Creeping Doom

Please forgive the protracted interval since my last plunge into the political quagmire, but the recent gouts of ugly madness, here and overseas, have envenomed my spirits. There’s only so much poison a body can ingest before experiencing total somatic collapse, and I have reached my limit. Even as the scurvy conservative swine, naked in their wanton lust for war, angle for a fresh intractable conflict in the name of their one true God, the Almighty Dollar, I can’t help but feel hollowed out like a rotting Halloween pumpkin whose face has collapsed into a rictus of permanent disgust. Why bandy words when the world teeters on the brink of destruction? Has it always been like this?


In my lifetime, the USA has waged war in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Zaire, Lebanon, Panama, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq (pt. 2), Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Nigeria and Grenada, a tiny island off the coast of Venezuela with about as much military significance as a pimple on a dog’s ass. The choice was let Ronald Reagan, a septuagenarian gradually losing his mind to the ravages of Alzheimer’s, pretend to be a war president or risk him heating up the Cold War with a little nuclear fire. Dangerous times indeed.


Or so history tells me.


I was there, I existed during that era. But youth sheltered me from reality. I recall my high school creative writing instructor, Mr. Sampson, getting riled on the subject of President Reagan. He sketched an agitated portrait of an ex-B-movie actor buffoon with the political savvy of a bobble head doll undeserving of a modicum of respect, let along the ornaments of high office, a humorous aside that left little impact on my outlook until college, where a casual canvassing of the campus intelligentsia made it apparent that Mr. Sampson’s unflattering appraisal of Ronald Reagan was the consensus opinion. According to my new roomie, Dave, a heavy pot smoker of upper class stock, America had drawn its choice of leaders from a shallow, brackish pool of quips, one-liners and anecdotal exaggerations. As an individual who voted for Reagan in 1984, this was new information. The press portrayed Ronald Reagan as an affable old gentleman with a twinkle in his eye, a dye-job Santa Claus with a magical bag of tricks capable of whimsically curing the nation’s myriad festering malaises left untended during the “dreaded” Carter years. I was taught, perhaps trained is more apropos, to believe that the press were forbidden from abusing the privileges of the Fourth Estate to push an agenda. It’s difficult to pinpoint the source of this myth but if I had to guess I’d say it was the press abusing the privileges of the Fourth Estate to push the agenda that the press doesn’t abuse the privileges of the Fourth Estate to push an agenda.


Wheels within wheels.


(Where on God’s verdant planes do you suppose this rambling leads? Uncertain. I’m unmoored from the gestalt that holds together the perceivable universe. Perhaps if I’m lucky I’ll collide with an asteroid and be sent hurtling into the blackness of the Unknown. None of this I’m typing will make the final cut, it’s just my desperate search for a rung to grasp before the leeches come to suck me dry.)


Donald Trump, Shiva save us, claimed in an Iowa stump speech that over 6 million Americans 112 or older receive Social Security benefits. As an addendum, he foisted the fact-checking burden on the feeble backs of the shabby shambolic shadows masquerading as journalists who in all probability will just run the story as is, and cries of “he’s just telling like it is!” will drown out think pieces dissecting the bizarre mischaracterization of a woeful tale of rotting, dysfunctional government propagated by Republican defunding strategies dating back to the 1980s.


In 2014, the GOP controlled House voted to cut $1 billion from IRS enforcement staff, with an expected cost to the government of $3–5 billion in lost revenues from errant and fraudulent tax returns, including those filed under Social Security numbers belonging to decedents who, due to an intense backlog of paperwork, have yet to be added to the sinister sounding but necessary Social Security Death Master File or DMF.


The negative synergy at work stems from underemployment in key government agencies.


The Social Security Agency employs 65,000 to manage payments to 54 million recipients. That’s one employee per 830 recipients. Auditing payments to the SS fund via payroll taxes, as of 2012, adds another 13.1 million businesses to oversee, representing just under 116 million employees. That comes to 201 businesses per SS employee, making the total average load 1,031 accounts per employee. Since the needs of the living outweigh those of the dead, the overburdened staff doesn’t have the energy to expend processing an avalanche of manual paperwork yet introduced into the DMF. As a result, we have 6.5 million people assumed dead by the SSA (none of them receive payments) but whose SS numbers remain excluded from the DMF. In effect, the SSA’s problem spills into the IRS’s lap, and as the IRS ranks dwindle, more and more fraudulent tax returns pass through the system unchecked which in turn exacerbates . . . I can’t do this anymore.


Nobody gives a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut about the number of unprocessed files or the auditing woes of the chronically understaffed IRS. It’s a literal political dead end. The second you pair bureaucratic abbreviations with gigantic numbers, the foul lumpy porridge which passes for the average American’s gray matter tunes out, takes to Twitter/Facebook and doesn’t give a right jolly old fuck. We are a nation of imbeciles who drop 25 lb. frozen turkeys into deep fryers then marvel, after the ensuing explosion, what could have possibly precipitated the whole fucking block to catch fire.


The worst subset of this bunch has a new name: Donald Trump’s base. Racist, bigoted, gun-twirling twits stuffing their faces with processed reprocessed poison, eyes so crossed the left one’s in the right socket and vice versa, bumpers encrusted with crude stickers proclaiming their unfettered devotion to the 2nd Amendment and the Bible, cross-wielding hypocrites prepared to spray bullets at gun-grabbing liberals, “towel heads,” and anybody else who didn’t come out of the womb properly color coded. America’s next wave of mosque bombers, Planned Parenthood terrorists and unabashed killers itching to go off on a “shooting spree.” Nothing more American than softening an aberrant criminal act of the highest (and lowest) order with meaningless cutesy slang.


“What happened?”


“Dave went on a shooting spree!”


“And he didn’t invite me? That prick!”


Will somebody please wake up our narcoleptic, somnambulistic press and tell them to get on the fucking job and stop mindlessly repeating intellectually bankrupt narratives handed to them by billionaire simpletons with the vocabulary of a third-grader? That’s not hyperbole either. A linguistics expert analyzed a sample of public statements made by Donald Trump and concluded his working vocabulary was equal to that of a 3rd grader. The same bastion of copy and paste enthusiasts who regurgitated Trump’s pabulum tear Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to pieces for minor verbal slippages. Zeus’s ghost, the media had a field day penning Al Gore serial exaggerator pieces for saying things that were, at the core, completely fucking true. Al Gore was the inspiration for a character in Love Story, written by his roommate. He was an ardent supporter of Arpanet, the Internet’s precursor. One thing Al Gore never said was that 6.5 million dead people were receiving Social Security benefits, but for all intents he might as well have.


The standards for the Republican Party have been eradicated to goddamn nothing. Void. Trump could piss on a puppy, cannibalize a grandmother, set fire to a neonatal care unit, and the media zombies would reprint verbatim the Trump campaign’s press release explaining the “rationale” behind his bouts of unfettered madness, and then the late night comedians would all sigh and say, “Oh, that Donald!”


And fuck them too, the comedians guffawing over the Trump circus. They’re part of the problem as well. Colbert, Fallon, Wilmore, et al, you are not helping anything or anyone besides yourselves. And don’t tell me I’m being a hypocrite by penning this impassioned rant. I received no payment for this labor of pure desperation and fear, fear that we will wake on January 20, 2017, to watch John Roberts swear in Donald Trump as the 45th Command in Chief of the US Military. I can’t think of anything less conductive to laughter than that. Let this be your visual guide, liberal activist-comedy America—


January 21, 2017: President Trump sits in the Oval Office, feet parked on the desk in complete I-don’t-give-a-fuck-fashion, looking emptily around the room. After a spell, he strains to pick up the desk phone, orders his personal Russian slave girl to do it for him, and slaps her on the ass for a job well done. President Dumbfuckovic holds the phone for a while before he remembers what he needed the phone for, then barks into the receiver for the Secretary of Sexy Oval Office Shit That Needs Doing to get him somebody, anybody who knows what the fuck a president does.


“Somebody like Rush Limbaugh,” President Trump declares with a jackal smile, sweeping aside an aberrant tendril of hair luminous with eldritch Cthulhu-esque terror, the countenance of a thing that should not be. “Or that Hannity guy. Seems like he knows what to do. Oh, and if my vocab should get better, chalk it up to the Dumbwich Horror living on my head. It’s the one really controlling the show. And by the way, if you repeat a word of what I just said, you’re . . . you know the rest.”


R. A. Roth

Cornered Rats

There is no escape, for any of us, from the grim realities which await in the year of our Lord, 2016. Once again, the United States of Texting faces the challenge of choosing a fresh leader to plunge us forward into the ever-deepening quagmire of history that defines the ill-fated career path of this ongoing and oft critically flawed democracy experiment. Who in the name of Horatio Alger is going to don the mantle of power and lead this flagging concern a few steps closer to its ultimate tar pit? Although my opinion of the Republican Party is prejudiced by good taste and a near-flawless sense of self-preservation, I must confess a morbid curiosity at the prospect of unleashing any one of the insufferable rogue elephants upon the world, if for no other reason than to watch Western Civilization blanche with horror that the Ugly Americans have once again chosen an intellectually bankrupt huckster adept at convincing struggling Middle Class wretches that unattainable future prosperity takes precedent over fair pay, healthcare, and safe working conditions today. In the upcoming months the scurvy dogs of the Media Industrial Complex will expend a great deal of energy bamboozling the electorate into believing America’s choice rests between a radicalized liberal scheming to confiscate the hard earned fortunes of billionaires and a stalwart values-minded conservative. Pure prevarication. Anybody with a functional frontal lobe can see the choice boils down to four more years of business-minded policies sprinkled with a few mild socialistic notions or a quick plunge over the cliff at the hands of a wild-eyed suicidal cultist hell bent on expediting the Apocalypse, be it triggering another financial collapse or a nuclear exchange.


Speaking of Apocalypses, an otherworldly thing happened to me, to us all, in 2000: George W. Bush was appointed President of the United States by the Supreme Court. As a result of that unprecedented decision, I was transformed from a moderate to a foaming-at-mouth-liberal even though I didn’t budge one angstrom on any given political position. Warped political metrics aside, I still identify as a moderate. On some issues, I sympathize with the liberal perspective, and on others I see eye-to-eye with the conservative view. Then again, as those labels have lost their meaning, I don’t know what I am anymore—besides titanically pissed off that our choice of viable political parties stands at two, and meanwhile grocery stores dedicate an entire aisle to over a hundred different varieties of breakfast cereal. Where are the protests and riots demanding a total reversal of these realities? Has high fructose corn syrup rotted our brains past the point of no return? It’s possible our passive acceptance of a rigged wheel stems from the fact that once in a while we beat the tilt and usher in a winner. Clinton and Obama were grand exceptions to the common Presidential Election horror show which casts the public in the unenviable role of a cornered rat feverishly deciding which of two rabid stray dogs angling for its blood and guts will tear it apart least violently.


But what do I know? I had a chance to get in on the ground floor of Apple and instead socked everything in a dubious business venture. Despite a lack of investment savvy, I’m nevertheless a gifted political prognosticator, 5–2 in presidential elections, 7–0 if the debacle of 2000 had played out as it should have, with a fair recount of all ballots in the state of disarray known as Florida, the United States’ flaccid uncircumcised tallywhacker, dangling out to sea in such a manner that forever suggests the benefits of immediate castration. Forgive me for repeating myself but some wounds are beyond the limits of the healing arts to remedy, and anesthetics must be administered in constant intervals, usually at The Benighted Whale, a local watering hole where I malinger for hours at a time content to nurse a pint of craft beer and stare blankly at the local access feed on the remote edges of the bar, in a little alcove framed by grainy black and white pictures of Wild West luminaries in their natural habitat. The bartender, a gruff seadog covered in the ghostly remnants of merchant marine tattoos, won’t change the channel and isn’t above bouncing anybody foolish enough to ask twice. Good thing too. For if the channel had been disturbed a couple of weeks back, I would’ve missed an interview with Rufus T. Firefly, a part-time busboy and croupier from Edison Park, Illinois, who has surreptitiously thrown his chapeau into the 2016 presidential ring. A less than imposing figure, Rufus T. Firefly stands a petite five foot three, sports a black mustache and bushy eyebrows modeled after a late 19th century archduke or viscount. Although his wire-rimmed spectacles, claw hammer coat, and spats are a century beyond their expiration dates, it’s impossible to imagine Rufus attired otherwise, for he is definitely the product of a bygone era, a man born out of his time. In him I see a kindred spirit looking for his place in a world gone mad, a fellow windmill chaser unafraid to declare the uncatchable prize nonetheless seized. I obtained a transcription of the interview through Journal Graphics, P.O. Box 1005, Pueblo, Colorado, 81001, for the meager cost of return postage plus a pledge to never publish the contents without express written permission, a promise I’m breaking to demonstrate that people are untrustworthy scoundrels.




Gary Piles: Welcome to the show, Mr. Firefly.


Rufus T. Firefly: [glances around the studio] Nice set up you have here. All that’s missing is a demolition crew. And me. I should be missing as well. [lights a big black cigar]


Piles: You can’t smoke that here.


Firefly: I have to. Here is the only place I’m presently at.


Piles: What makes you think you’re the best choice for president?


Firefly: From where I stand, I’m the only choice. But as I’m sitting, I recant my stance.


Piles: What are your views on immigration?


Firefly: In general, I’m against those who are for being against it, but I see some merit in the arguments of those who are against being for it. The issue demands further study. But in the meantime, I recommend building a twelve-foot high wall along the Mexican border. The makers of thirteen-foot ladders can thank me later.


Piles: I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.


Firefly: Did your wife dress you this morning or are you divorced? Either explanation works.


Piles: Hillary Clinton—


Firefly: Better known as the Benghazi Broadhammer. We had lunch just the other day. Well, she had lunch. I was the one who cleaned up her mess. The current president knows what it’s like to clean up a gigantic mess. Glorified custodial services, that’s all the presidency is. Except half the public wishes you were dead.


Piles: Your adversarial approach is very off-putting.


Firefly: Call me a trend follower, but frothing lunacy is in vogue, which is why the public is completely stupid and not to be trusted with something as important as voting.


Piles: Are you suggesting that we appoint a president?


Firefly: We tried that. Didn’t work out too well for anybody besides the defense contractors, body bag manufacturers, and comedians.


Piles: Then what do you propose?


Firefly: A lottery drawing. We choose the next president randomly. Can’t be any worse than our present popularity contest format. But in case the lottery picks a real loser, we limit each term to one month. If the lottery picks a Kardashian, the term limit changes to fifteen minutes, served, and picks again.


Piles: Your open contempt for democracy is an interesting contradiction, given your aspirations.


Firefly: Democracy is an illusion created by plutocrats to disguise their get-rich-quick schemes and machinations. Speaking of machinations, I need to feed the meter. [jumps out of his seat, returns a minute later] That’s right, I took a cab. Where my mind is at I sometimes wonder. But not for long.


Piles: A week ago during a stump speech you said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, that you only had one life to give to your country. Do you think quoting famous platitudes will resonate with the electorate?


Firefly: No, but the truth might. It hasn’t been tried before.


Piles: Examples?


Firefly: For starters, history shall judge this nation on how it treated the least among us and its heroes, and so far it’s looking pretty bad. Minimum wage has less buying power today than it did in 1969. Tip minimum wage hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s and stands at $2.13 per hour. The only group that has fully recovered from the economic collapse of 2008 are the top 1%, claiming 95% of the gains since. Even though productivity has soared, real income has flat lined for two generations. In 2000, Social Security had a surplus of over two trillion dollars. By 2008, the government had borrowed every last surplus penny to pay for two wars and tax cuts that disproportionately favor the wealthy. We are the only first world nation without a national healthcare system engineered to cover everybody. We are also number one in total incarceration worldwide, over two million inmates, all of whom are guaranteed healthcare unlike at-large citizens. Want comprehensive coverage? Break a plate glass window and remand yourself and your healthcare issues to the custody of the state. If you’re a veteran with health issues, prepare to queue up until death. A recent study found that 28% of veterans who applied for VA healthcare benefits died before their application was processed. If that’s not disgusting enough, deceased applicants exacerbate the bottleneck by winding their way through the system to a literal dead end. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: life in the USA is no way to treat an animal.


Piles: If the nation is doomed, then why run for president?


Firefly: Because even a sinking ship deserves a captain.


Piles: Your outlook is certainly one of a kind.

Firefly: That’s me. A bad poker hand.


Piles: [to the camera] Coming up after the break, a man who tames voles and a woman who says interesting things in Swahili.




R. A. Roth

Lizard Nation

No words my feeble brain can conjure could possibly rival those spoken by President Obama on the 50th anniversary of the Selma March. But if I may be so bold as to nevertheless wield my inadequate sorcery to opine on the event, every line, while delivered with masterful conviction, resounded of inspirational theatrics bereft of feasible solutions. We are beset by partisan gridlock so intense it rivals the tectonic fury of the San Andreas Fault. The conspicuous absence of Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell paints a sinister picture. Slighting Selma, the motion picture, as the Academy did, was an artistic decision. Slighting the commemoration of an historic march for voting equality, however, exposes the inner rottenness stewing on the Right half of our political process. Alas, all the Republican Party could spare was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a clumsy half measure soon bested by Rep. Steve King’s (IA – Foot-in-Mouth) tone-deaf proclamation that, “Yes, there was blood in Selma, and there was blood in other places, but compared to transformations in other countries, it was comparatively bloodless.”


In a second brilliant political maneuver, the Republican Party deferred the spotlight to GOP’s most recent prisoner of the memory hole, President George W. Bush, who, in a rare moment of forgetfulness, stood and clapped when the President Obama suggested renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed as a direct consequence of the “comparatively” minor amount of blood spilled on Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers and “county posse,” code for deputized good old boys aching to bust the heads of colored folks. For the relatively bloodless record, Edmund Pettus was a Confederate war hero and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. That regrettably but truthfully discloses what lies in the pinchbeck heart of the American South and its current cabal of enablers/BFFs, the Republican Party. In deference to President Obama, Hope better roll up its sleeves and get to work if it ever hopes to reach the South’s Olympian heights of audacity. I can think of no immoral equivalent in the North, unless there’s a Wisconsin bridge named after Ed Gein or Jeffrey Dahmer. Levity aside, my cheese-loving neighbors have a measure of blood on their hands as well.


The day before Obama’s Selma speech, the life of 19-year-old Tony T. Robinson was cut short in an altercation with 12-year veteran of the Madison, Wisconsin, Police Department, Matt Kenny. Officer Kenny deposited multiple rounds into the unarmed Robinson, who, by all accounts, was a suspect in a domestic dispute. Do I even have to mention that Robinson was black and that Kenny was white? This scene has played so many times in the streets of America it has achieved cliché status, one accompanied by a second cliché, the obligatory shaming of the victim to excuse his demise at the hands of overzealous law enforcement. Within hours of Tony’s death, out rolled mugshots of a Tony Robinson declaring “Here’s the ‘Angel,’ last year after his armed robbery arrest,” implying that anybody locked out of Heaven deserves an execution-style death, with the proviso that the bullet-riddled corpse is black, therefore his failure to strive for angelic perfection negated his civil rights. Take the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. While playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir was shot dead less than three seconds after two officers rolled up on him from the blindside of a gazebo. Tamir, at such a tender age, didn’t have a criminal history. Fine material for the Lord’s chorus. Except the media was quick to reveal his father had a record, so let the sins of the father be visited upon the son, destined to be something less than an angel. And in line with that mode of thought, the Cleveland PD’s investigation concluded Tamir’s actions “contributed to his death.” Actions, such as being born black, have consequences.


From Selma to Madison to Cleveland to Ferguson, to any and all destinations America is steeped in the blood of its perceived inferiors. It’s no coincidence that seven of the thirteen stripes on Old Glory are red, the six white stripes representing the spotless conscious of the American collective as it continues to feast and prosper on the broken backs of the dead, be they Negro slaves picking cotton in the sweltering Alabama heat, migrant “Celestials” (Chinese laborers) driving railroad spikes under the blistering Nevada sun, or undocumented Latino immigrants employed by “factory farms” to pick vegetables for penurious wages. The common thread connecting each and every epoch of American history is, regardless of the term of art used to soften the emotional impact, a steadfast reliance on slave labor. Apple’s net income for the last quarter of 2014 was an astounding $18 billion, a record for any company in any industry in the history of capitalism, a bottom line fattened by outsourcing to a Chinese facility so conducive to suicide they installed nets around the exterior windows to save prospective jumpers from their own deepening well of misery.


I apologize, partly, for the title of this rant. I do a disservice to lizards by dragging them, an innocent group acting on primal instincts, down to the level of our kind and its penchant for self-annihilation. Interpret it as a prediction, that given our inevitable rendezvous with eternity, this nation will eventually bow to the might of sun-worshiping reptiles that cannot be faulted for muscling us out, for they are indisputably fucking lizards. Shunting aside my own crippling inability to handicap sporting events, I peg our ultimate expiration date as six decades from now, give or take an election cycle. Ample enough time to fecklessly brandish the light of the rare victory against the gathering gloom of Reckoning Day and pretend everything will in the end work out for the best. Which it will. Just not for us. The doomsayer wisdom of old farts writing off a world they will no longer be a part of is best taken with a measure of salt and a chaser of cold comfort, for one day you too will be where I am, standing in the shadow of the past knowing the future is a precious commodity growing ever rarer.


Excuse the excursion into maudlin territory, but my last junket into political madness contained an offhand Star Trek reference, and lo and behold, Leonard Nimoy, famous for his portrayal of Mr. Spock, a childhood hero of mine, shed his mortal coil. It was strange to feel sad for a man I knew only through his art. I last experienced vicarious loss, the sensation that I’d lost a limb, that I was less complete than before, when Kurt Vonnegut died. It was he who planted the foolish idea that I could write, just as Leonard Nimoy planted the foolish idea of reaching out to the stars and touching the edges of reality. Even as I paint a grim picture of humanity’s fate, I, a living contradiction, still fundamentally believe in Star Trek’s central theme of ushering in a new age, of going boldly where nobody has gone before. In honor of that contrary mindset, I humbly defer the final word to the giants who made me the incongruous pseudo-sentimental fool I am today:


“We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                —Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)

“LLAP (Live Long And Prosper).”

                                                                                                                                                                                                —Leonard Nimoy (1931–2015)

R. A. Roth

Brain Bubbles

Fresh from an extended stint in the political decompression chamber, I turn a reluctant eye toward the annual tradition of trotting out the President of the United States to placate the worrywart populace with boilerplate exclamations of American exceptionalism. With Congress held fast in the serpent-coils of the opposition party, I expect cannonading ugliness to rebound through the Joint Session in seething lisps. Perhaps a retread of Joe Wilson’s infamous “you lie!” shouted by the ghost of Joe McCarthy riding forth from infernal limbo on the Red-Tide-crest of our softened Cuban policy and Kim Jung-un’s bombastic threats of crushing military retaliation.


Whatever the outcome of President Obama’s old soft shoe, I certainly didn’t watch it nor shall I partake of the high- and lowlights. The speculative ether holds more inherent truth than the perceptions of an eye rendered imbecilic by pessimism. I lived through the Reagan era and the promised American exceptionalism it left whimpering under the boot heels of Black Monday and a recession instigated by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, one of the largest and most surreptitious transferences of wealth in human history. Bemulleted America, smitten with hair rock and Wayne Gretzky’s bride-to-be, Janet Jones, drifted complacently into the soft malaise of prosperity slippage. I anticipate my generation will bear the shameful mantle as the first unable to retire in any permanent sense from traditional labor markets. We are debt-laden, overextended, underpaid, and strained to the limit by the onrush of an imminent dotage. Our chief advantage? Longevity exceeding that of our Baby Boomer parents, even as the longevity of our progeny withers from chemical additives, antibiotic abuse, and Type 2 Diabetes.


My advice is to corner the market on Magic 8-Balls and shake like there ain’t no tomorrow, which is debatable, but as for the efficacy of answers sourced to toys, ask again later. The future is laced with ticking traps as we transition from lambs of God to cattle steered straight into skyscraping abattoirs. The Big Sleep creeps into the disaffected through lilting Muzak as cubicle tribesmen plan their next attack on adjoining rivals. Ask any unapologetic capitalist which market forces brought the nation to its knees in 2008. The immense economic buying power of the un-heeled poor and teachers’ pensions, of course. It’s the old thimblerig sans shells and peas, reinvented as pawns and patsies. As the private sector grows, the animosity for public unions, fueled by misinformation campaigns, intensifies. A grotesque misappropriation of green-eyed jealousy. Teeth-gnashing envy grinds the logical remedy, demanding equal consideration, to tasteless paste-pudding. Destitution is a useful tool to aid in the retention of bottomless wealth. Distract the worker bees with pictures of emaciated children in mud holes buzzing with black flies. There but for the grace of a benevolent murderer go I. With gratitude I feed my numbered days into the profit grinder, knowing someday I’ll be the one wielding the cattle prod.


Guilty as charged.


As a moderate, I have swallowed my share of conservative snake oil. The evils of government are legion. Self-reliance is the key to prosperity. Hard work is its own reward. Too many gut-burning elixirs to tally. A massive dose of magic mushrooms ingested at Halloween circa 1986 purged the passive but poisonous acceptance of Reaganomics from my thinking. It was necessary to trip balls on hallucinogens to complete the journey to wisdom. I was a young man immersed in the stifling conventionalities of a business curriculum. My closest brush with a mind-opening experience was at a U.S. history class headed by a misogynistic borderline personality whose liberal use of the word “fuck” was rivaled only by Richard Pryor. I was parked in the second row of an immense but sparsely attended lecture hall, flanked by two anonymous coeds hell-bent on retaining the pretense of academia through the useless act of taking copious notes at a comedy show. In the middle of a diatribe on Eleanor Roosevelt’s rampant lesbianism, the professorial madman in charge, a walking cliché clad in a Hawaiian shirt, black dress socks, and sandals, went off on a tangent about Dr. Ruth Westheimer punctuated sharply with the declaration that in his estimation, quote, “I bet there’s no juice left in that pussy.”


Strange and wondrous memories of a bygone time. Three decades have softened the focus to a tender dream. Who was that person? What did he think life would add up to? I’m still asking that question. I imagine I’ll ask that until the nitrogen bubbles brought about by acute chronic political insanity vaporize the sucker-punched dread from my brain. Politics: can’t live ’em, live longer without ’em.


Back into the decompression chamber I go, fingers crossed that the next time I emerge the Lizard-People will have seized control of the government, assuming that hasn’t already come to pass. I am eager for any rationale behind the USA’s ostensible enthusiasm for global warming, especially one with overtones of science fiction. Someone has to fight the Gorn captain, and it might as well be me.


R. A. Roth

Fight or Flight

When I took the perilous assignment to pen a column for Noble / Gas Qtrly, I was under the misguided impression that my neo-professional abilities and sensible but sarcastic voice were serviceable assets to the cause of fulfilling the objective at hand: the discussion of politics. Then I made the irreversible error of sizing up the “competition,” Joseph Spece’s Proud Flesh column. By the end of the inaugural piece, “Near Departures,” I was awash head to toe in tremendous gouts of flop-sweat, curled on the floor in an old man’s garish interpretation of the fetal position, wondering how on earth I could begin to begin to conjure anything similarly masterful and evocative. Monsieur Spece’s protagonist dead mole charges to life bigger than Citizen Kane’s eponymous publisher, a giant among rodents, eclipsing Mickey Mouse, a long way from the heydays of Steamboat Willie, now a burnt-out charlatan, his bulbous nose flecked with Colombian Marching Powder.


While it’s customary for my panic attacks to congeal as angry jeremiads condemning the imaginary profligate excesses of notable cartoon characters, this one was different. I don’t normally harbor an opinion of Mickey Mouse one way or the other. What happened to me? Of course. That Old Devil politics had wrapped its tendrils around my brain and warped my thinking. Literary eloquence and a hefty lexicon are inferior weapons to wield against the benighted fiasco that is American politics. An inseparable symbiosis between postmodern political discourse and the decline of intellectual pursuits, aided by society attuning itself to vapid reality-entertainment boondoggles and the barren wastelands of Facebook, has degraded politics into a drunken bar brawl of sloganizing and slander which epitomize the inanity of our mendacious process.


We slice up candidates into montages of unflattering snapshots in sinister commercials with sanguinary backdrops set to needle drops from “The Imperial March.” The Illinois gubernatorial race, shot through the prism of TV ads, boiled down to a choice between Governor Pat Quinn, a mobbed-up goon tied at the hip to ex-Governor and extant convict Rod Blagojevich, and Bruce Rauner, a wine-club billionaire who quaffs baby blood from golden chalices. The issues facing Illinois—poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and minimum wage—were given the shortest of shrifts. Aside from an anti-Rauner spot featuring a grainy 1930s newsreel-style clip of the challenger declaring his opposition to minimum-wage increases, TV ads had nothing substantial to offer. The debates only settled the issue of least-comely stage demeanor, the Golden Turkey going to Gov. Quinn, who couldn’t have looked more out of his element if he’d been Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler signing autographs at a Green Bay Packers convention—or a Bears convention, for that matter. Which is, of course, entirely untrue. But in 2014, unflattering bullshit talks, substance walks, and admittedly I wouldn’t have it any other way. The truth has never been a benevolent, loving mistress, so to hell with her.


Enough free-floating hostility. I need to get to the nearest decompression chamber and sort some things out before penning the next dreadful entry in this logbook of political terror. I feel so arid, so abused, like a pocked and cratered moon desperately seeking a breathable atmosphere. I’ll sign off with a series of dissociative musings and preternatural asides. Take none of it seriously.


Rejected Headlines—

Lobbyist Couple’s Wedding Cake Crowned with Capitol Dome Covered in Dollar Signs. The Onion passed on the story, believability rated as “way too fucking high” for publication.


Storybook Germ—

George Washington explains to Senator Ted Cruz the irony of reading from Green Eggs and Ham while pseudo-filibustering the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The tale ends with Washington sinking his mythic crockery in Sen. Cruz’s neck. It’s only logical that Washington is a vampire, else he and Cruz couldn’t converse. Attention to detail, my cross for life.


In Other News—

Pope Francis issues an edict approving three new Eucharist flavors, Christ Cherry, Savior Strawberry, and his personal favorite, Vatican Surprise.


Midterm Fallout—

Obama announces the appointment of Charles Foster Deadmole as Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Deposed DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said, “The move didn’t surprise me. After the butt-kicking [Democrats] took in the 2014 Midterms, I knew changes were in order, and from what I’ve heard, Mr. Deadmole has a lot of good ideas for 2016. Don’t let his appearance fool you. Yes, he’s literally a dead mole, but the DNC is an equal opportunity employer, and I think our tent is big enough to include deceased tunneling creatures.” Mr. Deadmole, who’s been dead since an unfortunate encounter with a coyote, said, “As a dead mole, I relish the challenge of breathing life back into the Democratic Party as well as myself. Although I cannot at this moment say with any degree of certainty which heroic intervention faces the greatest number of obstacles, I do weigh the odds of pulling off either as dead even.”


R. A. Roth