D. F. Lewis
...to quote Confessions of a Ghoul, this novella, among other sweet shorter arcana, that you surely hold in this volume, by one M.F. Korn, writer and pianist supreme.
When I demanded that I should write the introduction to this novella (without, then, having first read it), I knew it would be special. I hadn?t known Mike Korn for nothing, after all - following apparent aeons of correspondence and collaboration. He is something really quite beyond description and any assessment of normal genius!
I don?t know how personal this novella is, but I can feel it is intrinsic to a soul that sits on him like a head-dress or external brain of kaleidoscopic beauty. It is shocking. It is startling. The language is wickedly soma-semantic. Full of references to pulp and mainstream literature, to theosophy, to classical music, to silent films; and it is a rigorous, yet whimsical, extrapolation from H.P. Lovecraft’s Outsider and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, and Nabokov’s Lolita and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and James Joyce’s Ulysses and Boswell’s Johnson and Poppy Z. Brite and... It is all these and more...and better.
Tiresias...the thinking zombie/ ghoul/ vampire/ librarian/ intellectual/ cosmosist/ shambler ...Tim, the distorted mirror image protagonist, who falls beneath his own studious shortcomings as projected upon the blackening screen of the reader’s own consciousness: a heavenly light from some submerged cathedral of the prehensile soul.
It is difficult not to talk like that in the terms of this novella.
Tiresias (Paul Lipscomb) shuffling like a Great Old One from supermarket to gay party to butcher’s rubble is so utterly believable, believe me. And disturbing, frightening. And uplifting despite the cannibalistic overtones.
Thank the gawds for MF Korn.
Then young Julia kills Vice.
This novella is utterly incredible, reprehensible, so paradoxically wondrous.
"He carnally savored her hind end."
The novella makes you feel thus: piecemeal: a polkadot critique of a scholarly tour-de-force.
After brainstorming such impressions, it is difficult then to realise the novella is such a compact whole. It is a story that flows easily and begs you to enter and become participant, despite the drawbacks of acknowledging some of the emotions involved. It is organic. It is a simple tale of someone (Tim or Tiresias?) striving to sell the ultimate artwork, of both pulpish and deeply philosophical worth.
Let me say, it sells itself. It attracts and repels at once. There is love, too.
It is a piano concerto with gnawed human bones for keys.
Eternal Questions Posed At the International House of Pancakes
The questions could only be answered at wee hours at a place where bohemian students drank inordinate pots of coffee at 80 cents a night.
Mark made it part of his life, staying up all nights, as he did for the last two of his nine years of college. He was a history major who fawned over eccentric professors because of a fascination with details in the affairs of Mankind.
The IHOP near the campus was filled with English majors, philosophy majors, amateur sophists, general beatniks all drinking coffee. The all night chess players could suck back their share of it, too. This consisted of New Orleans Chicory or Community Dark Roast. It wasn?t too watery like McDonald’s offering, not muddy like Marine Corps or gas station swill. A pristine brewed, infallible mixture upon which to stoke himself from eleven pm to six am. This left Mark with a schizoaffective mind by at least 3:30.
He avoided the junkie darlings making their way out of the night club dungeons, each filled with nickel beer. He only sought out loons and conspiracy flakes. Any fundamentalist preacher, any fatalist would do nicely.
Mark was a behemoth, but his immense frame contradicted his docile, benevolent attitude. From a glance one could tell he wasn?t athletic. More a build like an atrophying Victor Mature but without the pecs. Sort of innocuous.
His face was pudgy, his unkept brown hair held a small comb in it much of the time. He probably knew too much about world history for his own good. He had been placated by too many lectures. And thumbing through too many history volumes only made him thirst for more.
Tonight he had started on refills a bit early. He knew he would peak on caffeine too fast. He would pay for it later, that mental denouement that started about 6 am the next day.
He looked around the restaurant. Back in the corner were two familiar chess perennials. The one with the prosthetic arm punched his timer and moved a chess piece like a concentrating automaton. The assistant manager was Acknahd, a grad assistant in Microbiology whose overwhelming federal loans forced him to take an extra job here.
Acknahd, the mad Arab from Lovecraft that Mark identified, was far displaced from the Tree of Life in Bahrain. Once he told Mark how much he missed his homeland. Mark had seen the same look on all the foreign nationals.
A loathing of the climate and of spoiled Americans, and revenging all by blowing the exam curves all to hell.
Mark didn?t see Pastor Bob that night. He remembered the conversation:
"I got some theories on video games as possible acceptors of Satanic spirits or entities."
A wisp of a man in size, the retired pastor gave an excellent non-stop argument.
"You see, the microchips in Galiga and Centipede are intricate circuits. I was a Navy electronics technician during the Korean Conflict. When I got the calling I figured out soon that sentient malevolent demons were housed inside this semiconductor morass.
"They send mesmerizing impulses that make those ghost images that become that phosphor glow of the plastic grid. This appears benign to children.
"Through tactile contact with the joystick and those action buttons, the kids are possessed. The more games they win, the more evil psychically transfers from this ?battery? of energy of quite sinister proportion."
It sounded quite demented, but perhaps only rated fourth in the cockamamie quotient Mark used to tally up the best of the friendly loons.
Was there some sort of psychic cell in the capacitors holding charges of netherworld energy? Not a chance.
But Mark had to ask him the same question he asked all of them: "Do you think the Batman logo is a Satanic symbol?" He could see the dollar cinema outside the restaurant window where he was sitting in his favorite booth. The A & P was next to the Blimpies Poorboy shop. The College Textbook supply was next to that. The Record Store adjoining that was run by hippie capitalists who reaped much college coin from the working-dog masses.
Pastor Bob had said five months ago he had to catch a bus that morning. He was going to the spot where Mormon founder Joseph Smith had been stoned to death two hundred years ago. Mark had nodded in agreement with Bob about the correctness of Smith’s predictions of the end of the world.
Rotten luck was all. And of course Mark did not blink an eye with the premise of Christ making his way to South America. Maybe He came over during an America’s Cup race or the Concorde. Maybe He had some tasty waves and shot the gap all the way across.
Pastor Bob’s ravings registered fairly high on Mark’s gauge of utter psychodrama. Most of these guys were essentially harmless.
There was Jedediah, the defrocked chaplain with a penchant for snuggling up to second class seamen. Extrapolated his five point theory that proved the pyramids were actually built by angels:
"It has all been documented nicely. The three main pyramids that spanned about 16 dynasties or so were not built by poor bondaged bastards with blocks and tackles and a prayer on their lips. It was legions of angels!"
"Uhuh. Everyone knows angels have incredible lifting thrust."
"More than a Sikorsky helicopter?"
"Yessir! And since they were emasculated by the Big Boss Man, there’s no chance in Hell of getting a hernia."
Amen, Mark thought. He had never imagined an Archangel wearing a truss.
And Mark had asked him also:
"Do you think the Batman Logo is a Satanic symbol?" Mark now looked out the window into the drizzle that was met by pitted pavement, under vapor lamps that gave some reckoning to the blackness.
The two guys who topped those previous two were an animated flake named George Rhombus, and a country fatboy named "Nimrod" who had read every syllable of Blavatsky and Velakovsky, to give himself breadth re- garding lost empires.
The argument started during an escalating Dungeons and Dragons war here late into the night about four months ago. Mark witnessed the whole thing and ran home to scribble it in his diaries:
George Rhombus: "And I?m telling you, it’s widely conceded that MU was the sacred motherland of humanity, and Atlantis was a mere outpost! Says so right here!" (holding up a copy of Mu: The Motherland of Man by James Churchward)
Nimrod: "Bull-oney!" This book here (waves large exceedingly boring looking volume by Blavatsky) shows how you?re full of it! ATLANTIS is the original home of civilization, and MU was just a moth-eaten, second-rate imitator! What about Lemuria, huh?"
George Rhombus: "Please, let’s not traffic in irrelevancies! If Lemuria existed at all, it was just a Muvian way-station to their remote, barbaric, and utterly insignificant colony of Atlantis!" (waves Churchward triumphantly)
Nimrod: (leafing through Blavatsky) "That’s a crock! Everyone of any consequence knows Lemuria existed! It was Atlantis’s main stopover on the way to their colony of MU! Look at this!" (waggles illustration in Blavatsky in his face)
George Rhombus: "That has no bearing on our present discussion! And don?t try to overwhelm ME with Blavatskiana! I was a Theosophist when you were still losing to the Germans in the Russian campaign. I saw the light and started piecing together the REAL occult history of Mankind, with Churchward as my infallible guide!"
Nimrod: "Churchward didn?t know a Lakh from a Crore, and his oceanography’s all wet!"
Nimrod: "How do you explain Altimira, Stonehenge, and Tassili?"
George: "Flukes! Muvian Remnants! How do you explain Easter Island? Nan Madol? Nazco? The Kalahari Desert?" It was beautiful. He asked both of them the same question after breaking them up:
"Do you think the Batman logo is a Satanic symbol?"
Nimrod asked: "Which one, the old one or the new design?" Thinking of this, Mark had a gleeful smirk on his face as he sipped. The one armed chess man scratched his gimp arm. Soon Mark would have had as much coffee as Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price had when Lovecraft visited New Orleans.
The dangerous part was returning home. On the IHOP hegira back to the dorm he had been accosted by a juiced pool hustler in a Salvation Army suit. He had been slam danced by some shaved headed thugs percolating on love drugs gone bad, wearing fascist manifestos. How many times had he been jumped by mental cases still woozy from giving plasma on Chimes Street? Eight bucks a bag and always at least 40 proof.
LSU’s bohemian culture was generated as far back as thirties radicals on up through the beatniks and surged quite well during the mind-expanding sixties. The campus coasted easily through the shameless seventies, welcomed the advent of punks, subversive skinheads, until that garden variety hatecrooks of punk rock and grim nihilism emerged in the nineties.
Mark was actually sentimental about his adventures. Seeking out the mystics who espoused Huxley’s peyote button-chewing. That smug confidence of the English majors was not to be confused with the theater majors? flamboyance and the obnoxiousness of the music majors.
Mark was a slacker. The new model of perpetual student. Taking "Method Theory of Archeology," "Rome of the Caesars," "4th Century Latin Literature" when he should have been trying to graduate.
Now he looked down at his Batman t-shirt. The new design from the revamped Batman of the DARK KNIGHT and the movie. It was a year ago tonight that he was walking across the parking lot, making his way to the Ganges River, or his dormitory on the other end of campus.
He liked wearing the Batman t-shirt almost as much as he like the tie-dyed Captain Sunshine t-shirt that became his when it mysteriously ended up in his laundry basket.
Drenching humidity outside. Taenia, his favorite waitress, took his order.
"I?ll have the patty melt from hell," Mark said. She tried to smile.
"Saving the wicked chili for later?" she asked.
"Yes ma?am." Chili was good for reviving his constitution. It pumped him up for that long ambulatory walk home.
Mostly coffee was all he could afford. There was some sort of magic that enormous vats of coffee did to light his neuron-firing nodes. To make him feel excited during the throes of talking to truly-flawed lunatics. Strictly fodder for his diaries. Hell, it was Fat City for suspending his beliefs. Just that single moment when he would weigh the vast proportion of diseased logic from his unknowing acquaintance. What a delight, listening to these aliens from beyond anyone’s sensibilities.
It was the time of night that gave it a surreal quality. The mass of students soundly asleep just made it all the more palatable. It wasn?t enough to seek out "bad" horror and Sci Fi movies. He was hopelessly addicted to listening to the eternal questions.
But how in hell could any sort of cosmic riddle be unlocked and freed in this capitalist working dog diner? Alone, he looked about him to the orange vinyl motif surrounding him.
Everything really did blank out when he was in the throes of animated debate. The fry cooks anticipating completion of their doctorates, the chess automatons, the Nobel Laureate English majors-all vanished during debate.
This was a free-thinking climate. This was as far away as he could get from the stillborn unoriginality found coming from the dutiful cloned students clawing their way to moderate grades. He devoured all of History, Literature, Fine Arts, Humanities. Still awaiting him were the eternal questions. This greasy spoon franchise was hardly a think tank like the RAND corporation.
But that was the beauty of it. This perfectly sweet diseased clientele was the right direction. The more outlandish the premise, the closer to truth.
He saw that Taenia was glowering a bit. The chess automatons were feebly hitting on her again.
No chance of him cheering her up. Let her simmer. He saw two coeds come in for a late study session.
He would be loitering, except for the one single cup of refillable coffee. It kept him his freedom to sit and read Will Durant or slick science fiction or anything. He gladly consumed one paperback a night. But tonight he was too tired to read another version of the Battle of Hastings. This one attested that the eclipse that occurred during the battle in 1066 was a Velakovskian meteorite fluke. He put it aside, on the smooth Formica table. He was so tightly squeezed into the booth he could hardly move. The drizzling mist continued outside the window.
He reached for his backup, Robert E. Howard’s Almuric. But reading was too passive, for now. In the last two weeks he had gotten only run-of-the-mill theorists who subsisted solely on Chariots of the Gods and Hal Lindsay apocalypses. Throw a stick in the IHOP and you could hit four of them. It took true imagination to extrapolate further into theosophy. To throw out documented theorems to understand a fundamentalist. To see how a Baby- Buster New-Waver turns nihilistic after an Ontology class. To see the swaying of a bible-thumper from acquired beliefs now mortified by some devious philosophy professor.
Back to the traversal of the parking lot. Accursed it once was. It was the same as it always was: dark, wet, a series of puddle craters, tiny unison of a larger whole. He was wearing his Batman t-shirt. He shuddered.
Tonight he got lucky. He was now talking with the last real loon, Miller Stevens. Here was a man whose conspiracy-paranoia paved inroads into incredulity.
He was wearing a black jacket and aviator glasses.
"Venusians are buying up oil leases, the gains are funneled back to the planet Venus, where soon there will be an invasion that not even H. G. Wells could have surmised!" Miller Stevens looked at his Gorbachev wristwatch, holding a well read PRAVDA in his left hand from the city newsstand.
Mark looked at him with a slight grin.
"So they live on the Venusian surface?" (Mark knew the correct word for inhabitants of Venus was "Venerians.")
"Of course", Miller said, his toupee sliding forward with every nod, then pulled back in a talented maneuver.
"Well, uh, how do these Venusians live in 900 degree heat?" Mark pro- jected. He was ready to lay into him with Mariner probe findings, Russian pods sending data before melting on the surface, computer mapping through the huge syrup of the muddled clouds surrounding Venus. All of it was mapped and there were no condos in sight.
"Well, that’s easy enough. These creatures are more metallic than us, practically 100% base metals. Besides, you know that scientists admit discovering ice particles in the upper atmosphere!"
"Yes, way up!" But Mark was being a bit too difficult. Don?t want to tip it. Don?t want to chase him away. This was beginning to be a junky habit.
Like a monkey on his back, a psychological Jones.
"So, it’s like that book, The Space Merchants?"
"Well, kind of like that! But when the Earth recognizes the free market outside our galaxy, there will be no affirmative action for Klingons! No setasides for Romulans!" He looked at his Gorbachev wristwatch again.
Mark finished his sixth cup.
"See this?" Miller said, pointing to his wristwatch. "It keeps Russian Navy time."
"That’s very interesting," Mark said. Total Bullshit. Miller Stevens got up, looking uneasy. The schizoid look was ingrained like a slant on his face.
He walked out and Mark thought, would he see Miller again? The best theory, run through, discoursed, extrapolated masterfully, Mark would spill every tidbit into his diary after he woke up. He forgot to ask him about the Batman logo before he left the International House of Pancakes.
He always seemed to go back to his Batman t-shirt. Just how do most people regard Batman logos? How could a nameless neophyte skinhead brimming with hallucinatory mood drugs, an extension of one’s own psyche, take the Batman logo on Mark’s t-shirt as Satanical? Proctor and Gamble went to great litigious lengths to prove they had no ties with Lucifer.
He didn?t like to think about it. He had always trod the same path through the ethereal dawn skittering outside the IHOP slow glass across from the failing Dollar cinema. Past the Baskin Robbins to McDonald’s to safety on the campus. It was always just the matter of getting across Chimes Street. All the times he had been a patsy to punks bumming quarters on Chimes street.
The legendary street that bounded the eastern end of a campus housing both intellect and ignorance had led Mark to expect anything.
So he still couldn?t rid himself of the damning pervasive event six months ago. Too much caffeine? Having turned blind corners after a loony coup d?etat in the restaurant three months ago he had only tried to walk home. Yawning like Chewbacca, he had walked past the Mc Dee’s and up the incline. He had then seen the lurking man. Technicolored t-shirt of its own, this pitiable skinhead had no right to threaten him.
If a skinhead has figured out how interesting and fun it is to have a criminal mind, then beware! Hell, Albert Camus often dwelled on it. What the hell else could a future Nobel Laureate do while selling auto parts? In his diaries he put that he thought of himself as a protagonist in this scenario. Walking across a parking lot. Mark borrowed Newton’s Particle Universe Theory. First, the parking lot-Zero Particle Universe. Nothing happens. Then, enter himself, Mark-a one particle universe. The dreadnought, nameless, skinhead comes along, pure sublimated essence of sound and fury, signifying nothing. He is the second particle in this ideal model. So just how does each particle in this algorithm of closure affect on the other? The gravity of Pluto still affects the sun, however minuscule.
Guys didn?t call Churchill a wus, and he didn?t pump iron. So where does the skinhead, let’s call him...what would be a good nomenclature? Pol Pot? Nosferatu? Just a would-be Diabolist apprenticing? Demon in residence? The diabolist thug made eye contact with me before I caught his gnarly frame in blue jeans, skull earrings, an extra iron cross on the opposite ear. Shiny boots, like a good goose stepper. The IHOP might as well have been the Reich Chancellery to him. Nazi’s won the elections in 1933 Germany.
And they surely had victories in the streets that year. Now this Diabolist probably had no vision of Germanic history. That block of Igneous rock that his bare head was carved from, like on Easter Island, emitted nothing but barely suppressed derangement. Mark had tried to walk past, giving special care to feign mild-mannered friendliness. Mark’s black-on-yellow Bat logo, (truly a dark furtive symbol indicating power) had become visible to our skinhead. There must have been a sudden twist in his 2000 ml brain. That mindset of white-hot hatred that gives birth to crimes not nearly as premeditated as Camus’s thoughtful protagonists. The Diabolist skinhead was set off.
So Mark, the striding protagonist of the Greek tragedy, was approaching a force, as antagonist, and what is missing? The conflict. A ratiocination goes forth.
Mark remembered, pidgin guttertalk:
"You?re wearing a Satanical sign!" in blinding rage. Mark shuddered then, awakened from his sleepy reckoning without box compass, or the beacons of Oxford. Mark had paused from his lazy stride to Pentagon dorms where a bed was waiting for him, with feather pillow and flannel sheets.
So in this two particle universe there was that initial confrontation. But walking across a parking lot was hardly fodder for the mythopoeic pantheon he was creating. Don?t always go for melodramatics, even if you almost got killed. Hindsight.
See, the fucking skinhead had a sheathed machete. At first Mark had thought it was a Samurai sword. But this was not the Gate, or the Stone wall built in 789 AD.
Yes, he had seen Rashomon. Yes, if there were several versions of truth, we could all go home. The Burmese Harp or Shishiku Endo’s book about systematic torturing of twelve Jesuits could apply here.
This encounter could have been as civilized as Go, a Japanese game of chess.
The skinhead then finished his half-witted solipsism:
"You?re a follower of Jimmy Swaggart." (then pointed to the Batman logo emblazoned thusly across Mark’s chest that he had on now) And he pulled the sword out for Mark to taste his steel.
Mark sat here now musing about how he had built up the incident into Teutonic myth.
Battles are won, not wars. Six months ago in that Quatermass smoking pit of a parking lot was his particular Torquemada. Mark’s brains had then turned into Shake-a-Pudding.
When a skinhead draws a sword on you, you essentially haul ass. If you are very lucky, you don?t shit in your Hanes briefs while chugging along. The last time Mark had to actually run, it was high school gym class. He was far back in the pack then with asthma sufferers, fat boys, geeks, and other congenial nerds all hating every second of the torture.
Six months ago Mark had run for God knew how far? He remembered that the guy lagged, then stopped at a certain point. About by the McDonalds.
End of story. Rapid telephone calls in succession to his friends, after informing every stranger in Pentagon dorm. To get it off his chest, for walkingtalking Jesus’s sake! That had edified into myth now. He had no reason to keep that edge, the cautious third eye, when leaving the International House of Pancakes.
So the Bullshit Quotient had been blown way off the curve by Miller Stevens exposing Century 21 Aliens negotiating with Iran (Persia), Syria (Babylonia), Mesopotamia.
Mark now looked around the vacant restaurant. He ate the last bit of the wondrous Patty Melt Sandwich. Good meal for a few ounces of plasma. The clock hung like the sword of Damocles above the orange beehive cashier reading Dean R. Koontz. The clock said 5 minutes till 5. Navy time "04:90."
Time to find that pillow. He gave Taenia a small tip and smiled at her. She had a happier expression. He walked out, knowing he would have to give some more blood tomorrow.
The parking lot was out there. The theater was showing for some obscure reason, Kurosawa’s Rashomon.
Oh shit... One foot in front of the other, on a Euclidean coordinate plane.
Take shortest asymptote...to Pentagon Dorm. Fuck Pythagoras. He heard muffled shouts in the distant fog. Mark tried to focus. The coffee was coming up.
The shouts continued, he couldn?t make them out. He braced himself as he saw a hazy outline in the predawn that was exactly what he had been fearing...
He would not see a resolution of the eternal questions posed before at the International House of Pancakes.
They approached him, breaking into a trot. The Highwaymen out of Thackeray. They drew their sabres...