mutieI’m near the younger end of my cousins. I have four cousins younger than me, and twelve that are older, so when I was a kid and we went back to Louisiana to visit them, I was almost always one of the youngest ones there. So sometimes, while my parents talked with their siblings, I ended up doing not-entirely-age-appropriate stuff to entertain myself. Like when I was seven or eight and ended up in my cousin Daniel’s bedroom digging through his X-Men and Spider-Man comics and reading them. I didn’t know anything about the X-Men canon. It was in the middle of Chris Claremont’s epic run on the series, and a lot of it went over my head, but a lot of it settled in my subconscious, and planted seeds in my memory. I certainly learned the names of Cyclops, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Jean Grey. When Fox started airing the X-Men animated show in 1992, I was all over that shit like white on rice. The universe became clearer, and I started reading X-Men comics more regularly (but still pretty piecemeal, since I didn’t have access to a comic book shop) and assembling the universe in my head. The X-Men and the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants. Sentinels. Senator Kelly. William Stryker.

(Note: It was a mystery to me what X-Men story I had read first, because all I had was a memory of a single panel: of Nightcrawler lying unconscious and bleeding from his ears while the other X-Men stand over him in concern and a vague understanding of mutants as an oppressed minority rather than a crew of superheroes. It wasn’t until recently that I read God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and realized that that was the comic I had read decades earlier at my cousin’s).

Early on in the Fox series, there’s a plotline in which two scientists discover a “cure” for mutantism. I forget how the X-Men find out about it, but they do, and their reactions all fit their personalities and personal histories. Wolverine immediately sees it as a tool to eliminate mutants’ powers and neutralize the perceived threat to mutantkind; Rogue, not so much. As one of the mutants whose powers are both an ability and a curse, Rogue (as well as Beast) tend to be the most ambivalent about their mutations, and tempted by the idea of a cure. Peaceful, optimistic Charles Xavier disagrees with the very premise. “Don’t say ‘cure,’ Moira. Being a mutant isn’t a disease. It’s something you’re born with,” he tells Moira McTaggert, one of the scientists. (This is the same plot line that Joss Whedon would handle for his run writing the Astonishing X-Men comics in 2005). It is, basically, the neurodiversity argument, only written in 1992 for a grade school-level audience.

I think it’s this storyline (and others like it), rather the ones that deal with a planet in danger or intergalactic space war, that drew me to the X-Men. Pretty early on, I picked up on threads that I translated into the X-Men being code for people with disabilities. One of the earliest questions that I remember being asked about my sister (besides “What’s wrong with her?” and “What’s it like having a sister with Down’s?”) had to do with whether I would change her if I could. Magically suck the extra chromosome out of every single one of her body’s cells. I don’t remember how young I was when I first heard about the high abortion rates for fetuses with Down’s, but it’s been in my head since at least middle school. And even though I never witnessed people being cruel to my sister, I did witness neurotypical classmates of mine being cruel to disabled kids at my school, and being mocking in general of anyone in special ed or remedial classes. It became really easy, in my head, to equate “Do mutants have the right to exist?” and “Do people with disabilities have the right to exist?” To see “retard” and “mutie” as linguistic cousins. The fear and hostility that mutants experience when they interact with regular Homo sapiens sometimes feels familiar when I hear people talk about people with disabilities. The parallel ran so deep in my head that I was honestly surprised when I got to high school and college and started talking about the X-Men with other people and realized that for them, the parallel was between straight people and queer people, or white people and people of color. That there might be many parallels had honestly never occurred to me, so deep and solid was my understanding that “mutant” was code for “disabled.” (This was before I read Chris Claremont’s statement that for him, mutants could stand in for any outsider population. In the introduction to the trade paperback version of God Loves, Man Kills, Claremont says, “Mutants in the Marvel Universe have always stood as a metaphor for the underclass, the outsiders; they represent the ultimate minority.”)

It crystallized slowly for me, over the course of years. Not all–or even most–storylines have to do with mutaphobia, after all. The X-Men fight against Magneto and fight against the Shi’ar (and fight with the Shi’ar), and there’s the Phoenix Saga and numerous interpersonal dramas and secondary mutations and all that. To read the X-Men is to get to know them from the inside first, their individual histories, their powers, how they feel about those powers, their flaws and foibles, their courage and tenacity, their creativity at solving (or blasting through) problems. You know the X-Men as individuals, make friends with them, and as the stories pile up it slips your mind that the rest of the comic universe world doesn’t see them as individuals, but as a blanket population. You don’t always have to be aware of the fact that a small but significant percentage of the non-mutant population hates mutants, fears them, and wants them dead.

I came to knowledge of my sister’s disability in much the same way. I was three–almost four–when she was born, so I didn’t have any concept of what Down syndrome was. She was just an eating, pooping, crying (and eventually giggling) machine. Your basic human baby. By the end of elementary school (when she would’ve been around seven and me around eleven), I had a pretty good handle on the definition of Down syndrome, but I had an even better knowledge of my sister. I knew how much she loved Barbie and Full House and that cheese was a fundamental dietary building block. I knew her love and her smiles and her stubbornness. I knew how much she was distressed by bees (and flies that might be bees) and automatic garage doors and anybody crying. I knew her. It’s hard to put all that aside and look at my sister from an outsider’s point of view and remember that there’s people who think that my sister is a waste of space. That she’s stupid. That she’s a burden on society and/or my family and that she shouldn’t exist. And there’s people out there who don’t think those things, but who are happy to tell me such things over the Internet because they know it’ll get to me.

I truly believe my sister is a gifted person, though not in the academic way that most people think of when they label kids “gifted.” Her gifts are of a more abstract sort: a deep and instinctive knowledge of chesed, of loving-kindness, of human joy. But the same genetic error that gave her those gifts also gets in the way, too. Gets in the way of her desire to live independently and have more friends. Gets in the way of my family’s desire that she live with economic stability. Would she welcome the chance for a cure? I honestly don’t know. Like Rogue, her extra chromosome is both a gift and a curse. She can do many amazing things, but also misses out on a lot of opportunities that are easily available to “normals.”

It wasn’t until much, much later that I realized the other parallel. The angry one.

Because people with disabilities get abused at disturbingly, shockingly, unacceptably high rates in modern America. And every time I see it, in the news or wherever, it makes the muscles in my arms harden, and I stop breathing, and start looking for something to hit. Of course there’s never anything to hit. In those moments, though, I wish I was the mutant Pyro, so I could literally set the world on fire. In Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, when Dr. Rao announces a cure for the “mutant disease” on television, Wolverine’s claws come out and he can’t retract them. “She called us a disease. Do you know how that feels?” he says.

Yeah, Logan. I think I do, at least a little bit.

I would set the whole world on fire. I understand Magneto’s fury in the face of human intolerance and bigotry, and why he’s given up on humans and on Charles Xavier’s idealism. Xavier wants to teach people tolerance and compassion, but that is the long fucking way around the problem, and in the meantime people are straight up fucking dying and why do I have to talk to you about not calling people retards when those same people are getting murdered? I don’t have time for that bullshit. It would be so much easier, so much more satisfying, to just throw cars at people and silence them.

When it was my own sister that got hurt, it didn’t feel like enough. Her getting hurt by somebody else felt like the end point of a long chain of dealing with the stupidity and apathy of “normals” and the inevitable vulnerability and invisibility that disabled people experience because of it. There had been decades of people asking, in so many words, “Why does your sister exist?” And then someone came along and decided that she existed to be his victim. He picked a vulnerable, invisible person, and he did it on purpose, because he knew he could get away with it. He thought she wouldn’t fight back. And he was largely right, because how do you teach somebody to defend herself when her default setting is that everyone is her friend?

And that is when I understand the anger that allows Magneto to channel enough power to lift an entire football stadium into the air.

That is when I understand the Scarlet Witch’s anger and desperation when she says, “No more mutants.”

That is when I understand Pyro throwing fireballs, because that’s what I would do, that’s what I wanted to do, to set the whole fucking world on fire for leaving my sister helpless and invisible and vulnerable to somebody who decided to hurt her.

I want to incinerate the world. I want claws like Wolverine’s. Because that’s the biggest thing that X-Men in the Marvel Universe have going for them, that’s their trump card. They can do astonishing things. Uncanny things. Amazing things. They can save the world when no one else can. And that’s a really good argument in favor of their right to exist. When all else fails, when morals and ethics and human compassion fails, mutant usefulness is still there. My sister, and people like her, aren’t stupendous. They aren’t awe-inspiring. They do not astonish, unless you’re willing to examine something quieter and more subtle than telekinesis. Given the chance, much as I like to imagine myself as one of Xavier’s noble X-Men, I’m probably closer to one of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. More interested in defending, in fighting, than explaining. At least where my sister is concerned. Because it makes me so, so angry, the way this world treats the most vulnerable people in it.

But there’s this: I think Magneto feels very alone. At least, on days when I want to blow up the world, that’s how I feel: like nobody cares about this–either not enough or not at all–except me. And if their apathy was neutral, it wouldn’t matter. But apathy isn’t neutral. In the vacuum of apathy, people like my sister get hurt. They die. They’re left all alone. And that is when I have to go for a walk and calm down until I can hear the Charles Xavier voice in my head again. The one that insists that normal humans are worth teaching. The one that believes that humans and mutants can co-exist. The one who would never commit genocide, even though he has the mental power to make everyone’s brains ooze out of their earholes. I remind myself that I’m not alone. That there’s a lot of people–and not just in my family, either–who love my sister, who want to help her, and who are helping her.

My sister loves me. And I love her. She never gives up trying to do anything you ask her to do. There is nothing on this earth that could shake her faith in me. And maybe that makes me selfish, to want to keep that. Almost certainly it is. No more selfish than keeping her around because she’s the only one powerful enough to fight the Brood, but hey. We haven’t had much luck with convincing the world that the ability to love is enough of a utility to exist in a capitalistic society.

Sometimes I think about Ian McKellan (who is, as far as I’m concerned, Magneto’s alter ego) and the fact that, despite dealing with homophobia on a personal and professional level his whole life, he has not himself turned into a supervillian. The fact that, in spite of all they’ve been put through, oppressed minorities in this country (whether it’s disabled folks, LGBTQ folks, mentally ill folks, people of color, etc etc) have, without exception, never turned into evil supervillians. (I know I’m generalizing here, but keep in mind that this is what I tell myself in order to not let my heart get eaten by a murderous rage that burns with the heat of a thousand suns and cut me some slack.) Sure, there’s warlords in Africa and drug cartels in Mexico and Kim Jung-un in North Korea, and they cause enormous amounts of heartache and human damage, but they’re not exactly on the world-endangering level of Dr. Doom or the Red Skull. From a power and world domination standpoint, Barack Obama is the closest thing we have to a supervillain. Maybe Donald Trump. From the oppressed minority contingent, we don’t get Magneto. We get Martin Luther King, Jr.; a human of intelligence and courage that we certainly did not ask for, let alone deserve, but are so fortunate to have had in our midst. We get Helen Keller and Harvey Milk and Nelson Mandela. Bayard Rustin and Vincent Harding. We get artists like Toni Morrison and Leslie Feinberg. We get the beautiful people that I know from the progressive/leftist/anarchist organizing community in Denver, who have taught me about putting love into action and validating and standing up for yourself and others. We get community groups like the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement and the AIDS Quilt and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. And that’s just in this past century. We get thousands and thousands of heroes that we don’t deserve, and often don’t recognize while we have them among us. And that is the truly amazing, awe-inspiring, human superpower: The fact that, in the face of oppression and systematic violence and apathy, more often than not, humans default to love and hope. They default to trying to teach other humans to be better. The fact that we have as many heroes as we do should send us all to our knees.

Thousands of Charles Xaviers walking among us, disguised as regular people. I like that.


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Episode Four: Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s cover is blown! Oh noes! His life mission to anonymously bring Justice(!) to Starling City lasted like a month. Peter Parker is making Judgment Face at you, not-Chris-O’Donnell. Be ashamed.

Okay, so actually, not-Chris-O’Donnell’s bodyguard got shot, and so not-Chris-O’Donnell brought him to his Secret Justice Lair to fix him (because Starling City doesn’t have hospitals?), and the bodyguard’s immediate reaction (even though he’s been shot and poisoned and is still metabolizing an antidote) is to try and hit Ollie. Because everyone in this universe is pissed off at Ollie.

I must also point out this excellent dialogue without comment:
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: I found a couple things along the way.
Mr. Diggle: Like what, archery classes?
Not-Chris-O’Donnell: Clarity. Starling City is dying.

Mr. Diggle (I’m just going to call him by his actual name because it’s amazing) calls not-Chris-O’Donnell a criminal and a murderer and leaves him. All alone. So. Very. Alone. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes back to his big empty house and puts on a suit, and after some unknown period of time Laurel comes to “check on him,” because she has excellent boundaries and is totally on top of all of her shit.

Apparently Laurel has decided to be not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mommy since his actual mom is kind of an emotionally absent sociopath. She guilts him into not telling his family that he was okay after getting shot at, which is totally legit, but she also calls him selfish (and other synonyms) to make him feel guilty. Because guilt is the best way to encourage people to change their behavior. At this point, Laurel is just lashing out, and should probably move on, but she won’t, because…something.

Oh, and the sister saw it all! Lucky not-Chris-O’Donnell isn’t wearing his Arrow hoodie or he would’ve been outed twice tonight. She seems understanding and calm…she’s probably stoned. She dispenses with advice like a reasonable person.

Okay, next morning, Mr. Diggle has phoned in his resignation, apparently effective immediately. I hope he sells his story to the tabloids, because it’s a good one. Also I hope he got medical attention because he got shot. So not-Chris-O’Donnell’s mom called Bodyguards R Us and had them send over another one. Not-Chris-O’Donnell immediately ditches him.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell is investigating his own Making A Murderer-esque miscarriage of justice into a convicted murderer. The convicted murderer is not on Oliver’s list of people who are murdering Starling City, but the name of his employer is, so not-Chris-O’Donnell concludes is that the convicted murderer was framed. Obviously. So not-Chris-O’Donnell goes and talks to Laurel (who is a lawyer, remember) about proving his innocence. Can I just point out again here that a hoodie is actually a terrible disguise? And he walks right up to Laurel like she can’t see his face and recognize him. (Also, you can tell that his Batman voice was done in the studio post-production and it’s very annoying.)

Laurel is now investigating the murder, because apparently there is still a hope to get a new trial declared? Stay of execution? Commuted sentence? I’m totally unclear on the legal process here. Is she even his lawyer?

Okay. I got distracted. Not-Chris-O’Donnell went to talk to Mr. Diggle to try and enlist him, again, into joining Team Vigilante For Justice. Roommate wants me to point out how creepy not-Chris-O’Donnell is when talking to the waitress who is also Mr. Diggle’s family member (which not-Chris-O’Donnell knows, I’m assuming, because he went snooping through Mr. Diggle’s personal life. You know, like friends do). Mr Diggle is not amused, and does not want to join Team Vigilante for Justice, and so Oliver uses emotional blackmail by telling him that the assassin that he “stopped” the other night had murdered Mr. Diggle’s brother. This is a compelling argument because…reasons? I feel like people who are against vigilante justice feel that way because they believe in the legal process, and justice, and staying within the law. Not because they have a stake (personal or otherwise) in deciding whether the vigilante’s victims deserve to be targeted or not. But that’s just me. Maybe there’s people out there who think that vigilantes only kill innocent people and are fine when they find out that vigilantes only kill people who deserve it?

Not-Chris-O’Donnell seems to rely on force of will and non-sequiters to persuade people to his arguments. Mr. Diggle says he doesn’t respect him, and not-Chris-O’Donnell responds by pulling his dad’s journal out of his pocket and shows it to him because…I don’t even know. Not-Chris-O’Donnell makes a lot of anti-capitalist arguments, and portrays the plight of the underprivileged in shockingly bad Batman voice, and argues that the plight of the underprivileged can only be avenged by murder. (Also if, as Roommate argues, Starling City’s manifestation of a capitalist system is not unusual–that is, that exploitative capitalism is a feature and not a bug–not-Chris-O’Donnell is really just getting started at just getting started. I look forward to the Starling City/Gotham crossover, and after that…the world!) “People like my father, they see nothing wrong with raising themselves up while stepping on other people’s throats.” Was this kid reading Trotsky on his desert island?

OKAY NEW THEORY: The show so far hasn’t actually done a fantastic job of showing us the human cost of living under the heel of the evil Starling City capitalists/evil doers. Like, watching any number of Batman movies or reading Batman comics, I totally understand, really quickly, why Gotham is not a great city to live in. I totally understand the human cost that the corrupt police department and rampant crime has cost that city. I don’t have that sense with Arrow, so far, which leads me to the entirely reasonable conclusion that Ollie actually went mad on the island and is enacting some kind of insane murderous delusion that he thinks is saving the city. We only have his word and his dad’s that the city is being poisoned from the inside out, after all. (Also, poison? Has it gotten into the water supply?).

Okay. We need to pause and talk about torture…
….
…..


……So. Who wants to start?

Skipping over a couple of scenes of the B plot that don’t matter, Arrow has gotten information from Laurel about the murder victim’s boss, who testified at the husband’s trial that the victim had never reported fraud to him (or whatever she reported) (the husband was convicted of his wife’s murder; Arrow is attempting to prove that the murderer was actually the wife’s employer. Arrow says that they have to get him to testify (again, AT WHAT? The trial is done, the execution is scheduled, there are no more hearings to testify at.) Not-Chris-O’Donnell basically says that he’ll do whatever it takes to get the boss to confess to perjury, and then channels his inner Spider-Man and sort of…grapple-arrows his way across the downtown Starling City skyline.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell then kidnaps the boss and chains him to a train track and threatens to put Boss on the 10:15 to “Bloodhaven” (is that an actual city that exists in comics or was not-Chris-O’Donnell making a funny?). Boss confesses to keeping evidence of corporate wrongdoing and murder in his desk. At work. His corporate bosses, who had his subordinate murdered, are working in the same building where he keeps evidence of her murder and their corporate wrongdoing. Also this evidence is three years old, and just hanging out in his desk.

Oh, and torture. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the last 15 years of the existence of Guantanamo Bay, it’s that torture works. As not-Chris-O’Donnell is demonstrating here with his murder train.

We detour to a bad wig flashback. A random man is rescuing not-Chris-O’Donnell, sort of, except his method of rescue is to give not-Chris-O’Donnell a caged live bird for him to kill and eat himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell does not want to kill the bird, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. Poor sad, uncorrupted, innocent not-Chris-O’Donnell. Also the kid who is shipwrecked on a desert island has his shirt buttoned all the way up to his neck and it’s making me really uncomfortable.

Roommate wants to talk about the awesomely-written dialogue for a moment. Specifically the line, when Arrow hands her evidence that he stole after committing a violent felony that nearly ended in train murder, that, “as a lawyer, [she] never would have gotten a file like this.” Minds are changing as we watch, guys. You can see her opinions changing right in front of her eyes and it’s clearly a confusing experience for her. Like, of course you never would have gotten a file like this as a lawyer. Know why? Because it’s ILLEGAL AS FUCK AND NOT ADMISSABLE IN COURT. Laurel. Come on. You’re supposed to be the smart, down-to-earth one here.

I’m derailing talk of the amazing dialogue to talk about the legal system: We have illegally obtained files that are about corporate wrongdoing (not murder!) that Laurel can apparently use in the execution hearing that doesn’t exist to get a convicted murderer freed. Also she’s not even his lawyer. Also the files were stolen! From a guy who almost got murdered by a train! What is this justice system that exists!

You guys there’s still 17 minutes left in the episode and I’m getting really exhausted by this whole thing. Things are happening and half an hour ago I would’ve told you about them but I just can’t. Not-Chris-O’Donnell has frolicked off to torture a confession out of a corporate magnate and I just don’t care. Torture. Meh.

Final fight scene is the worst ever. I can’t even. There’s still ten minutes left in the episode but I’m done. Guy in prison gets magically released. Laurel is falling in love with the masked vigilante. The end.

Roommate says: “If I could fart right now, I would.”


johnny_the_homicidal_maniac-1191559I wrote this in high school, fifteen or sixteen years ago, but found it recently. The comic book referenced throughout is this one, one of the first independently published comics that I ever got into. It’s wildly violent but also wildly funny and sad. I think I mostly wrote this essay to prove to some English teacher that I learned something from her class; I suspect she was not amused.

 

Required reading: JTHM: Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez, or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics #1-7.

Recommended reading: Squee, “Happy Noodle Boy,” the “Meanwhiles” and “Wobbly-Headed Bob” comics by Jhonen Vasquez.

Tragedy: “A story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man of high estate, and a story of the human actions producing exceptional calamity in the death of such a man.”

Point the First: There is only one tragic hero. Johnny is the only character in his world that is subjected to intense mental suffering. He inflicts suffering on others, but none of them truly understand the magnitude or implications of it; they just want to stay alive in as non-painful a way as possible. Thus, since they want to avoid pain, they also avoid joy. Most of the characters besides Johnny are self-absorbed and immature, and exist to drive Nny to the brink of psychological extinction. Nny is utterly alone in the world, with no one to alleviate his suffering or understand what he’s going through.

Point the Second: They are exceptional beings. Though not a nationally known politician or royal figure, Nny is noticed wherever he goes. He is hideously skinny, wears knee-high steel-toed boots, spiky hair, and has a way of looking at people that tends to creep them out and cause them to either ponder death or make fun of him. Not only are tragic heroes conspicuous, but they possess qualities which inspire awe or fear in others. They are made of the same stuff as us, only magnified and more intense. Johnny is the human embodiment of all our frustrations and anger. The waitress in the restaurant who spit in your food. The high school kids who taunted you. The driver who cut you off. What do you want to do to them? No, what do you really want to do? Johnny actually does it. Johnny indulges his demonic inner child.

Point the Third: The tragic story leads up to, and includes, the death of the hero. In Part 4, Johnny, after many failed attempts, finally manages to shoot himself in the head. This is ironic because he does it accidentally, immediately after he’s decided he doesn’t want to die (ohhh, irony, another lesson from high school English). In Part 5, he actually dies, and in Part 6, he goes to the afterlife and discovers he belongs in neither Heaven nor Hell, and gets sent back to Earth.

Point the Fourth: The suffering and calamity are exceptional. Throughout the comics, Nny does hardly anything but suffer. People make fun of him for how he looks. He has no friends. The Psycho Doughboy and Mr. Fuck torment his mind. He has to keep the wall coated with blood so nothing comes out. The ice-sucky machine gets turned off at 2:00am. He disembowels people, pulls their arms off, crushes their skulls, and stabs them with sporks (while listening to Beethoven). His head is blasted into pieces. He tries to kill the only woman who seems to have a chance at making him happy, because he can’t get happy lest it all come crashing down. About the only benign presence in the comics is Squee, the small neighbor boy that Nny tries to help but ends up terrorizing.

Johnny’s suffering is so much more calamitous not because events are out of his control, but because of the exact opposite. He actively destroys anything that might bring him happiness, rather than have it ripped from him just when he starts to enjoy himself. “You don’t understand; I’m happy!!” he screams to Devi, the only girl who treats him like a human. “I can’t let you go, we’ve begun something lovely, and, as with all things that start, it, inevitably, ends! The beginning is always so fine!! But decay soon follows, a degeneration into the tired old situation. The rot sets in.” (JTHM, Part 2).

Point the Fifth: The catastrophe will be of monumental proportions. The basic formula for tragic heroes, particularly the Shakespearean variety, is “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Humpty starts on high—a man of rank, often of royalty, and then he falls as low as you can go—specifically, dead. Johnny’s tragedy is not so much where he starts out as it is in the total and utter depths of his fall. You would think that you can’t get more monumental than dead, but Johnny isn’t allowed to stay in Heaven or Hell—even in death, he belongs nowhere.

Point the Sixth: Shakespeare’s tragic heroes are responsible for their own falls—they have a tragic flaw. We’ve already discussed how Nny destroys anything and everything that might make him happy or, at the very least, lessen his misery. Much of his pain is the result of his refusal to take a chance at being happy. Johnny also pulls the trigger of the gun that kills him. Johnny’s tragic flaw is that he grows so obsessed with being unhappy. He kills hundreds of people in gruesome ways, and all he feels is the desire to kill more, as well as despair and guilt that that the killing will never stop. He writes in his diary, “You seem to be enjoying yourself. Quit it.” (Part 3) What makes Johnny great, his intelligence and clarity, is also his undoing, driving him to insanity, murder, and eventually suicide.


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I met some people along the way,
Some of them split, some of them stay,
Some of them walk, some walk on by,
I’ve got a few friends I’ll love till I die.
From all of these people I’ve tried to learn,
Some of them shine, some of them burn,
Some of them rise, some of them fall,
But good or bad, I’ve known them all.
–Bouncing Souls, “True Believers”

A bit over a year ago, a friend of mine fell down a flight of concrete steps and cracked his skull, and ended up in a coma in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I live 1500 miles away and am not close with his family, so I had to wait on infrequent facebook updates to get shared around mutual friends and eventually show up in my timeline to follow how he was doing. The exact ins and outs of what happened, I still don’t know.

It’s weird, being deeply worried about a friend that nobody else in your local area knows. There was an extra layer of inexplicability with Bill, because one of the defining struggles of his life thus far has been drug addiction, and it’s almost impossible to talk about him without it coming up (for example, in this situation, I don’t know the answer to what made him fall, but alcohol would be a reasonable guess at an aggravating factor). It’s effected his employment, his criminal record, his education and who he hangs out with. But even though I’m friends with this addict, somehow, his using has never come between us. We don’t talk about it, and on the rare occasions when we do, he’s the one to bring it up. I’m sure the distance helps. And (either by his choice or by virtue of said distance), I’ve never caught the fallout of addict behavior that makes loving addicts so hard and complicated. He’s never borrowed money from me he didn’t return, never stolen from me, never shown up blasted on my porch at 2am needing a place to crash, never tried to store illegal materials in my home. The only thing that’s happened is that once his PO made him take a surprise drug test at the same time that he was supposed to be getting me into a show, and when that happened, he scrambled around until he found a band member to get me in instead. Our friendship has managed to be remarkably uncomplicated over the years, and it’s all the more valuable to me for that. Bill has always been stand up with me. Maybe he’s not with everyone, but he is with me. And it bothers me that, if he dies, I won’t know how to explain how important he is to me–even though he is an addict, even though we only talk once a year or so. His official obituary will probably be something like, “Bill died from complications/got jumped in a bad neighborhood/succumbed to alcohol poisoning. He worked as a cafeteria worker at a local school, and has no wife or kids.” And nobody will miss him, because nobody will know the first thing about him that makes him important to me. That make him worth knowing. Nobody else cares that when I was just a random kid standing next to him in line at a show, he made friends with me. Nobody will write about his generosity, or his general good heart, or how I always feel like he’d be willing to protect me from all comers. Nobody will write about how goddamn funny he is (sometimes unintentionally so) or how he’s one of those guys that always has a story to tell. He’ll just be another dead junkie in the gutter, and his obituary another article on which I should not read the comments, because they’ll be full of people who think they know what they’re talking about but really don’t know the first thing.

I had exactly that experience about a month later, actually, when a girl I know got murdered in Phoenix. She was 17 years old and (as news articles noted at the time) had a history of mental illness and runaway behavior. She was adopted out of an abusive situation as a toddler, along with her older brother and sister, but was never really able to leave it behind, and yeah, grew up to exhibit a lot of behaviors that are really common in at-risk teenagers. The troubles that threatened to swallow her were really obvious to anyone who knew her for more than ten minutes. I wasn’t involved in her day-to-day life, but I remember thinking, if we can just get her past puberty, and her body hormones and chemicals settle a little, she’ll be able to tackle the really hard stuff. She can do that. She was a stubborn fucking kid, and I thought that, in a few years and with her stubborn pointed in the right direction, it would’ve started to serve her, instead of getting in her way. There were so many people hoping for that kid, and pulling for that kid. I said that if you knew her for ten minutes, you could see some of her problematic behaviors. But if you knew her for five, you could also see the things that would get her through: how fiercely protective she was of herself and her siblings. The way her whole face softened when she smiled. The way she’d hang out on the edges of groups, assessing them before slowly wading in. The line she walked between being utterly guarded and surprisingly trusting. The steps she was taking towards self-care and self-awareness. This was a special fucking kid, you guys. And one person (or small group of people) decided he could ruin it, had it in his power to cancel all that out, wrecked our hopeful house of cards and left her beaten in an alley. He thought he knew better than us what mattered, and Brianna wasn’t anywhere on his list. Afterwards, trying to find information, I made the mistake of reading the comments (local news did several articles about her, because the police were in need of leads or information), which were full of people who always knew exactly how Brianna would end up, even though they never knew her, because the label “adopted out of foster care” or “runaway” told them everything that they thought they needed to know.

I wish I could say it didn’t bother me, these people not knowing but passing judgment anyway. But it does. I want them to know how she smiled and how she loved her brother and sister. I want them to know how much she cared for the family dogs. Or, at least, I want the peanut gallery to be aware that it knows nothing. But there’s no way to accomplish this, so, best just not read the comments.

Have you been listening to the second season of Serial? I’ve been listening to the second season of Serial, which this year is covering Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his imprisonment (and eventual release) by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I didn’t follow his story closely when he was released and all the media kerfuffle happened about whether or not he was a traitor and whether he should’ve been rescued at all, or left to rot in a cage in Pakistan. I didn’t follow it closely, but I remember every talking head on cable news and Twitter having an opinion (as they are paid to do, admittedly). And I wonder, did they follow it more closely than me? Did they know he was kept in a cage, beaten? Did they know he escaped? Did they know he had diarrhea for months, and no toilet, and no toilet paper? Did they know he was kept in solitary confinement for years, surrounded by people that he couldn’t talk to because they didn’t speak English? Maybe they did; maybe I’m the last one aboard this knowledge train. And maybe knowing the details of his capture shouldn’t be allowed to muddy the waters of judging whether or not he committed treason (or something) when he walked off his army base. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does for me. It complicates things. There’s a difference between some guy I don’t know walking off an army base and Bowe Bergdahl, Person. It at least makes me less likely to expend my energy on trying to figure out what the army should do with him (there are many good reasons why that is not my job, and why I should not pretend that it is by voicing an opinion on the internet or anywhere else). I would be a terrible criminal court judge, never feeling like I have enough information about a person to be able to, in good conscience, send them to prison and blow up their lives (I know, I know. They blew up their own lives. This, again, is why I’m not a criminal lawyer).

One of the great lies about the information age is that we can know everything. And we can, most assuredly, know many many things. We have recorded an astronomical, mind-boggling amount of information and facts and reflections and thoughts into our many data-holding mechanisms. Our species’ ability to store information outside of the currently living, single generation is perhaps our single greatest evolutionary gift. But the thing that we forget, while we’re drowning under all this information, is how little we know. About ourselves, about each other. About people on the internet whose names we barely know, and whose existence we’re only aware of because we scanned their obituaries. I just think we need to be careful about thinking we know anything about anyone. For years, I’ve thought of people’s lives and their effect on the world as constellations. Sparkling ephemera of connections and people and jobs and hugs and attitudes and feelings, which aren’t patterns in and of themselves, but where patterns can be inferred without much trouble. We can never know the true shape of our constellation that other people see. But there’s another, even better way of looking at it. Earlier today, I was listening to the Moth podcast, and one of the storytellers was Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier and author of the memoir A Long Way Gone and the novel Radiance of Tomorrow, and he said this about his transition from child to child soldier:

“I did not realize that a year later, I would be one of those same people, one of these same young men that I was seeing; that I would be one of these people going around and starting a different kind of narrative in the library of my own mind. But not only that, I grew up in a place where we also believe that when an older person dies, a library is destroyed, or burned. And now we were going around, destroying the very same knowledge, the source of knowledge, that could add to our narratives. And we didn’t know what kind of library we were creating. And worst of all, we were destroying a source of knowledge that, perhaps, could help us understand how our narratives could actually pan out.”


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I read Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton on the Monday after Christmas (well, yesterday and Sunday), since I wanted to return it to the library before I left town. I was struck by some weird parallels between my life and Mr. Wheaton’s, even though our lives are wildly dissimilar (for example, I was never a child actor. Or an adult actor, for that matter). I started blogging in 2001, around the same time he did, but whereas he almost immediately had hundreds of readers, the most followers I’ve ever had is 37 (over at The Annotated Sherlock). When I joined the Internet, so to speak, I was 19 (I got an email address when I was about 17, and hung out a lot in AOL chatrooms, but didn’t have a blog until a few years later), and Rule One of the Internet at the time, especially for me–ostensibly vulnerable and innocent female–was Do Not Give Away Your Real Name Because Ax Murderers Will Find You And Murder You And Your Family. So I never made an attempt to widen my blog’s audience beyond friends and family (my blog was actually set to private until very recently). And maybe it never would have found a broad audience anyway, but I basically spent the first decade of my life on the Internet successfully evading any and all attention from an audience, while Wheaton spent it building his.

I also relate, in some small way, to the regret that he wrote about; to being 30-ish years old and not knowing how to get your life to where you want it to be. I was going through my file boxes and old mail yesterday, and found a rejection slip for “Ghost Town,” a short story that I eventually self-published. The rejection note is handwritten, contains both feedback and encouragement, and an invitation to resubmit after revisions. And I didn’t appreciate that for what it was at the time. I didn’t re-submit. But now I’m grateful for that editor and the time that they took. Maybe that’s my new years resolution, to appreciate small opportunities and challenges. To remember to talk to people. To “network.” Writers like Wheaton and Jon Scalzi write about their everyday lives, and whatever comes into their heads, which is basically what I want for this blog. I don’t want to be “The Fantasy Fan blog” or have a “Mom blog” or a “food blog.” I’m not good at sticking to one subject, anyway. But I feel like I’m ten years too late for that sort of general blog to build up any sort of following. But, at the same time, I don’t know what else to do, really. So I keep writing into the void and hope that someday the void shouts back.

After I finished Just a Geek I started reading Patti Smith’s new memoir, M Train. I’m not done with it yet, but it reads like a meditation more than anything. A meditation on coffee shops, and black coffee, and on following one’s thoughts through to their natural conclusion. On how whether or not an object is sacred has nothing to do with its economic value. On the beauty that happens when you follow impulses, and love the process of a thing, rather than the results. Like when you buy a boat and put it in your back yard, and repair it yourself, but it ends up never being seaworthy so you use it to sit on and listen to baseball games over the radio. So maybe that’s my lesson for this year, too. To do things without needing the result that I foresaw at the beginning of an endeavor. Patti Smith doesn’t just write poetry. She sees poetry weaving its way in and out of life and objects and people. In her words, even watching crime dramas (something I do a lot of, too) has weight and human importance. Ms Smith seems to drift through her days, following her romantic impulses, and because she’s one of the women that I admire most on this earth, I remind myself that that’s an okay way to be. That I don’t always need to be trying to accomplish something. And that’s not a bad lesson either. Quite the opposite.

I guess when I throw those together, that’s my goal for 2016: To keep moving forward, while also feeling at peace with standing still. So, you know, totally simple.


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15Jul15

Another piece written 5+ years ago, for my zine, which is now an e-book, but I didn’t put this piece in the e-book. Disclaimer note that this is short fiction.

The only thing my mother left that day was the dirty dishes in the sink. I’ve wondered about that for years. If you plan to kill yourself while your kids are at school––if you plan to go down in the basement and hang yourself from a rafter––why do you clean the whole house from top to bottom, finish the laundry, put everything exactly in its place––but then leave the dirty dishes in the sink? It’s just bizarre. She didn’t leave a note, which was also a little bizarre, considering how meticulous she was generally. All that was left was an immaculate house with dirty dishes in the sink. And if you plan to kill yourself, why would you do it when you know it will be your children that find you? I mean, come on. We come home from school to an empty house and assume that Mom is running errands. Grab Nilla Wafers from the cupboard. Argue over whose turn it is to do the dishes. Go down to the basement to find the football––and there’s your mother, looking like a grotesque parody of a piñata. It was like some major kind of fault line in Time, with the dishes sitting there between Before and After. Sometimes I could hear her talking, behind a closed door, through the phone just hung up; leaving a message on the answering machine just erased. We all drifted around the house like ghosts, pale and sad, and I felt like there was more than one death lurking in the corners of the house. Nobody wanted to touch the dishes. They sat there for days. I came downstairs to find food at three in the morning, and the light when the refrigerator door opened threw the dishes into sharp relief, dark shadows high on the wall. And suddenly I hated her, hated the continual reminder, hated reaching back to the time of Before. Without realizing it, I hurled her dishes against the wall, shattering, exploding.
I want to destroy you, destroy myself, banish the ghosts that haunt my every step, every movement, every thought. Shatter your image out of every cup and saucer. I will take the jagged shards and carve your name on my wrist so that with every beat of my pulse I can kiss you, every single beat for the rest of this life you left me in. This dark and interminable place where at any moment I will trip and fall into an abyss, a pit from which nothing returns. And I recognize it now, the pit that you fell in, and I don’t know if I can avoid it. I don’t know if I want to. And the only reason I don’t is because I hate you. I loved you so much and it never made a difference; I want to stop loving you so much because then the hate will stop too. It’s a good thing you’re dead because if I saw you again, I might kill us both.


ollivergollumThis episode is called, “Emo and Dramatic.” I’m pretty sure that’s the official title.

So now, in episode three, I’m starting to become suspicious of not-Chris-O’Donnell’s methods. Maybe because we open with a super dark monologue/intro about how Starling City is controlled by corrupt bureaucrats who kill people with bureaucracy and who infect Starling City like a cancer. There’s lots of talk about cancer. Maybe this monologue would work if it wasn’t VO’d over shots of not-Chris-O’Donnell readying his arrows, because all I can think about is how you don’t shoot cancer with arrows, and that if the cancer is as entrenched and pervasive as not-Chris-O’Donnell says that it is, then killing individual people who perpetuate it will do nothing to eradicate the actual system that exists. To do that I think you need to avail yourself of the police, district attorney, and media outlets in your town (all of whom, so far at least, appear to be relatively non-corrupt). Corruption, at its core, is a social and systemic issue. I googled, and none of the typical methods of fighting corruption in business and government use arrows. (A casual perusal of a couple years of data also seems to suggest that global governmental corruption is increasing, though, so who am I to cast aspersions on new strategies?)

Oh Jesus. Know what I just realized? I just realized what Oliver’s doing. He’s murdering the competition. I know he says he doesn’t want to be part of the Queen Corporation, but that’s only because he hasn’t gotten to that part of his plan yet. He’s killing all of his rival manor lords, and protecting the little people of the city, and when all of the rival nobles are destroyed he will take his place on the throne of the Queen Corp and rule like a king in a castle. And all the serfs in the Glades will give him a measure of their bread every year and everything will be happy. He’s assembling a serfdom, you guys. Feudalism lives!

While I’m thinking about that, not-Chris-O’Donnell goes to shake down a rival nobleman, but before he can finish with his shakedown speech a sniper shoots the evil gangster capitalist. Oliver also takes a bullet to the arm before he escapes to his lair, the bullet turns out to be poisoned, Oliver takes an antidote just in time to not die but still spends most of the night unconscious.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell wakes up and rushes home to find his mother talking to cops, and immediately somehow intuits that the cops aren’t there to find him (son who’s been shipwrecked for five years and already kidnapped once and who has been missing all night and shown a tendency to slip his security detail, who is in fact here in the room with mom, and who also hasn’t seen not-Chris-O’Donnell all night).

“You look like crap,” says Lil Sis to not-Chris-O’Donnell. No he doesn’t! He looks chiseled and hot and impassive LIKE IN EVERY SCENE EVER. “He actually seems to have more color than usual,” says my roommate. Lil Sis leaves the room and Oliver steps up to give his mom parenting advice, which is another thing he picked up on the island (a list that so far includes: ninja fighting, archery, computer hacking, and a master’s in business administration).

And here we find out that Oliver speaks Russian. Something else he learned on the island, I suppose. He passes himself off as a member of the Russian mafia, or something, to get the other mafia guy to find the guy who shot the Lord of the Rival Manor. Mafia guy threatens to kill not-Chris-O’Donnell and his entire family. I think not-Chris-O’Donnell might be getting to the point where that’d be okay with him. His sister is now openly abusing drugs and alcohol and mocking anyone who says offensive things like, “Hey, stop getting drunk and go to school, you’re seventeen.”

We are also discovering through flashbacks that not-Chris-O’Donnell wasn’t alone on his desert island. Instead he was captured by a sadistic madman and tortured into what I can only assume, at this point, is some kind of epic-level Stockholm syndrome madness. Maybe he’s a sleeper agent. Maybe he’s a brainwashed automaton who’s been programmed to destroy Starling City. ANYTHING COULD BE GOING ON AT THIS POINT, GUYS.

Also in this episode we are introduced to a murderous psychopath sniper who tattoos the names of his victims on his own body, but who otherwise leaves no trace of evidence against himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell brings an arrow to a gunfight and, unsurprisingly, fails to murder. He does steal the assassin’s computer, though. So maybe that’ll give him the information he needs until he can get a look at the dude’s body and take notes from his tattoos. He takes the computer to an IT worker at the Queen Corporation who looks like ADA Alex Cabot from Law & Order: SVU and who I will be referring to as not-Alex-Cabot if she becomes a regular cast member.

Lil Sis has really good grammar when she’s mouthing off to her mother. “Important to whom?!”

Not-Chris-O’Donnell figures out that the reason why the Manor Lord was murdered was actually just a ploy to be able to murder all the other Starling City Manor Lords, who are all showing up at an auction to buy Manor Lord’s assets. Not-Chris-O’Donnell also realizes that there’s no way he can protect 50+ capitalist gangsters who are all trying to buy stuff, so instead of calling Starling Police Department’s anonymous tip line or some such, he slams Detective Dad into a parked car and tells him he needs to provide security for the auction. Detective Dad does what he’s told, since this is concerned citizenry’s usual method for reporting planned crimes.

Also Murderous Tattoo Assassin Dude has a gun mounted on his wrist like a Transformer or something. This does not actually seem like the best idea (Assassin Dude is undoubtedly more coordinated than me. I would shoot off my own hand). It does him no good, though, because not-Chris-O’Donnell shoots him in the face with an arrow because nobody gets to kill corrupt manor lords except himself. Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s security guard is unexpectedly let in on not-Chris-O’Donnell secret identity, because he gets shot with a poisoned bullet and not-Chris-O’Donnell can’t let him die. (I really should learn security guy’s name, he’s definitely one of the least obnoxious characters so far.)

End scene.


arrow2In case you missed the first post, me and Roommate are watching the WB series Arrow and I’m blogging about it until it gets good. Well, and potentially after it gets good, if I’m going to spend internet space making fun of it, I should, in fairness, also devote internet space when it gets awesome. If it gets awesome. In the last episode, a character who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell got rescued from a tropical island, was reunited with his family, everyone got mad at him, he DIY’ed a secret lair from which to dispense JUSTICE(!), attempted to blackmail a nefarious businessman but ended up shooting him with arrows instead, and dispersed said stolen millions to the masses. Let us continue with our (anti) hero’s adventures in this, episode two.

We start this episode with not-Chris-O’Donnell violently avenging/blackmailing a rich corrupt person who I’m sure has been economically abusing the helpless. (How did we get the rich corrupt person on top of a rooftop? Not important.) “My family’s wealth is built on the suffering of others” Oliver tells us via voiceover. I know you’re referring to general abuse and corruption, not-Chris-O’Donnell, but this just makes me think that you don’t know how capitalism works.

We then cut to not-Chris-O’Donnell getting declared un-dead (zombie-not-Chris-O’Donnell?), which I thought was only a thing you could do in India, and involves a lot of flashbacks of Oliver’s dad shooting himself and seeing the island for the first time and a terrible castaway wig that I’m sure we’ll get to see again. And probably again. Laurel is at the courthouse, because she’s a lawyer, and she’s mad at Oliver again, which I totally support. You enforce those boundaries, girlfriend.

We see enough of a courtroom scene to see that Laurel is also fighting for justice (JUSTICE!), and then we cut to a sexy exercising montage with voiceover from Oliver about justice and carrying out his father’s dying wish. Apparently his father gave him a list of all the people in Starling City who deserve to die. How convenient. Also, excellent parenting, Dad. Most excellent.

Of course, in order to get to sexy exercising montage, not-Chris-O’Donnell had to slip away from his bodyguard again, which is starting to annoy his mother. She tells him she’s afraid he’s going to get kidnapped (which is either totally justified, because he already got kidnapped once, or totally baseless, because he’s already been kidnapped so it would seem that particular danger is past), which I think we all agree would be completely terrible because she might have to hug her son a second time or something. That would just be awkward. We must be really careful to stay away from creating situations that might make people feel things. Or have to pretend to feel things.

Lil Sis is still mad at Oliver (sorry, I mean not-Chris-O’Donnell. The actor’s actual name is Stephen Amell. The character’s name is Oliver), because he’s been home a week and all he’s done is avoid the family. He’s been home a week and all you’ve done is go to parties and be mad at him, so um, I’m not really feeling you on the “my older brother doesn’t want to hang out with me while I drink and do drugs” poutyness.

Detective Dad (that is, Laurel’s dad, who is a member of the Starling City Police) is meeting with Guy Who Owns the Port, who is the guy that was getting shot at in the opening scene. They argue about whether the police have the right to enforce laws, or if Detective Dad is just acting out of some kind of personal agenda. “I’m pretty good at keeping my emotions in check.” No, you’re not, Detective Dad. You’re really, really not.

Mom wants not-Chris-O’Donnell to take a leadership role in the company that the family owns. Not-Chris-O’Donnell, shockingly, doesn’t want to. Mom is disappointed. Very disappointed. I think she’s re-thinking being happy about having her son home. Maybe you should’ve just stayed on that island until you were ready to take over a multi-billion dollar company, not-Chris-O’Donnell. You mastered archery, computer hacking, and ninja fighting skills on the island. I’m sure the MBA was just about to come to you (Oliver actually makes a joke about getting an MBA while being stuck on the island. I might start to like this show).

The members of the press in this town apparently have nothing to do besides mob not-Chris-O’Donnell every time he steps outside. Is this what life was like for Andrew Carnegie? Bill Gates? Because it’s pretty intense. So far no members of the media seem to be investigating why Starling City’s most prominent and wealthy citizens are getting attacked with arrows, but maybe the police are keeping a lid on it.

Nineteen minutes into the episode and we discover what it’s about: Guy Who Owns The Port has been allowing a drug smuggler to use his port. Oliver is shooting arrows at GWOTP to get him to stop. Drug Smuggler’s Henchmen killed Blonde Girl’s Dad, who worked at the port and found out about the drug smuggling. Lawyer Laurel is prosecuting the Drug Smuggling Henchmen for murder but you know how hard it is with murderous conspiracy gangs. Drug Smuggler Supreme (a blonde Asian lady who is called China White because this is comics) obviously doesn’t want her henchmen convicted, and proposes killing the blonde girl who just lost her dad, because in this city it is apparently the victim’s family who controls the district attorney’s office. GWOTP says that that will bring down the formidable wrath of Laurel, so China White logically proposes that they just kill Laurel. The solution to problems with murder….is more murder! Yay.

See? Everything is totally simple and straightforward, guys.

Back in the house of awkward, Thea (that is, Lil Sis) has decided that the best way to express her pain to her brother about what she went through while he was gone is to bring him to the tombstones that his mom had erected out on the grounds that have his and his dad’s names on them. Holy shit, guys. That’s a selfish and kind of mindfucky thing to do to someone. He told you he was traumatized and not ready to talk about what happened on the island, and your response is to take him to his own memorial site and say, “I know it was hell there, but it was hell here too.” I know you’re a selfish 17-year-old, Thea, but your brother isn’t actually obligated to…I don’t even know what you want him to do. I guess he’s not shouldering his near-death experience in a way that is acceptable to you? Apologize for the absolute lack of control he was able to exert over his situation and subsequent stressing you out? How do you expect him to be all open and confiding when you act pissed off at him all the time?

Ollie feels super stressed out and guilty, so he takes his sadness to…Laurel. Who doesn’t want to let him into her apartment. I wholeheartedly support this decision. And she…oh, not-Chris-O’Donnell is acting sad, so we’re letting him in. No, this is a bad plan, Laurel, no, Laurel, don’t you remember your boundaries?

Cut to Laurel and Oliver sitting in her apartment and eating ice cream. No boundaries, then. Okay. Laurel tells Ollie to act like an adult to his mommy. This actually kind of reasonable discussion is interrupted by intruders with guns, and China White, who apparently carries out her own hits. That’s my kind of gangster kingpin. Not-Chris-O’Donnell and his bodyguard work together and foil the attack. They call the police (as you do), and Detective Dad is angry because the attack happened in Laurel’s apartment. Detective Dad wants to lock Laurel up rather than have her be in danger because of either not-Chris-O’Donnell or the drug mafia she’s prosecuting, even though….he’s a cop who’s in danger pretty much all the time. So it’s okay for her to fear for her dad’s life every day he’s at work, but he can’t handle it in reverse. Also, literally locking your daughter up is a healthy and productive way to deal with parental fear for one’s offspring. Okay.

In the meantime, Robin Hood(/Oliver/Arrow) is busy breaking up criminal gangs all by himself. My roommate points out that he’s been home a week and has already broken up like three crime rings, which makes me wonder exactly how the police force has been spending their time while he’s been away. China White and not-Chris-O’Donnell get in a fight, which is interrupted by the cops, so they break off and run away, and not-Chris-O’Donnell is stopped by Detective Dad, and he gives Dad an arrow that is also a digital recorder that recorded GWOTP’s confession to ordering the murder of Whistleblowing Stevedore Man/Blonde Girl’s Dad.

We end with not-Chris-O’Donnell interrupting a ground-breaking ceremony to tell people to stop expecting him to be his dad, which confuses me because I don’t think anyone was forcing him to say anything at this ceremony, or expecting him to be his dad at all. But he had to re-establish his reputation as a drunk, shallow playboy, I suppose. We also end with dark emo not-Chris-O’Donnell eyes and a flashback of bad-castaway-wig-Oliver burying his dad on the deserted island, and the revelation that Mom is part of the criminal conspiracy that apparently murdered her husband and son (not-Chris-O’Donnell doesn’t know this, only us). Oh, and then we end again with Oliver removing his and his dad’s tombstones from the ground. And then we end again (really this time) with another flashback to the island and Oliver getting shot with an arrow. ARROWS! I bet that ends up being significant somehow.


arrowPeople keep telling me and my friend (henceforth referred to as Roommate) that the WB* show Arrow gets good. People whose tastes I want to respect tell me this. I got about eight episodes through season one and couldn’t take the emo angsty-ness anymore, and quit apparently “just before it gets good.”

So. I’m trying to suffer through season one and to make it to season two (which is good?). TRYING SO HARD, INTERNET. (Except now the people who tell me that season two is really good are telling me that season three is not so much. Dammit.) Blogging makes suffering bearable.

Also I want to say this disclaimer at the outset: If you like Arrow (even from the very first episode), that is all well and good and fine. I do not judge people who like the things they like. I want to say this now, and directly, because I know that when somebody is insulting and laughing at a show that you like, it’s easy to take that personally. Hell, I like Supernatural. We all like shows that other people think are dumb. I (so far at least) don’t like this show, and I’m not hiding that I don’t like the show; that doesn’t mean the show doesn’t deserve to be liked by other people. Okay? Okay.

Episode One: The Mighty Ragamuffin.

We open with Oliver Queen, who looks suspiciously like Chris O’Donnell, getting rescued from a desert island that he’s been stranded on. The mighty ragamuffin’s body is very (20%!) scarred, but otherwise not-Chris-O’Donnell is totally healthy and well-toned and not malnourished at all. He’s taken to a hospital somewhere, and his family is flown in, and his mom has a weird lack of urgency about needing to greet or hug her son, instead spending the bulk of the scene talking to the doctor in the hallway and not to her long-lost, presumed-dead son. There’s also a younger sister who I’m sure will become annoying in true WB fashion in short order.

New scene! We meet Laurel, an assistant district attorney (?) who is working in the law firm that Matthew Murdock probably should have joined rather than starting his own law firm in Hell’s Kitchen. She’s upset that not-Chris-O’Donnell has been found. Why? I’m sure it will be explained. At length. In greater depth than necessary.

Also, I will spend at least the next four episodes confusing Laurel and the sister, because we can only cast willowy female brunettes in this show and all white people look the same.

“After five years, everything that was once familiar is now unrecognizable.” That is some brilliant fucking voiceover script right there. Well done, writing staff. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is checking out his awesome hot body that is covered in scars. Awesome hotness that is covered in scars? POOR WOUNDED BOY. ME AND MY INNER EMO TEENAGE GIRL WILL FIX YOU.

Awkward family dinner time! The sister (or maybe Laurel, though I think Laurel doesn’t talk to anyone from the Queen family) asks what it was like on the island, which is apparently an inappropriate question and leads to awkward silence. Not-Chris-O’Donnell guesses that Walter is sleeping with his mom, at which point she tells him that she married Walter, and HOW IS THIS NOT THE FIRST THING YOU TELL YOUR SON WHEN YOU SAW HIM IN THE HOSPITAL THREE SCENES AGO. He found out about the past five years of Superbowl winners before he found out his mom remarried. That’s fucked up.

Not-Chris-O’Donnell’s friend wants to plan a party. Instead (in addition?) not-Chris-O’Donnell visits Laurel, who it turns out is upset because not-Chris-O’Donnell was her boyfriend until he took her sister on a yacht to screw her and then the yacht crash and her sister died and so did not-Chris-O’Donnell (except he didn’t). Okay. That’s actually a totally solid reason to not want to see a person ever again. I’m sure she will remain in this state of totally understandable aversion to his existence for at least three episodes.

Kidnapping! Guns! Guys in scary masks! Not-Chris-O’Donnell kicks their asses all on his own, then tells the detective (who is being all kinds of victim-blamey to a guy who just got kidnapped. But it’s fine because not-Chris-O’Donnell’s pre-desert island self was apparently a jerk, and the detective is just being a professional. Also this town only has twelve people in it) that a man in a hood rescued him. Sneaky devil. I assume his mom called the cops but that isn’t really explained. Also how long was he gone for? Did they realize he’d been kidnapped before he got back to his house? Maybe his friend (who also got kidnapped) insisted on calling the cops?

Best not to think about it. Not-Chris-O’Donnell is unfazed by being kidnapped, and so are we. He ducks away from the personal security his mom has hired and escapes to an abandoned factory that belongs to his family and builds himself a secret lair/personal home gym in the space of two hours and with only a band saw to assist him. I admit to being totally jealous of the pull-up ladder thing he can do. Also, building your secret lair in your family’s abandoned factory is the best idea that can have no potential for unforeseen consequences and will definitely never be discovered. We also learn that not-Chris-O’Donnell is really good with arrows, and has a green hoodie that totally disguises his identity. And that he is after justice. JUSTICE.

Onward to the welcome home party for not-Chris-O’Donnell. He is trying to be the sexy playboy when people are looking at him and dark and emo when people look away. Good luck with that. He spots his sister (at least I’m pretty sure it’s his sister and not Laurel) and OH NO DRAMA. She’s angry. Angry at him for being dead? But he’s not dead. She’s angry that he’s still alive? She’s angry that he left her all alone, like he had some choice in the matter? Also she’s accusing him of “acting like the last five years didn’t happen,” or that everything’s hunky-dory now. Girl, I know you don’t know this, but your brother spent most of the day getting kidnapped and then building himself a secret lair to capture criminals with. Your brother is not fine. He thinks he’s the goddamn Batman. Are you mad that he’s acting like a protective older brother? Is that not what older brothers do? Did you expect him to hand you some Grey Goose and a gram of coke and tell you to have fun?

Oh good, Laurel’s at the party too. This is the best party, you guys.

Laurel offers to be a sympathetic ear if he needs to talk about what he’s been through. Well, I’m glad somebody has offered to be this person, because damn does this guy need some therapy, but Laurel, you should not be that person. You should be mad at him forever, or at least for like a week. You know what’s great, Laurel? Boundaries. I advise you to get you some.

Climactic fight scene. The corrupt business owner that not-Chris-O’Donnell was trying to blackmail (because JUSTICE) refuses to send the money to the place, so not-Chris-O’Donnell arrives to beat it out of him with arrows. A fight scene ensues, with lots of machine guns and breaking glass and not-Chris-O’Donnell hitting people and stuff, and it’s actually going pretty well (in terms of being just absolutely fun to watch, well-choreographed and well-edited) until not-Chris-O’Donnell throws an arrow into the barrel of the bad guy’s gun and makes it misfire while simultaneously leaping backwards over a couch. Roommate and I watched it twice to revel in the breaking of reality–both of the laws of physics allowing this farce and of the terrible CGI special effects that are supposed to lead us to believe that such a thing happened. This is no Legolas-surfing-down-the-stairs-on-a-shield-while-slaying-orcs, guys. This is just plain ridiculous.

Also, I gotta say, having a hood pulled down over your eyes while you’re trying to fight crime seems like putting yourself at a disadvantage. Maybe it’s okay though because he’s impervious to bullets. It’s his superpower.

Turns out that not-Chris-O’Donnell did somehow get the money he was after (“via an arrow” is the explanation that Roommate offers) and Robin Hoods it to the people who deserve it, because while stuck on the desert island becoming an expert in archery and hand-to-hand fighting he also learned all about hacking secure banking systems.

…Does anyone ever realize that the arrival of the vigilante in the hood on the scene exactly coincides with not-Chris-O’Donnell’s return to Starling City? I mean, seriously.

*I know it’s been the CW for like 20 years now. I don’t care. It’ll always be the Dawson’s Creek network to me.


The Border Wall

19Feb15

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I wrote this in about 2007. It originally appeared in my zine Spandrel #2. It was before the unattended migrant children that came through in the summer of 2014, before the Tea Party halted all useful talk about our immigration system, before the cartels and the murders got really bad. It has since been published in an e-book. Some of the stuff in the essay (like the minimum wage) is out of date.

The drive south is cold and windy, because the heat doesn’t work and because a crash dented the passenger side of the VW bus, and as a result there’s gaps in between the windshield and the frame of the car for the wind to whistle in through. I huddle in a slightly sheltered corner, staring at what I can see of the scrubby Arizona landscape in the light of the bus’s headlights. Jason, driving the VW, tells me about the tunnels that run under the highway we’re driving on—drainage ditches that stretch under four lanes of blacktop. There are probably people down there right now, he says, waiting out the night, hiding from the Border Patrol. It’s cold. A bad night for crossing the border.

Between 1810 and 1850, the Underground Railroad in the American Southeast smuggled between 30,000 and 100,000 slaves to freedom in the American North and Canada. Escaped slaves moved alone or in small groups by night, assisted by a select few who knew the route. They didn’t know the way, had often never seen a map, but they journeyed through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, dodging authorities, bounty hunters, and dogs. They risked dying of hunger and exposure, and all for the smallest chance that they might find freedom at the end of the line. As many as two out of three didn’t make it.

Today in the American Southwest, there is a different kind of Underground Railroad. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America pay money to guides to bring them across the border. Migrants who cross the border have a long walk with a choice between the rock—the mountains—or the hard place—the desert—over which to cross. It’s a five day walk from the border to Tucson, and it’s impossible to carry enough supplies with you to get yourself there.

Jason and I pull into a roadside campsite in Nogales, about 100 yards on the Mexican side of the border, next to a customs station where we’re spending the night. I am introduced to Miguel, the gangster who controls this part of the border. Everything that crosses the border in this town illegally—drugs, guns, tropical birds, people—crosses because of him. He knows the gringos, the federales, the Border Patrol. I imagine that very little happens that he doesn’t know about or doesn’t want to happen.

When I meet him, he is a mild-mannered, quiet-looking Mexicano who is shorter than me, wearing jeans and a coat that look like they came from Wal-Mart. I try to reconcile him in my mind with the Al Capone character that’s been described to me, and I can’t.

Migrants pay coyotes roughly $2,000US to cross the border (or about $20,000 Mexican). Minimum wage in the United States is $5.15 an hour. In Mexico, if a person is making about $10US a day they’re doing pretty good. Most people have help crossing the border from friends and family who are already here.

Migrants pay $2,000 to cross the border. How far into the country they come depends on the coyote and on how much the migrant pays. Migrants aren’t always knowledgeable about US geography, or living in the open, and they don’t have maps. There have been incidents of migrants dropped in Tucson and told they were in Phoenix, or within walking distance of Miami. Unconfirmed reports of migrants dropped in the Mexican desert and told they were in Arizona.

They break limbs jumping off freight trains. They die of exposure, dehydration, or hypothermia. They drink bad water in the desert. They come equipped with nothing but what they can carry and their own considerable determination. They get caught by the Border Patrol and deported, and return and get deported again. And still they come.

There’s an underground network to crossing the border, but unlike the conductors on the Underground Railroad, the coyotes are motivated by money, not by their conscience, and not all of them can be trusted.

It’s a bad night to be crossing the border. I shiver in my sleeping bag and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s the coffee I drank before we left Tucson, maybe it’s the floodlights that we’re sleeping under, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m under this cold Mexican sky, with federales on one side and Mexican gangsters on the other, and I’m separated from my home by a fifteen-foot high wall of steel and barbed wire and heavily armed men with Black Hawk helicopters, humvees, and guns.

Before dawn, unable to take the cold anymore, I crawl out of my sleeping bag and pull on my jeans and shoes and coat. Someone has built a fire, and as I hop out of the van, Jason comes over and meets me. Four of the people at the fire—a man, a woman, and two small kids—are part of a larger group who have huddled all night in a nearby ravine, waiting for the signal to try the border. The other four men who have arrived are coyotes who brought the woman and her kids up to get warm. These coyotes, Jason assures me, are some of the good ones.

With all this in mind, I approach the fire. The woman—who is my age or even younger—looks at me for a moment, her eyes dark and exhausted. Her kids look maybe three and five, and are wrapped in a sleeping bag that Jason took off his bunk. We exchange no words. The coyotes ignore my presence completely. They are young men, again perhaps my age, and are engaged in a raucous and enormously funny conversation that I don’t understand because I don’t speak Spanish. One of the coyotes goes out of his way to stand between me and the fire, blocking me from the warmth, moving to the left to block me again when I move to the left to move away from him. I think about saying something, about moving forward so he can’t move sideways without stepping in the fire, but ultimately, I say nothing. You don’t belong here, he’s telling me not so subtly, and I can’t in all confidence say I disagree.

The sky in the east has started to lighten when there’s an invisible signal from somewhere and the woman and her kids leave the fire to make their try for the border. The coyotes at the fire don’t go with them. At the critical point, the border itself, the coyotes don’t go with the immigrants. The woman and her kids will meet another coyote on the other side.

The coyotes hang around until full daylight, when a semi-truck piled high with bales of hay driving past our camp fails to clear a power line. The telephone poles are pulled askew, there is a loud crackling noise, a lot of cursing in English (from me and Jason) and Spanish (from the coyotes), and the truck continues on, leaving the power lines dangling just low enough to snag any car that comes down the road. Jason goes to tell the federales (the wing of Mexican law enforcement that is sort of a combination Border Patrol/FBI) and the coyotes take off. Some policemen come, and someone that looks like an electrician, but they wander around and talk and then drive away, leaving the power lines dangling across the road.

In 1961, East Germany began construction on what was not, they insisted at the time, a wall. Tired of the drain on their economy because of East Germans leaving the Soviet Bloc every day to go to work in higher-paying West Germany, and frustrated by the 2.5 million people who had defected in the sixteen years since the end of World War II, the Wall put an effective halt to travel between the democratic and communist halves of Berlin. Any East Berlin citizen who tried to cross the wall was killed by the East German guards, and in the Wall’s twenty-eight year existence, probably fewer than five thousand souls managed to cross it illegally. The Wall was guarded with booby traps, armed guards, watchtowers, anti-tank tetrahedrons, and self-firing guns to keep people on the Communist side. Far from being the idyllic system of government that the Communists claimed, it turned out that they had to forcibly contain their citizens to prevent them from fleeing. When the Wall came down in 1989, symbolically reuniting Berlin, it was seen as a victory for freedom and democracy, and one of the final blows to the Soviet system.

Also in the 1960s, when the Berlin Wall was going up, American soldiers were fighting Communism in the backwater jungles of Indochina. Fighting to keep Korea and Vietnam from falling into the control of guerilla fighters, the Americans strafed the jungle and tore it down to build army bases and camps. After clearing land for airstrips, however, the ground was still too soft for planes to land, so the jungle was paved with corrugated iron sheets that could be picked up and moved to wherever the planes needed to land.

In 1975, when the American presence in Vietnam ended, one of the things that the Americans packed up and took with them was their iron landing strips. Ten years later, after the victory of democracy in the West and the end of the Cold War, the United States decided to build a wall of their own in an effort to stem the economic stress that immigration puts on rich countries when people flee from their poor country. To build it, they brought the sheets of iron they’d used to try and defend democracy in VIetnam and divided the sky with them, then lined it with barbed wire and armed guards. The Border Patrol uses the same unmanned aerial vehicles, motion sensors, infrared detectors, radar, and wireless communication systems that the US Army is using in Iraq. The fence cut towns in half and separated families. Whether they have actually decreased illegal immigration—as the Berlin Wall succeeded in doing—is another question entirely.

There was a time not so long ago, Jason tells me, when the “wall” was just an eight-foot-high chain link fence. People crossed to go to work in the morning, then went back to their homes at night. Illegal immigration was common, but few people stayed in the United States for long periods. People played volleyball games using the fence as a net. Then the wall went up, fourteen feet of steel and barbed wire. It pushed migrants trying to cross the border into rural areas (and increased mortality rates drastically) and forced them to stay in the U.S. for longer periods, since crossing the border is more dangerous and more expensive than it used to be.

The wall is peppered with graffiti and murals trying to give border crossers a taste of what they’re in for. There is one portrait of a migrant worker on his knees, about to be shot by a man looming over him with a gun. The caption says “Arizona.” A dollar sign with wings. La frontera es grande porque estamos en sus rodillas (The border is big because we are on our knees). Deporte la migra (Deport the Border Patrol). Si yankee es un terrorista.

Jason and I leave the roadside camp in early morning to go get breakfast supplies for the deportees who will be arriving soon, driving along a road that runs parallel to the border. On our way into town, we also pass a cemetery, which is a riot of color and flowers and decoration. Ribbons are laced through the fences around the family plots. There are silver pinwheels several feet across spinning over tombstones. Mexicans apparently take good care of their dead, and though this is utterly unlike any American graveyard I’ve seen outside of New Orleans, the colorful graveyard somehow makes me feel less like a foreigner.

Deportees are dropped off just this side of the border, usually thirty or forty at a time, regardless of where in Mexico they’re actually from (and, sometimes, regardless of whether they’re from Mexico at all). They carry everything they own with them and shuffle flatfooted because the Border Patrol takes everyone’s shoelaces (and does what with them?). We give them food, which is far from fancy—tortillas and beans, or Wonder Bread and baloney—but the deportees take it anyway. Jason and another volunteer named Ramón have medical training, and they circulate amongst migrants who have been hard hit by the desert or have gotten hurt along the way. I hand out sandwiches for a little while, and then circulate among the crowd, explaining in my broken Spanish that I have sheets with the addresses of shelters in the area for folks who have nowhere to sleep tonight and small, wallet-sized card with the phone number of the Mexican consulate and an explanation of the rights people have in the United States, be they natives, citizens, immigrants, or deportees. A few take the shelter lists, but everyone wants the consulate cards. Everybody wants to know their rights. I hand them out as fast as I can, trying to explain what they are and practicing my one decent Spanish phrase: “Mi español está muy mal. Lo siento.”

They don’t say much to me. They’re tired, it’s obvious that I don’t speak much Spanish, and I can’t imagine that their experience with the American Border Patrol has left them with much energy or motivation for trying to make new friends with the random American chick who’s greeting them. They rest for awhile, eating and talking and drinking hot coffee, and then they gather their bags to go, raising their hands in farewell. Adios. They walk south into Mexico. Jason tells me that most will cross the border again; he knows one man who has been deported eight times now. If you’re from one of the southern Mexican states, it’s easier to try the border again than it is to try and get home.

One of the volunteers at the camp—a Mexican who was deported and stayed here, at least so far—takes a break between busloads and crouches on his heels some distance away and smokes a cigarette. He sits on top of a small rise, his back to me, staring out at the fence, the Border Patrol, and the scrubby hills of los Estados Unidos. I ask him, later, if he wants to go back to the United States, and a smile flashes across his face. “Sí.”

In this rhythm, the morning passes, waves of deportees and border crossers interspersed with periods when there’s no one at camp but the volunteers. Jason tells us about the history of this camp and what they’re trying to do, and shares stories of border crossers he’s met. We talk about New Orleans and Louisiana and the loss of the coastal wetlands on the Gulf Coast. We tease Ramón about secretly being a woman. We watch the federales chase a man who left his car and whatever illegal item was inside of it and make a run for it—back into Mexico, oddly, not out of it. One of the volunteers shakes his head on hearing that the man fled south. “If he ran into México, he not going to make it,” he says matter-of-factly. “He a goner.”

We spend the morning there, and then it’s time to go, to get in line at la frontera and be interviewed by the Border Patrol. Much to Jason’s surprise (and mine too, given the hippie van we’re in) we are not searched, and thanks to the federales’ willingness to take bribes and let cars cut in line, we get through the border in less than an hour. And then we’re back in the States, which of course looks exactly like Mexico until we’re about five miles over the border and we come upon a Holiday Inn and a Conoco station that’s filled with white people who look like they want to visit Mexico but don’t want to stay overnight there. Something in my head relaxes, because now I’m back on my side of the wall, and even though this side really isn’t any less dangerous than that one, simply by virtue of language and long habit I feel more able to cope with this side. I don’t know if it’s like this for the migrants, if, in spite of their determination and obstinacy and their persistence in getting on our side of the wall, they don’t feel a tiny sigh of relief when they find themselves back on their side of it.




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