded. For a moment I thought that my foolish conduct had really threatened to make this opportunity of my lifetime melt away. Which is not to say that I do not run other lucrative enterprises on the side, even while preserving my active status in CASHPAC. And which is also not to say that my service vehicle does not deserve reemblazonment, just that I erred in my tentative allocation source. For this I am sorry. And that’s a cipher of a concatenation, like you say.
And like you said, too, let us talk of better things you and I. I really am glad to hear of the progress you've been making down on the farm. There's just one thing: I think that my skillset and experience recommend me for something more than just VP of e-operations and honorary CASHPAC attaché. I think my role should be a little more substantive. Let me tell you what I mean. I hope you will forgive my presumption, but I would venture to say that in this as in every other enterprise in which you have been active, power stems ultimately from you. So instead of being given only titles that draw their power from a conventional understanding of language and business hierarchy, I propose that I be given a third and far more important title to round out the complement: "Hooded right-hand man to Bwana Julius Mangwana, from Whom all power flows." Hooded because in this capacity I want to be seen less as an individual than as a pure instrument of your authority.
What qualifies me to hold such lofty rank? I’ll tell you what. It’s a combination of my business acumen and the power that flows from my own person. Now the latter part you already know about. But in terms of the first, let me sketch out a little business plan that I think just might work: For the sake of argument, let’s assume that our manufacturing capacity and distribution channels are in place, that they are perfectly elastic. This is the industrial revolution, or the first triumph of capitalism, and we have you to thank for it. The next step is to create infinite demand, and that is where I come in. What I propose is this: A total branding concept. There's nothing cooler than a reptile. A single lizard is cooler than any number of camels or Clydesdales. So we get our copyright and run with it. My idea is that you begin by reviving the yellow lager and the brown slims, and that you make a lizard their mascot. But that's not all. Once intoxication and daring become associated with our logo, we’ll release a barrage of lizard products. In addition to the extender oil, which will sell itself, we'll release a lizard clothing line, a lizard grab-bag for a breakfast cereal, collecting cards featuring famous people wearing lizard leather, lizard jerky, lizard-shaped furniture, vehicles, anything you can think of. Imagine what this all-out blitz will do for the bottom line. It won’t be long before all of Central Africa explodes in a welter of cured scaly hides and the rivers run greasy with extender oil! The best part about this whole scheme is that there is something so uniquely African about it. It’s the very notion of consuming an animal, even an effigy of it, to incorporate some property that it embodies into oneself. Outlandish, but it just might work! The devil is obviously in the details, but I think that as a touchstone, this idea can't fail to impress you. Am I right? Better yet, am I your right-hand man?

Rod paused midmail to plaster his brows back into place and tame his resurgent priapism. He resumed:

And now, with your leave, I’d like to move on to the next order of business, which is to confirm that I have received all four consignments and have succeeded in making perfect sense of them. I'd like to begin my complementing you on the wiliness of the mind that dreamt up these consignments. It was brilliantly done, truly. I suppose that's all there is to say about that; everything else dissolves into a kind of impenetrable fog whenever I think of the gorgeous reward that awaits me.
Oh and Bwana Kaarlo! One more thing to help me consolidate my position before flying off to collect my reward: Since you have forced Robespierre Chesterton into exile, I assume you have the means to recover that mutual fund I forwarded to him. Could you please do so and return it to me at your earliest convenience? I am guessing that you agree with me that R. Chesterton, through his actions, has forfeited his right to it.

With entrepreneurial anticipation,

H. Rodney Grumbelius, Potential hooded right-hand man


Julius wrote back immediately, evidently still very much concerned about having his communication intercepted, notwithstanding his blasé message. Luckily Rod was a smart one, or its entire content would have been lost to him, all Welsh-looking as it was:

Dyyryst Ryd,

Yt’s vyry gyyd ty hyyr thyt yyy mynygyd ty cryck thy cydy. Thyt myyns thyt wy’ry vyry nyyr ty thy syccyssfyl cynclysyyn yf mydylytyys. Byt wy nyyd ty by yn thy syfy sydy. Whych ys ty syy thyt thyry shyyld by ny mysyndyrstyndyngs. Yt wyyldn’t dy, fyr ynstyncy, yf yyy wynt yff yn pyrsyyt yf thy gyrgyyys rywyrd yn symy dystynt lynd whyry thy rywyrd wys nyt yn fyct lydgyd. Thyryfyry Y cryvy yyyr dygnyfyyd yndylgyncy yn byyng sy kynd ys ty lyt my knyw thy bynk, cyty ynd cyyntry whyry yyy bylyyvy thy rywyrd ty by dypysytyd. Plyysy lyyvy yff thy yccyynt nymbyr yf cyyrsy! Thy ryysyn yt ys syfy ty pryvydy my thys ynfyrmytyyn vyy y-myyl ys bycyysy Y hyvy dytyrmynyd thyt Myngwynysy wyll fynd yt yxcyydyngly dyffycylt ty ycqyyry vysys ty yntyr thy cyyntry Y hyvy yn mynd syncy Y cyncyyvyd yf thy cynsygnmynt plyn. Myynyng thyt yt wyyld ryylly ynly hyvy byyn stryctly nycyssyry ty synd yyy thy fyrst cynsygnmynt, syncy yvyrythyng byt thy yccyynt nymbyr cyyld hyvy byyn blyrtyd yytryght. Byt thyn ygyyn, thy cynsygnmynt yntyrprytytyyn yrdyyl mydy yyy y stryngyr myn ynd y byttyr bysynyss pyrtnyr, dyd yt nyt? Ynd yf yyyr ryspynsy ty my ys yncyrryct, thyn sy mych thy byttyr ys fyr ys thyy yry cyncyrnyd. Myynyng ys fyr ys wy yry cyncyrnyd ybyyt thym. Yyy knyw whyt Y myyn: Yt wyll ynly cyntrybyty ty sywyng cynfysyyn. Yf yyyr ryspynsy pryvys yncyrryct, Y wyll lyt yyy knyw yn yny wyy yr ynythyr ynd yyy wyll hyvy ty ryvyyw thy cynsygnmynts. Byck yt thy yld drywyng byyrd, ys thyy syy yn yyyr lynd.

Yn bysynysslyky fyyth,



To which Rod in turn wrote back, nearly immediately:

Bwana Kaarlo,

It’s the Poon People’s Bank in Altay, China. Am I right?



Chapter XXX
Blank spaces * First contact * Fear of flying * A burning concession *

The next step was for Rod to get in touch with the Poon People’s Bank in Altay. Ghol, who had been watching him like a hawk throughout the codebreaking process, continued to do so now, with the hiss on the line like a rustling of feathers over in the corner. Rod stooped over to browse, trying to ignore his avuncular monitor. Fortunately it did not take long to find the branch's details on the Internet. Ghol urged him to map the area out of a sense of respect for geography, so he did. He brought up a satellite image of the rugged Dzungarian Basin. It should have been like the relief map he had seen trapped beneath the pile of books come alive. Instead, still photographic image was, if anything, even more unearthly and spectral than the featureless map. Aside from the forbidding crags rimming the basin, most of the landscape appeared inchoate, as if its maker had forgotten to fill it in with rivers, roads, cities. Rod sat transfixed by the spell of blank spaces until Ghol accused him of wasting precious time. Now call them up, he crowed.
On the first attempt he could not make himself understood. He did think he could make out the word Poon in the clerk’s incomprehensible tonal torrent, but beyond that it was impossible to gain a toehold in the conversation. Once the clerk had begun to coo something over and over again, maddeningly, Rod hung up in frustration. Ghol clucked and Rod tried again, achieving much the same result. The third time, at Ghol’s seasoned urging, he said in no uncertain terms that he needed someone who spoke English. After a minute of hue and cry that made it sound like they were tearing the branch apart, scouring the minutest cracks for a speaker of the alien tongue, a woman took the line. Rod asked to confirm that they held an account with his name. She politely asked him his name and he spelled it out. There was a pause, after which she explained that there was a difficulty. The problem was that his name was in Latin characters, but their system accepted only Chinese ones. On the brighter side, a large sum had recently been settled on a new account opened on behalf of an American entrepreneur. Rod responded hopefully that he was in fact an American entrepreneur and how would he go about transferring his balance with them to another account?
Require signature in person, she explained.
So it was much as he had thought.
Your account number, Ghol cawed. Confirm using your account number!
So Rod did, or at least tried. Three digits into it the banker woman began to protest loudly. She in fact moaned. No, she said, this wouldn't do. Anyone could be listening in. government telecom workers were notorious for eavesdropping on the switchboard and stealing financial information. He had no idea how many balances had been drawn down in this way. All the more reason to drop by in person.
Yes but how was he supposed to get his name matched up with Chinese characters when he got there?
We cannot reveal more for protocols, she said. But we look forward to doing your business bye bye!
Wait! he managed before she hung up. What about e-mail? Could he confirm via e-mail?
E-mail unsafest protocol lead to much confusion, she said. E-mail risk loss of prestige and understand. You call for reason you have account. You come in self and bye bye!
Rod and his uncle agreed that they had indeed called for a reason, and the fact that they were holding a large recently settled sum for an American entrepreneur boded well.
He supposed the next step would be for them to trek to Altay.
“For you to go to Altay, you mean. I’m not going there, not on your life.”
“But why?”
“For one thing, where's the money going to come from? You told me yourself that you were going to have to pay out of pocket, and I’m not doing that. Plus there’s the issue of sitting cooped up on an airplane with you. I mean that confined space, with your breath just circulating and recirculating. I’d have to go to the bathroom and smoke. Hey, don't take it hard, kid! I've helped you this far, haven't I? You're the one who chose to force your condition on the world and make it a political issue. Am I right? Of course I am. And besides, it'll be a good thing for you to travel abroad on your own. For me personally, I just don’t know about doing business in China. There’s the matter of legal protections, human rights, all that. Things can get hairy over there."
Rod saw what he meant—this was something he had to light out on his own to do. Plus he had looked at ticket prices, and it was a fact that the rest of his live-in’s shelved stash would only cover two one-way tickets. Which was exactly enough for him and the Duchess. That gelatinous vixen!
“Will you at least come over so we can burn the rug together before I leave?”
Ghol paused. “Well, all right. But I’d like to stay outdoors as much as possible if I come over, just so you know.”
Rod could agree to that. That was the point anyway. To be outside and burn the rug. He didn’t need to spread CASHPAC’s message on Golden Triangle time. The smoke from the burning rug would probably drown out any statement he was trying to make anyway.
Just then came the rumbling of the garage door in its tracks. Ghol's birdlike image jiggled briefly before Rod pressed the power button to turn off the screen.
“Roddie!!” His live-in sounded insane. At least he was about to learn something useful. If it wasn't a crock that was.
“I’m up here, Geener!" He could feel his exhalation dancing around him like a little whirlwind. Maybe it would be best if they did this little position module outside. That would show Mrs. Ritter!
But there she was: Tall, surfboardish, severe. So little like the comforts of the Duchess. Rod involuntarily smeared his brows and ground his hips.
Her voice was warm when she spoke. “Rod, thank you so much for your e-mail. I can’t tell you how much better it made me feel."
Rod just looked at her. How awkward was this going to be?
But there is very little awkwardness. She breaks the ice by giving a rehearsed speech about how the In Lieu Of position is going to change the world. Not only would the pleasure principle be brought into a permanent ascendant, but couples frustrated at their inability to procreate, coupled with the sheer expense of fertility treatments, would now have an inexpensive and pleasurable way to transcend their misery. The position would all but guarantee multiple vaginal orgasms, but it would also, by a very subtle derangement of the normal angle, give the male a chance to experience multiple mini-orgasms before the big one. The company was poised for explosive growth, but she wanted to assure him that they were prepared for obstacles and growing pains along the way. For example, because the multiplication of sexual pleasure would be so extreme, the company’s lawyers had already begun to prepare defenses for the inevitable class action suits that would be filed once it became clear how much productivity had been lost. Not to mention the legal battles that would be waged by fertility clinics as they began to go under.
She painted for him in broad strokes how the invention was going to work. The similarity of her practiced motions to those of a flight attendant demonstrating the use of onboard flotation devices was not lost on Rod as she bent over and began mock-fitting herself with an In Lieu Of, just so. Rod was keen to understand the precise position it had to be lodged in, albeit without appearing too interested. She mustn’t think that he had a use for it outside this context. It seemed that it had to be loose in there, that was the main thing. Next she told him the general position and the range of motion that the invention provided for—actually quite confined. It was important to maintain the right angle the whole time, or pleasure would be forfeited. Mistakes could actually lead to painful, pinching consequences. Untutored use could even lead to lasting injury and deformity. Which is why the product-as-method would be sold by prescription only, its users forced to attend a lengthy training module, occasional refresher clinics, symposia. Mmm. Rod wondered aloud if they were going to take their clothes off so they could practice it, but Geena said no, this was just a privileged product demonstration—think of it like something you see at a convention, Rod—and it couldn't legally be shared before it was patented and they had worked out the last few glitches. She wasn’t licensed to use it before she was factory-certified. Certification? Well…certification was no walk in the park. Besides, it was her time of the month. But wasn’t that why she wore the In Lieu Of in the first place? Well the thing was that the position of it was slightly shifted so as to form a channel shooting straight into the cervix. Which meant that if used as a pleasure enhancer, its usefulness as a stopper was nullified. Hence the increased fertility. His curiosity was piqued—well couldn't they try it anyway? Well, normally maybe, but she was sore. Why was she sore? It was her time of the month, she said. Well did she at least want to do it the normal way then? They could go slow. She said trust me, once you've done it the patent-pending In Lieu Of way, there was really no other way to go. Rod emitted a frustrated exhalation bound for the ceiling. But how did she know that the position was so good if they had never tried it together? Smiling as softly as her severe face would allow, she said it was part of every worker's job description to understand and help test out the company’s products. His breath suddenly stalled in his throat. Hands drove down into hips like pistons.
But it’s not about you Rod! Not at all—imagine being at the forefront of something. It's just what you have to do if you don't want to miss that ship. She stroked his hair to comfort him, holding her nose high.
Rod relaxed the grinding grip about his thighs. Truth be told, it wasn't as if he didn't know what it was like to be at the cusp of something. And if he was going to go on to really enjoy the fruits of entrepreneurial success, wasn't it for the best that she got out there and learnt to be independent? He could feel his mood brighten. She didn't know it, but she was sending him off. And she’d be better off without him, he had a feeling. She couldn’t go on being his live-in forever.
Oh Roddie I just knew you’d understand!
Then a funny thing happened: She kissed him without a thought as to his affliction. It lasted a long time, then segued into something else. Before long, they were entwined in the In Lieu Of position. It is impossible to describe the feelings and satisfactions that the position generated. To make an attempt is to see everything become blanketed in an impenetrable fog.
Which in spite of which it would be accurate to say that the position was learnt and savored, and that once Geena left to begin her night shift, whatever that meant, Rod rumbled with pleasure at discovering that the position went a considerable way toward salving his priapism. You might say it brought him up by letting him down. He sat down to write the Duchess.

My dear Duchess,
You must come immediately. You see I’ve…

& c.


Soon he could hear the telltale gurgle of diesel approaching through the fog. He ran to the door and looked on through the windowbank flanking the right doorjamb to see her Med-i-Van diligence sluggishly materialize as it crossed the threshold of his driveway. It rolled to a distinguished stop on the gravel. Engine gurgling, the side door rolled back on its track with a low whine. The Duchess made a stately descent on her motorized platform; just like the first time they had met, everything had the gravity and majesty of an elect destiny. The Duchess was radiant, possibly more so than before. She wasted no time inching her scaffold up toward Rod’s veranda just as fast as she could go. Rod sailed down the steps in a single bound and took her in his arms.
He started talking and could not stop. He talked about the flight and how they were going to sit inseparably for 14 hours; about the long path he had trodden and how he was at the cusp of something truly amazing and did she know how that felt; about what a good fellow her driver seemed to be as he saw him tip his cap conspiratorially before driving away; about how they were going to really “do” China once they had collected to reward, how they’d go off and see everything from the wall to the gorges to the terracotta warriors. Memories to salt away for the rocking chair days.
They walked inside and he began telling her about the position, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Her face had changed. It was set hard. She was strictly interested, she interjected, in the knapped sandstone blade of the cliterodectomy set. And don’t forget the accompanying guide, lest you… Sure, but Rod wanted to know if he could show her the other thing, the position, maybe after he had let her peruse the guide, because that was really important. The Duchess acceded, and he scooted up the stairs to find the set. She called after him: But only if you give the right answers to my questions!
She set to examining it. They had a discussion. The Duchess wondered whether he agreed with Kribbendorf. What did Rod think of the whole idea? Rod had a hard time expressing himself on the topic, but once the Duchess had regarded him long enough through eyes narrowed in suspicion, he found some words, but could he hold her hand as he said them?
Yes—well, as pure idea there was certainly something to it. He didn’t mean it the way Kribbendorf did, that whole business about canceling pleasure as an insurance policy. No, it was just that there was something elegant about completing the unfinished sexual twinning begun in the remote evolutionary past. The removal of the clitoral pseudopenis left behind a woman in full, he guessed. All passive intake without the inconvenience of a passive-aggressive protuberance. Did she see? Without the clitoris getting in the way, only the real deal remained.
The Duchess responded by snapping what remained of the blade in half with a great liquid effort. Rod was stunned. What could possibly prompt her to sabotage the chattels gained by honest e-enterprise? At the sound of the Duchess beginning to cry, he could feel the foundations of everything he thought he had gained over the past few weeks begin to shear into the sea of a tragic fate. He began to cry too, and the sobs to united them. Really, Cash, do you really believe in that stuff? Of course he didn’t believe in it, he said. Of course it was wrong to mutilate. What was this desire to flout sense, he thought to himself. To see what he could get away with?
She didn’t think he truly understood, though. If he really wanted to know why it was wrong, he should try to think it through to its logical conclusion. If you’re out to remove parts that are theoretically inconvenient, take a look at yourself. Would you want someone cutting out your belly because it rained on their parade of good smells? Or how about the brain? Should the violent, irritable, striving, unfaithful, rash and gullible parts of everyone’s brains be removed? And what would that leave behind? Or if you want pure concepts, what about cutting out the parts of your brain that think female thoughts about the issues of childrearing or homemaking or sex? Should those parts be removed too? And the parts of mine that think about enterprise and war?
Where does it end, Cass? If you want something as uncomplicated as a pure notion, you’re going to be doing a lot of cutting and snipping. Of all people!
Rod didn’t know what to say. The Duchess leafed through the pamphlet, which was slightly sodden with use, then stabbed at a sentence with her finger as though it were trying to squirm away.
This business about asking a Muslim for clarification, she said. It’s garbage. Can’t he make his own argument and let it stand for itself? I mean without passing the buck? It’s perfectly absurd.
He gave a vanquished nod, twining his hand between her exquisite softness and a canvas backstrap. In secret he still thought it was absurdly perfect, but he wasn’t going to let that get in the way of teaching her a module that she would be thanking him for for the rest of her life. He attempted to redirect the flow of conversation.
Ghol was coming over soon, he said, adding ‘Ghol!’ for urgency. She agreed to be shown, and enthused when she realized what it was all about. He carried her up the stairs to where he and his live-in slept with some difficulty, rack and all.
Then Rod and the Duchess…no, wait! The harder I try to glass what is happening, the more fog comes creeping into the frame. I see glimpses of Rod gesticulating, motioning, straining, whether to make himself understood or to balance an inert, trembling weight I can hardly tell. It’s all just swirling. I can see Rod doing a charade on all fours, then there’s the Duchess fumbling with something…she’s reaching limply for one of her rack’s harnesses, and now she’s…no, damn it, now I can’t see anything at all. The good thing is that I can give you a summary of what happened without so much as a shadow of a doubt: Rod taught the Duchess, whose real name I do not know, how to engage in the In Lieu Of position with considerable success. The tricky part seems to have been how to reposition her and adjust her angle of suspension from the scaffolding. You would have guessed this anyway, of course. But the two lovebirds got it done, and with aplomb to judge by the look on Rod’s face I’m just now glimpsing through the parting fog. Bingdong!
Rod skittered down the stairs and threw open the door on a large and well-dressed Ghol, who stood toting a plastic gascan.
“Well, what are you standing there for? Come on out, Nephew. We’ve got work to do.”


Burning the map * A watchful eye * Long arms and an even longer arm * Slipping through the dragnet * The official version: Obscene materials

Toward the late afternoon, a columnar cipher of smoke began to mingle with the intimate fog that lay over the neighborhood. Set against the wispy blanket that seemed to pad the earth from the gray threat in the cloudbanks overhead, the sooty column looked like evidence of a furious industrialization, a rudimentary challenge to Nature’s indifference. But the smoke’s true origins were in the information economy—in e-enterprise. Because fateful symmetries are often ignored by the public at large, the smoke was the source of a good deal of confusion around the neighborhood—a failure to comprehend which in truth was only augmented by the evening news at 10.
What viewers saw was a smoke column billowing up off a burning heap in the front yard of a house like any other situated in the midst of what might as well have been an injection-molded subdivision glued down to a piece of geo-formed plywood; some may have seen that the overall layout roughly held the shape of a diamond saddled within a juncture of crescents of the kind often seen in the medallions of the rugs of the Maghreb. To those with a privileged perspective, the rigid column of soot may have offered a compelling argument against the confused cobalt-inflected brownness of the creek snaking through the neighborhood, the course of which creek held precisely the same shape as the vague blue filament in the Abu Sbaa High Atlas rug.
Yet the news crew covering the fire, never having seen the rug or fathomed its intrigue, missed this argument. The only person who knew about the symmetries between a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood and the design woven into the rug that burned at the base of the fire—but he wasn’t among the three people burning the rug. To the neighborhood and to the distinguished members of the media, the symbolic act undertaken on that day to propitiate the spirits of commerce was no more than a blazing infraction against local ordinance, signifying very little.
It should be noted that even before accelerant was applied, the rug, which featured in the medallion a small diamond set in the hump of two joined crescents, burned as if it had bided its entire service lifetime in anticipation of this eventual immolation, drying year by year into the perfect tinder for this blazing enterprise. It was the sudden hollow burst of the first flames that drew the vigilant eye of Mrs. Ritter to the window. And it was Mrs. Ritter who noted the details of what happened next. Along with the police commissioner’s, her account formed the cornerstone of the official version of the events preceding Rod Grumbelius’ hasty departure to China.
She stood and watched as her neighbor and his two companions milled around the burning rug. She considered calling the police right away, but wanted to see what would happen, and her curiosity won out. Her squat little neighbor had a big smile on his face as he milled around the fire with the companions. One was a man, slightly older, who seemed normal enough. The other was a droopy-looking woman rolling around with difficulty in a cage on castors. Mrs. Ritter did not have to wait long for something to happen. After what looked like a little conference, her neighbor went into the house, then emerged with more items to immolate. There were a couple of books and papers, some boxes, and then a few cheap-looking trinkets she could not identify. Then came a barrage of books, shelf after shelf of them. She noticed that her neighbor made sure to browse the books for any important papers he might have filed away before throwing them on the pyre. She suspected they were destroying evidence. Her suspicions were confirmed when they threw a computer on the fire and watched its metal case contort into a wasted effigy.
The next thing added to the fire was a kind of brown mulch shoveled into the flames from a wheelbarrow, she guessed to encourage total combustion and destruction of evidence, down to the last flaky cinder negative of what once had been paper printed with seditious text. This development coincided with a limp wind that carried the smoke toward her house, quickly transforming her supercilious bemusement into outrage. They were burning dung! It was enough that her neighbor stalked people with his offensive breath, but this was too much. To destroy evidence of sedition by the light of day, and to garnish the offense with manure! This was an affront and a police matter. And a story for the local news, she decided. Maybe she would call the newsmen first, though. Having the arrival of the police on television would be priceless. She got on the phone, and it was not long before a news chopper was circling noisily overhead. Every time it made a pass though, it would not only fan the enormous fire, but would send a suffocating dose of the smoke in her direction. This sent her into a confused conniption, so that when she called the police, she was unable to tell them in any certain terms whether it was her neighbor or Channel 5 she wanted hauled away. Her already quite dismal intelligence by have sunk lower still as a result of inhalation.
None of this mattered. A somewhat official-looking car had pulled up even with her neighbor’s house while she was on the phone with the police. She kept her eye on the car, but the driver did nothing until a news van with an enormous, vaguely obscene satellite dish appeared out of the fog like an apparition. As the van pulled up, the official car moved to block the road. The van stopped. Its driver got out and flashed what looked like a badge. Next he sent the van on its way with a wave of his arm. It obeyed. She could then see him get on the phone and speak no more than a sentence or two in what looked like anger. When the police arrived five minutes later, he moved to greet them, too. This time the badge stayed in his pocket. The man stood talking calmly and confidently.
She couldn’t stand the thought of him sending them away, too, so she rushed outside to plead her case. Just then a police helicopter arrived on the scene. The multiplication of the stench sent her stomach into acrobatic protest. She thought she could detect a note of her neighbor’s breath somewhere in there, but steeled herself and went on. It was like staggering through a gale. She could hear the man talking to the police about his client. His client had filed a permit, he said, and was not in violation of any bylaws. They were even welcome to view the permit on his personal digital assistant. Mrs. Ritter was unable to get a word in. She finally yelled that her neighbor should be tried in a court for sedition, my husband even says so, but the phalanx of mesmerized blue gathered around the device paid no heed. Out of the corner of his mouth, her neighbor’s lawyer pointed out that criminal defamation was a serious offense and that it carried a maximum penalty of a year in jail. And it was unlike a Strathclyde partner not to seek the maximum penalty.
Just then she thought she could hear something funny. A suspicious rumble. She slipped away to investigate. She ran to her porch. Her neighbor and the woman were nowhere to be seen. Only that normalish salt-and-pepper fellow was there. She ran out into the adjacent yard. The old man revealed nothing when questioned. She darted past him, through the garage and into the alleyway. She scanned the roadway in both directions, caught a hint of something, then squinted to train her eyes on the horizon of her effective vision, where she could discern the shimmering outline of two figures: One on a bicycle, and the other bobbling haltingly along in what must have been that roller cage.
“Damn you Grumbles!”
As the fire burned itself out, she called up the local news channel to give her complete story. She also helped the officers on the scene sort out what was happening. The gist of the breaking news report that night was this: That an area woman had been minding her business making cookies when she noticed that a fire had erupted in the yard next to hers. She had looked on in astonishment as her neighbor and two other people burned books, household items, papers, and worst of all dung. At this point she called the police, as any concerned citizen would have done. The woman suspected more than just a fire though; in fact she reported that her neighbor had a long history of obscene acts, and that she suspected him of plotting against the government. But when the police appeared on the scene, they were greeted by a civil rights attorney who intercepted them in order to give his client cover to flee. Which he did, because he could not be located for questioning, despite a description of his curious traveling companion and the bike he was using to flee. The attorney stalled for time by showing the officers a yard waste fire permit that proved to be fabricated as soon as they phoned it in to municipal affairs. Not only that, but the officers had displayed a galling lack of professionalism by accepting the gentleman’s offer to use his PDA to check their e-mail. Which if it hadn’t been for that, the suspect wouldn’t have gotten away. One of the officers had received a humorour forward, and for a while the lot of these grown men had stood around the screen giggling, while the area woman who called in the violation stamped her indignant little feet with the impatience of an outraged citizen. The fire department was called in, but thanks to the smart instincts of the area woman who alerted the authorities in the first place—her stated suspicion was that her neighbor was burning criminal evidence—the fire department was able to put the blaze out with minimal disturbance to what remained of the smoldering heap.
Once the police began to sift through the material, they quickly closed the area off to reporters and declared it a crime scene. The newscast showed footage of officers looking disturbed as they yellow-taped the scene and warded off the press. In a written statement, the local police commissioner reported that his officers had found a piece of intensely obscene literature preserved from the flames by a blanket of dung, and that it had been admitted as evidence. The department anticipated multiple counts of possession of child pornography and incitement to sexual violence. As yet, neither the resident nor the man who identified himself as his attorney (who had slipped away as officers picked through the smoldering remains) could be located for questioning. The police had managed to locate the resident’s uncle and take him in for questioning. Area residents should be assured that patrols had been stepped up and that they and their children were perfectly safe. But in no case should anyone, the commissioner warned, accept any literature or other materials bearing the CASHPAC imprimatur—not to mention a ride on the organization’s missing service vehicle.
The 10 o’clock news concluded with a brief interview with the area woman. She said she had always known that her neighbor was up to no good, and that he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Was she surprised by the obscene material? Not at all. What surprised her was that they hadn’t managed to find more of it, or any dirt about her neighbor’s long-term revolutionary goals. Fearing incomprehension, the newscast elided her lengthy monologue about her neighbor’s advocacy of halitosis, instead displaying an image of his wolf-savaged face for viewers to soak in.


Significantly, it should be noted that the two forms glimpsed vanishing down the alley had never seen the distinguished-looking gentleman who facilitated their escape. And if they had seen him, they would not have had the foggiest notion who he was.


On the way to the airport, Rod pulled a manila envelope out of his jacket and handed it to the Duchess. It was from the legal emissaries of the freshness consortium. He asked her to tell him what was inside. They were moving at a pretty good clip—the anonymous caller on the phone had warned him to get to the airport as quickly as possible or face prosecution—so the Duchess had some trouble with it, but he gathered that the freshness people had meant what they said, and that he was being sued. Defamation was the charge. The sum at stake was some impossible figure, but Rod told the Duchess not to worry. Theirs was a golden future a la Golden Triangle, full of handsome benefit and gorgeous reward. Because Rod lived near the airport, it did not take them long at all to reach it. They had even managed to increase their rate of progress by hitching the Duchess’s rack to his service vehicle to overcome her mechanical disadvantage. Which made for quite a sight as they trundled along the frontage roads and overpasses that hemmed Sungirdle International snugly into the urban patchwork. A lot of traffic slowed to soak up the sight. Some motorists, catching a glimpse of the vehicle’s CASHPAC pennant, became quite offended. The bolder among them started to yell imprecations at the couple. Rod appreciated the humbling nature of the moment: Even here, so close to achieving his dream, he was forced to confront the harsh realities of stigmatization. Rod grinned and bore it, thankful for the lesson. The Duchess did not appreciate it as much. Especially since a good deal of such rainwater as had collected in the road, and which was within reach of the most offended motorists’ tire treads, ended up arcing brownly through the air and soaking the personages of our fleeing, stigmatized protagonists.
Rod and his Duchess did finally reach the airport, wet and downtrodden though they were. Not until they were halfway across the vast Pacific did their rain-spattered clothed finally dry out.

*Part 3*

Meanwhile, things proceeded apace back home. There was the matter of the investigation, certainly, but without Rod there to bear its brunt it hardly mattered. The thing to note is that steps were quickly taken to fill Rod’s vacancy by the very man who posed as his lawyer to facilitate his escape. That very same evening in fact, as Rod and the Duchess tracked high above the seas, Rod’s soon-to-be replacement dropped in on Geena, and soon started day’s second bonfire. This time the mysterious column of smoke that plumed into the sky drew its fuel not from a burning rug and certain obscene pieces of literature, but from the vast store of promotional CASHPAC materials that Rod kept around the house, and to which his replacement vehemently objected.
Part III

Dear Bwana Mangwana,

You won’t believe it, but I’ve followed the clues to their logical conclusion. I’m in Altay, at the northern end of the Dzungarian Basin! I made it! I guess I don’t have to ask if you’re proud of me. That goes without saying. After everything I’ve done to facilitate our partnership. And parse the clues consigned with the artifacts. Not to mention my navigation of the high seas of Internet romance and prior record of social entrepreneurship. But I do want to let you know that I’m proud of what we do at Golden Triangle Enterprises. It’s not just a matter of the end product and the way we plan to put it out there. It’s where we come from. When you look at it, we’re scrappers, we’ve been through so much. I mean think about it! From the despondent slough of political disfavor through a heroic stage of hard work and elbow grease on both sides of the stalled equities transaction, and on finally to this, the cusp of our arrival, our thrival…I can’t tell you how good it’s going to feel to walk in through the cast iron doors of that bank tomorrow morning! It’ll be substantially earlier in Central Africa at the time, so you’ll likely be sleeping, but if the Republic of Mangwana were located in Central Asia, I just know you’d busily be working out the enterprise logistics for the reptile farm, and so that’s what I’ll imagine as I’m shoveling bills into a duffel bag.
You know, one thing that strikes me is that I think that our story could provide the fodder for an inspirational series of books. The usual stuff about how to raise yourself up by your bootstraps. If marketed in just the right way, I think there are millions of people out there whose dreams could take wing on this heartwarming story. Look at it: You have a beleaguered but worthy African reaching out in blind desperation to establish friendly business contact with an overseas partner. Against all expectation he is greeted by a gracious and accommodating American who provides the unlikely twin gifts of friendship and financial security. From the African perspective, it’s a classic ‘go west!’ tale, while from the American side of the stalled transaction it’s a sternly rousing call to ‘go digital’ in pursuit of your dreams. But it’s more than even that. Ours is a story of mutual outward esteem leading to mutual inward esteem. If I’m not mistaken, the fruits of this venture have inspired in you a lot more self-esteem than you had going in. Goad knows that I’m riding on a high crest of it. It is as if in the very act of esteeming you I were esteeming myself. Put succinctly, it’s a matter of giving it to get it. I’ve even got a name for our inspirational little series: It’s Esteeming You, Esteeming Me. Do you like that, Julius?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you about the now before I get too heavily into the future. The Duchess and I got here from Beijing just a little while ago. An amazing flight over the most varied terrain. I think we saw a lot of Mongolia. Mostly parched, empty wasteland. Talk about a good word. Bear me out in it! The service on board was good though: Big steamed dumplings, attractive esteeming stewardship, and pleasant inflight advertisements about national construction projects, cultural achievements, scientific attainments, you name it. China is a wonderful place. The flight attendants did look askance a little at the Duchess, but I think we can gloss over that for now. After all, there has to be some interpretive leeway in how we recollect our days.
So we landed in the afternoon and checked into a hotel. We barely checked in before I started really liking the place. The décor was oriental, but not too oriental. WThe touch was conscious, just enough to make to westerner feel it without overwhelming him: Chinese walls, steaming cups of tea, traces of eunuchery, and a kind of noble solemnity over their procedures. What was more, the bank had posted a liaison there to receive us when we arrived. He was an elegant-looking fellow who came stepping out of a niche at just the right time, kind of cinematically I thought. His attire was impeccable. Topmost he wore a panama whose brim was pulled down level with his gaze to make it difficult to tell whether he was looking at or around me. Next came the abbreviated ring of his perfectly white collar, joined at the neck with a clasp of gold. The collared shirt was contained by a close-fitting navy sport coat that cleaved perfectly to the slope of his shoulders and accentuated an athletic frame. Its middle button was left open to reveal another clasp of brushed gold, above which lay a burgundy and teal-striped cravat whose soft silk muted and contained what would otherwise have been garish colors. The gray wool slacks fell from his waist in a smooth cascade of fabric, breaking gently against the instep of his perfectly polished black Balmorals. The entire presentation was rounded out by a slim portfolio done in glossy reptile leather and mother-of-pearl clasps, looking for all the world like it might contain half the treasures of the Orient. I have to confess, too, that when he first addressed himself to me to ask if I was Rod Grumbelius—he said Wod Grumbrus—it took me a little while to see past the allure of his perfect attire and respond. I must have stood looking at him in silence for another several seconds as my head skittered with thoughts about his dignity and inherent worth. But I caught myself, and his face lit up in perfect courtesy to mirror the perfect dress when I said that I was in fact Rod. Giving a florid bow, he introduced himself as Tancred Poon of the Poon People’s Bank. He handed my a business card identifying him by the title “VIP Liaison.” After helping us check in and deposit out bags, he invited us for tea at his home. He was, in short, a man deserving of esteem.
He lived in a new box home in the recently settled Han part of town, which lay within the diamond depicted on your artful High Atlas Rug. Around the corner from the bank as I understand it. It was, quite simply, a bank employee residence done in cinderblocks, with a few frills like a tiled pagoda-like Chinese roof and moldings, fretwork, screens. There was every sort of modern amenity, yet despite the building’s newness there were strange drafts passing all through the house. I gather that it rarely rains in Altay, but when it does my guess is that Tancred or his live-in, if he has one, will have to scramble for pails. Someone should open up a pail enterprise in the Han quarter. The man served us an assortment of teas. There was Oolong, jasmine, magnolia, and a tame bag of Tetley’s. Over shared steaming beverages he told us that he would help me navigate the bank transaction the next morning, and that I needn’t worry about converting my name and password into Chinese characters unassisted. That was something he had long experience with, given that he held an Associate’s degree in Pinyinization. He did agree that it was a remarkable system, not necessarily in a good way, since it left plenty of room for error. Why, he said, just the other month an important client’s transaction had been held up by just such an error of reverse pinyinization. It was still in a state of limbo, in fact. But between his reassuring tones and even more reassuring attire, Tancred Poon managed to salve all doubt.
Once we had belabored matters of business over tea, Tancred brought out a bottle of beer from which he served out three glasses. He then gave us a formalized yet hearty welcome to China. From the bottom of his heart, he said. As we joined glasses and gazes in the middle of the table, he wished me the best of luck with my future endeavors. We clinked and clirred: Chin chin! Next we passed some time discussing the virtues of enterprise. After some halting descriptions and amusing misunderstandings, I think we were both able to agree that what went by the name of the free market in America and what flew the flag of state-sponship in China were really not so different. The important thing, we agreed, was that individuals display initiative and willfulness and that their governments foster the exercise of those virtues. The Duchess bobbled her head and could not agree more. As we moved on to our second large bottle of Dzungarian beer, we began to commiserate about the injustice we both had suffered at the hands of our enterprise-stifling governments. I told him about the constant harassment I faced as Sufferer-in-Chief at CASHPAC. He told me about the Chinese authorities outlawing several predatory financial instruments that he had helped brainstorm. It was sad. But it was good, too, because we understood each other. In a way it reminded me of the way you and I got to know one another. It truly is an amazing world Julius, and I give thanks every day just for the fact that I’m allowed to be a part of it.
On a closing note, I’d like to mention that I think Altay is going to do wonders for my health. Do you know why? I think it’s a combination of good high air and a salubrious injection of capital. I’ve always viewed payouts as a kind of booster shot, and I think that this particular one is going to raise my immunity to unrivalled levels of robustness. Do you know, after a few hours’ exposure to this lofty and money-charged air, I could feel myself breathing cleanly, confidently; there even seemed to be a palpable decrease in halitotic activity. So Sjögren be damned—that’s what I’m going to tell Dr. Genauer! Now if only I were outside and able to continue my slalom-ride to health instead of in this Internet café choked with smoke! On that note, Bwana Julius, I shall go.

Until tomorrow, dearly cherished partner in transoceanic enterprise,

I remain,

Your H. Rod Grumbelius, tottering on the razor’s edge


He clicked Send with a welling sense of satisfaction. The thought of wheeling the Duchess outside and strolling back to their room pleased him. He would just check his e-mail one last time. A soft undertow of Mandarin tones filled the Internet café. Nothing new, everything had been attended to. Just in case though, he decided to page over and check his next 25 messages. Sure enough, there was something there that he had forgotten to open. It was an e-mail from himself. He opened it; it was the to do list he had written up for himself a few days ago just as the exciting final stages of his transoceanic enterprise were kicking off. Scrolling down through, it looked like everything had been attended to: Check, check, check. Until he got to the last item: Check Geena’s e-mail. His heart dropped like a stone through still water. He pounded the keyboard, eliciting looks of concern from his Chinese co-typists, who appeared very keen that no one lose control over himself in their midst. Slow Mandarin syllables kept drifting in from the next room. The Duchess protuberated her hand out over his forearm, sensing his concern. He told her what had happened, explaining that it wasn’t so much that any definite harm would come of his failure, but that this particular omission was indicative of a larger lapse in vigilance. This was a loose end he had to tie up if he was to keep his sense of esteem intact. He opened a new window and logged in to her account: Username Inlieuofgirl, password cappedbloodiskeptblood.


Hi Geena,

Question for you: Have you had a chance to get through my book yet? Though I suppose there’s no rush. It did take me two years to write after all, so if it takes you a quarter or an eighth of that time to read it, then hey, I’ll just take that as a testament to the complexity of my skillfully woven plot, the subtle yet dense limpidity of my style, the powerfully compelling way the characters come off the page, the way I approach the infinite without the least congestion in the most crystalline, sober and airy style…I guess I wanted to get your reaction to the scene where Mangwana intercepts the German rocket scientist on the tarmac and convinces him to stay on and conduct his test launches from his parcel in the eastern part of the Republic. I personally think it’s one of the best scenes, charged with a kind of desperate momentum that reinvents the character just when it looks like he may not succeed in making anything of himself beyond your default stereotypical philandering son of a tyrant. But if you haven’t read it yet, I won’t ruin it for you any more that I already have. What I really can’t wait for is when you get to the end. Because that, Geena, is the cat’s meow. This is where Julius succeeds in defrauding thousands of people around the world by means of a simple ruse—which I think is righteous, since the unwitting must always be punished—and then uses the proceeds to bankroll a large international leisure consortium that trades on its African image to not only conjure the illusion of authenticity among discerning buyers, but to elicit sympathy buys from the “conscious.” Who wouldn’t want to buy a beer or a pack of smokes from an African who made good against all odds?
The good thing is that I suspect that you will have plenty of time on your hands to sit down with a good read now that your roommate seems to have hit the road. The fact that I’ll be moving in and nagging you about it nonstop until you do it should provide further encouragement.
And no Geena, I cannot wait until you get a chance to show me the next big thing you were talking about.

P.S. Yes, yes. I’ll sweep up the ashes from the little bonfire I had the other night just as soon as I get my stuff in order and bring it over.

P.P.S Remember how you got an e-mail from an African before, about some silly scam? Well I have to confess to being its author. I just needed to make sure you wouldn’t be silly enough to fall for something like that. I guess it was just kind of a final inspection, just to be on the safe side. Hope you don’t mind.

**Need to address the fact of Rod posing as Geena saying that she loves Rod.



Hey Carson,

To tell you the truth I’ve barely even started. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not really looking forward to it. I think it’s just the greatest idea, your novels set in some imaginary place in Africa. Giving you a chance to explore big issues. Without having to draw on the real world at all. I mean it’s Africa right? Nobody knows Africa from a hole in the ground, so you don’t have to go there, you can say anything and people will be totally sure you know what you’re talking about. Just say it with authority, you know?
Speaking of exploring, I can’t wait to show you the big new thing either. It’s really cutting edge. You’re going to love it. But you need to be ready, because if you’re not it can destabilize you…you’ll never be able to get out of bed!
About Rod, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking maybe it’s better that he left, you know? We had some communication problems, he and I did. There was always the thing with his breath. Did I ever tell you about that? I mean it was bad…I don’t know why I put up with it for so long. I guess sometimes I got to thinking that it somehow made him more, I don’t know, human. I think I managed to convince myself that that…flaw, that it was attractive. The more flagrant the flaw…
But there was still a lot of tension. I mean I could appreciate it in the abstract. But sometimes you have to mask it, you have to make an effort. It would make me furious that he reveled in it so much. It made sex hard. I had a hard time talking about it with him, that’s for sure. Part of it was that I was scared to hurt his feelings. But it’s not like he didn’t know about it. All he ever did was talk about how people had to accept him the way he was, something about how he was going to make a ‘see change’ in the landscape, whatever he meant by that. Guerilla this, agit that, always going on about halitosis. I mean it was enough to make a woman mad, Carson!
Also I guess it would have taken guts to really work through that stuff and get somewhere. Guts. Guts I don’t know that I had. I mean this thing, it was about something way down deep about him. Like something down in the code, you know? I guess that’s why I kept putting it off, because I knew it was the wedge that would drive us apart. And I wasn’t ready for that. I never bought what he said about the breath being something separate, something that could be treated. To me it was always the thing that defined Rod. Whenever he was there, there was always the breath. And that was the way he was trying to define himself mostly, too! There was just some reluctance to totally accept it. I don’t know, he had a lot of bluster, but I think that down deep he felt really bad about it and wanted be normal. But he couldn’t! That breath was always there. It smelled so bad, Carson! It could be beat back with a cocktail of Scope and some of the stuff I forced him to buy from Madagascar, but after five minutes it would always be back. We had to do it quick, you know? It was his essence. It frustrated me a lot, but I just kept it bottled up until I felt like I was going to explode. I used to just stare at him, thinking that if I thought about it hard enough, wished hard enough, it would go away. And he would catch me looking at him and know exactly what was in my head and just revel in it like he didn’t care at all that this was ruining our relationship, that I was the one who was ruining things by being so picky. In a way I do feel it was my fault. I couldn’t find the right thing to say, you know? And I know that somewhere out there, somewhere in our language if not in my mind, are the words that would have made everything all right.
I knew I loved him. But I knew that my nose hated this thing about him. It was heart versus nose. Which I guess boils down to mind against mind. But he’s walked out and made the decision for me. And do you know what, Carson? He was stealing from me at the end, so what I say is good riddance, you know?



Rod was alarmed, not so much for his own sake as for Julius’. It seemed this Crumpler character had been trading on the good Mangwana name. Not to mention displacing Rod. But the main thing was to inform Julius so he could defend himself. He told the Duchess they would take that stroll in just a minute. The right was beginning to really slant through the window, and he wasn’t sure how good he would be at navigating home in the dark, but he just had to dash off this last e-mail and tell his friend and bwana business partner that he had glassed an outsized case of identity theft in the making. As he began formulating the e-mail he would write to the excellent man in his head, he felt he needed to know more…to make sure his case was solid, since Julius would probably end up skewering this charlatan. He began by looking up Crumpler’s books online, and by reading the sections on display at the online retailers and search engines, until he was able to get a fairly good glimpse, however fragmented, of Crumpler’s opus. The sheer amount of detail that this so-called author had hijacked from Julius’ life was extraordinary; as if this prankster had hatched a clone Julius, but wired him for evil, and left him to his own devices on the printed page. Which resulted in a character very much like the Mangwana he thought he knew, with the difference that the fictional one was debased, dishonest, cruel, base and rapacious.
A full 30 hours that passed before Rod felt he knew enough to compose his e-mail warning. During this time, the Duchess went from patient to irritated to unconscious. Which last state may have been brought on by the bleary-eyed Uighur manning the till, who came by their computer to offer the Duchess a couple drags of his opium-sprinkled cigarette. It must be said that these drags initially made the Duchess prone to the Uighur’s affections; that she allowed herself to be wheeled into one of the café’s private booths, and defiled there; and that she was returned to Rod’s side, fast asleep, without our protagonist having noticed a thing, buried as he was in the world of Crumpler’s outrageous fiction. And during which whole time a single thought insisted on being heard in Rod’s head: Was this was fiction was? Was this what it meant to be literary? To steal from reality with impunity? To pervert? When he tired of the fiction he navigated to an online forum where authors gossiped about pay packages. There seemed to be a lot of rumors swirling around Crumpler’s pay package, but the sums were huge. Rod was sickened.

Bwana Julius!

There is something that you just have to know, and it’s not good at all. Someone out there has your number Julius. That’s something we say over here to denote the presence, whether vague or resolute, of an external malice directed by the number-holder at the individual whose number is being held. What I mean to say, Julius, is that someone out there is trading on your good name. No, more than that, because it’s not as if this somebody is taking your name and applying it to his wares in the manner of a person decorating a lapel with a cherry blossom with documented and generally accepted prior existence in nature; no! the effrontery of this man is such that he would deny you your very existence outside the scope of his own contrivance. What I am trying to say, bwana Julius, is that there is an author out there who is writing books in which you of all people are deployed as a character. The author’s name is Carson Crumpler. An obvious contrivance, but the point is that it has evidently become almost a household name over the past few years. As unlikely as all this sounds, the threat is real, and it’s something you’re going to have to respond to with me as your guide. To the brambles and pitfalls of American jurisprudence, that is. I know that you could skewer the man if it came to that. You need to know from the outset though, that it does not look good. However powerful you once may have been in your own land, here you are no more than a single African going up against an intelligent foe backed by the ruthless titans of publishing. There is more you need to know:
Crumpler’s series has sold well over a million copies, and he’s rumored to be in negotiations over a movie deal. Which obviously needs to be stopped. Imagine having someone else’s face forever associated with your name, your spirit. What you are facing here is no less than a fundamental question of being or non-being. But these are heady topics, topics for later. This e-mail is intended as a mere briefing. The point is that Crumpler has taken your life and the history of your family and has turned it into a farce for consumption by an unlettered audience. The people who read this treacle are scum. People who read fiction in general are—come now Bwana Julius, we are men of the world, are we not? Not wraithlike men of letters. Crumpler’s readers no doubt include my neighbor Mrs. Ritter and the other grisly personages that litter my day to day.
But it gets worse! Not only has he stolen your life rights, but his works pile one calumny after the other on your personal character. He spares the reader no detail, no adjective in illustrating the depth of your supposed depravity. In Mangwana, Crumpler seems to be aiming at a kind of synthesis of the inept bungler with the cool cruel criminal. The effect is jarring and surreal, but readers are gobbling it up, probably for the good foil he provides for the heroics put on by the Anglo-Saxon protagonists he’s always coming this close to deceiving. The fact that these things are untrue means nothing: The market is the great leveler of truth value. Some of the books even insinuate that you and your family members have engaged in the despicable practice of cannibalism.
The series is called Steaming Core. It has been enjoying a run of commercial success that calls the esteemed name of Rider Haggard to mind. It’s only the fourth year of Crumpler’s contract, but so far there’s been so much demand for the books that he and his crack team of college-educated ghostwriters have churned out no fewer than twelve volumes. Just the names trace an offensive arc: Voodoo Economical, Julius and the Ashtray that was a Skull, Scamming Like an African, Bwana Mangwana and the 40 Thieves, The Grandest Larceny. They generally revolve around a harebrained scheme hatched by you and your lieutenants to defraud Westerners visiting on business or pleasure. Would it displease you to know that you never succeed? One I remember involved a trained monkey. When guileless visitors strolled onto a pier jutting into a scenic local lake, their friendly simian tagalong would suddenly take to the trees and then pounce from shoulder to shoulder in a confusing flurry, screeching and stripping them of whatever eyewear they had on, then squail its catch into the lake with a triumphant screech. The cretin going by your name would then emerge in mirrored sunglasses from a car parked along the lake road to put on a show of berating his giggling furry accomplice, then helpfully offer that you had a friend who could salvage their eyewear from the crocodile-infested lake. For a reasonable fee. But not too reasonable. Diesel, you would conclude with a smirk, wasn’t exactly cheap. Obviously you would never do anything like that, but that’s hardly the point. People will believe anything they want about you as long as you’re not there to defend yourself. And even if you were, the fact that you are currently without a title hardly helps matters. We don’t have hereditary titles, but these things still matter here.
More damaging still, Julius, the more recent works explore the theme of e-mail fraud. Which strikes at the very core of your current predicament. In that the stalled equity work can easily be construed as fraudulent by the casual observer. Do you remember how when I first made your acquaintance you were feeling low because of the hostile responses you had been receiving to your polite solicitations? What you did not know was that in America, yours is a household name synonymous with fraud. It’s no wonder people took you for a criminal when you put the Mangwana name on your polite preliminary invitation to help broker the stalled equities transaction! And even if it hadn’t been for Crumpler’s unfortunate hijacking of your name there might still have been problems. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but over here it’s commonly held that most e-mails sent our way from the African subcontinent are no more and no less than the opening salvos in an attempt at transoceanic fraud. The threat is very real. What I am talking about, Julius, are the yahoo-yahoo boys, the marginal robber barons of latterdaydom. So you see, for most people it would really be no leap at all to associate a name like yours with the kind of dealings Crumpler writes for you in his books. Meaning that your e-mails are received like a shot across the bow, a call to vigilance. Which is what puts you at such risk of successful defamation. I must say, in some sense you have to give Crumpler credit. Who can deny the gutsiness of taking a well-regarded, powerful personage and turning the public’s perception of him completely around by deft verbal artistry? According to Crumpler, he’s even actively posed as you in scam e-mails to gain the experience he needs to write or orchestrate his novels.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be insulted so flagrantly: On the one hand, the material reality of your self, your family, your past, is denied at a stroke. On the other—as part of the same stroke really—they go on to say that although you don’t exist outside of this fiction, you are a cannibal. That notwithstanding the alleged fact that you were born of and will die within the mind of Carson Crumpler, and so don’t and shall never enjoy an audience with the people before whom you would like to defend yourself (because they do not believe that you exist)—notwithstanding this you are accused of greed, cruel machination, breaches of logic, trust, contract, every imaginable sort of outrage. If it were me, I’d start to feel downright confused about who I was. I hate to be the messenger on this one, bwana Julius, but I was reading some reviews of your books, and there seems to be a chapter where you are described as a sexual deviant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The final thing I wanted to mention, and which I was not able to get to above owing to the rather formal structure of my correspondence, was the indication that there may be a mole in your midst. I mean think about it. Think about the novel called From Africa With Esteem. The man knows your language. But how? You don’t have any published works, and I don’t recall you mentioning a second career as an orator in greater Mangwanastan. The conclusion, you see, is that there would have be that there has to be a well-placed inside man. I don’t want to get blood on my hands, far from it, but if I had to finger someone, it would have to be Robespierre Chesterton. But I’m no impartial judge—you can imagine how I feel about him.
I don’t know how you want to proceed from here Julius. Sadly, there’s little I can do while still in China, but with any luck I’ll soon have that reward tucked away in a valise and be able to bring the entire weight of my nation’s statutes of criminal law to bear on Mr. Crumpler. Just let me know what you think.

Yours in a faithful surfeit of esteem,

H. Rod


A Moonlit Night * Turning Circles in the Streets * An unexpected wrinkle

Rod wheeled the Duchess out of the Internet café well after nightfall on the second day. All eyes within were leveled on the curious pair as they emerged from its flickering confines into night like apparitions born of smoke. The Duchess was too exhausted from not having eaten; from the opium; from the long sleep and the thing she allowed to be done to her before the long sleep to assist much in her own locomotion; pushing her unstructured weight up the steep hill toward the hotel taxed his strength nearly to the limit. The night was cold, cloudless, and suffused with a pitiless alpine moonlight coming off not only the celestial disc itself, but seemingly also from somewhere beyond the jagged ridges of the surrounding mountains. He looked up to see the reassuring hoofprint of the Sea of Tranquility. It blurred slightly: His breath was the only thing worrying the night’s crisp uniformity.
Reaching the hotel, they plodded up to bed in a state of dull exhaustion, and had to wave off their hotelier’s eager invitations to tea. Tea for VIP. Maybe in the morning, Rod offered with counterfeit graciousness. There was a lot to think about, but these matters had to be left in suspended agitation until he had been able to get some sleep—and collect his proceeds the following morning. He ground his hips a little, but remembered himself and looked up to see the Duchess looking at him, helpless. Helpless! He tenderly helped her out of the harness system and laid her in the bed. After brushing his teeth and staring for a minute or so at the banking information he had written down on scraps of Chinese refuse paper, he curled his body up against her vast warm comfort zone and fell into a granitic sleep. It was a sleep in which nothing moved and no one spoke and there was no breath and no one had any aspirations at all.
Tancred Poon was standing at attention at the hotel gate when they emerged the next morning. More dashing than ever, he had clearly spent a great deal of time burnishing his appearance to a fine gleam. There was something almost military in the impeccable attire and earnest bearing. Reveille—all Poon needed was a bugle. Rod strolled up to exchange a formal greeting, then went to the bank as quickly as the Duchess’s precarious castor-mounted scaffold would allow.



I don’t know what to say. That is I do, but I don’t want to say it. But let me just go ahead and say that the reward I collected this morning appears to amount to little more than $40, not counting a small courtesy stipend. But let me begin at the beginning so as not to confuse you with judgments, explanations, musings, ifs, buts and whatnots. I wish to compose this report with a kind of documentary restraint, so that you can see things not from my desperate perspective, but as they actually happened, and from there maybe be able to offer some insight, consolation, advice. I want what I write to be guided by a sense of precision and responsibility that approaches the reality of what happened this morning at the bank right down to the far reaches of the great asymptotic dwindle. You are the first person I have written to about this in the world, Ghol. Please give my report a careful reading and tell me what is to be done. What is the correct response?
We were met this morning at our hotel by Tancred, an agreeable Han man with family connections to Hong Kong. He holds the title of VIP Liaison for PPB operations throughout the PRC, though as a member of the bank’s controlling family I suspect his influence ranges more widely even than that. Smartly dressed, he looked slightly out of place in rustic Altay, but he brimmed with an infectious confidence that allowed me to look past the incongruity. He led us through the streets, turning here and turning there until at last I felt lost. He had taken us the day before to his home, which I had the impression lay very close to the PPB branch office. The way then had seemed simple enough, but the path this morning seemed to be unwinding according to some random, labyrinthine logic. At times we passed corners and houses that I was fairly certain we had already seen just minutes before. Once we walked through a building, climbing stairs and fording flooded cellars, before emerging out onto another street. Tancred’s constant polite chatter and my worry about the Duchess’s comfort made it hard to pay attention to where we were going. Hauling that rack up and down stairs makes it hard to hold a thought in your mind.
At length we reached a building that Tancred announced as our destination. It was small, narrow, you might say decrepit. I scanned the storefront and could see no sign advertising doyen or dweller. I looked my question at Tancred, who was quick to assure me that this was the Altay VIP office; it was where bank business pertaining to high-yield accounts was conducted. He had been here once before. Years ago, he said, when another moneyed American had needed to move some money into Afghanistan across the high Turkoman wastes. Tancred reached out to wipe a layer of grease and dust off an all but hidden nameplate. Sure enough: Poon VIP. He opened the door with a grandiose display of formality, bowing very low down as I struggled to heave the Duchess’s rickety scaffold across the doorsill. Together we carried her up a darkened stairwell to a landing. Tancred pulled a lacy kerchief folded like origami from his breast pocket and dusted off the nameplate on the large double door, again to reveal “Poon VIP” stenciled into withered plastic. Then he let us in.
Tancred indicated the mess in embarrassment. There were papers everywhere, and all surfaces, pulpy and otherwise, were coated in a generous layer of dust, hair, the odd withered rodent turd. He begged our forbearance, saying that the Altay branch must not have had a deserving VIP customer in a long time. Where had the cleaning crew been? No matter. I had to understand, he said, that despite its shortcomings, this office represented the best face of the PPB. And Tancred did look very dignified. The Duchess looked dismayed, so I tried to cheer her up with a jostle that sent her into an uncontrollable harmonic oscillation of lipids. Tancred swept a couple of chairs free of papers and dust and asked me to sit down.
He gave me a serious look and asked how he could be of assistance with my account at PPB today? I told him that I was here to liquidate it by making a sizable cash withdrawal and sending the rest of it to my account at home via international wire transfer. But who were we kidding? He knew that. He proceeded by taking down my name and account details. He transposed my name and password into Chinese characters as I spoke them. I’d have to say that he made it look very fluid. That was the step I had been nervous about, so I asked him how he could be sure that his phonetic conversion of syllables spoken in a foreign tongue would correspond to an earlier conversion undertaken by someone else. He said that people of competence shared a sense for these things, and went on to explain, loosening the gold pin on his cravat in a way that merely accented his formality, that if there was any mistake in the conversion there would be a very limited set of alternatives to guess between. He slid his fingers across my hand and told me to relax. Then he pushed on a wall panel next to his desk, causing it to spin on a hidden axis, and to reveal a fax machine as the gluteal part of the demi lazy Susan came into view. He explained that he would just have to forward the information to the main branch before anything could be transacted. He flipped through a register. And what was the balance on my account, if he may be so bold as to inquire?
I had to say that I didn't know. All I knew was that it was a considerable sum, something befitting the contribution I made to the founding of a multinational enterprise in animal husbandry. Tancred then scrawled something on the paper I could not make out and faxed it away. I thought I saw him punch in some zeros and ones, oddly enough. While we waited, he complimented me on the Duchess. Very soft. I bet she never puts up a fight! He seemed to want to touch her, as if to see what she was made of, but I wouldn't allow it. But this is not the point. That was small-talk, chaff. Here's the rub, Ghol: When the return transmission came through, the listed sum on my account was $40. For the first time in a long time, I was at a loss for words. While I as trying to regain my composure, the Duchess suggested that we read through a complete list of account transactions to see what had been going on. It was a good idea, and Tancred obliged. He faxed away a request. Minutes later, transcript came over transom. Tancred handed it to me. I could make out very little but the sums. I'm not sure of the currency, but the opening balance on the account was over ten million. Even if it was Yuan, that would make me a millionaire. Reading down, I could see that over the past week, the account had been drawn down significantly every day, until, on the very day I arrived in Altay, this mere $40 nubbin remained.
Tancred was looking at me with perfect candor and concern. Esteem might have been a part of the look too, if the manly pragmatism with which I was taking the ill tidings counted for anything. My breath may have sharpened, but my face stayed straight, set. But who had made these flagrant withdrawals? Tancred said the beneficiary was a numbered account in Liechtenstein, but that other than that, nothing could be said with certainty. I asked him why this other person, this Liechtensteiner, had been allowed to make transfers into a foreign account when I, the named accountholder, had not. No doubt not wishing to appear flustered, Tancred paused to loosen his tie even more, then leaned into the conversation with a look of perfect frankness. He said look, he could sit there and tell me that he thought there had been a terrible mistake. He could sit there and say that. But I was a VIP, and VIP’s didn’t deserve to be bought off with cheap rhetoric, rehearsed lines about a terrible mistake, a grievous error. What we deserved was the truth. And as he saw it, truth here was probably a matter of malfeasance. These were heady times of expansion in China, and with the boom came an equally heady stench of corruption and opportunism. There had been “incidents” like this before, he confessed. The individual making off with the money was usually a person connected with the bank, he said, either directly or through a relative. Until recently, they had been getting away with it.
Until recently?
Well, the Party had begun to root around and expose the malefactors. There had even been some executions orchestrated to whip up just the right amount of fear needed for a healthy business climate. These were highly publicized affairs, with media vans and helicopters allowed to follow the execution vans all the way to the corpse incinerator at a medium distance. When they came around, everyone knew. People all over the country would be glued to their televisions and mobile handsets to see the well-placed crooks being done away with to the everlasting glory of the people. The image of a menacing cross between police van and ambulance entering the sporting arena where a white-collared convict had just been publicly sentenced; opening its doors to admit the ashen-faced vessel for the purgation of collective guilt; rumbling away while everyone-knew-exactly-what-and-were-busily-trying-to-imagine-in-all-its-chilling-detail was happening in the hold; this image was etched onto the eye of nearly everyone in the country.
Though evidently not everyone in Altay, least of all the malefactor at the Poon bank. It was curious: Though it must have been rampant given the distance from the central office and the pettiness of the sums usually involved, no one at the Altay branch had yet been fingered for corruption, much less executed. Tancred did reassure me that execution would be a possibility as he proceeded with his investigation. Which thought of righting a wrong through violence; of restoring order by shedding the blood of the fingered; which promise of ritual appealed to me.
It seemed like Tancred was on my side. I asked him what he thought my chances were for recovering the money. He said they were very good. But what did he base his optimism on? He said it was simple: When a fox discovers that he can raid a chicken coop with impunity, he becomes a greedy fox, he can't help but come back for more. And if the coop is fitted with a trap, the fox, blinkered by greed, will fall right into it. I told him right then and there that I had no idea how I might go about laying such a trap. Fowl husbandry being outside my area of expertise. Tancred straightened his lapels with a quiet dignity. He reassured me that as a well-placed bank functionary, he was in a unique position to catch whoever had made off with the money. How? Simply by funding my account with some of the bank's general reserves and then watching to see what would happen. With patience of cat.
Based on the generosity of Tancred’s spirit and the seeming ingenuity of his plan, I decided to take him completely into my confidence. When I suggested we take a little walk, he understood at once, bringing out some tea and fruit to occupy the Duchess while we spoke in private. I let her out of her harnesses and let her pool in the seat of a chair, explaining that I would be back before she knew it. Tancred and I walked up to the roof where we could speak at leisure and enjoy the view of the whole vast Altaic region. The view was nothing less than stunning, but it distressed me, for I had not the funds to enjoy it. I mean I enjoyed it, but not really in the settled sense we really mean. Idealists may not think so, but I have to say that funds really are necessary for the enjoyment of a view.
At any rate, I looked Tancred square in the face and confessed that I had come to China with very little money. He offered that Altay's best hotel really was a bit overpriced, but that with a quick call from the bank I’d likely be able to get the preferred rate. I said it was far worse than he thought, I had to make my meaning clear: I scarcely had enough for me and the Duchess to live out the week there and I hadn’t a hope of buying our flights home. And the Duchess you know, I said, the thing with her was so new that I couldn't very well expect her to—but he cut me off, his understanding was complete. He said that through an unofficial channel, the bank could easily provide a stipend for me and the Duchess while we waited for resolution on our stalled equity. And that perhaps by tapping this unofficial channel, the very malefactor behind the disappearance of my reward could be uncovered. He even said that they could arrange a flight back home if I would prefer that. I considered his gracious offer. But then he started speaking again, as if remembering something.
He proposed that we go into business together. Business? Yes, he said, business. I of all people shouldn't have any trouble knowing what he was talking about. After all, I must have gotten into the position I was in—notwithstanding the encumbered equity—through my business acumen. So surely I had an idea up my sleeve. And he wanted to hear it and possibly share in its execution. Can you believe it? Here's this major player on the Chinese financial market, and he wants to know if I have any ideas so we can go into business together. You know me, Uncle Ghol. If somebody expresses enthusiasm in what I do, I always throw them a bone. I wasn't going to hold back. And I think it was the right move, too. I really do.
I told you about Geena’s discovery, right? You know, the position? Well, I know it’s not exactly my idea, but the notion that it could sell big in China is. And I was right—Tancred was very enthusiastic about it! And he should know. When I told him about it, his face took on this wide-eyed look. As if he could scarcely believe his luck at having this goldmine rear up before him. Once I had told him what our material requirements were, he immediately began to rattle off names of businessmen in the area. Sourcing guys, logistics guys. I mean Tancred is a professional. At one point, thoroughly overcome by business emotion, he cinched his cravat tight and looked at me closely, eyes slightly ashimmer, as if I through an arc of radiated heat. Then you know what he said? He said that said that it was really a great honor to get to know me. With my idea and his connections, he said, success was assured.
Made bold by his sudden enthusiasm, I asked him what he thought CASHPAC's prospects for success were on Chinese soil. In return a great blank stare. I suppose I had been wrong to assume that VIP liaisons would read up on their charges’ curricula before taking them into their care. So I had to explain. And I must say that for such a sharp fellow, it took him a long time to understand the nature of the work we do at CASHPAC. When he finally did understand, he laughed for a long time. I asked why. It took him a great effort of concentration to finally calm down, and when he did, he said that CASHPAC would never work in China because there would be no reason for it to exist. But why? He gave me a look of perfectly understanding ingenuousness: Because in China, bad breath is almost unheard of.
So it wasn't stigmatized?
Most certainly not.
But surely, I said, with there being so many people, such a big country, so many cuisines, such close living quarters, surely somewhere people were making too big a deal out of someone's bad breath?
Tancred supposed that it was not out of the question. He considered matters for a while. He grew thoughtful, then pensive, then brooding, and finally lapsed into profundity. Actually, he said, you may have landed in the perfect place to wage your first Chinese CASHPAC campaign. Here in western China, he said, it was a commonly held prejudice among the native Uighur that Han Chinese had bad breath as a result of the pork in their diet.
So it was an unacknowledged problem simmering just beyond the edges of the official reality? Yes. This was a campaign that I was already warming to.
Tancred said that although we were business partners, he would be unable to allocate any funds directly to CASHPAC, though tangential benefits such as use of plant and advertising channels were not out of the question. Of course, some of the courtesy stipend could be funneled into CASHPAC propaganda. There were no strings attached. It was all very exciting, but we had left the Duchess to her own devices for far too long, and had to cut the meeting short. And that was that. Tancred slipped me the first of the bank's stipends as we left the VIP office. And that should hold us over for a week.
So what do you think, Ghol? Am I reading this situation right? Should I place all my faith in Tancred and go into business with him while I wait for him to sort out my own stalled equity transaction? I do hate to think that I would be responsible for someone else's execution. But what are my other options? I mean I can't go asking the Duchess. What about you? Would you like to make a good faith outlay and be your nephew's keeper? Or should I appeal to my African business partner to effect another transaction to cover for this one while things are being sorted out?

My thought salutes You, Uncle Ghol; please devise for me the best possible course.

H. Rod


Rod could feel the sweat beading on his brow, becoming pendulous. He could feel his heart beating wildly in its cage. He could feel his fists clench and balk at forming the words when he sat down to write Geena. But he had to do it. Everything he had worked for. And more. Geena: There...


Great to be talking to you after these past few days of not being in touch so much. How are you? Where have you been? What’s shaking? That’s great. I just wanted to let you know how I was doing, fill you in on some of the opportunities and challenges that have come up and what not. In terms of the opportunities, it’s hard for me to get across how exciting this is in the e-mail format, which after all is so limited, but there is some serious work to be done on the CASHPAC front here in China. That's where I went on business a few days agoÀ, in case you thought to wonder, and while it's true that things are going great—like I said, I identified this need for serious endeavors on the count of destigmatization, evidently the Uighurs out here in the western part of China, which allow me to say is a nice place, they have this fiddlesticks thought that Han breath is rank with the fire of decaying pork—which is something you should remind me to get in touch with Dr. Genauer about when I get back in the fullness of time, I’d like to see that bastard’s face—meaning that I may need you eventually to put my service vehicle on a boat—which will really get it most of the way here what with the three gorges and all—to help me get the message out in style. But that’s not the main point of my mail, so let me move on—the problem, the challenge, is just that I've suddenly got all this time on my hands here while I wait for some of CASHPAC’s loose ends on the funding end to get straightened and joined triumphantly into the harmonious weave of my success, so what I was thinking was maybe I could broadcast your factory's idea out here, in China, as a kind of go at a joint venture where all you have to do is give me the production parameters and a draft copy of the manual. You know what I mean, right? The way that makes it feel so good. The idea is that I'll do all the work and send you exactly half the money. Which after all is not so different from the way our sex life has always worked—you bark the orders and the blueprint, and you get half the proceeds, often more. And it doesn't take a lot of business sense to see that this idea is sound. Not that I’m saying you don't have a lot of business sense. Just that it should be as plain as my breath on your face. So that’s it for the opportunities, though of course it was a big one. And the what not, well, as for the what-not, I don't know. Everything is hunky dory here.
Well except for just one thing. What would happen if I were to trouble you with a request for a little help getting home? This probably won't be necessary, of course. Just a matter of covering my bases, really. You see, I hinged my money mostly on getting here, and then I sank most of the rest of the capital into getting a module or two off the ground here in China. I thought I would just kind of carom off the ground here when the CASHPAC transfer came through, pretty much as soon as I landed, that was the thinking. Well the caroming's been slightly deferred. I guess what I mean to say is that my CASHPAC equity transaction might have stalled out. I didn't think I'd ever have to use those words. But the reality is that there might be less than it would seem, or more, to someone within the organization or here at the transactional end. It could be these fucking mitigation moles I was telling you about, you know. Should it come right down to it, let me make you an offer: I guess I could fly back third class and use some of the money off the top to seek an herbal Chinese breath remedy. It shouldn’t be that expensive to get it mitigated in a holistic fashion out here. The wisdom of the Orient and all. What would you say to that? Is that something you would be willing to entertain? I mean that was pretty much the deal right? I'm really sorry I never paid attention before.
Oh—one more thing. You know how I have a pretty well-developed social conscience, right? Always wanting to bring services to the community, always wanting to leave every place a better one. The thing is that there are too many people in China. You know that. We all know that. It puts a strain on resources, development issues, energy portfolios—the overabundant proliferation of souls. Which is why I was thinking it would be a good and moral move to bring one of these many people back with me, to contribute to the cause of relieving population pressures. It's a good cause, Geener. You see I've already found one, and she's really deserving. I think it would be a wonderful thing if we could sponsor this young woman. She doesn't have to live with us, not at all, but I mean if we could at least get her to the United States, that way we could give her a chance, and you'd be doing good at the same time as you were helping me help her. Heck, I'll even let you tell people that it was your idea. Show her around at Mrs. Ritter’s block party, you know. The thing about her that makes her especially deserving is that she has a little trouble getting around. Which is why I think she should fly first class, so they can service her better. A special needs person. I for one firmly believe that every American is entitled to maximum mobility, and it would only be fitting for her to be given maximum on-board mobility as she takes her first steps toward becoming an American. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get her a Rascal after I brought her home, too? What would you say to that? Don’t worry, I’ve taken care of the reams of paperwork here already, so there's no need to file for adoption or a sponsorship permit or anything like that on your part.
I realize it seems I'm asking a lot of you. The money thing is one thing, but let me just give you my ironclad guarantee that we will make a lot of money with the In Lieu Of plan if you decide to enter into the joint venture with me. And what is to prevent us from doing that? It's not like joint ventures are anything new to us. I do want to tell you with full candor that you shouldn't worry that this new young woman will in any way compromise our relationship. She’s really very ill—a special needs person.

Your esteeming Roddie


Dearest overseas operator in shared enterprise,

Please do not read the evident lack of haste in my reply as corresponding to a lack of concern at the disastrous circumstance that you most recently relayed to me. I was indeed most distressed to learn of the intellectual property theft being perpetrated against my person, my legacy, my esteem. And you may rest assured that I will not abide it for one second longer than I have to. To wit, I plan to make excellent use of your services in addressing this matter once the modalities of your business excursion to China have been cleared up. I know well from your dispatches that you are able to navigate the legal seas of your native country like a seasoned mariner. But what is truly impressive is your vigilance when it comes to extralegal activities concerning my person: My heartfelt compliments go out to you on your diligence, not only in monitoring your live-in’s e-mail activity, but in protecting your business partner’s interests so commendably.
Because after all, you could have made a different decision based on what you learned, drawn different conclusions. I am not sure exactly what you could have done, but the information seems almost too tempting to let it be. Let me speculate, let’s run a little thought experiment: What would I have done if I were an entrepreneur with a mercenary streak and the full weight of Western copyright law at my back? Knowing that there was a notorious fictional character running around famous books with a certain name, and that there was a real person who apparently had stolen this fictional name; which person was running around some benighted corner of Africa where nothing was really clear anyway, maybe I could have ingratiated myself with the author of the fiction and gone on to press for restoration on his behalf. Taking my cut for services rendered, of course. After all, in the eyes of my countrymen and lawmakers, the nations of Africa would be little more than fictions anyway, there for my convenience, edification and amusement. And as vicarious repositories for our guilt and misery—a moral black hole where the dark parts of the human spirit are safely heaped up and left to molder. An entire continent for the outsourcing of suffering! What would it have mattered that there were security certificates and land titles bearing my name and my family's name—the name of Mangwana—given that more earnest attention, more money, is paid to the fictional and fantastical products of your (my) country than to the tawdry and threadbare realities of a country in Central Africa? I admit that it may have made for a complicated legal case, but who is to say? What is there but victors' justice in this world? I could just see them handing down a prison term, maybe even the death sentence—after all, Julius Mangwana is just a lowly African—for the grievous offense of going by the name of a rich and famous author's character. I do not mean to entice you into an offense against my person, but there may be something to this. Imagine: The frontier of criminal law being expanded into infringements against the imaginary. The desolate feeling one gets after reading a good book with glamorous characters, that promise of vicarious solace—lapsing into anything beyond a silent wistfulness would become illegal! And healthy parlor-style debate about fictions—which does not exist anyway—would be a punishable offense.
I can only thank you and my lucky stars that you did not demand your victor’s justice. For where would I be if this unscrupulous author you mention had been able to rob me of my identity? You know, there is a silver lining in a minor key here as well, and that's that if my name had not already been known and associated in your country with the clichéd absurd African crown-potentate, then I may well have forfeited my chance at getting to know you. Do you follow? I would have been likely to locate someone else to credit my report of the stalled transaction and associated modalities before stumbling across your gracious personage. The Lard truly does work in mysterious ways. We have Mortensen to thank, too.
But let’s talk about what you’re doing, not just what you’ve done. Forgive me for probing, but I heard, by the by, from Tancred that your transaction had run into some difficulties. If this still holds true, then I express an access of sympathy. It seems that the world is circular, and that one stalled equities transaction begets another. I can just imagine its resolution going on to fuel a third, once we seek to fund the expansion of the reptile husbandry operation into new markets! But now is not the time to despair: If I can assure you of one thing, it is that my faith in Tancred Poon is not misplaced. He has already helped me to achieve several major goals, and I have only the highest hopes that he will continue to recuse himself well.
Let me close by saying this: I sincerely hope that you are able to find some way to keep yourself profitably occupied while in Altay waiting for the pieces to fall into place. As you are likely aware, China is a place with a burgeoning spirit of enterprise, one where a man with the right idea and the needed motivation can propel himself into the spotlight of historical gamesmanship. You have demonstrated all those things in spades up to now. Why sit back on your heels now that you've already come so close to the success that will wash away all your problems? Be the author of your own ironclad success!

Your Bwana Julius



I have a confession to make. No beating around the bush. It’s that you and I cannot be together any longer. We’ve gone as far as we’re going to go. I’m with someone else now. It’s not because I don’t love you. I do. I just don’t think we’re right for each other at this point. I don't really want to get into the particulars of things beyond that. You know we've had a tough time of things as well as I do.
I want this to be businesslike, Rod. So let me say two things: No, you cannot have any help getting home, not for yourself or for that spineless strumpet you've managed to pick up. I know all about that. I do watch the news, you know. Am I really to believe the story you told me about a 'stalled CASHPAC transaction?' I've been around the block you know, Rod. The next order of business is that yes, you can have the specs for the In Lieu Of flow control device. This will allow you to dig yourself out of the pretty mess you've gotten yourself in by your own wits. I am sending it to you because I still love you and do not want you to meet a terrible fate out there. Please do not betray my trust by trying to market this anywhere outside of China. I don't think I have to tell you what our lawyers would do to someone like you. I think that I am in the position to demand a 55% cut, don’t you?
And no, I will not ship your service vehicle.

All the best,


P.S.: The blueprint is attached. This is the last e–mail I will send you. My friend Carson warned me to do this and no more, although he did encourage me to help promote your business activities in China, firm proponent of business that he is. A man has to occur in this world.


Bwana Mangwana was right. Tancred was right. Rod himself had been right, he decided. Now was no time to sit back with his thumbs hooked into his belt loops to wait for things to fall into place. Nor was now the time to mourn the passing of his relationship with the live-in, who had been kind enough to forward the blueprint despite the overall baseless foolishness of her e-mail. Rod hadn’t gotten this far through complacency. It wouldn't be very hard to get his little module moving to the point where it was self-propelling and all he had to do was sit back and count the flowing money while it snowballed. Which he had to admit was an apt metaphor since there were plenty of snowballs to go around in the Dzongarian basin, at least in the upper reaches near the mountain's rim. Again, appropriate: Rod's latest plan would propel him into the upper reaches of global enterprise. For once the technology became known and Rod and his partners emerged as the patent-protected gatekeepers to these new great heights of pleasure, why…
He gave a furtive, sweaty look across the haze-smeared prospect of the café. No one was looking at him or what he had on his screen as he took in the purlieu. FourU Internet Café was the name of the establishment. It served a protean role in the community: On the one hand, it was the city’s portal to the bits and bytes of porn that circumscribed the world in endless frantic arcs. There could be little doubt as to what sort of business was conducted behind the screens of the private net-cabins that could be rented at double the standard rate. On the other, it served as an informal school of Mandarin for the Uighers and Russian traders who lacked it. A constant drone of syllables and numbers sounding from the next room. There was also an air of enterprise to the place, a constant crescendoing of phone-haggling. The overall effect was that of a bazaar—one that may or may not have had something to hide. Back rooms, furtive dealings…like all bazaars. What more appropriate place for him to download and print the schematic of the In Lieu Of that Geena had promoted from her factory's engineering department and dispatched across the great planetary porn coils to his latest outpost of enterprise? He had managed to navigate the Chinese-OS computers on his own so far, but he ran into a hurdle when trying to print and had to ask the chain-smoking befezzed fellow staffing the desk for help. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he could detect in the fellow a certain reluctance to approach.
Of course no one could have had the foggiest notion of what the schematic he was printing out might lead to, but all the same he thought it best, if not to erase the e-mail from Geena, then at least to change his password and feed a slurry of meaningless printouts through the queue to fill the printer cache with other material. Rod was no fool; he knew how industrial espionage worked.



I haven’t heard from you. What are you thinking, what are you doing? In case you are following my trip with avuncular interest, let me tell you how things have been going. Absent any advice from you, I am going to assume that you were in perfect accord with my plan to continue along the enterprising seam I began mining, the one that has already landed me in China and is now going to propel me to the heights of commercial achievement, allowing me to reproduce, among other things. It's surprising how quickly you can make things happen once they all have the grudging knowledge that you've made things happen before.
I've already kicked off the project with Tancred. I showed him the specs for the flow-control device. He sent it on the rounds with his manufacturing friends. Those who thought it could be done—it is a very subtle design that requires a advanced PVC injection molding process—were called into the Poon VIP office to tender their offers. I was there, sitting in the same seat I was in when Tancred first told me about the stalled transaction. I wasn't sure what was going on, not having much Chinese yet, but Tancred and the merchants engaged in a very lively debate that was partially translated for me by a helpful prospective Uighur manufacturer named Mokhammad. I’d have to say he seemed a bit partial to his own manufacturing abilities. From what he was saying, it seemed like most of the words being lobbed back and forth were numbers, or perhaps Mokhammad didn't have the skills to keep pace with the nouns and verbs and whatever else they have in Chinese. This Mokhammad was a slight fellow, prone to being pushed around I'd say. Come to think of it, I recall reading that about interpreters generally somewhere. And you know, it seems perfectly true. Whether because of his own avarice or due to pressure brought to bear from the outside, I had a feeling that Mokhammad's interpretations seldom matched up with their original statements. Not only that, but several of his interpretations referred to something he had said when in fact, so far as I could tell, he had not spoken. And he seemed to shift what he was saying based on the way he saw me react. What kind of interpreting is that? I don't know what more to say about it, just that it might be worth looking into. At last one man was selected to produce a trial run of 100 units that we will use in clinical tests. It was not Mokhammad, though. My impression was that he had been selected to serve some ancillary function, although he had dozed off by the end and so was unable to interpret. The pace of enterprise is fast here, Uncle Ghol. We'll have them in just a couple of days. After that you can count on my deliverance to be quick! We will celebrate in grand fashion, won't we U. Ghol?
The other thing I did was to give Tancred a printout of the position manual, which he submitted for translation so that we can have some Chinese-language proofs for use in the first probe modules. We must ensure that the translation is faithful, but also that it is idiomatically and culturally correct enough to be accepted in the Chinese context. This is called localization, Uncle Ghol. So don’t say I never taught you anything!
Need I say that everything is going well? I will soon be riding the tide of over 1.2 billion lascivious impulses to everlasting riches!

Your nephew,

The Lightning Rod of Enterprise that’s as Free as it is Bold


*New chapter headings?

Rod had just liaised with Tancred. He had taken advantage of the lull provided by one of the Duchess’s twice-daily strength and mobility habilitation sessions. Their steamy relationship was such that he could hardly bring himself to slip away unless she was working on fundamentals, matching her will against the limitations posed by her half-tethered muscles and exoskeletal rack. Luckily for Rod, it turned out that she had to work on fundamentals quite a bit. In fact she needed to train her body almost constantly to get any use out of it at all. Sometimes he suspected her of secretly using their trysts together in bed to train parts that she otherwise might not. Not that he really minded. He liked most of the time to be at her side during training just in case she got tangled in a harness trying to lift something, move too quickly, follow an impulse without translating it through the filter of her debility. It just killed Rod to have to see her try to lift a book ten times from the seated position and fail.
He thought sometimes about what it meant that the Duchess was osteocompromised. For most people, he recognized, physical locomotion was a natural act that did not merit much reflection, let alone practice. Muscular movement was something that sat deep in the mind, that dwelt at the base of the bone. But the Duchess had a hard time with her bones, and by itself the code deep in her mind was not enough to work her muscles in tandem with the exoskeleton that bore her up more and more as her osseous insides gave way to her O-ness. For her, knowledge of how to move, grab and manipulate was located not in the deep reptilian memory of the back brain, but in her personal memory, up front, at the seat of her intelligence. Graceful may not have been the first word that came to mind, but because of her deliberateness, her every move was filled with the artistry of a consciously lived human life. For sheer effort he thought, the Duchess just sitting down in bed was the equivalent of an Olympic gymnast’s floor routine. Getting into the shower required so much patience and careful execution that it seemed near to the pinnacle of human achievement. For her, he thought, bodily movements were a kind of language or thought system that had to be constantly trained to keep it from wasting into disrepair. That where other people and animals moved their bodies in order to be able to eat or reproduce, her situation was abstracted in a way that made her more deeply of the species. Motion, instead of being the automated servant of an end, first served itself. If she moved, it was in order to be able to do just that, and only secondarily to eat or to get to where she was going. Her every twitch could seem almost like an act of showing off. Look what I can do—and in spite of… Of course, she could not always easily get to where she was going. He thought that in this way, too, this radical dependence on others made her a more perfect social animal, a more perfect human, giving the lie to her support structure, which after all was rather insectile. But did this mean that a state of perfect humanity corresponded to a state of fully-fledged womanhood? Or, was the lingam a curse?
In their liaison at the VIP office Tancred had let Rod know, with a well-burnished cosmopolitan wink, that they could expect delivery of the test batch of flow-control devices the very next day. Which was good, but which also lent some urgency to their planning session for how to structure and conduct the first Chinese In Lieu Of Method Module. Being the product liaison and cultural expert in their joint enterprise, Tancred had taken the ball and run with it. He said that to prevent intellectual property theft, they had to be very clear that this was Rod's idea and property. Not only up front and explicitly, but in everything that was written and said and suggested. That he owned it and was bringing it to them on a commercial basis in exchange for a licensing fee. The manuals had to bear his image. That was how very real the danger of commercial piracy was in China. You could never be sure enough: Tancred assured Rod that he would be provided with the full range of legal protections. Multiple applications would flood the Chinese patent office before they unveiled the module in a few days. All in Rod's name. As a matter of personal honor, Tancred preferred not to be named in any of the commercial documentation. He considered it his duty as a gracious host to assist foreigners in their commercial transactions, free of charge if need be. That way Rod could set Tancred's remuneration as he saw fit when the method took off. And pay it in cash to keep things simple. That all sounded good to Rod.
The next thing to keep in mind was subtlety of presentation. In America it might seem natural to screen a short illustrative film of couples having sex using the position as a counterpoint to the theoretical textbook component. But this was China, where the culture was not quite as pornographic. Here it wouldn’t do to screen a film or have Rod please the rack-mounted Duchess for all to see. They would have to proceed by way of suggestion, allusion, evocation, hinting, cueing, sleight of hand and organ. Then, once the pilot group had been convinced of the product’s value, they could take home a manual and an In Lieu Of and see for themselves. The module could begin by asking a question: How many times have you had an experience in bed even approaching what you think the experience might be capable of doing for you? How many times has it approached the perfection we expect of it? Dreams don't count! Well? Well then, behold here, for we have a visitor from the land where dreams come true, a man come to share with us a great discovery made concerning couples' potential happiness in bed. The glorious fruition of the lotus. And so on. The angle could run along the lines of a modern but durable Chinese narrative: That spiritual rewards on a national-mythical scale could be achieved through proper manipulation of the material world. That the obscurity of life and living could be enlightened through access to the right product, produced right here at home. Tancred wasn't sure if his countrymen knew it themselves, but he was convinced that after all these centuries, the Chinese were ready for some really good sex. By dint of an American invention thoughtfully translated into Chinese terms, what had previously been the prerogative of emperors, professional practitioners and counterrevolutionary libertines could now be rehabilitated and brought within the fold of the communist historical project. Sex, which in the West was mostly used to sell products through its powerful associative properties, could now be turned to the glory and pleasure of the People's Republic! Tancred suggested that they hire a charismatic speaker to deliver the lecture. At Rod's request, he even went so far as to vouchsafe an interpreter.
After the meeting was over, Rod strode purposefully through Altay's dust-blown streets to the FourU Internet Café. He had an urge to check Geena's e-mail again when he sat down. He imagined he might find out what she had been up to with that Crumpler character. Which was something he was going to have to remedy when he got home. Even if his heart belonged to the Duchess, it wouldn't do to have Geena shacking up with someone else. Especially not a novelist. Rod hated novelists, who forsook achievement in the real world of enterprise and hard-scrabbling in favor of the cheap and incomplete fictions in their books. Literal and literary may have had similar spellings, but that was where the similarities ended. He was a literal man with special contempt for literary ones. Especially when they took up with his live-in unbidden.
When he ducked into FourU he could barely make out the faces of the people sitting at their terminals for the smoke. So much the better, he thought, given that he was going to be viewing some very juicy material. He sat down and exhaled deeply, swirling the smoke in front of him. The call and response from the Mandarin instruction room washed across his ears like waves: Hao! HAO! (but corrupted by the brittle nomadic tongue) Bu hao! BU HAO! (better) Han hao, han hao! He keyed in Geena's username and password. There was a delay, and then...what, no—an error message: Incorrect username or password! He tried again. Same result. Again: Same. His cold-heartedly suspicious live-in had changed her password! That Crumpler must have put her up to it, he must have known. Whatever you said about Crumpler, however accursedly literary he may have been, he seemed to be a pretty smooth operator. Rod cast his eyes down on the roach-rampant floor, trying to console himself with the shibboleth that while Crumpler invented fictional Africans, Rod struck colossal business deals with real ones. While he invents fictional Africans not even worthy of respect, I strike business deals with real ones worthy of colossal esteem.



I have taken your advice and seized the day. Carpe methodum inlieuofum! Non scriptori carborundum! Let me describe for you the seeming success of the first step of my new auxiliary business initiative while our other business is pending. You may well have been in touch with Tancred about this earlier, since it seems the two of you are thick as thieves—is he another Mortensen to you L?—but let me give you my version so that it can stand for the record when future generations of market research scientists plumb the e-mail record in search of the cornerstone of what was destined to become the greatest social craze in the People's Republic in the heady years when it was running full tilt toward becoming a world power of the first order.
It all kicked off relatively early this morning when we walked by a park where am assemblage of old people were practicing their Tai Chi in the midst of a scattering of sleeping indigents, mostly Uighurs and who were too tired to cling to their dwindling nomadic way of life, but also a few very scruffy white men who I’m guessing were simply too weary to go on being Russian. Tancred stood up on a little produce box he had brought for the purpose, addressing the motley crowd with the golden light of dawn bathing his face. He was exhorting them to join us. My Uighur interpreter Mokhammad, actually the same man who’s been making sense of the things Tancred says in Chinese for me for a few days running now, translated what he said something like thisÀ: “Come, you who sit here in the idleness of unleavened contemplation. Come with us and learn a method for freeing yourself from the unfulfilling boredom of your daily lives. Come with us and complete the revolution that was begun 60 years ago. We have for you a method for enhancing both pleasure and patriotism. Something for achieving equality among the sexes, as well as equality of pleasure, yet not without sacrificing the quality of that equality. At last, everyone will be guaranteed the heights of pleasure previously only attainable to some. So come with us, and feel what it means to be truly Chinese!" Up to this point there was little enthusiasm to be seen among the morning ritualists, never mind the soused indigents, most of whom were still asleep. At which point Tancred looked around and reached for his pocket, producing a wad of banknotes that he squailed into a sky from which they precipitated like confetti. My Uighur interpreter must have forgotten to translate what Tancred said next, but it evidently worked, since the next minute we had a gaggle of parkgoers willing to follow us to the module's seminar room on the other side of town.
The thing gathered momentum as we moved through town and Tancred announced the revolutionary purpose that would lay the foundation for my stardom in strident tones. Most of those who joined were ragged types who to look at them probably hadn't had sex in years, lured by the pleasure principle inherent in what Tancred must have been saying, in his aesthete's attire, and of course in the presence of a roundly admired American business icon.
Once we reached the seminar room Tancred was free to pick and choose from among the ragamuffins who had flocked after us. Most were sent shuffling home with empty hands and hanging heads. And none to gently either. Tancred has a mean streak I never knew about. But they shouldn’t feel too bad: After the method catches on the pep will surely return to their step if they manage to stay off the sauce for enough nights to invest in an In Lieu Of. The thing I really couldn't wrap my head around was that he sent home the few attractive (if troubled) young women present. This was no place for them, his gesticulations seemed to say.
The module began on time. My interpreter proceeded to doze off, so I have no idea what was said. Everyone sat there quietly, including me. Every so often as our charismatic speaker did his work by combining the glossy charts we had prepared with the wild tones and motions that were his stock in trade, one or more of the product testers would turn around to look at me with what seemed to be true esteem. I tried giving them my gravest nod of acknowledgement to let them know not only that I too held them in esteem, but that the method actually worked. They could rely on it. At one point a more well-off looking younger fellow in a drab gray suit and silver-rimmed glasses joined us and began taking notes furiously, pausing every few minutes or so to check his watch with an exaggerated motion. After an hour, with the presentation had concluded and the questions answered, Tancred brought me to the front so that I could distribute the literature and the complimentary lot of In Lieu Of flow control devices. They all believed it to be my contrivance after all, so who better to give them the product that would change their lives? The last person to receive his complementary device was the suited fellow. He gave me a prolonged quizzical look as we stood face to face. The look was aggressive, but not too aggressive. Just short of hostile, it was contained within some framework he seemed keen not to overstep. I wondered if maybe he was here to pilfer the invention, but nobody else said anything, so there was really little I could do. I handed him his device and his copy with forbearance. Tancred said something to him as he turned around to leave. Just then, Mukhammad was startled out of his slumber. He translated: "This American only inventor. He come on us. We know nothing of device."


My most intrepid partner in enterprise,

I write to you out of neighborly concern having arisen within me as a result of apprehending a communication visited upon me by one Mr. Poon, with whom you have been prosecuting business activities in the northwestern reaches of mainland China. Although it involves the disposal of your mutual enterprise, he contacted me first, not knowing quite how to broach the subject with you now that enthusiasm and expectations have run so high. He is keen that your sense of self-esteem not be diminished. Not to mention that official contact with you could be dangerous at this point. What seems to be at issue is a notification from the authorities that you lack the relevant permits to conduct your enterprise, and that you are being investigated as what they refer to as an 'unlicensed commercial interloper.' I tell you this not because I can offer counsel, but out of the brotherly concern that welled up within me when I learned of this nascent difficulty. One must be able to count on one's friends in times like these, after all?
I certainly hope the authorities do not make things too difficult over there for you while you await approval for your product. Officialdom can of course be quite perverse, so you must always be prepared for the worst. Which how bad could the worst really be? But whatever happens, know that you have in me a friend you can count on through thick and thin. Let us balm the pain brought by these vagaries of fate by saying this: At least our eventual meeting will be all the sweeter for the trials we have had to endure.

Yours in enterprise and faithful kinship of spirit,

CC Julius Mangwana


CC? What was that? Had Julius recovered his lost title? What might it stand for? These thoughts and others occupied Rod’s mind over the next run of days while he waited both for the blemish marring his transaction to clear up and for the sales of his method module to take off. This business about an interloper was probably nothing to worry about. At the end of the day, he supposed that all that lay between him and CASH-lined coffers was a misplaced rubber stamp in need of finding. There was really little to do other than think about things and wait. He went to FourU a couple of times to check his mail, but other than the nice note of condolence from his business partner, no one had written to him, so there was no one to respond to. And although he supposed he had unfinished business with the likes of a Dr. Genauer, a Mrs. Ritter, and the loathsome legal representative of the Freshness Consortium, he thought those issues would be best addressed when he returned stateside a freshly crowned titan of global industry. Absent any real e-business, he decided to try his hand at e-leisure, shooting the fellow in the greasy fez a conspiratorial look as he ducked behind the curtain of the double-rate private web booths—but with the Duchess around he had to wonder what the point was, and so gave it up for vanity almost as soon as he had activated the worldwide porn coils for his benefit. These women were rigid, bony, osteonormal
In time then, for these reasons and another, Rod stopped going to FourU. The other reason was the reason for everything. It was the motive force behind Rod’s every action hitherto and henceforth. The impetus behind every corrupt solicitation that littered the shores of Rod’s e-mail account. It was the reason for the very narration of this tale; the indivisible component of every shred of inspiration ever to flit by an artist's clouded aperture to the world; the reason without which everyone and everything dissolves into a blinding fog about which nothing can be said: Money. Rod had two mouths to feed. And he had to marvel at what volumes of fodder could be put away by someone who was osteocompromised. About four days along the furrow of his first weekly stipend, he noticed with a gasp that the money would run out if he kept going to the Internet café at the breakneck rate he had been. So he cut himself off until such time as he could get in touch with Tancred. Besides, he reasoned, it might be a good thing for him to get away from the lofty airs of global enterprise, which in this corner of the world happened to be quite smoky. To get grounded and to make a return, as it were, to the fundamentals.
Which was a good thing, too, because here's the thing about Tancred: Once the week had run out and it was time to have the tank of his courtesy stipend refueled by means of a disbursement, Tancred was nowhere to be found. There was no answer, neither at Poon VIP's premises nor at the boxy prefab Han home where he had welcomed them with tea on their very first Altaic day. When he went back to the hotel to think about what that meant, he was intercepted by the concierge, who knuckle-rapped the hotel's leatherbound account book to politely suggest that Rod settle his first week's hotel bill. Rod's stall worked. Tomorrow, he grinned, consciously emitting an offensive exhalation to underscore the point. But there was only so much his bad breath could accomplish in this regard. A debt came due notwithstanding the of offense caused by the debtor's breath. The situation was enough drive his hands right down into his hips. On the way up the stepped and staggered varnished planks leading to his room, as the broke the beams of the frozen gazes of the many emperors of old whose gloomy effigies adorned the stairwell, he became acutely conscious of a particularly nasty flavor that had taken up residence in his mouth and nose. Surely this was a piece of improvidence—but could it be that Tancred was laying low because of this commercial interloper business? Was Julius’ suspicion right? That Tancred could get into trouble by contacting Rod? Where was Tancred? If this enterprise was going to land him afoul something, maybe it was time to make a contingency plan.
and being away just as his VIP client's courtesy stipend was coming due.
When Rod told the Duchess about all this she set him at ease at once, wonderful soother that she was. Why not just go to the main branch of the Poon People's Bank? Even if they didn’t know where Tancred was, Rod could surely explain himself to them independently of his valuable VIP services. He could then have them draw on the same reserves that Tancred did. All he had to do was provide his account number. And this, she said, was precisely the kind of situation where being a VIP was a lifesaver.
Lifesaver? Was it a none-too-subtle dig? Had she wanted to be unequivocal, he thought, she could have come right out and said life preserver. As it was, she might as well have gone ahead and said mouthwash. Then again, maybe this was a situation where his literal tendencies did not serve him well. Rod got over it. He thanked the Duchess in a manner that was mutually glorifying. He felt proud to be offering a real-life, real-time counterpoint to all the streaming bits and bytes that vexed him out there. It took very little time at all—and then he got off to his business. Being O conferred upon the Duchess the advantage that she was not able to cling.
The streets. A distorted offstage murmur that hardly understood itself, the scene before him empty of Uighurs but filled with Han. Prayer time. Moloch Akbar! He walked lost in thoughts, passing by rug merchants, Internet cafés, grocery stores, tax offices, even a district court for the sentencing of petty and gross criminals, and was soon there. It was a gleaming piece of modernity: Spacious, transparent and lofty, yes, but still somehow uninspired. He stepped inside the flagship edifice relieved to know that at least his most pressing troubles would soon be deferred. He would even see if he could have the stipend ratcheted up a notch in view of who he was. In view of the potential for urban renewal inherent in his very person. It would take a little something extra to get the CASHPAC ball rolling, after all. Rod had the sudden insight that political activism—even in the name of a cause so essential—was at heart a luxury. And he hadn’t brought the Duchess this far out of her comfort zone just to have to skimp on the steamed buns that were like scrumpy to her. The bank door closed behind him with a somber clack. They didn't know that he was a VIP here, so he stood in the petitioning line like any other peasant or peon. An orbit of courtesy immediately cleared around him. When he had finally reached the blindingly white linoleum counter, which counter was not shielded by a parapet of bulletproof glass—so deep did fear of punishment run among would-be bank robbers—he experienced a predictable run of language troubles. The clerk churlishly refused to recognize the account number he was providing. Their initial interaction consisted of the following repeated more than twice: Rod writes down his account number. Whereupon the clerk seizes the slip and places three X's after the final number. Whereupon Rod takes the slip back and circles the original number. Whereupon the teller reseizes the slip and crosses out the number with curt zeal. Repetez. Which of course was ridiculous, since Tancred himself had confirmed his number’s existence with HQ. Not to mention its correctness. In strident tones, he demanded to see the manager. The peon scurried.
The manager must have eaten a lot of pork in his lifetime. He was a man with halitosis. Rod instantly felt at ease, even going so far as to give the mealy-toothed fellow a conspiratorial grin. He put out his hand and felt it cordially seized and pumped.
They came to the mutually edifying conclusion that the meeting was a fortuitous one. This manager was the first person he had met with exhalations rivaling his own. His employees were pressed up against the walls. In the normal course of things, this may have been a very stirring moment for Rod. But not now—not when he was in the house of enterprise. Rod looked expectant daggers at him.
Whereupon the manager asked, "Sir how I help you?"
Rod outlined the situation to this reasonable-seeming fellow slowly and lucidly. More than a comrade in spirit, he was an account-holder, he said. With what originally had been quite a handsome balance. And that this balance had come to be characterized by what Rod could most readily refer to as a stalled equity transaction. And further, that he had hitherto been receiving assistance from the bank's esteemed VIP liaison officer Tancred Poon. He repeated the name to let the weight of the words take full effect: Tancred Poon.
Reader: You have no doubt already pierced the gathering narrative fog about which as little as possible should be mentioned. You deserve to be congratulated. Above all you deserve to be spared this undignified jumping through hoops. Which is to say that there is no doubt but that you have glimpsed things—some things at least—for what they really are. Was it true that Rod had no account, known or unknown, at the Poon People's Bank? Yes it was. And was it further true that no one at either the Altay branch or at the main branch in Beijing had ever heard of Tancred Poon, or for that matter of Poon Tan Cred? Yes it was. And reader, if you went on to predict that all this left our hero in rather a distressful position, why, you'd be right again. Mr. Poon, like a modish trend from one season to the next, no matter how dashingly worn, had disappeared into the thin air of memory. And who could blame him, at least now that this shameful and disquieting thing had been learnt about him?
No, readers, please! Please keep your hands where I can see them, and for God’s sake keep your flies tightly zipped. You know what they say about getting ahead of yourselves, about staying your skittish team of colts, about sitting your horse with a quiet, forbearing dignity. Because there are still many things that you do not know. Things to which only I am privy, and which justify my ongoing tenure at this narrative post. So please, do not assume, but forbear!
One thing about which you could not possibly have the foggiest notion is what was going on in the People's Republic generally while Rod was making the grim truth's toothy-mouthed acquaintance. Not to mention what was going on with Ghol and the gang on the home front, or with Julius for that matter, while Rod forbore idly and hungrily on the windswept Altaic wastes. As for me though, I'm hardly one to hold a grudge when there's a story that bears telling, so I'll let you know right now the way things stood. Nor am I one to lose my way in the narrative thicket by tackling too many projects at once. So allow me to confine myself to a commentary on certain curious goings-on in the People’s Republic that coincided with Rod's time there—which I and my team of ghostwriters hope will keep your attention.
While Rod was sidling up to the mystifying notion that he had ended on the wrong side of the world for naught, the People’s Republic was being taken by storm. It is hard to say exactly how it started or by precisely what vectors it reached its wider audience, though we can be fairly sure that Rod and Tancred's method module was a necessary ingredient. Obviously there was something there waiting to be tapped, released, but to give an exact account of origins would be as difficult as pinpointing the ultimate causes of the method’s efflorescence among the Chinese. Which is why I plan to render an account steeped in journey in lieu of genesis; in proximates where the search for ultimates would only leave us gasping with abjection. I’ll start with what is known. What is known is that Rod and Tancred put on a method module with the help of a charismatic speaker. It is known that this charismatic speaker had a way of making the most outlandish propositions sound attractive, viz. many of the proposals put forward by the Communist party. Which is where many of the most successful people in the Altaic region got their start. And I know that there was more going on at the method module than was apparent. What I mean to say, to be completely honest, is that there must have been some scheming going on to land Rod on the hot seat. My investigations are far from complete, but after looking into it some, it appears to me as if Tancred may have been playing a double hand. And that the fellow in the gray suit was somehow significant. A classic government mole, burrowing insidiously into free enterprise and corrupting it?
It is safe to say that very few of the Tai Chi practitioners or slumbering indigent tipplers present that morning went on to practice the method presented to them by the charismatic speaker. At least not immediately, before the advent of the general pandemic.
Yet five or six of them must have, for Altay was soon in the grip of a violent confusion. And whereas we can be sure that most of the original Altaic practitioners of the method were sane, moral, and even monogamous to start, of those five or six there must have been one or two in possession of the rapacious constitution of a Genghis Khan. What happened, albeit disheartening, was fairly straightforward. When the siren charms of the method were discovered—when the sexual existence of the method's practitioners was elevated to the level of the mythological, when the material world was finally sublimated into a program of Communist spiritual salvation—one or two of its practitioners embarked on a career of repeated rape. These were men who according to official reports had never previously been guilty of sexual transgressions, but whose behavior became compulsive, even demonic, under the irresistible thrall of the method.


There is a line that must be crossed before anything happens. Anything at all. For most things and occurrences, this line is some extrapolation or conjecture beyond genuine reckoning. Only occasionally, very seldom, can it be measured, denominated, counted. Transfixed mid-flight by the skewers of analytical thought. Pinned to parchment in a state of frozen scenic flow. As well try to pin down a body of molasses. But maybe now is such an occasion!
So: Lucky the few instances when we feel emboldened to put an exact face or circumstance to that line. Fortunate when we believe we have perceived it and not merely colluded in its manufacture, whether out of superstitious apprehension or taxonomic zeal.
The truth is that the line is usually assigned a location as fictitious and fragmentary as the answers we like to provide to our very deepest, noisomest questions. Drawing and describing this type of line with any accuracy is every bit as difficult as paying out and reeling in the responses to the hoary old questions about God, life’s meaning and the nature of consciousness. How can you freeze time and assign a starting point? How is it that you propose to cut it with a word-knife and say this is where…? Everyone who does so, who says CUT! This is where…, who asserts authority over a story, is fundamentally as unreliable a narrator—like every other narrator that has ever lived, just so, we must consider him no match for the magnitude of his task—as LaPlace. LaPlace, who claimed providential knowledge of the uttermost outcomes of the great mechanism of the universe, given perfect prior knowledge of its constituent parts and the laws scripting their interaction. LaPlace, whose enthusiasm seems boyish and unlikely—demonic, even—to minds that have considered the humbling disasters of the intervening century.
Asserting storytelling authority over even the humblest of reality’s domains is fundamentally a blunder of the same nature as LaPlace's, if not on the same order. For the nature of any thing as observed by the human subject is this: It is connected to every other thing ever to have existed and occurred through an unreckonable skein of likelihoods, relationships, terms, equalities, ambiguities, contingencies—the things we mean when we say causes. A fact accepted as cornerstone to experienced consciousness can easily be shown to rest on a series of outlandish wagers and negotiations between the mind and self, between self and others, between other selves and passed others, whether at the level of language, logic, or down in the trenches where perception and cognition intersect. Which itself is a contention that is scarcely to be believed.
When these gaudily incomplete avenues are pursued, the keen eye, the one that remains fixed on the same object throughout, the one that sees it alternatingly wax and taper, sees everything occlude away into an impenetrable fog that is hardly worth pursuing, since after all, at the end of the day, one must eat, sleep, drink—no matter how steady the gaze. You see, for every line drawn there is a complementary infinitude of supporting lines, antecedent lines, shadow lines, conjectural lines, axiomatic lines, counter-lines, anti-lines, non-lines, demi-lines and corollary lines that would have to be drawn and then themselves justified to fully substantiate the existence of the first. & c. Gah, you know what I mean. Don’t you?
I would humbly contend that there exist no satisfactory explanations for anything. Especially now that we are armed with the knowledge that in order to be satisfactory, an explanation would have to be divinely complete. Did I just say ‘divine’? So I can only hope that you will forbear when I claim that somewhere out there, there was a line that was crossed in the run-up to the In Lieu Of method phenomenon that rocked China. I don't know exactly where it was or what substances were involved in its tracing, yet suffice it to say that, whatever the true nature of that nebulous line, it was there. The point being that the line was crossed. Let’s look at things this way: The Chinese polity had a specific absorption capacity for In Lieu Of devices used in methodical intercourse. To put a parameter to it, we might measure this as the total number of In Lieu Of devices required to balance the equation of total desire to use the In Lieu Of devices methodically with the total fear of official punishment handed down for using the device; or rather for shirking duties in favor of method.
I think it is fair to say that given the highly volatile nature of methodical addiction—which of course we don’t fully understand yet, but bear with me—this absorption capacity was very low, and that the difference between under- and overcapacity was probably no more than a single batch of flow control devices. It probably came down to the second batch. Which is where things take a turn for the murky yet again, because neither Rod nor, I think, Tancred ever contracted for the production of a second batch. Meaning that there must have been a 'commercial interloper' besides Rod at the site of the outbreak. We may never know who this shady entrepreneur was; what we do know is that his actions occasioned not only a major demographic blip, but also a significant economic dip in the trend curve that describes modern Chinese history. Maybe it was Tancred; I didn’t catch it.
What happened, in brief, was this: The method quickly spread beyond its modest beginnings as a product touted in a promotional module put on for indigents and geezers in the far-flung city of an outermost province, beyond its initial local notoriety as a common feature in an alarming rape epidemic, and then quickly beyond even a ubiquitous sexual curiosity at the national level. A black market in blueprints and prototypes sprang up around the device as demand took off, and before they knew it nearly every plastics manufacturer from Tibet to the Thai border was inundated with huge orders for the elastic, distinctively bell-shaped In Lieu Of (rather fetchingly pronounced In Love by the Chinese, which we shall spell In Lieuve here by way of accommodation) flow control devices. By the same token, it did not take long before almost every person in the People's Republic past or even remotely approaching the age of consent was making sweet methodical In Lieuve almost uninterruptedly, to the detriment of all other life tasks.
True to Tancred’s and the motivational man's rhetoric, the In Lieuve Method field guides, which were proliferating across the country in a bewildering array of editions, contained language that likened successful implementation of the method to spiritual salvation, paradoxically addressing another deep-seated need alongside the physical one addressed by being In Lieuve. These spiritual overtones consolidated and fortified the method's already heady momentum, grinding the country to a standstill as all scheduled activities folded, like shoots in a storm, before a relentless groundswell of sex.
Work ceased in the cities as block after block was put to the sword of irresistible love. Farther afield, plots lay unsown, untended and unharvested by the country folk who lay huddled in bed attending to the new and serious business of all-consuming In Lieuve. Skeletal machines languished on their lines in states of partial assembly. Day care clinics and nurseries closed—although it would be a lie to contend that there were any young parents bringing their kids by to be minded in the first place. Airplane crews toppled like dominos as the method took to the sky. Some planes flew straight into the sea as the craze breached the cockpit door. Throngs of stalled cars clogged the roads where their owners had abandoned them in favor of an adjacent field, a blanket, and an In Lieuve flow control device. The smell of rot wafted across the nation as garbage collectors walked off the job in favor of the gospel of carnal delight.
There were others—those of a more analytical or abstemious cast of mind, say—who managed to go on performing their duties as the epidemic ran riot. Among them were doctors, scientists, government officials. A variety of absurd scenes unfolded as this tiny majority of well-trained and mostly unattractive adults stood by their duties in the face of long odds against business as usual. There were hideous meter maids issuing ticket after ticket to cars whose owners were getting busy in the backseat, owners who after 48 hours of nonstop mini-orgasms would eventually collapse and die from the fatigue and hunger and thirst that the all-consuming desire to make sweet methodical In Lieuve would not let them address. There were teams of misshapen research doctors taking furious notes on the behaviors they were witnessing. Their reports, no matter how well-researched or written, were doomed to history's dustbin by two circumstances. The first was that to what the scientists was no more than a curious if alarming phenomenon, was experienced as an intimate and deeply personal transformation held in common by fully 80% of the population. The other was the government's official policy of forgetfulness in the wake of the disaster. Many scientists would later be silenced for trying to recollect and dissect the phenomenon.
But who were the others who went on performing their duties as if nothing were the matter? The tax collectors, for one. They went right on lifting their imposts from the pockets of the passionately entangled. The craze was no skin off their back, at least not in the short term. Who else? Prison wardens, for another. These were men who were insulated from women and their charms. They continued to carry out their duties of incarceration and execution. In fact, after the craze was over, the government thrilled to pronouncements by the prison and justice system that the machinery of death had not fallen so much as a single execution behind schedule. And it was thus, which for Rod’s sake I regret to report, that the goodly officials at the Western Chinese People’s Product Safety Commission continued to perform an exhaustive battery of tests on the In Lieuve flow control device as the orgy went on unabated. On which more soon.
Needless to say, as a whole, the authorities were totally unprepared for the disruptions caused by the outbreak of the method. Their epidemiological and emergency response training had prepared them well for potential viral and bacterial epidemics, and terrorist threats to boot. But the debilitating scourge of the methodical sex craze was something that no one had reckoned with. What was to be done when the host could not be clearly differentiated from the agent? What was to be done when the epidemiological response teams themselves were paralyzed by an unstanchable outbreak of intercourse à la méthode? Or when in the opinion of nearly everyone but the most life-denying organs of state, the epidemic was considered to be a good thing? To really be, in the words of one newscaster who got spirited away by the exceptional nature of the phenomenon while doing a televised report, to really be the only thing that most people could say had happened in their lives. Do you now see what I mean when I say that a line was crossed? Borne on the wings of sex as free (minus the product’s minor fee) as the enterprise of which Rod Grumbelius fancied himself an avatar, the nation and all the activities and good folks who constituted it ground to a halt.
Another thing that should be mentioned is that the Chinese disease control authorities had in fact that very year been girding themselves against an epidemic. Had a big viral one hit, they would have been ready with their masks, their airborne containment plans, their neighborhood quarantines, their intercity mobility control checkpoints, their hose-down and airlock stations. But unfortunately for the Chinese authorities, it is a distinguishing hallmark of sexual desire that it cannot be contained in the manner of a pathogen. Similarly, it is interesting and somewhat depressing that they should have been so right about the periodicity of large-scale threats to public health, yet so helpless against the form actually taken by the threat. Ladies and gentlemen, this world is a depressing place.
I described the In Lieuve madness that swept the nation above as a public health threat. It was. But the threat went far beyond the superficial symptoms of lost productivity and the related loss of esteem. This madness, as most madness does, had a hidden, even mystical component that went some way toward substantiating the method’s advertised claim to mythopoesis. You see, it was believed that the In Lieuve flow control devices had a contraceptive effect. When in fact their effect was quite the opposite when used methodically. No matter though. No one knew. No one cared. Until the time came to know and care, of course. All people cared about was the packaging, which depicted an amorphous little baby with a slash through it. The various translations of the field guide drove the point home, luridly claiming that the device provided both contraception and protection against disease. The guides used terms like rock solid, guaranteed, ironclad. In Lieuve enthusiasts—that is to say nearly everybody—acted accordingly.
There were some people among those few who were not having methodical sex who were hot on the heels of the truth as the nation foundered in these paroxysms of intercourse. The Western Chinese People's Product Safety Commission happened to have a branch office directly opposite the Altay office of the Poon People’s Bank, which bank had lately come more and more to serve as a site for fluid exchange. In lieu of banking transactions, that is. The diligent researchers at this commission eventually established that the flow control devices all but guaranteed conception in fertile women. Though of course by the time they did so it was too late to do anything about it but provide a stream of erudite and alarmed commentary. There is always a price to pay for pleasure, and it was no different with the In Lieuve method. From the innumerable instances of unearthly pleasure provided by the devices, there would spring forth from the wombs of the pleasured a squawking troop of downy infant skulls whose multitudinous needs were as firmly wedded to the earth as the ethereal orgasms that punctuated their making were divorced from it.
But that wasn’t the end of it. In addition to the increased likelihood of conception, the good men and women at the Product Safety Commission determined that the plastic used to mold the flow control devices was highly carcinogenic. On the order of asbestos, if you’ll know. The devices were fashioned from PVC. But what really did it were the phthalate plasticizers used to make the material more pliable. The truth is that one must also pay for pliability, often dearly. It should be noted that these plasticizers were not part of the original recipe envisioned by the scientists at Geena’s factory. And yet they were abundantly present in the Chinese recipe. A recipe that the diligent reader will recall Rod having claimed, in full view of a government official, as his own.
Once it was determined that these plasticizers were making their way into the reproductive systems of Chinese women in their millions, the concerned officials at the safety commission placed a call to Beijing. Alarm bells began to ring. For our purposes, it is this call that will have to serve as the line that stood between Rod and what happened next. It is a line that was crossed long before Rod ever glimpsed it, and from which there was no turning back. Rod could not know it, for he had not glimpsed the rudiments of the back story as clearly as we have, but the situation in which he found himself was this: Already severely reduced, he was now in for a reduction to the very fundamentals, and from there—well, from there to something less even than those.


End Days

The beautiful Duchess! No, maybe not that—maybe the gorgeous reward. No, no, the courtesy stipend. No, his bulging inbox. No, no, no, food and shelter were what counted! No, his smash-hit one act was where it was at. No, it was his program of liberation physiology. Damn it! Without the bracing certainty of knowing that he was held in esteem, that he was on the right path to recovering his gorgeous reward—a feat that, once accomplished, would be celebrated by all—Rod couldn't seem to wrap his mind around what really counted. And a mind unwrapped is a mind that warps. It was everywhere and nowhere. Truth be told, Rod was accomplishing very little without the benefit of the safety net he had originally found in the comforting and well-connected personage of Tancred Poon. Without him, Rod had withered into a shell of the man he had been. A blighted husk!
The Duchess, who had begun to fret about mobility latterly lost, was busy going over her fundamentals in the courtyard. Rod—the lightning Rod, that was, of enterprise as free as it was bold—was in the hotel room with a little time to himself. So he took stock of his financial status. He had fifty-three Yuan in his wallet and another twelve or so variously stowed and stashed at other locations about his person. A deft sequence of calculations indicated that he and the Duchess could survive, modest lifestyle intact, for exactly another day and a half. Which was a troubling fact, considering that prolonging their existence together was one of his long-term objectives. That and solving the worldwide breath stigmatization problem—and clambering to the very top of the slippery pole of manly business doings. But tomorrow and a half was fast approaching. The situation was execrable. It was wholly, utterly, confoundedly execrable! Damn fucking damn!
He sat down to bend his mind intensively on the sorry state of affairs. To think. Already he could sense that he was on the right track—for was thinking not what Rod most excelled at? Clearly it was, for Rod was an intellectual and a businessman of the first rank, both of which required the mind's best efforts. Think, Rod, think! Just as his hands began to grind down into his hips and as he grew wise, olfactory-like, to a certain oral zestiness, just then it came to him. Rod had a vision. While remaining true to his roots in the community of people of odor, he could put food on the table as he conveyed a message dear to his heart and transcended his status as a commercial interloper. He would provide a street-level edutainment on the topic of Halitosis and its Malcontents. That's just exactly what he'd do. It was no more complicated than condensing his one-act into something pithy enough to be appreciated by a distracted Chinese businessman on his way to work, the type of man who had never paused to consider the indignities suffered by those who suffered. He had to translate it. He had to massage it. He had to localize it. Above all, he had to perform it! He might have to steal from Chaplin, true, but this was crunch time. All life was a stage—and Rod was the breath and spirit of true dramaturgy.
After the passage of two hours, Rod had reduced his masterwork to a five minute piece, performable by one man through the ancient art of gesticulation.


The piece would proceed using the mime's craft along with some select mandarin phrases. He had done the proper research by ordering the Duchess to teach him a few expressions, some of which she remembered from her grandmother. She liked being told what to do in tones of strident confidence. Here’s what it netted him: Hao meant good, bu hao meant not good. Meaning that hao bu hao, phrased as a question, meant good/not good? Chi, finally, meant breath. He was satisfied. These words seemed a sufficient semantic war chest for his street theatre.
Something stirred at the periphery of his consciousness. He looked up to see the Duchess. Done with her exercises, she had trundled in on her rickety rack. Rod's heart filled with love for this hapless, shapeless, hopeless figure suspended before him in its outrageous slings. Regarding her, he couldn't help but notice that she looked very much like a woman of China. He thought he would introduce his theatrical module to her right then and there, exactly as he would to his ultimate audience on the dizzying Altaic thoroughfares. Nin hao, he said, lurching into a deep bow.
But unlike the Chinese spectators he had envisioned, she was hardly receptive. Instead of acknowledging his art, she had seen fit to collapse in bed, where she now lay flailing. Flailing! He sighed zestily. As with so many other great and memorable things, the prelude to this piece of street theater would have to be forged in the crucible of a solitary man's wounded dignity. Throwing up his hands in resignation to his lot, Rod continued plowing his lonely furrow.
First he would announce his piece. He would say Nin hao! before emitting several ahems. When the moment was ripe, he would close his eyes and still himself, dramatically poised as breath and spirit formed an essential unity. For a while he would simply string the crowd along on the heady fuel of expectation. Then, at length, he would crouch down and begin to hum his composition, Plum-Scented Sighs. It was a sweeping, euphonious ode for violins. He would remain in the crouch with one hand over his mouth and, wearing a mien of exaggerated tragedy, say Chi—bu hao. But these were not mere syllables strung together at random. To the oriental ear, they would signify “Breath—not good.” The repetition, with this difference: Chi, chi, chi–bu hao. The syllables would fuse into an interpretive swaying and the repetition of bu hao as he droned and cooed in perfect harmony with the music, his lugubrious face on the verge of utter meltdown. Chi, chi, chi, he’d moan. Next came the cathartic moment. Using subtle dramatic technique, Rod would conjure in his face a metamorphosis from contortion and pain to a helpless slackened pleading. Simultaneously, the script would change from bu hao to hao/bu hao? The message—Breath, breath…breath. Good or not good? Good or not good?—would be clear to all. And would be driven home by his relentless production of fluid dance movements that were partly tai chi, partly humble but elegant begging with cap extended as an alms receptacle. Understood in its essence, it was a uniquely Grubelian synthesis of high art with free commercial enterprise. Best of all, at no point did he need to forsake his allegiance to the literal. He would make no representations beyond the practical and inevitable semantic ones where Chi signified breath and Hao/Bu hao approximated the fundamental fruits of the human faculty of judgment. Astounding…just astounding.
At this point he would be near the resolution of the piece. Having reduced the audience to a quivering terrine of ravaged empathy, he would have to proceed with the fine feeling of a true master, guiding his work to its natural end with a hand swift and sure. There would be no time for dithering, and yet no part of his multilayered message—that of liberation physiology that privileged essence above putrescence—could be left out. Only a skill that was as transcendent as it was bold could meet the challenge. As he sang the weighty words Hao/bu hao? he would emit a voluminous exhalation and plead with his large ingenuous western eyes, recepticular cap in fully articulate extension. Then, after the passage of some time, after having reaped his merited and likely not un-handsome recompense, he would jerk upright, holding his brimming cap to his heart, then sing the climax as the violins reached a dizzying crescendo: Chi, chi, chi, han hao, han hao, han hao. [Translator’s note: Breath, breath, breath, very good, very good, very good.] In this fashion he would entertain and survive. It was stirring to imagine.
But his reverie dissolved into grim real-time as the Duchess squirmed uncontrollably in bed, apparently in response to muscle pain. "Cass, baby," she intoned. "I’m having leg pain. Give me a massage now."
"Baby, I need to go share my art with the China people."
"But Cass, I need you to massage my hamstring," she said.
"Jiggle buns, I need to do this now. I’ll buy you a hundred massages when I’m done."


Soon, having gamboled over to a suitable venue for his performance, Rod was standing on the sidewalk surveying the prospective audience streaming past. What a mass of people who had never considered the suffering of those who suffered! How would they appreciate this bit of artistry from the Western world? He could not help but wonder how long it would be before tawdry imitations would spring up to detract from the value of his original art. With a shudder that shook him to the core, he vowed not to perform the piece in the presence of profiteering bootleggers. The audience would have to be carefully groomed. He leveled a frank and penetrating gaze at everyone who passed by. He spared no one. Most had something mercenary about them that he could not bear performing to. At last some honest-looking geezers came plodding by on canes. This was where to begin. To call attention to himself, he jumped into the air and howled, "Ahem, ahem, nin hao!" And followed up by flashing his widest, warmest grin. The old men failed to stop, pausing only to give Rod a cursory curious look and a polite smile before plodding back along the furrow of their constitutional. "Ahem, ahem, nin hao, nin hao!" Rod rejoined with greater volume and warmth. He repeated it repeatedly, at last causing a couple of pedestrians to stop and linger at the edge of his courtesy orbit.
"Welcome to the Grumbelius Playhouse,” he said. “I have transformed the very ground on which you stand into the palate for my artistic brush!" This pronouncement meant nothing to his listeners, but there seemed to be something compelling about their author, who effervesced evangelical enthusiasm.
"And now, the abbreviated version of Halitosis Rex, penned by the West's most innovative theatrical artist—H. Rodney Grumbelius. Me!" A lie, certainly. But who in Altay was going to call him on it? Here he was, at complete verbal liberty. And so, sweeping into a bow that would surely make his audience weep, he shouted, "The great Grumbelius presents to you, my humble audience, Halitosis Rex Redux!" The modest audience began to swell at the pronouncement. It was not exactly common for these culturally starved peons to be treated to such performances by the exceedingly few lightly-complected tourists who visited their region. Most tourists just milled about, gawked and overpaid. But this man's behavior was engaging, bizarre. This was personality! This was expressive! This was idiocy! The audience grew, as is an audience's wont. People love a spectacle, and it was not hard to tell that this had the trappings of spectacular foolishness. It was time. He bent over to press play on his boom boxÀ. There swelled the breakbeat of Plum Scented Sighs. Bracing himself, he erupted into song. "Chi, chi, chi, bu hao, bu hao," Rod sang, his face twisted into an inverse rictus carefully calculated to approximate sobbing. "Bu hao!" his voice creaked in dramatic anguish. The humble audience giggled. "Bu hao!" Rod boomed, exhaling so powerfully that the mirthful gapers recoiled. Rod’s finely honed performer’s instincts told him that the iron was hot, and that now was the time to strike. Now! Without further ado, he effected a transition into his pleading and less breathy victim, swaying like the most delicate flower. "Hao/bu hao," he moaned, extending his almscap radially towards the beneficiaries of his art. "Chi…chi…hao/bu hao?" he asked plaintively.
After a short pause, one of the audience members piped up: "Bu hao!" A ripple of hilarity stirred the congregants. Undeterred, Rod projected his almscap outwards again, calling on the kinder instincts of the witnesses in a valiant attempt to procure what he had earned through inimitable stagecraft. "Hao/bu hao?" He made sweeping hand signals to indicate he was referring both to his breath and to his inner spirit. "Chi, chi, chi—hao/bu hao?"
"Bu hao!" It was a female audience member, speaking through pinched nose and a confusing undercurrent of nasal giggling. Her comment unleashed the instincts of the mob: Suddenly there was a general chorus of giggles and bu haos. Rod cringed. Where were his cheers? Where was his money? Where was the sea change in breath attitudes? He tried to launch into another interpretive fugue, but his fickle spectators pulled the plug on his second chance before he had a chance to rewind the tape and take the breakbeat of Plum-Scented Sighs from the top: As unpredictably as they had congregated, they now scattered, leaving him with his almscap extended pathetically, limp and unfilled. It was all he could do to yell after them, lamely: “Essence before putrescence!"
Fucking communists, Rod thought as the tape hissed white noise. Didn’t they know that you had to pay for beauty?


Damn fucking damn. Judging by the paltry haul he counted up at the bottom of his five-Yuan cap, the part of him lacking in esteem had the feeling that the performance—his best effort—had been a failure. He walked over to the FourU Internet café with downcast mien. As he proceeded, it dawned on him through the fog of dejection that he was hearing a most odd sound. It was a susurrus in his ear. It was a murmur that touched his heart. A winnowing that soughed athwart the scaffolding of his soul. But no, not quite—maybe it was best to call it the moan of a thousand sorrows. He realized with a pleasant start that he was experiencing a fleeting moment of transcendence of his many cares. The sound was one, but at that very moment it had furcated was sighing through a thousand apertures. Rod cocked his ear and thrust it at what lay beyond him. Nobody, Muslim or Han, stirred in the streets. The air was cold. He could hear perfectly in all directions without being able to pinpoint the sound. It was sourceless. It was the sound of voices in the city. It was the sound of air shearing off the jagged spine of peaks that ringed the basin. It was the sound of time passing. Not just passing, but sighing, moaning as it came into contact with the human vessels whose assignment was to record the nature and meaning of the eerie tones before they—the vessels—were blown to smithereens.
Rod thought all these things and more about the sounds he was hearing. Of course, he was wrong. Which was just as well, for what his ear was hearing was actually the aggregate sound of nearly every man and woman in Altay and environs, heights and flats both, making exquisite In Lieuve. And it would have hurt to know that it was using his product, his contrivance, but that he had been defrauded of his deserved gotten gains. The shabby pretensions at transcendence spared him any undignified contact with the grim reality, true. And yes, we can state for the record that it was furthermore true that Rod, who as we know had only fifty-three Yuan to his name after the purchase of boombox and recording material (and even that was the day before!), wasn't being paid a penny of the proceeds. The real question, of course, boiled down to how long Rod’s shabby transcendentalism could provide a safe haven from the gathering storm. Just how long could it? There's nothing for it but to read on. Or do you think you have the power to part the fog?
The truth of the matter was that when Rod arrived at FourU amid the soft susurrus of moans, he was down to his last move. One might say that a line had been crossed. There were no customers at the café, only a red-eyed narcotized nomad in a greasy fez to mind the minutes and feed the till. The red eyes rolled when they settled on Rod. Whatever transcendental events were afoot must have been bad for business, Rod surmised. And customer relations were reeling. Phoo!
Rod sat down at a terminal. He had enough money for exactly one hour at the keyboard, followed by a dinner of flavorless tea and biscuits for two at the hotel. The hotel was the only establishment that would serve him—he and the Duchess had used up their credit at more than a few local eateries, and word had spread. No serve before settle! Fortunately for Rod the hotel manager had become so distracted by some other enterprise of his during this past week that he had not again approached Rod about settling his bill. The few times he had seen him there had been something sweaty and fervid about himÀ. It made Rod feel more than a little canny knowing that he had been swinging room and board for free.
But the fact remained that circumstances were straitened. Rod needed help. He knew he did not have time to write to everyone separately. Time was ticking. He cc'd everyone who was anyone in his address book and began to write.



I am writing to shatter the drama of your anticipation. To those who wonder about me, I say that my time in China finds me well. Everyone is just so hospitable, and I have been getting no end of encouragement in my various initiatives. Everything from localizing my CASHPAC materials to moneymaking to writing, let me tell you. The people in China are naturally impressed by a man of enterprise. There is no artifice in their esteem for me. It feels really good to have found a home away from home. Things could not be better. You must believe my every word!
And being persons of enterprise yourselves, you naturally know that when things are going well, it is natural, even necessary, for you to want them to be better still. But if things are going so well, you’ll be asking yourselves, then what could he possibly need? I mean, what do you give to the man who has everything? It’s the dilemma that has plagued many a marketer, many a wife of the chairman of the board. But the answer is simple: Money! I suppose I ought to make a clean breast of things with you. You who are my nearest and dearest. I may have achieved fame here, both commercially and artistically. I may have found love. I may be held in high esteem. I may have received some benefaction from hospitable do-gooders. VIP-class benefaction, if you’ll know. It might even soon come to pass that I am proven the great savior and liberator of the China people. And not only that, my good friends, but I may or may not have achieved significant philosophical insight into the nature of things like friendship, love, success and the act of striving. I can confidently say that I have had startling realizations regarding the nature of liberty, tolerance and what are and what are not appropriate courses of treatment for autoimmune conditions. I have concluded that to a man of enterprise, this life is not vanity. Most significantly, I may have landed on an insight or two regarding human sexuality during my time in loco orientalis. That what we truly require is as simple as a perfect caricature.
The point being that whereas I may enjoy all the above-listed privileges and benefits, I am at the moment not without my monetary needs. At least until certain intransigent modalities are resolved, which will happen—I do not know when. The pace of business is actually somewhat slow in China, contrary to the bustling impression they try to convey in their promotional literature, and which they have been so successful in getting the western media to accept. So much paperwork, you know. And a lot of significant material really does get lost in translation. I honestly don’t know how big concerns do business here. I am not recommending that my lizard husbandry enterprise expand into this market. We would probably be branded interlopers. Suffice it to say that I would appreciate a little buffer funding, pending the resolution of these modalities, to help me procure conveyance back home for myself and my special lady friend, where, after all, there are many other issues of enterprise to transact.
We are all friends. Friends and family. But you should not think for a minute that your help would go unrewarded. Or even could go. I am prepared—no, committed—pending the unraveling of the Gordian knot of my modalities, to offer the personage or personages who help to get me out of here a reward on the order of the gorgeous. That's the kind of businessman I am. That's the kind of man I am. My stalled equity has stuck its neck out into the stratospheric heights of seven figures. So what I am saying is that the gorgeousness of what those who come to my aid can expect to accrue to them will total at least six.
Come to think of it, friends and family, come to think of it...all of you have e-mail contacts, have you not? People you chat with online occasionally and what-not. That is precisely the type of extended network I would need to tap into to have the modalities ever so quickly resolved. Do you see what I mean? The greater the number of trickles flowing into my stream of resolution equity, the greater my chances of quickly undoing the modal knot. So please, if you could just tell them, anyone you think might be interested in working from home or making a little extra money, that would be a wonderful help in entraining all the more quickly the sequence of events that will return me home as a triumphant captain of e-industry. The fact is that this is an opportunity they won't want to miss. And do tell them that the anticipated reward will be nothing less than gorgeous.
On a final note, I would like to note that I am prepared to offer concessions beyond merely gorgeous ones. Many of you may or may not have certain gripes regarding my person or conduct. I am prepared to address those. I am. You know who you are, you know what they are. Ghol, for instance, I am prepared to address You in the manner that You deem fitting and proper to the esteem in which You like to bask. Dr. Genauer: I am prepared to undergo your course of treatment, whatever the cost. After the passage of all these grim and bitter years, I am at last ready to defer to your better medical judgment. Even though I suspect you of having caused the terrible condition from which a friend of mine is suffering. Did you catch that Geena? Maybe this is a problem that can be fixed by throwing money at it after all. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The bonds of my chosen affinity to halitosis may break yet. I may as well address that offer to all of you: I can still change. Just grant me a chance in your hearts and the credit of currency I need to redeem it in reality.

Yours in inspired spirit,

H. Rod Grumbelius, e-Petitioner, Inventor, Playwright, & c.


He was satisfied with this latest composition. Straight to the point. No funny stuff. It felt good to have laid himself bare to all. All but Mangwana, whose name he had considered cc-ing but didn't. The man had done enough. Why should he molest with fripperies the man who had given him a great opportunity to make something of himself? And besides, Julius was still most likely being hotly pursued by his political enemies. He was risking life and limb on an hourly basis just by continuing to live. How would it look to petition a great man in such a position with a trivial request for a few thousand dollars? How could that measure up to the brinksmanship of mortal peril?
Rod looked at the clock on the screen. Time was nearly up. Five minutes left until this, the last time he could afford to connect to the superhighway of enterprise, was over and done with. He plastered down his worried brows and hung his head. A minute passed as ineluctably and indifferently as the hours and weeks and months before it had. He had no idea what he would do next beyond eating a meal of pure starch and sugar at the hotel that housed his love and his desperation. Two minutes passed, then three. Head hung, heart spent, mind jellied, he barely detected the commotion, the clamorousness, that ensued as FourU was stormed by the armed agents of the state. To him the noise seemed no more than a natural consequence of the tolling of the fifth minute. Was it not natural that such a tragic, laden moment should be marked by a choral overture? He got up to pay with the gravity the moment called for, but was quickly swallowed by the police detachment. Words were spoken, none of which Rod understood. He tried to insist on getting through the phalanx to pay, but was compelled to remain still by a raised truncheon. And the attendant in the greasy fez seemed to have fled. No doubt but that he too was a commercial interloper. Rod quietly relished his salvation from utter pennilessness as he was hustled away. He still had an hour of surfing to his name. At least there was that.


The rest came to pass as quickly and incomprehensibly as in a dream. An experience void of agency or esteem, let alone glory. Rod was taken to a squalorous prison on the outskirts of town and put in a cell with a number of bored, befezzed Uighurs who did not look especially subversive. None of the prison officials spoke any English. Why was he being held? Was it this interloper business? Or could it have to do with nonpayment at the restaurants where he had overextended his credit? Which would have been fair enough. Those food merchants had provided a service, and Rod had failed to pay. No settle no service had turned into no settle serve time. Which would have been okay if he were in an American prison, since taxpayers would have been footing his bill. But here it was a little more problematic, since each morning, the guard on duty presented him with a bill for last night's stay. The prices were modest by any standard, but that did nothing to allay the fact that Rod had no lucre. If he had more Chinese he would ask for a discount based on the bugs and stench he had to endure. Not to mention his cot, which was reprehensibly soiled. All very bu hao. Maybe his mime artistry and knowledge of gesticulation could be used to petition his jailers to liberate him from this scrape.
On the third morning, as he was putting the finishing touches on a dramatic charade of petition in his head, Rod was visited by a magistrate who declaimed something relatively lengthy from a piece of paper. The charges, he assumed. The oration was monotonous, expressionless. It seemed to be a list of things, but to him it might as well have been a recipe for kung pao chicken read out by someone who was not particularly fond of the dish. Although Rod personally had no idea what was said, by that time he had made the passing acquaintance of one of his Uighur cellmates who seemed not to mind his breath too badly—which, as you'll imagine, was verging on atrocity for lack of opportunity to exercise even the most rudimentary oral hygiene. Which is to say that his befezzed cellmate maintained a relatively large courtesy orbit as he delivered his rudimentary interpretation of what had been said.
“He say enemy of China. Enemy of people. Say much disease plus too many baby. You did the business. Say enemy of one family one baby. Say enemy public health. Say big cancer. Things looking unlucky for you my friend!"
What of it? Rod had better things to do than dwell on this foreboding news, the translation of which he could not even be sure was accurate. He was a man of enterprise, not of idle frets and worries. Now that he had some time to himself, he thought he would sit down and do what every great and suffering man did when presented with the opportunity of incarceration: He had decided to write his prison memoirs. The problem was that the tight-fisted guards wouldn't let him have a pen, no matter how hard he petitioned and gesticulated. Which meant that for his memoirs, Rod had to rely on the tool of his memory for a tablet, which, as it turned out, was far less prodigious a recording tool than his humble pen. He'd decided to write about the transcendental aspects of breathing. Breath as metaphor. Breath as symbol. The problem was that he couldn't hold more than a few lines of the memoir intact in his head at any given time. This wasn’t like his street performance, where each line issued naturally from the one before it. This memoir was subtle stuff, intellectual. Philosophical. But his memory wasn’t up to it: The content was changing from recitation to recitation. It wouldn't do at all to have this kind of unreliable memoir hanging from his neck like a millstone. He would have to shorten it. It would have to be...what did they say... Pithy! That's what they called it, pithy, full of kernel.
After a lengthy nighttime session practicing (it was the only time he could be free from the corporeal distractions of his cellmates, and could bring to bear enough focus to properly memorize 5 medium-length sentences), he arrived at this:

Breathing, more than just inhaling and exhaling air, is about the understanding of life. Breath is that which moves, stirs, transports. In studying it, you start by marking the physical breath. But beneath that the curious breather discovers the Divine Breath, who has something special to say to him: I am Breath, and regardless of the way I smell, I am Divine!

On the fourth morning—after a day and a night in a cloud of delirious disbelief and in a protracted but vain attempt to gain an audience with someone who spoke English; someone who could understand that he had references, contacts; that he was a VIP; that none other than Tancred Poon would vouch for him—Rod was fetched from his cell and taken to a hearing. The forum was austere; it reminded him of a classroom. His guards, one on either side, wore colorless uniforms and moved with a kind of gummy organic automatism as they escorted him into a chair to which he was manacled. Fluorescent light flickered across grave lifeless images of Mao, Deng Xiaoping and more recent chairmen that, in festooning the otherwise bare walls to the exclusion of any other ornament, drew attention to their overall starkness. There was a tinny quality to the magistrate's voice as proceedings got underway and the charges were read out. As if instead of a mouth he were possessed of the kind of speaker typical of train platforms, over which nothing has ever been understood. A nervous giggling rippled through the spectators. There was no interpreter, but midway through the hearing he was handed a sheet of paper. It was an English translation of the charges. He read it with widening eyes:
Defending entity stands accused of a heinous crime. The Chinese procuratorate organ has been engaging in intense investigation of the “Grumbelius Case.” Under the unified command and coordination of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the investigation and prosecution actions began under top secret. The order came from Central Command once upon a notification from the Western Chinese People's Product Safety Commission, in which asserted that a device importationed into China for promiscuous sale by an American national of CASHPAC company, was leading to greatly enhanced risk of aggressive cervical growths and a population explosion both in like manner. This additionally to the great economic chaosness generated by its uncontrolled profusioning enjoyment. Which is not criminal, since enterprise receives favorable encouragement, but which does point finger at a sinister intelligence. These alarming informations led to immediate suspicion of state sponsoredness, since no rational economy actor would do such scourge to his clientele. Combination of irresistible characteristic with deadly property has character of weapon, and would never wisingly be deployed by domestic patriot. So began the search for evidence against an infiltrationed sovereign enemy combatant.
Rapidly came ascertainment that product safety commission had correctly identified monstrous hazard. Women coming into special gravid circumstances and being cancerously menaced through use of sexual product which explosioned across markets through the thick and thin prefectures of the People's Republic. We all know this product, we cannot have escaped its implicitudes. The In Loove American Feeling Enhancer devices claim contraceptive but are in sooth virulently proceptive. Throughout the People’s Republic, there are now gestating proof exemplars numbering in high millions.
Our investigatorial team quickly concluded that Grumbelius, an American with tourist visa in Altay where epidemic began, was the prime number suspect. We were given commendable help in this effort by a devoted police commissioner in the Altaic prefecture, who initially to the product's release and basing on a tip from a concerned citizen, had thought to candid video record a promotional module proofing the incontrovertible perpetration of the accused. With corroboratory evidence like a blueprint for the device and original English version of the product usage instructional, both festooned with digital greaseprints of the accused, we have high conviction confidence.
The defendant will be tried for attempted genocide and onco-warfare in terrorem waging upon People’s Republic. Only murdering intention must account for use of phthalate plasticizers in a product planned for inside of a woman. I want to point out that China is a country ruled by law. The State will go all-out to adjudicate a fair and open trial, and to expunge defendant guilt through action of a bullet. Diplomatic channeling has been undertaken, yes. But the U.S. Department of State will not admit to hand in matter. They have expressed sympathetic condolence, and seem not terrifyingly concerned about welfare of asset. The defendant is required for prosecution for unsavoring crimes of sex in his natal land additionally. One thing should be noted with rage interest. One conspicuous common feature of espionage cases in recent years is that most of the criminals have the capacity of Chinese-Americans. Although they are descendents of China, they are engaging in evil-doings by using shameful tricks and are thus endangering the security of the motherland and are held in contempt by all Chinese across the globe. In this case the girlfriend of the suspect, who accompanied him to Altay, is just such a Chinese-American. The procuratorate organ was firstly anxious to implicate her in the atrocious deeding, but no evidence was found, and she is being repatriated. Be it in due course of after a stern lecturing.
In conclusion, the State will not belittle the matter and the Chinese people will consciously heighten their vigilance. Trial date now set for commencement tomorrow.


On the next day Rod was tried and sentenced. As he was being transported from prison to courthouse in a police bus, he peered out on roads lined end to end with people wielding cameras, cell phones, binoculars and even telescopes, all craning and clamoring to catch a glimpse or snap a shot. At first he thought that the good Chinese people might have turned out en masse in solidarity with their wrongfully accused guest. Yet it could not escape even Rod that the people gave off the air of a lynch mob. Many were jeering and shaking their fists. Many were cradling perishable foodstuffs. At times he thought he could feel their collective fury harmonize with the engine vibrations. The scene gradually blurred as the barred window clouded over in a film of eggs and other edible semisolids. Rod ground hands into midsection in abject futility.
Eggs and rancid oils rained on him during his brief forced march between bus and People’s Court. On two occasions, his beefy escort paused to administer merciless truncheon beatings to groups of men they could be sure were guilty of soiling their uniforms. Rod managed to salvage some dignity by facing his horde of accusers and yelling “Bu hao!”
Soon he was in court. Rod was not sure when the trial began, but a few minutes after he had been chained to his bench, it was clear that court was in session. Proceedings were swift. The prosecutor had blown up a copy of the blueprint for the flow control device, and had also prepared transparencies of selected pages in the user manual. Repeatedly, he would go over something with the red dot of his laser pointer, look up at the judge, then make a cluck-clucking sound, as if Rod’s offense had been no more than a foolish student’s infraction of the honor code. At these times the judge would either chuckle or give his head a rueful shake. Never did either the judge or the prosecutor face him directly. Rod was never offered an interpreter, nor did he ask. The last argument made by the prosecutor seemed more expressive. He spoke at some length, becoming more and more agitated as he went along. He was evidently quite upset, for by the end he had worked himself into a high-pitched lather. When he had finished and sat down to let the judge consider the evidence, he skewered Rod with a frosty stare.
Rod tried to speak into the momentary silence to make a case for himself, but was quickly muzzled by the stern hand of the bailiff. Just then the judge intoned something, and the courtroom erupted into a jubilant chattering hum. Rod looked up at the judge, who suddenly was all smiles. This devoted servant of justice looked down at Rod and told him, in passable English, "You are guilty, Mr. Grumbrus. This is a happy day for the Chinese people."
Never one to be deterred by a seeming setback, Rod saw in this pronouncement an opportunity he could sink his claws into. He had to act decisively. Now that he had been convicted, the bailiff let him speak. “Your honor, I would like to state that you do very good and honorable work here. It is an honor to be in your courtroom.” The judge nodded amiably. “If permitted to speak in my own defense, there are a few things I would like to mention that might cause you to reconsider your verdict. The first is that I am not the person who designed this flawed product, nor did I decide on the materials used to manufacture it. Those modalities were regulated by a U.S. pharmaceutical company of whose internal procedures I am ignorant. I should also mention that it was not even my idea, sensu stricto, to market the product in China. I was encouraged to undertake the venture by my business associate Tancred Poon, an officer of the Poon People's Bank, an institution with which you are no doubt familiar. I would like to motion that Mr. Poon be brought in as a witness in my defense in the event that you grant a retrial.
“Even better than a retrial, of course, would be if you could overturn your verdict and dismiss the case. You might even bestow on me the court’s commendation for my various civic and commercial achievements. Which brings me to my second point, your honor, and I mean the fact that I am a wealthy individual who tends to be looked upon favorably by courts of justice. If you'll know, your honor, I came to China originally to redeem a reward for some of my business dealings on the order of millions of dollars. From an escrow account at the Poon People's Bank. What I am saying is that fully half of this equity could be yours, once freed, if you were inclined to look favorably on my case, and I were freed. You may not know me, but it is a fact that I am thoroughly infected by the bug of enterprise. I always like to make a deal. So what do you say, your honor? Do we have a deal?"
The judge was fixing him with an immutable toothy grin. Suddenly he reached into a cubby somewhere in his majestic jurist’s desk and produced a poster, which he unfurled with slow reverence. All eyes were on this mysterious cylindrical standard. Clearly a reverenced object. Rod saw it now. It was a reproduction of an old watercolor that depicted an official-seeming man from dynastic China. "Do you know who this is, Mr. Grubrus?"

The judge did not wait for an answer. "This is Bao Zheng. Blue-Sky Bao. Bao was the most honest and corruption-free judge in all China's history. I think of him as my professional ancestor, an ancient colleague who sees what I am doing. Someone looking over my shoulder, wanting me to do right. Would it be right to release you, an enemy of China, for blood money? For cancer money? No!
“One more thing about Blue-Sky Bao. He was corruption-free, yes. But not soft. Not lenient. Emperor Renzong gave Bao three guillotines. One was decorated with a dog’s head, used on commoners. Another was decorated with a tiger’s head, used for government officials. A third was decorated with a dragon’s head, used on royalty. Bao spared no one. His bailiff had to keep those blades sharp. I am not impressed by you, Mr. Grubrus. You are an enemy agent. You will now be taken to the Altay People's Sporting Arena for public sentencing."
The English-language honeymoon was over. The judge barked out a command in Chinese to set the bailiff in motion. Which led to Rod himself being set in motion. He was again discourteously muzzled when he tried to speak. From the ritual bombardment with rancid lipids to the streets lined with rubberneck hecklers rank on rank, his conveyance to the sporting arena was nearly identical, excepting the order in which these undignified events occurred, to his ride from jail earlier that morning. It was still the forenoon. There was a momentous unseen difference though, as this time the whole farcical ordeal was much nearer its end than mere linear measurement through time would indicate. The trial's outcome may have been predictable, but it had not been rigged. The bench was hardly staffed by a marsupial element. The judge may have felt inclined to dismiss the prosecutor's case on a procedural technicality, for instance. Or on the strength of Central Command’s queasiness about how Washington would react. Not so now—Rod's sentencing was mere pageantryÀ, and nothing short of an act of God could change its outcome. But not even God was inclined to look favorably on Rod that day.
The ride to the arena was brief. He looked out the blurred window and noted the route. From the courthouse, it took him first past the Poon People's Bank. Rod made a miming gesture of entreaty, trying one last time to draw on his reserves of charm and artistry and stern purpose to stir the people inside into helping the man who could have been one of their best customers if they had just bothered to search thoroughly for his account number. Availing nothing. Where was Tancred? The route then swept past restaurant row, where he could see his prandial creditors gesticulating angrily. He couldn’t be sure for the eggy film clouding the window, but next he thought the bus might be passing the hotel. There was an outline of a man who might have been his hotelier, wildly waving at him what might have been the account log. Rod felt badly—every businessman deserved recompense for his undertakings. Of the Duchess there was no sign.
Soon the bus had trundled through a gate and beyond the city's ancient friable wallsÃ, and it did not take long before it had made a sweeping turn and rolled onto a soccer field set in a gigantic stadium. The bus deposited its miserable charge onto the field, pulling the cork on a deafening atavistic roar. Media helicopters circled overhead like vultures.
There stood Rod. Crooked, short, wretched. A Punchinello guilty of illicit genocide. Does it even bear mentioning that he was sentenced to death and immediately carted off for execution? After all, the line had been crossed long before, die cast, game rigged, odds stacked and what have you. The assiduous reader will of course already have glimpsed the writing on the wall. Having sipped on this effervescent narrative cocktail—the one which Rod himself is downing greedily, episode after episode—the one in which Rod's astounding native foolishness forms the tonic base, and into which an evil hand has slipped not only strong spirit, but also a colorful but fatefully toxic saccharine enticement; having mingled his tongue with the bubbles of this heady concoction, how could the assiduous reader fail to have glimpsed the fateful mechanism and assured outcome of Rod's minor tragedy? And yet the assiduous reader should forbear, should hold off sitting down to a hearty round of self-congratulation over drinks, if only for a moment; for there are some things that are not yet certain, and the reader's undivided attention is still required. Think about it! Who, for instance, was the mixologue who added the odious laced saccharine to Rod’s drink? Who was the fellow standing behind the scenes, deliberately paying out the tether of Rod's fate? These are the questions on which the legacy of Rod's misadventures will turn. These are the questions that will befuddle book clubs and knitting circles and anyone else who would like to offer their take on this tale over drinks.
The point being that we can dispense with tedious descriptions of how Rod, who went week in the knees, had to be propped up to hear his sentence. Not to mention the literal content of the sentence as it was read out, since we already know its effect. Beside which there remains the fact that the sentence was formulated and read out in Chinese, which is incomprehensible to myself and all but a few of this account’s likely readers. For instance, I wouldn't even know how to start going about the act of transcription, much less of translation. I hold no degree in Pinyinization.
What does bear mentioning is the large crowd that had gathered, whose presence was more a novelistic flourish than a predictable, anticipated element. It has been said that the crowd was large. But could you have come up with the image of a full-sized autocrat-style call-and-response and rally-to-me stadium packed to the hilt—every seat and patch of standing room filled—with people gathered there from every corner of the People’s Republic to see justice summarily served? These people were angry. They were making a lot of noise. Rod was terrified. He tried hard to think of something else when he glimpsed the enormity of his dilemma. What could he possibly hope to accomplish by focusing on this hopeless scene? The crowd included veiled and befezzed locals, bypassed by the In Lieuve craze by way of poverty or simple nomadism, there because everyone else was, because they’d heard about it and it was something to do on an otherwise boring day, and who were hardly beyond getting caught up in a collective call for blood. The crowd included a large number of enraged women keen to see the wrong perpetrated on their sexual health avenged. Family men had turned out by the thousands to savor the ultimate penance of the man who had imposed on them unexpected and burdensome abortions, or, if they loved life, extra-child tax assessments. They included a huge cadre of government planners and doctors who had traveled far and wide to salve a sense of wounded professional competence. Both before and after the sentence was read out, these foregathered thousands chanted something that I am able to convey to you in translation, thanks to a good bilingual friend of mine who was present. Death to the smelly-mouthed American! Word of Rod’s condition must have been leaked by his jailers, and by the time of his sentencing had very clearly made the rounds in the national media. They cried it in furious unison. Death to the smelly-mouthed American!
The other aspect—modality if you will—that bears noting is the manner in which the sentence was carried out. The crowd would naturally have preferred the default bullet to the back of the head; for whose cost Rod's corpse would then be invoiced by the ultimate arbiters of the Chinese and of any society—its bookkeepers, those grandiose tabulators who have never been beyond billing the dead for the lead used to do them in. But that is not what happened. Instead, the powers that were chose the occasion of Rod's execution to set an example. Since incalculable gobs of productivity had been wasted over the course of the In Lieuve madness, they reasoned that the act of expunging guilt should coincide with the kicking off of a high-profile campaign to recover what productivity and efficiencies were lost. Which is why, as soon as the sentence had been read out and the crowd had been cowed into a silence befitting the solemn observance of this moment of celestial correction, a mobile execution van drove onto the field.
What was this mobile execution van? It was nothing more and nothing less than an ambulance retrofitted to provide the services that public and government alike have come to expect of a lethal injection chamber. Its conceit is simple: It serves as execution chamber and hearse in one, sparing the ministry of Justice the expense of needless redundancies. The real estate market was hot, and land for new execution grounds was hardly cheap. This particular model of mobile execution van was especially reserved for use by the bailiff of the judge who had adjudicated Rod's case, and was decorated on both sides by identical portraits of the great Song judge Bao Zheng. The effigy caught him in a stern pose verging on wrathfulness. In these portraits, the ancient paragon of fairness and incorruptibility was pointing a hand at a fearsome, baroque-looking guillotine topped off by the head of a dog. Indicating that in the eyes of this judge, the great Bao's latter-day disciple, no one was more than a commoner before the law. The message was clear: If justice demanded it, there was no one who this even-handed judge would balk at executing. And so it was in this case: There was no stay, no clemency, no reprieve. The approaching van slowed and then halted, its hungry diesel roar dropping to a throaty purr. Two men stepped out of the back and helped Rod inside. Before long the van was back in gear, making its way to the morgue, with the hungry media helicopters following at some remove. And that was all anyone but those inside the van saw. And of course the judge who handed down the sentence, who had requested a videotape of the event so he could be satisfied that Justice had been served.
But what did Rod experience when he was being sentenced, and then when being strapped down onto the van's operating bed? What was he thinking when they fitted his mainline with the fatal drip? How did he react when his bearers helpfully translated the sentence by barking the word execute! in his ear? There should be no mistake here, no narrative fog—the truth is that Rod died, as he lived, entertaining a glorious dream of enterprise. From the time he was propped up at midfield for sentencing until the very moment the paralyzing agent was released into his bloodstream, he was imagining creating an Internet dating portal for the community of the suffering, a place where people of malodor could connect, feel comfortable and not have to worry so much about stigmatization in a romantic moment. Indeed, the thought excited him so much that it led to an improbable final priapic episode. His bulge was noted with fascinated horror by the spectators at the arena. For those who were sitting close enough, and then for the entire country once the images of the well-endowed scar-faced felon got around, the outrageous size of it drove the point home in a showcase moment for the wisdom of repugnance: Rodney Grumbelius had come to China to fuck them.
Before things got underway inside the van and the equipment was used to provide its incalculable service to the public and to Justice, the execution technician reached into his pocket and handed Rod a hipflask. Rod took it down in a single pull. Strong, ricey. He mustered enough sangfroid to mutter something about a proposing a "halitoast" before allowing himself to be strapped down. One strap was left loose, since the technicians wanted to avoid any contact with the bulge, be it even mediated through a fetter. Rod continued to focus on the forum—CASHDATE, he would call it—since it would hardly do to focus on this sordid business. Here was the forum where foul breath and the spirit of love would finally reunite and recapture the ancient unity that had been lost at the hands of the stigmatizers.
Of course, once the paralyzing agent took hold, Rod could no longer hold on to the thought of the online forum. Other matters, other modalities just came crowding in. With the distinct feeling that he was very soon going to die, he lapsed into the hackneyed trope of seeing life flash before his eyes. What did he see? The truth is that the experience of having one's life flash before one's eyes can be a little disappointing, a little strange. For instead of seeing a well-turned parabola or a spectacular freefall or what have you, or indeed anything geometric and orderly at all, what Rod saw was an incoherent series of snapshots, jolts, frames. There were even some words sprinkled in here and there. And on a notable occasion, words intermingling with a snapshot to create something else. It should also be mentioned that when one’s life flashes before one’s eyes, recent memories tend to crowd out more distant ones. Of course there are exceptions. This is what Rod saw: A chained wolf snapping its jaws and gnashing its grimy stubs of teeth (the reason they were stubs in the first place, he thought); an e-mail from Julius Mangwana that just glowed with hearthside warmth and friendly meaning; his prison memoirs, pithy and complete; an irate reactionary clerk ejecting him from an apartment store for engaging in his guerilla-breathing techniques and halitprop; a bonfire of weird folkloric consignments in whose dung-scented sighs of smoke swirled the silhouetted wraith of a flat-chested, austere Geena, the memory of grueling Gholian punctuation modules and certain questions he just never could get right, not to mention the plume-shrouded stovepipe hat of his flamboyant postal carrier. He remembered the tremendous one-act play he had penned, and likewise his misunderstood piece of street theater, brought to the good China people from across the seas. Plum-scented sighs! He recollected the first time he saw the Duchess, bless her—how he helped wheel her rack over the threshold that cold night. How they thrilled to scrumpy. Then there were the beastly erections that would never go away. Any summary of his life that elided those would be a lie. He recalled with a grin the subtle reptilian watermark on the Lizard Ltd. checks that he had been so handy at cashing. He saw Tancred’s immaculate shoes, patent leather buffed to a reassuring luster. Tancred looking up, extending his hand in a gesture of VIP greeting. Then disappearing. He lapsed into a brief reverie about a million-breath CAHSPAC march on Washington. That would have merited a great big round of halitoasts!
He became aware that he had lost his ability to move. The flashes became more dramatic, started taking liberties. If only he could recollect things properly, and recollect the important things, maybe there would be some meaning, some consolation to clutch between his teeth as he drew his last breath. And which consolation would hum with harmonic signification as his last breath drew across it. To recollect things properly, the literal had to be privileged over the literary. He recalled how he had been sitting in the middle of the cafeteria, surrounded by concentric circles of classmates hostile to his breath, circles rotating at speed. With the indifferent precision of a Swiss watch. Next it was the Isle of Vernal Exhalations. Stuck in a gigantic tub of hot congealing Juicy Fruit, unable to move, suffocating as a team of doctors swabbed the back of his mouth, declaring Why I never! Such thrush, and not without a note of cadaverine, don't you think? Rod, trying to scream, managed a grumble. Had those been his memories? Now tub and Isle were gone, giving way to Julius, himself as Julius—this was a liberty all right, but he liked Julius so much and why not enjoy this nearness to him one last time, fiction or no?—Julius in the forest, Julius killing a small blue reptile with one lash, Julius skewering someone, Julius sorrowing Mortensen's death, Julius fleeing through the jungle with bloodthirsty pursuers snapping at his finely turned heels. Next, oddly, Rod saw a little allegory. It started off with the same metaphor he had outlined to Julius in a candid moment before beginning his meteoric ascent into the firmament of e-enterprise. Back when he was feeling a little low. The assiduous reader will remember it well: The one where he was leaning back in a chair and zeroing in on the tipping point, wherein in reaching it he tried to jerk himself upright, yet in the very act of so doing gave it the final impetus it needed to sunder the delicate equilibrium and seek the ground. So there was the element of the tipping point, but this time there was the additional ingredient of a desk in front of him, on which desk were two sheaves of paper. The one sheaf was written up, every page cluttered with words. It contained his life, such as it was. Every fold and angle and consideration. Every humiliation and vain struggle, but also every insight and moral victory and moment of pleasing glorification. It was all there, all the days and nights, all the spats and fights. Every breath and every lingering note of putrescine and cadaverine. The pages were greasy, dog-eared, plentiful. At the other end of the table lay the other sheaf. This other sheaf was perfectly blank, fresh—the unwritten pages of a potential life. In their blankness yawned an infantile yearning for an alternative. A reauthoring. An escape.
The metaphors intermingled in the following way (nota bene: the mating of two metaphors is nessecary and sometimes sufficient to produce an allegorical offspring): If Rod, in his attempt to defeat the consequence of passing the tipping point, were to reach for the side of the table with the sheaf populated by words, the pages that bore the trappings of his life such as it was—if he were to accept his life as it was given to him and spurn escape into fugues of delusion, if he were to be more literal and less literary with something as fundamental as his very life—in so electing he would be able to seize the edge of the table and avert a tumble by virtue of the felicitous, perhaps even eschatological angle at which desk and chair were set to each other. Reaching for the side where the other sheaf lay, on the other hand, would assure a catastrophic cranial impact with the ground. Suddenly the metaphor swings into movement. So what happens? As you might expect of Rod, sensing the critical moment, he reaches out for the unwritten pages and crashes to the fucking floor. Entirely convinced by way of a pathetic series of trite considerations and delusional modalities that he elected correctly. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the last thing Rod saw.
Rod’s mind may have been a blinkered eternal optimist, but his body was not. Suddenly his inert being bucked and heaved with the shock of the toxin entering his bloodstream. He thrashed in his fetters, jerked wildly, reflexively brought every speck of vitality left in him to bear on this affront to life. It was really unnecessary though, since it was inevitable that he should perish. It should be mentioned that it was culturally insensitive for Rod to jerk around like this, since Chinese execution technicians have a strong preference that their charges go quietly. It was disconcerting to see someone who would so soon be dead making such a tremendous racket. An unsettling paradox. Rod's actions were costing them face too, since the evenhanded judge would eventually see everything that had happened on videotape. Which circumstance was fraught by the matter of Rod's unremitting priapic episode. The execution technicians had to look at the walls to avoid seeing the monstrous erection, the gleam of which had by now soaked through Rod’s pants. Not only that, but, being who he was, Rod produced an exceptionally stenchy death-rattle, such that the technicians, who were already after all facing the wall, had to suffer the additional indignity of pinching off their noses and huddling in their labcoats for succor. Cadaverine indeed. It was embarrassing for everyone.


Nephew of Mine,

I don’t know what's going on with you over there. There’s the fact that I haven't heard from you. You know, actually when you did write I was in the clink, can you believe it? It was atrocious: Who puts U. Ghol in the clink? The clink—after you and your lady went to the airport, I was held on charges of possession. Possession of child pornography and other obscene material. Material that had nothing to do with me but stemmed exclusively from the inept business dealings that landed you in China. China is still where you are, I presume, since if you had made it home with your reward I would expect to have been contacted. Contacted about my share, that is. Is that clear? Clear or not clear, I want my share to be doubled in recognition of the time I spent in the clink on your account. A count of incitement to sexual mutilation against me was dropped in any case, as was the possession, as I was able to hire a spiff lawyer to convincingly demonstrate that I had nothing at all to do with these offenses. Offenses aside—and you will have to top off my lawyer's retainer as well, after which point I would consider the two of us to be squared up—I have to point out that you may be returning to some alarming news. News that may destabilize you...I guess you and Geena were having a rough patch, but the fact is that you've already been replaced over there. There’s a fellow by the name of Crumpler, seems to be some kind of writer. Right or wrong, that's the case and I thought you should know. Knowledge being power and what have you.
What have you done in China? In China there's definitely a lot of potential to reap windfalls, but I'd be careful if I were you, sit back and sniff the wind a little bit, because there seems to be great potential to fall afoul of unsavory people and unstoppable forces. For see here: Do you know how to go about being a successful entrepreneur, China-style, Rod?

Looking forward to my share (hope you’re well and all the best),

U. Ghol



My God Rod, there’s something I have to tell you. About this new guy I’ve been seeing. Carson. Actually about you, something that’s got me really worried. It's absolutely insane. Insane. It’s about your business associate. I mean it’s about this guy I’m seeing. Carson. I mean that your business associate does not exist. He's just a character in the books that this guy writes. He just used him to get you to fall for a scam and get you out of the country so that he could have me. It’s all so crazy. I knew he seemed kind of nuts Rod, and my alarm bells should have gone off, but there’s something about him…
The point is that you need to be really careful, Rod. That's why I'm writing. Of course I would say that anyway, but I have proof that he wants to do you definite harm. I mean unless it’s some sick kind of fiction, it’s proof. After he moved in he got rid of everything to do with you. Everything. He was especially keen to get rid of everything CASHPAC. I can't say I blame him, I mean I've never really understood that stuff, but he just went about it with this scary intensity. Like he was…I don't know—something. He shredded and burned all your materials. He also held a little neighborhood meeting to issue a public apology for all your organization’s 'abuses' and 'fronts to good taste.' But you weren’t fronting. I mean, your breath was the real thing. The meeting went over quite well, it seemed like there might have been some pent up resentment in the neighborhood about your free speech. But get this, this is the weirdest part: I guess he knew that you went to the airport on your bike that day. You know what he did? He drove over to High Sungirdle International and picked it up. Then he drove it over to a foundry, and he made me come along. For the price of a hundred dollars, they let him put the bike in the furnace and watch it melt. Then he said how's that for reemblazoning and chuckled. It was weird.
So there was that. I asked him what he was up to. He said nothing. But then he also started spending late nights on the phone. When I thought he should have been spending them with me. To China I figured out when I did a redial in the morning before going to the factory to figure out what he had been up to. It was too weird. So I asked him what that was all about. Nothing, of course. And he was spending a lot of time hashing diagrams and flow charts and stuff out on his computer. At one point I even think I saw him tooling around with a depiction of something that looked an awful lot like the blueprint for the flow control device. I remember it now, looking back I mean. At the time I didn't think much of it. We were still just falling very much in love, so I tried to ignore it. I guess I thought of it as him just being curious about what I was doing, showing an interest in my life. So a few days went by. Last night was really weird though. He came into the bedroom and read me a little prepared speech about how the menace of CASHPAC was no longer and how we didn't have to worry about breath terrorists and other deviants anymore. And good riddance to bad breath. So I waited until he had fallen asleep and then I went up to his computer to try to figure out what the heck he had been doing and God Rod, it seems really bad. He's got it all spelled out on a flow chart, and from what I could tell it looks like it's been working. His plan all along was to use this Mangwana character, who's not even real, to trick you and send you to China to get you out of the way. And from there his plan was to get you in trouble with the Chinese government, I think by getting you to produce the In Lieu Of devices in some unsafe way so that people would get hurt and you would get arrested. It seems like he’s got a contact over there who’s been manipulating you. Please Rod, don't tell me you’ve been arrested. And whatever you do, don’t trust your contact over there. I think he’s working for my new boyfriend, and I just don’t want you to come to any harm. I just can’t imagine how that would make me feel. And look. Rod, Carson seriously had the word execute him in there, so you really just need to be super careful. So please tell me that you’re OK.
Guess what. We're launching the In Lieu Of Method in America soon. We're going to have this inaugural ball where everyone gets to dance and eat really good food and drink champagne and then walk home with an In Lieu Of and a manual for them and their partners to use. I really think it’s going to take off. And the company's being so generous, we're all getting stock options. If this thing takes off as they think it will, it looks like I'm going to be made a millionaire overnight! I’m so excited!
Did you ever manage to figure out that stalled equity transaction?

All the best,


PS – There’s some mail for you from China. I can’t read it too well, but it looks like a hotel bill. I think from a place called the Procuratorate Organ. Weird. Anyway, if I’m reading it right, it looks like they charged you way more for the last night than the rate they had you at before. Should I write and complain?


Other such alarmed and concerned e-mails continued to pile up—not to mention a piece or two of hateful correspondence from Mrs. Ritter—but after the passage of two months, Rod’s e-mail account was disabled, every message deleted. At which point nothing could stop Rod's memory from fading ceaselessly into oblivion. How does one describe such a fade except by way of substitution? One might say that the people he encountered when he lived seldom paused to think of him. And that when they did think of Rod, they thought ill, and so tended the more to forget him. But what about beyond that? What about the heart of the matter, the way it really was? The kernel of things. The thing of memory itself, how it sprang up, how it faded? I don't know. The less said the better. You have to trust someone at times like this.

Author’s Afterword

Oh…hi there! I’m M.P. Gunnar Nystrom, author of Esteeming You, Esteeming Me. Let me just set my cup of scrumpy on the table here. That’s better. Where were we? So! I certainly hope you enjoyed reading this book more than I enjoyed coordinating its manufacture. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said that supervising my team of ghost writers here in little old Eau Claire were anything less than a royal pain in the ass. If you think it’s as easy as telling your ghost team what you want and then kicking off your shoes as the book comes singing off the press, think again. Not to fault my team, of course. I’ll tell you right now, there is a lot of talent willing to work for very little at the college levelÀ. Tell a kid on scholarship he's been selected for a competitive novel-writing internship and there’s no end to the dedication he’ll bring to bear on writing your novel. Customized, whatever you want. It’s like waving a goddamn wand. These minds are the true breadbasket to the world. A little raw, certainly, but all a rough diamond needs is a little grinding and buffing. And if you’ve got aspirations of your own, here's a little piece of advice from someone who knows: Don't even bother with the uppity, just-out-of-a-40-grand-a-year-grist-mill-and-by-God-I’m-gonna-make-it-in-New-York types. They're too full of their own overwrought precious ideas. So caught up in always being precocious. Hello? I know you’ve been paying out a truckload of your Daddy’s hard-eared money a year to be made to feel like a whiz, but it's got to stop sometime. There is no precocity after age 22! Always going on and on with words like “plangent” and “laconic” and “elegiac.” I don’t have time for that fancy stuff. Too literarier-than-thou if you know what I mean. I guess it’s clear I don’t tolerate that kind of guff in my workshop. I’m here to tell a story. Hell, I think I’ve already hinted at it, but I don’t really even have time to do the telling on the ground, busy as I am overseeing the harmony of the whole. It’s like Ishmael said: I am the architect, not the builderÃ. Hence the ghostwriters. Hence my faithful bevy of interns just clacking away. What can I say? All my life I’ve had a learning disability. They call it hyperempyrianism. A somewhat dubious physician once diagnosed me with vertiginous parallax, but I think that’s a load of bull. I operate in the heavens, that’s what I do. If the earth happens to drift away, so be it. I’ve got my warthogs. Let them snuffle along the ground.
What I do is simple. I plant a seed in the minds of the good young people I like to surround myself with. Then I sprinkle them with encouragement and add the glow of potential reward. Of course I’m hardly beyond the methods of the stick. Bad apple interns need to be culled. 5% a month—it's the Skilling style of novelistic HR management. The seed germinates, the stalk sprouts. It's the story of life, of the impetus to live, passed on and on down the ages by that unreckonable will. Now's when the real work starts. The pruning, the shearing. The discriminating. Never say that topiary is not a high art to my face or I’m liable to dole out a shiner. I like to think of myself as something along the lines of a Renaissance Venetian working on a royal tapestry commission. Do I do all the detail work myself? No! Let me just grab a sharp little slurp of scrumpy here...ah, as good as any I've tasted. What I do is lay out the template, incubate the grand ideas. Then I set my squad of college-level master draftsmen and ladies to work. I supervise the work. I follow it with a keen eye. I make corrections as needed.
Let me tell you what I mean on the strength of a concrete example. I think that true appreciation of this book cannot be abstracted from a solid understanding of the process of its composition. Let’s take the unforgettable scene where Rod, desperate for cash and nearing the end of his Altaic misadventure, gives a street performance set to the tune of Plum-Scented Sighs. When I started to brood on this sequence, I had the following elements in mind: That this was to be a sort of climax, the zenith of Rod's delusional fugues; that Rod was to perform some sort of dramatic piece shot through with bathos; that he was to arouse hilarity & c., or at the extreme end maybe even a martial response, the very opposite of what he had intended. I began by dictating a note to my PDA, which is equipped with a surpassingly good voice recognition program. All good writing starts with the voice, with the utterance. The dictation was saved both as an audio file and as text. The files then went out to all my interns via a list. The idea being to realize efficiencies in terms of both time and artistry. Interns that were busy buffing and burnishing other chapters—or who were doing research into subjects where my own expertise is no match for the rigors of novel-writing, such as rug weaving and surgery—could and did ignore the summons. Others, those with the time and the inclination to write a little piece of farcical street theater, were then welcome to shoot me their proposals. Usually the proposals are utter crap. Just pure hackneyed treacle. Which of course is the very reason for the bidding process: By creating a more or less formalized marketplace for ideas; by encouraging competition and innovation; by creating structural conditions sufficient to whip up enough supply to satisfy my exacting demands—by so doing I am able to sort the wheat from the chaff, to get at the kernel. Where’s my scrumpy? Ahh!
The suggestions were of all kinds. I received about ten. Most were untenable, complete chaff. Juvenilia. One of the ideas involved Rod setting up holography equipment to do shadow jousting with Chinese film stars—but where was Rod going to get the money for that? The whole point was that Rod didn't have any fucking lucre. Needless to say, that intern was axed, consigned to the scrap heap of the monthly five percent. Another proposal involved Rod meditating himself into a state of levitation, almscap extended. But this is not magical realism, folks! Needless to say, that one was sent back to his college-level writing class. I gave him a little certificate saying he was rusticated. Which he’s probably proudly tacked to his wall. There was another that basically had it right: Some kind of condensation of the one-act into a pithy kernel & c. The problem was that that particular intern is of such a grim cast of mind that I feared she could not be trusted to daub the canvas with the smears of humor needed to make it believably farcical. And I’d rather be spared the effort myself, the better to keep my lofty architectural perspective on the whole. If it’s any indication, she was the one who contributed the most flinty-hearted bits to the execution sequence, for instance. Gah! Trying to imagine her worldview makes my blood run cold.
In the end I was left with a stark choice: Pen the sequence myself (and so not only mock the delicate truce I’ve come to with my learning disability but also risk losing sight of the whole for good), or leave it in the hands of an unreliable maverick. Flying in the face of a strong gut feeling warning me against it, I chose the maverick. Orfus Kornyng of Nassau, Bahamas is one of the more recent additions to my stable of interns—but hardly a thoroughbred, if you catch my drift. No, I’d have to say that if I took a look at all my draftsmen, he is probably the most slothful and self-obsessed of the lot. He is one of those despicable fellows who fancies himself a genius without a single work or accomplishment to his name. What is the most salient trait of people who think they are genial? I’ll tell you: Indolence. What is the next most prominent trait of someone who thinks he is a genius? I'll tell you right now: An overdeveloped critical facultyÀ. I’m supposed to think the guy who shows up hung over at one o'clock every day has the right answer to everything? Come on! I’m supposed to take seriously the aesthetic credos of the guy whose principle physical trait is a virulent flatulence fired by a diet of beer-stewed beans? Nasty brown beans at that, stewed up in lard and cheap corn beer. To be honest some of his glib comments on word choice and sentence structure have been quite helpful to the other interns. But the fact remained that he hadn’t successfully penned an entire sequence for as long as this project has been going on. He's forever starting over, scrapping, dismissing, despairing. Who ever heard of a genius who couldn’t get things done? I remember the time I commissioned him with some dialogue. Just some light stuff between Rod and the Duchess. Do you know what Kornyng's response was? He said he needed me to rent out a sound booth and put some actors whom we could imagine to be Rod and the Duchess on retainer. That way, he said, he could have them bandy his dialogue about and ascertain its naturalness and believability. Dialogue, he said, was a dialectic. I had half a mind to can him right there for sheer gall, but some of the other interns ganged up and talked me out of it. Never again dialogue for this guy though. That's what I thought.
But I shouldn’t slam him so roundly by way of introduction, for he does have one major redeeming quality—he knows how to enjoy a cold frosted glass of beer with the best of them. And it’s not just that he enjoys it. It's how he enjoys it. It’s that he excels at the lubrifying arts of beer-drinking decorum. Keen to tell a joke, but not too keen that he can't bear to be told one. A wonderfully deep, enthusiastic laugher. Excellent pacing too. Always seems to finish his beer at just about the time I’m finishing mine, the better to foster bacchic brotherhood. Orfus Kornyng's devotion to beer-drinking camaraderie runs so deep that he can be counted on to relish a cold one with a fellow enthusiast at any time of day or night. Most people would refuse a beer just coming off a nap. Not so Orfus Kornyng, not even if he fell asleep drunk on a pile of edits and probably would like nothing more than to just go home. And he’ll nuzzle right up to it like it was a teat. To be honest, it’s not just this readiness, not just the volume he can drink or the efficiency with which he takes it down. What truly makes him a special drinker of beer is that with him, every time truly feels like a celebration. There’s no sense of tired alcoholic gloom, never. I don't know, maybe that does make him a kind of genius. It's these little things that really count for so much. If only the sessions weren’t punctuated by such an excess of flatus!
But back to the sequence. So I grudgingly agreed to commission Orfus with this section of the tapestry. What I expected of him was poor work at a tardy date. What I got from him was work that was really quite passable, albeit at a tardy date. He 'had a cold.' I’ll believe that the day I allow words like “ludic” or “bricolage” to be used in my works. More likely he just overfueled the tank of his genius machine with beer and ended up flooding the engine. But whatever. The point being that Orfus surprised me. I was actually quite pleased. What I saw in his draft is basically what you get. I reworked it a little bit via dictation to get the rhythms down. I also asked him to come up with a new name for the score to which Rod performs, which in the original was too offensive to even be mentioned here. This is after a family entertainment. Once Plum-Scented Sighs was in place, nothing remained but to send the draft off to my final edit crew, each of whom has been trained in how to modify a text to make it indistinguishable from one I would have written. They really do a very good job. Giving me and Orfus plenty of time to consolidate our working relationship over beers. Upwards of 13 cold ones, I think, before I was called back in to approve the final edits. It's not exactly a cakewalk to mimic my authorial voice, after all. Though I may have let some liberties slip past my vigilance after a full brewer's dozen.
So there you have the note on method. Let’s see, let's clear the old gullet with a little more scrumpy. You can never have enough, and besides, it’s hard to drone on at such length. Ah! So! I want to talk for a while about some of the symbols and structural elements used in this story. I feel that it is important for an author to spell these things out clearly, since we all know that the reading public cannot be allowed to generate its own foolhardy opinions. We'll begin with the Leitmotif that runs through the whole book like a red thread, informing its style and attitude at all points: Breath. What does it mean that this work is shot through with the theme of Breath? I will tell you. What’s that? No? Fine—I'm getting some icy stares from the defenders of art as riddle, authorship as high mystery. Idealists. There are those among my interns who think it unseemly to dare to outline transcendent meanings and absolute truths. I suspect that insouciant flatus bag of being their ringleader. Character over tissue indeed. But yes, I do have my workers' allegiance to think about, so fine then, I'll try to be a smidgeon less programmatic and set forth what I happen to believe of my own work in the form of open-ended questions. Think hard readers, for there may be a quiz.
What is the significance of Rod's foul breath with respect to the ancient philosophical traditions that have identified breath as the token of life?
Does the breath Leitmotif contain an implicit criticism of Enlightenment notions of individual liberty? Must liberty be sacrificed for the olfactory comfort of the commons?
Essence before putrescence: Does it hold any water? Rod's watchword is of course an unwitting parody of the great existentialist shibboleth ‘existence before essence.’ But does this accidental brotherhood give it any truth value? I shall try to slip one past the vigilance of my detractors, and am going to say no: These days, whether we care to admit it or not, we are too steeped in the material, the biological, to admit of the essential. Could it be that Rod is too busy looking for a should when all there is is an is?
Was Rod's halitosis born of nature, or of nurture? What does the answer to that question mean to our understanding of free will?
To what extent should meaning be ascribed to etymological coincidence, viz. expiration, inspiration, inspire, spirit, respire, aspire, spire, mire, ire? To what extent does meaning truly dovetail with sound? Or is it all just a matter of accident, precedent and—damn it all—bricolage?
To restate the above question in a more pointed way, is there a spiritual dimension to our breathing? Does foul breath signify the corruption of the soul?
Finally, to what extent can the act of writing be compared to the act of breathing? Do we take liberties in seeing individual sentences as acts of taking in and expelling foul or fragrant air? Is it significant that the book ends very shortly after Rod breathes his last?
Now onto the next pillar of my program. Structure, architecture. The element I would like to showcase is the text's verbal economy. Many parts of the text are long-winded—what of it? In what way do the textures of Rod’s, Mangwana’s and the narrator’s verbosity differ? Is it fair to say that Mangwana is a functioning logorrhetic, and that force of personality allows him to transmit the affliction to Rod, who, lacking the most basic wherewithal, collapses into fugues of circular verbal nonsense under its weight? What of the narrator, who is not exactly thrifty with his words either? How are we to interpret his overtures about ‘fog’ clouding his narrative frame? How are we to respond to his periodic contention that there is nothing more to be said? Is it mere playfulness? Precious irony? Or is it a candid Kantian nod at the limits of perception, and of language's ability to get past appearances?À
All right, ready for this one? Just allow me another little sharp slurp to keep the axle greased and we’ll be rolling along…ah! OK, bear with me now, don’t be bashful. I want to talk about the moral of the story. This at least I feel very well-qualified to speak to, being the book's programmer of moral and ideological content. Here...a little scrumpy to keep the axle greased and we'll be rolling along. Ah! In truth, there are multiple morals. 6 and a half to be precise, if you go by the addend of the moral superset. These I would like to skewer in a list of questions and answers, with elucidating comments as needed.

Does Rod’s lack of wherewithal make him the more human? In a limited sense, yes. Deeply flawed characters are compelling, certainly. But misplaced self-confidence and righteousness is maddening. Is it too much to assert that Rod’s execution is morally neutral? The story can be viewed as a tale of inevitable forfeiture by dint of an overwhelming flaw. Both the gods of ancient tragedy and the functionaries of the Chinese state draw strength from Rod's demise. Should the reader begrudge them this with protestations of innocence, even of reformability? No! People do not change, and Rod was guilty in a fundamental sense, one that transcended the choices he made. Isn't that his most humanizing quality?
What is the meaning of Rod’s opposition of the literal to the literary? What is the value of that opposed pair, and what does it mean that Rod comes down on the side of the literal? To answer this question, we need to dig ourselves down with keen analytic spades to the inner workings of the words themselves. Moral questions can often be answered by scrutinizing word construction and usage. On the one hand, you have the literal, referring to the level of the individual letter or limited string of letters. This is the prosaic bottomland where the warthogs snuffle. This is the level to which Rod confines his intelligence, and it is the reason he fails to grasp the workings of his own demise. It is why my draftsmen and ladies were so good at writing Rod. On the other you have the literary, referring to the wider world of letters, read and written. It implies not only a lofty perspective, but also an ability to analyze complexity, perhaps even a potential for authorship, whether of a life or of works pertaining to one. Rod’s disdain for people who operate from a wider perspective is bald envy; and is in a sense borne of my own disdain for those content merely to snuffle among the warthogs, those who seize a piece of stinking earth or foliage in their yellowed fangs and presume to call it a morsel of truth. Isn’t Rod’s attitude is all the more insidious for his familiarity with certain literary figures.
Is the texture of the book marbled by totalitarian/eugenicist streaking? Yes. The narrator is obviously relieved to see Rod die, likely as a result of his native aversion to weakness. As a bioconservative, he is a proponent of the wisdom of repugnance. I had originally thought to make the narrator a tad more sympathetic. As you know I didn't actually write the book down at the warthog level. I authored it. That’s what litterateurs do. An unstated fascistic attitude is indisputably in the ascendant in this country—even here in Eau Claire, I'm afraid to say—and it would be odd if this seabed ethos were not represented, however obliquely, in my stable of master draftsmen and ladies. We are a generation far removed from mid-century horror, and it is my feeling we may be cruising toward another convulsive attack on the vulnerable masquerading as a purge of perceived threat. Just ask Rod. I want you to know I think it’s regrettable how unsympathetic my ghostwriting team has been to Rod's plight. Especially that Orfus Kornyng, who seems to see himself as a particularly evolved specimen, like something out of Triumph of the Will. Not that pathology and repugnance should be celebrated per se, of course. It's just...I wish I got a little more pathos out of those master draftsmen and ladies. Maybe I should have gone with the 6-figure professional ghostwriters!
Is the fact that Mangwana was supposedly lifted out of a fictional work into cyberspace an example of metafiction? No. I have expressly thanked Carson Crumpler for deigning to furnish the character, and have come to a mutually satisfying royalty agreement with him.
Is this a serious work? Yes/no. Or as the Germans might say, jein. It is a sophomoric work in the best sense.
Let's return to question 3 for a moment. If we accept that there is an element of pitilessness in the book toward Rod's plight, we might be moved to wonder what the book—what the narrator—sees as normal. I would contend that the narrator seeks to outline a philosophy based on one of the fundamental objectives of childrearing: To instill a sense that one's value is not assigned by the self, but by others. Because Rod cannot accept this, he remains infantile, his lot senseless helpless death. The mobile execution van is a grim crib. We might say that, in the nose of the beholder, putrescence precedes essence. Perhaps it even is essence.
Is this book an object lesson about the value of good hard work as opposed to the desire for a quick buck and easy fame; of independent initiative as opposed to blind acceptance of the plans and traps laid by others? Yes.
Why did Carson Crumpler hate Rod to the point of scheming to have him executed in China? I mean I understand that he had an eye for Geena and needed to somehow nudge Rod out of the way, but why go to such baroque lengths to accomplish something that should have been relatively straightforward? I mean it's not like it should have been that hard for an accomplished commercial novelist to nudge a guy like Rod out of the way. Well, excuse me while I take a quick sip here…ah!—like I was saying, the answer to that question is twofold. The first part is that Carson Crumpler grew up with Rod, though under a different name. They went to school together. Do you remember Rod’s one-act, where Rex, while luncheoning in the cafeteria, is provoked into an aggressive reaction by the stigmatizing students? And do you recall how Rex pinions one boy to the ground after horsecollaring him, then leans in to administer the knockout breath? Well that's actually based on real-life events with Rod. It is a fact that Rod once administered this brutal torture to a classmate in the sixth grade. And that this classmate was the boy who would grow up to be the successful novelist Carson Crumpler. When Crumpler at last found himself in a position to take the ultimate revenge, he did so without hesitation. A novelist never forgets a slight. Crumpler would have risen up to smite the sun if it slighted…the second part of the answer is that, being a novelist, Crumpler was inclined to embroil Rod in a course of events as bizarrely baroque as possible. Not content merely to lead Rod into perdition, he had to accomplish it by means of a series of machinations worthy of Rube Goldberg. And I must say that I sympathize with Crumpler’s view of the world, where people like Rod are mere pawns to be advanced down the board in the name of greater conquest.
Readers, I realize that I may stray a bit here from the furrow of the story’s moral, but in my scrumpy delirium it occurs to me that the ghostwriting team has failed me in one major respect. They have failed to account for the relationship between Carson Crumpler and Tancred Poon. Good God! If this doesn’t constitute a breach of their terms of their uncompensated retainer, I don't know what does. How could they not see it? Why should it be so easy for me to scan the whole with an eagle eye from my lofty architectural aerie? And why, down on the snuffling flats, is it so difficult for my college-level peons to hew to my simple write-by-numbers instructions? It’s not like I didn’t tell them how they came to know each other. They could easily have included it somewhere, anywhere. It’s so hard to get good help these days. This is what I told them, readers: Everyone knows China has got a foot in Africa's door. So what would be more natural than for a big name Africa hand author to try to tap the Chinese market and drum up some enthusiasm for his product? After concluding a deal on very favorable terms with a Chinese publishing house to publish Bwana Mangwana and the 40 Thieves in translation, Carson Crumpler was sent on a whistle-stop book tour of the Chinese main. There he was greeted by none other than Tancred Poon, VIP liaison to the house’s more notable Anglophone clients. The pair got along smashingly, and soon struck up a business friendship based on mutual esteem. Tancred esteemed Crumpler a great and rich man of letters, and Crumpler not only esteemed Tancred’s attire, but esteemed it an extraordinary favor that Tancred should go to such lengths to promote his book in China. For not only did Tancred line up cocktail events and book signing functions in every corner of the country; not only did he go to the unusual extreme of dipping into his own pocket to make sure Crumpler got full and free use of the mini-bars at the hotels he stayed in (the house was run by an abstemious man who suffered from the flaw of projecting his morals onto others); not only did he make damn sure that Crumpler was lavished with the attentions of a new female fan of his literary art in every port of call—not only this, but Tancred transcended the call of duty by organizing a garish native African retinue for the book tour that whipped up a great deal more interest in the tour than the book would have been able to do alone. From Harbin to Hong Kong, crowds thronged the restaurants and bookstores where Rod signed and sold books to the tune of a dozen Africans whipping up a suitably authentic racket on skin drums and banjo-like instruments. Occasionally one of them would cry out in fright or rapture as if in communication with a menacing ancestor spirit, and the Chinese event-goers would clap in appreciation. They snapped up copies of Rod’s book almost as fast as they could take snapshots of the natives’ picturesque gyrations. Tancred even hatched a side business, whose profits they split evenly, of charging to have the natives pose for pictures with women and children who were giggling and quavering at the same time. But it wasn't real. These performing natives were to real African tribespeople what airport Hare Krishnas were to the ascetic pilgrims at Lake Manasarovar. Far from the jungle-caught savages their audiences were eager to take them for, these were paid extras interviewed and hired in the teeming metropolises of Africa. In place of the polyester and patent leather they wore in their native element, in China they were paid to sport skins, feathers, bright beads, discs and wedges of metal and anything else that even halfway connoted an air of savagery. Some even agreed to have their lips pierced and ornamented for an extra consideration. They were only too happy to dance around and play bongos while being paid to go on a whirlwind tour of China. The point is that Crumpler was very impressed by Tancred’s wherewithal. Here was a man who knew how to get things done. It was hardly lost on Crumpler that, at the end of the wildly successful tour, fewer Africans returned than had come. The man had contacts and was willing to do a favor. So when the time came for Crumpler to send Rod on his errant way to China, he knew he had in Tancred a man who could be relied on to get things done. Tancred never once questioned the legitimacy of his friend's plan to frame Rod. He wasn't in the position to. Because of his royalty sharing agreement with the house, the tour and the sales frenzy it generated had made him a rich man, and he considered it a point of honor to do whatever was asked of him by the man who had assured his success. And truth be told, it was never the intention of either Crumpler or Tancred to unleash the chaos brought by the In Lieuve craze. Their mistake was to overestimate the efficiency with which the Chinese government would clamp down on the manufacture of a medical device containing an obviously toxic ingredient. And maybe there’s a moral in this: That a surplus of esteem for others’ diligence and skill can lead to negative consequences. Just ask any supervisor who must rely on the shoddy work of his underlings to sustain his own hard-earned reputation. We must always expect the worst of others.

There are just two little things I’d like to clear up before I go. Loose ends. The first is the issue of intellectual property. In the real world, property is hard to come by. And that includes most intellectual property. One of the great perks that attends the practice of writing is that writers are able to create intellectual property from mere whims and passing fancies. Our lasting contributions are the offspring of idle moments and wandering fugues. And the creation of intellectual property is one of our motivations, too. For most, it’s a matter of the overall copyright and royalty agreement. This everybody understands. The literary level, if you will. Everyone knows that you cannot tear a passage out of a book and use it as your own without facing dire penalty. But has anyone considered the literal level? People are constantly reading little phrases and aping them in conversation and in e-mails. Where did they pick them up? I’ll be damned if I’m going to have people aping phrases that were coined by me and my master draftsmen and ladies. Not to honk my own horn here, but I'd like to point out that there are a lot of unique formulations in this book. And that’s not empty bluster. It’s carefully documented.
In order to keep track of my growing portfolio of intellectual property, one thing I like to do is take some of my draftspeople's formulations and run them through a Google Book Search to see if they are unique, or if other authors or online scribblers have already thought of those particular pieces of phrasing. With the obvious caveat that Google’s Great Scan of All Literature is not yet complete, I proudly and possessively wish to note the uniqueness of the following formulations: Slathered unguent; socioplatonic; character over tissue; essence before putrescence; effect its furtherance; nuzzle muzzling; [shits and giggles] flight of medical fancy; toothsome Weltschmerz; braise our children; the measure of all excellent things (money); (not a) whit, bit or jot; toy before tool; salve with unguent; endless indifference and indifferent endlessness; remunerative modalities; wherewithalic; confederation of turmoil; being’s brief canvas; morsel-spearing sharpness; weftmanship; reach out and trust somebody; cipher of a concatenation; sluggishly materialize; clitoral pseudopenis; sabotage the chattels; to trace an offensive arc; pitiless alpine moonlight; haze-smeared prospect; roach-rampant; soused indigents; the glib garb of a flowery word (see below); orbit of courtesy; an unreckonable skein; paroxysm(s) of intercourse; blighted husk (this one has web hits, one of which is set in an offensive context, but no book hits); oral zestiness; the heady fuel of expectation; sweaty and fervid; muzzled by the stern hand; stern hand of the bailiff; deafening atavistic roar; keen analytic spades; funds…are necessary for the enjoyment of a view; college level peons; Moloch Akbar.
I would also like to include some honorable mentions, formulations so rarely attested in the literature of this language that they may as well be original to me and my draftsmen: Attitudes are like parasites (one book hit); the tether of fate (to Thackeray); colossal esteem (1 book hit); Counterfeit graciousness (1 book hit). I think the category of honorable mention should be expanded to include the words forbear and furrow. Obviously one or even both of these words occur in a great deal of other books, but surely no one can argue that any other work features these two words and their derivative metaphors so prominently. 19 occurrences of some form of forbear, and 11 of furrow, not including these, is nothing to sniff at.
Last and least, there is one formulation that should be inducted into the Hall of Shame: Somewhat ominously, the term “parameters and modalities” brought up no fewer than 14 Google Book results.
Do you doubt me? Then bracket the phrases and google them yourselves. And my legal team better not catch anybody using them!
The second item in my closing errata is this something along the lines of a pathologist’s note. You see, it is my opinion that, in addition to idiopathic halitosis with a suspected connection to morbus Sjögren, Rod may also have suffered from an undiagnosed condition whose identification could be useful in helping readers’ circles understand him. I’m not sure if my ghostwriters intended this—or if so, how it reflects on them—or even if I did——but after browsing through the sum of Rod’s statements, the aggregate of his thoughts, it seems to me that in his pursuit of gorgeous reward, Rod may have been laboring under the handicap of Williams Syndrome. Morbus Williams is a mental condition that pairs overall cognitive impairment with high verbal aptitude. Its sufferers are in the unique position of being able to deck their foolish thoughts in the glib garb of a flowery word. I had not conceived of this when I hatched Rod, no. I’ll satisfy myself by chalking it up to another emergent property of the corporate novel-writing process.
Well, I’ve got to be getting back to the fray in the workshop before things get out of hand. I've got to keep a close eye on that Orfus to keep him from changing sections that I've closed out and approved for publication. It’s like he’s started thinking of himself as the author around here. I'll tell you, you give an intern an inch of esteem... Maybe I'll distract his genius machine for a while with some cold ones. Hope you enjoyed learning about the modalities behind this book. Cheers!

-Dictated but not read-


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