Orwellian Amazon INSANITY!

Rack and ruin, smiting and wrath, horror upon horror to the goblins, micro-gremlins and scatterbrained millennial “thinkers” that currently operate Amazon.com, a company which I now truly believe to be a devious tentacular weapon of the Illuminati (or whatever trendy cabal so many crazy-ass conspiracy theorists are barking about incessantly these days.)

Get THIS shit:

I have been an Amazon customer since its inception in the late 1990s, and a Prime Member since Prime began priming everyone’s proverbial pump. Across two states and–gee, let’s see–SIX FUCKING HOMES (I buy and flip property for kicks) I have used the same, super-secret beloved password for my Amazon account for over TEN YEARS. Never had to change it. Never had to alter a digit.

I recently sold my latest home and inhabited another in my beloved California woodlands, away from the hustling, bustling, mouth-breathing mediocrity of human civilization.

Settled and recovered from the typical stress of a major “relocation event,” I sat down yesterday with my iPad to undertake a bit of leisurely online shopping via that monolithic monstrosity named after the snaking, insidious South American river where people like me are routinely eaten by crocodiles or shot by bandits. I entered my email address and then my cherished password.

WE’RE SORRY. BUT WE DETECT THAT YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO ACCESS THIS ACCOUNT FROM A NEW LOCATION OR A NEW DEVICE. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROCEED FURTHER, YOU MUST VERIFY IT’S YOU BY PHONE OR VIA EMAIL CODE. CLICK BELOW IF YOU WISH AMAZON TO SEND YOU A NEW VERIFICATION CODE FOR THIS DEVICE OR LOCATION. (I paraphrase, but pretty goddamned accurately.)

WTF? New location, sure, but hardly a new device.

Eager to get on with things, I clicked the “verify by email” option. I’n not going to go fetch my phone. Who wants to mess with texts from another, separate goddamned contraption or brook possible entanglements featuring befuddled “help center” employees in Mumbai? Not I, baby. Not I.

After a genuine pain-in-the-ass side-trip, toggling to access my Microsoft account to retrieve THE CODE, I toggle back and enter the friggin’ set of random numbers on my Amazon page and am able to shop accordingly.

I roll my eyes, but figure THE CODE was needed for the purposes of devoted, super, Super-DUPER overprotection and “Safe Space Satisfaction” concerns that some rail-thin 25 year-old from Silicon Valley with an incongruous lumberjack beard and nerd glasses (her name is “Cynthia”) convinced “the team” to implement in order to make things extra ironclad for Amazon’s longtime customers.

Today, I wanted to return something via Amazon. Always been such an easy and convenient benefit, the returning-process, especially with Prime membership. I go to my Amazon page and am prompted to enter my password, as usual. My intimate, well-remembered password, so dear to one’s existential wellbeing.

THE PASSWORD IS INCORRECT.

Okay, maybe I typed it incorrectly, which never happens because I’ve been typing the damned thing for over a decade of constant commerce, but you never know. I’m human. I’m flawed.

I enter it again, more carefully.

THE PASSWORD IS INCORRECT.

And again.

THE PASSWORD IS INCORRECT.

Then it dawns on me. Those bastards.

The meaningless “verification code” they demanded I use from the previous day has now become my new password!

By now, I’m steaming hot and drooling venom like an atrax robustus spider in attack stance.

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Off I toggle to my Microsoft account to dig up that idiot clutch of code-numbers, find them, then enter them at Amazon as my password. Presto. They work.

I’m so ticked off that my longtime password is no longer apparently valid, that I want to kick someone, but no one’s around except the cat and she’s just too damned lovable to kick. Damn her eternally.

I return my item and arrive at the stage on Amazon wherein one can print a return label or email a label. Neither of the options works when I click.

Okay. Maybe my iPad is acting up a bit. Apple’s products have been declining in quality and increasing in convoluted inanity, these past several years.

I decided I’d just go get my Macbook Air, access Amazon, and print the mofo label using that machine.

WE’RE SORRY. BUT WE DETECT THAT YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO ACCESS THIS ACCOUNT FROM A NEW LOCATION OR A NEW DEVICE. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROCEED FURTHER, YOU MUST VERIFY IT’S YOU BY PHONE OR VIA EMAIL CODE. CLICK BELOW IF YOU WISH AMAZON TO SEND YOU A NEW VERIFICATION CODE FOR THIS DEVICE OR LOCATION.

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I was now forced to secure TWO different jumbled-up hogshit numerical CODE passwords for the separate devices in my ownership. AND THE SAME APPLIES TO MY iPHONE. That’s three new passwords I have to remember and access for a trio of convenient creations that are supposed to make my life-experience easier, speedier, and more devil-may-care.

Now, I want to throw all of these dastardly Hell-whizbangs out the window and live in a cave, eating acorns, pulling deer ticks out of my ass-crack, and wearing mud for clothes, like the local Indian tribes did around here 300 years ago.

But I may not survive long enough to enjoy such a simple existence.

Any minute now, I expect an Amazon Drone to buzz its way up to my remote woodland aerie, cut a 6 x 6 hole in the wall with a searing blue laser-beam, throw me down on the bed and perform a full colonoscopy and brain scan, only to fly away without so much as a kiss or a cuddle.

But there will be a note left on the bedside table. You can bet on that. It’ll read:

I’M SORRY TO LEAVE SO SUDDENLY, BUT IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPERIENCE THIS THOROUGH EXAMINATION AND SOUL-GUTTING INTRUSION ONCE AGAIN, PLEASE GO TO YOUR AMAZON PAGE ON ANY DEVICE AND FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS TO OBTAIN A VERIFICATION CODE. WE NEED TO KNOW IT’S YOU.

Keep Shopping,

Jeff Bezos

 

 

 

The More Things Change …

BOOK REVIEW by Jonathan Kieran

THE GOLDEN ASS, or METAMORPHOSES

Apuleius

(translation by E.J. Kenney*)

Penguin Classics Edition

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Though I tend to eschew the once noble and now tragically democratized art of “professional” book reviewing, the occasional exception is made for some vaunted pillar of the past that gleams with particular resonance or charms my pants off, quite literally.

To wit, I am pleased to report that few literary experiences have proved more satisfactory than reading Apuleius’s The Golden Ass whilst naked in bed.

Allow me to explain.

The Golden Ass is the ancient story of a sophisticated, witty, and curious Mediterranean gentleman named Lucius, who travels to Thessaly in search of an intimate encounter with the powers of witchcraft. He finds what he is looking for, but, by a stroke of near-slapstick misfortune, Lucius is accidentally transformed from a man into a jackass. Thereafter he is flung headlong into a series of tragicomic adventures that scale the heights and depths of human behavior, all while the blind goddess of Fate spins her wheel with reckless indifference. 

One of the best parts about The Golden Ass? It truly is as ancient as it is timeless.

Depending upon which bickering clique of scholastic rivals one chooses to favor, this raunchy, rip-roaring, hilarious, and achingly brilliant picaresque work was probably composed around 140 CE. As such, it is the only complete novel from classical antiquity that has survived centuries of the cyclical tumults, indulgences, and cultural perils it actually documents in order to enchant the modern psyche and, peradventure, to forewarn.

The author, Apuleius (AP-yoo-‘LEE-us or a-‘PYOO-lee-us, take your pick) was born to a fairly wealthy family in the ancient Numidian colony of Madauros, not far from the North African coastline in what is present-day Algeria. Receiving a hefty inheritance upon the death of his magisterial father, Apuleius traipsed at leisure around the Mediterranean Basin, studying Platonic philosophy and rhetoric in Athens and Rome. He eventually garnered a significant measure of renown as a lecturer and prolific writer of everything from poetry to Socratic exegesis.

These and other biographical tidbits about Apuleius’s adventurous existence can be gleaned from even the most cursory glance at encyclopedic entries devoted to the subject. I shall therefore dispense with an assessment of these details, for the most part, focusing rather upon the direct impact of his work upon this contemporary reader. Make no mistake: I have discovered prima facie both timeless and timely qualities to The Golden Ass that underscore truths about the astonishing constancy of human nature at its most vulgar and its most spiritually sublime.

Therein lies also the paradoxical aspect of Apuleius’s masterpiece, which is a seamless and almost surreal fusion of dazzling human reprehensibility with the quest for immortal “otherness” via some form of divine consecration. Apuleius demonstrates in The Golden Ass that, no matter the era or century, just as all societies are capable of wallowing, so too are they inclined to yearn—through selfish impulses both calculated and haphazard—for ultimate freedom from the mire of their undoing. Our bawdy author reveals this with such indelible wit and wisdom that we are tempted to forget his reminder that the journey is ever-manipulated and observed on the outskirts by gods, demons, and other entities that are as misguided, capricious, and infuriating as human beings themselves.

It is not my intention to render a complete summation of the plot of The Golden Ass within the limitations of this blog review. There shall be no forensic exploration of the myriad revels and tribulations that unfold as our anti-hero, Lucius, careens toward his unexpected destiny.

Instead, I encourage you to read the book for yourself, perchance aided by a few impressions and a reminder about the basic narrative. The Golden Ass introduces us to a wealthy young man named Lucius, who travels with his horse and a manservant to the city of Hypata, in Thessaly, ostensibly to conduct a bit of business. On the way, the all-too-curious fellow encounters a pair of squabbling fellow travelers, one of whom is persuaded to entertain his companions with a tantalizing personal story about witches, whose powers were known to be rife throughout the region. Intrigued to the point of insatiable obsession by the tale, Lucius determines to arrange his own close-encounter with the magical arts and, upon reaching Hypata, opportunity wastes little time in presenting itself. Indeed, Lucius’s not-so-gracious host in the city is married to a man-hungry sorceress of the highest caliber—the most potent wonderworker in all of witch-rich Thessaly!

Not inclined to engage directly with his host’s mighty and unpredictable wife, Lucius instead turns to scheming and pursues the attentions of the witch’s maidservant, a buxom lass who knows a thing or two about her mistress’s powers, being a helpful apprentice-witch in her own right. A rather lusty and clandestine affair blossoms between the two—Lucius is not about to forego the bumping, grinding pleasures of the flesh while conniving—and his goal of observing genuine witchcraft in action is swiftly realized. Photis, the eager maidservant, arranges for Lucius to peek from behind a door one evening while the sorceress of the manor, Pamphile, transforms herself into an owl using an enchanted ointment. Our unlikely hero is duly mesmerized by the mechanics of this metamorphosis and, once Pamphile flies from her bower in owl-form, he insists that Photis procure the same ointment so that he, too, might experience the thrill of these miraculous airborne delights.

Photis aims to please her poetic, priapic, and persuasive lover but, unnerved by the possibility of her mistress’s sudden return, she fumbles in the dark among the charmed paraphernalia and procures the wrong unguent. Stripped naked and nearly mad with the hunger to undergo his own transformation, Lucius smears himself from head to toe with the stuff. Alas, the desired feathers and talons are not forthcoming. Instead, he changes promptly into a jackass.

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The magnitude of this catastrophic mistake is not lost upon Apuleius’s two horrified characters in the scene, nor upon his readers, ancient or modern. Themes of a prurient obsession with “seeing beyond the veil,” as it were, and peering from illicit vantage points into supernatural mysteries unfit for profane human curiosity rise hilariously to the fore.

The comedic irony of the botched metamorphosis aside, Lucius is of course terrified to find himself trapped in the graceless body of an ass while still fully possessed of his human intellectual faculties. The first-person narration, as they say, is a scream. Instead of piercing the sky on velvet wings, Lucius’s already restless sense of entrapment as a man burdened by imperfection, frustration, and existential clumsiness is now magnified a hundred-fold in the form of an ass. Photis, the nerve-shredded bedmate and erstwhile “apprentice” witch, assures him that a cure for the backfire is easily obtained; the woeful creature needs only to munch upon common rose petals to regain his true form. In fact, she dashes off to fetch some. This sounds easy enough and an immediate sense of impending resolution enters the narrative as Lucius hee-haws a sigh of relief. 

All shall be well.

The error shall be corrected. 

He’s learned his lesson. 

Magic is nothing to trifle with. 

Fortunately for the reader, it is at this very moment that the entire house is raided by a horde of bloodthirsty bandits and poor Lucius the ass is whisked away as part of the contraband.

From the beginning of Lucius’s adventures, then, we are presented with a crystalline illustration of Apuleius’s primary idea—one that will manifest itself in numerous ways throughout the rest of the novel. Namely, in Lucius’s desire to take literal flight by supernatural means, the desperation of the human quest to escape the fetters of earthly existence and commune with the supernatural is framed succinctly, as is the damning disillusionment that results when such a quest is thwarted at every turn. Not only does Lucius fail to even get off the ground in his spiritual/sensual pursuit, he is rendered more confused and deformed in his human misery than ever before.

The book struck a number of chords with me. In fact, it played me like lyre.

How often in the past fifty years of this present era have we witnessed the near-frenetic tendency of human beings (from all walks of life) to seek intimate connections with the “Great Beyond” through all manner of obscure and non-traditional avenues? 

I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. In one way or another, I believe we have all done it, or want to. To one degree or another, people laboring under the typical stresses of existence while nevertheless possessed of the time and luxury to “shop” for enlightenment tend to flit from one metaphysical storefront to the next, as if sampling from a vast candy-box of assorted spiritual cremes. 

It is an almost paradoxical bourgeois phenomenon in our day, requiring a certain level of material comfort, wanderlust, and technological convenience. Those who toil (or who used to toil) through ten or twelve hour days on farms, in factories, or behind desks have not nearly the time to pursue such divine dainties, even if the inclination is there. It is therefore unsurprising that the lives of such individuals tend often to be structured and uncomplicated due to circumstance, whatever their level of spiritual probation. By contrast, the former demographic can prove to be jittery and perpetually famished amid their otherworldly endeavors, despite a comparative wealth of resources, time, and brain cells to burn in search of any and every heavenly glimpse.

In the past half-century, especially, the West has witnessed an explosion of obsessive interest in the occult, in New Age fads, in non-denominational Protestantism, in storefront sects that seem to emerge out of thin air, in Eastern mysticism, in outright brainwashing cults, and in pseudo-religious movements built around the ostensible worship of everything from comic book characters to television programs. The common thread in all seems to be spun from an abhorrence towards (or fascination with) the apocalyptically decadent. The extra-curious have even mined ancient Gnostic, kabbalistic, and pagan systems to satisfy a disturbing and proliferating desire to depart the mortal coil—while still enfleshed!—and pierce the proverbial veil, any veil. Even atheism has been transmogrified into a trendy start-up cosmology, replete with credal formulae, dogmatic tropes, and actual churches.

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Such phenomena cannot be attributed entirely to some polymerization of happenstance multicultural “discovery” occasioned by the rise of globalism and the information highway. Rather, there has been an outward hunt for the esoteric, a kind of rag-and-bone-picking over those cultures that can be perceived as mysterious and seductive compared to the stolid structuralisms and post-structuralisms of the West.

And it is unmistakably the dominion of the bourgeois, of the bored and the bratty—just as Lucius was bourgeois, bored, and bratty in his time. Just as Apuleius, for all of his wondrous education and talent, was bourgeois in his origins and thus able to speak so authentically for Lucius while whisked away on a cavalcade of misadventure. 

The Golden Ass is, at its most fundamental, a farce about the human search for esoteric salvation beyond the tried and traditional parameters. There can be no doubt that this “secretive” impulse has led to all-out expeditions for supernatural revelation at the societal level throughout many periods of history. After the Industrial Revolution, for example, we may witness some of the first modern stirrings in the cogitations of Madame Blavatsky and the Spiritualist movement, but there can be no question that the most furious acceleration of such a widespread hunger belongs to our own era, comprising the final forty years of the 20th Century and continuing to the present day with no sign of abatement. 

This parcel of time has afforded the Western world with unique new stresses and fears, alongside unparalleled technological conveniences and relative comforts. This, again, is the Great Contradiction. These are the times in which entire civilizations begin to flirt with decadence and moral collapse at the very moment when they have more weapons to combat decadence and moral collapse than at any other juncture in history. In many cases today, religious fervor becomes intertwined with the aforementioned decay, if only to serve as a cloak intended to both conceal and comfort amid the pervasive rot. (picture of Jan Crouch)

Oh, indeed, there are a number of striking parallels between our times and those of Apuleius, who flourished under the economically prosperous reigns of Marcus Aurelius and the Antonine emperors. As mentioned, Lucius (like Apuleius himself) was a member of an affluent and increasingly mobile gentry in the sprawling empire. Apuleius’s initial inheritance and subsequent wealth were not excessive compared to some others, but he always possessed sufficient funds to navigate the seas, highways, and byways of the empire with a certain level of safety from the various banes of his day—bandits, rogue thieves, highwaymen, etc. All of these people show up in bold relief throughout the novel, and they aren’t lovable miscreants of the Pirates of the Caribbean milieu. Furthermore, those ancients who were comfortably ensconced in the cities and suburbs of the Mediterranean Basin enjoyed privileges that allowed them to indulge lavishly and at leisure in the largely imported intellectual, spiritual, culinary, and sexual luxuries of the day.

Sound familiar?

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Lucius’s asinine descent into the vortex of hapless catastrophe is dizzying in its acceleration. In ass-form, he is captured, recaptured, traded, and abused by one den of thieves after another, forced to serve the orgiastic needs of a band of roving eunuch-priests, enslaved by adulterers, adulteresses, murderers, and cutthroats of every stripe. Even so, the novel never fails to amuse with its tragicomic asides (remember that Lucius retains human sentience throughout his trials) and observations about the human condition. It rarely fails to repulse the reader even amid bursts of laughter. 

As many scholars have noted, Apuleius was rendering an accurate historical depiction of the depravity, criminality, danger and moral decay of his financially flourishing but spiritually turbulent age. In this sense, one can see how and why Cervantes drew such plentiful inspiration from The Golden Ass in his portrayal of Don Quixote, and why Shakespeare paid homage to Apuleius within the verses of A MidSummer Night’s Dream, his own paean to magical contretemps. One even wonders if hints of Apuleius’s gift for plotting a masterful picaresque fugue can be detected in a tour-de-force like John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces and the braying of his Ignatius J. Reilly. I think so.

More than anything, I recognized unquestionable parallels with our own particular time, along with more delightful (and depressing) proof to undergird the notion of plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. As perhaps the most glimmering jewel of all, I also believe that I encountered a fellow curmudgeon in the fulsome bloom of his own artistic misanthropy.

Yes, Apuleius relished the chance to expose the inanities of Assholes and Stupid People, and he did so in a way that allows certain perceptive readers to practically hear him cackling gleefully across the centuries even as he wrote the story down on papyrus for the first time. Little wonder I loved the book. It’s one after my own cold-blooded heart.

Then there is the issue of magic.

The ancient obsession with magic as exhibited in The Golden Ass does not resonate quite as much for me as a key parallel, at least from a modern perspective, because even though our society is still very much captivated by the idea of magic, thaumaturgy, and other fantastical possibilities, the ancient perception of magic was far more intricately bound-up with daily life and religion than it is today. Magic was a given, a very practical part of life at all levels of society. Witches and enchanters of great power were not only believed to have existed, but were sought-out and feared, as were the ramifications of more mundane, street-level curses and do-it-one’s-self spells that could, as Apuleius indicates on more than one occasion, “bind the very gods” to the will of the enchanter. 

Doubt not that, in ancient Roman times, any individual could be brought to trial before judge and tribunal on the accusation of subterfuge by witchcraft—even a person of such high-standing and repute as Apuleius. In fact, he himself was thus accused upon marrying a wealthy widow named Pudentilla, whose relatives and in-laws were not well-disposed towards Apuleius’s lawful apprehension of the family fortune. Suffice it to say that, no matter when Apuleius got around to writing The Golden Ass, he was already a master of both rhetoric and of the flummoxing of fools, especially where magic was concerned. He he demolished his accusers brilliantly—and again, hilariously—with his legendary but lesser-known Apologia (A Discourse on Magic).

This was a man with a wit that must’ve made the gods themselves shudder with envy …and anxiety.

Yes, Apuleius made mincemeat of The Stupid and loathed any hint of stupidity in himself, if he acknowledged any whatsoever, which is debatable. He so thoroughly savored running rings around willful numbskulls that a rich ability to lampoon his own peccadilloes must remain uncertain. Then again, if the character of Lucius was truly intended to represented Apuleius himself under such hypothetical (and perhaps more youthful) circumstances, then we must admit with enthusiasm that the man possessed the insight and capacity to laugh at his own foibles with all the satirical heft he was able to heap upon others. Let us face it: he is having as much fun as the reader, while brandishing the courage to laugh at the entire blazing charade and irrevocability of it all. Apuleius had the nerve not only to laugh, but to dissect and flambé the disgrace that is the human species, the abject chaotic mess and utter filth that is this babbling collective of apes, all daring to propagate the doctrine that they, in the midst of their inherent squalor, were originally made in the image of God.

In the fetid and pompous feasts, in the revels of thieves and townspeople, in the hubris of wealthy denizens throughout The Golden Ass, I see undeniable images of the West’s current gluttony, debauchery, and widespread self-indulgence at almost every level. I witness staring back at me our “new” tendency to transform every once-sacred, solemn holiday into a veritable Mardi Gras of ongoing excess, especially among people who should be old and wise enough to avoid the expected extremes of wanton youth. The ramshackle state of human civility amid such obvious prosperity affords yet another striking parallel. Everyone in Apuleius’s world, from god to grifter, has plenty of information … but little desire to share it with dignity or without compromising conditions.

Perhaps most intriguing of all, Apuleius follows many people of his era in believing with cardiac-level sincerity in the possibility of gods becoming human and humans becoming gods. His spectacular telling of the Passion of Cupid and Psyche, which anchors the novel in a damnable, divine, fevered, and sexually jolting oasis, underscores the pulsing ache beneath Apuleius’s humor, i.e. the putridness of human and animal and animal and human, indistinguishable for obvious reasons, and the dreadful yearning for even the most unworthy and idiotic bits of human muck to connect with the divine.

Then, suddenly, at the end of all this mayhem and murder and ribaldry and bestiality and knee-slapping hilarity, we meet Isis. She was the merciful Mother Goddess whose worship, by the time of Apuleius, had begun to eclipse those of all the state gods throughout the Roman Empire, promising compassion, purity, moral cohesion, and magical protection in this life, as well as eternal bliss in the next. 

When Lucius, at the end of his tether (literally) comes before Isis while in the lowly state of his hirsute enchantment, it is she who provides revelation and magical resolution in a manner so poignant, devout, and elegant that the juxtaposition against all that came before in the novel is almost jarring. Apuleius introduces us to many goddesses in the madcap tale of Lucius, but most are viewed with an icy, detached reverence at best, and one (Atargatis) with outright disdain. Isis, however, is presented as the ultimate answer and refuge—the long-sought enlightenment who solves the riddles of man, god, and magic under the aegis of her omniscience.  

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It seems impossible that Apuleius was satirizing Isis in any way whatsoever, so tender and transcendent is his treatment of her and of her priesthood at the culmination of this classic work.

Our great rhetorician was known to be an initiate of several of the popular “mystery cults” of the day—Eleusis, Mithras, etc.—which were capturing the imaginations of millions and banishing the old gods into the shadows. But the sobriety of Apuleius”s final dedication to Isis seems to bear the mark of a radiant and irreversible discovery after the relentless horror, of a headlong “leap of faith” (perhaps near the end of his life?) of the sort that would mark the rise of the Christian cult of salvation across the empire some two hundred years later. Let us not forget that Isis was the greatest competitor of Christ for the hearts and spiritual inclinations of the imperial people even into Late Antiquity. 

Whatever the case may be, The Golden Ass is treasure of multi-layered majesty. Little wonder that it not only survived the ages, but that its influence upon later works of great literature remains undeniable. The geniuses of the world have always had the ability to hone-in upon those with the distinctive gift for lampooning humanity at its most abhorrent, and the humanity to recognize inspiration at its most ultimate and transformative.

Apuleius gives us both, and his novel is more relevant now than it has been in many long, swift-vanishing centuries of time and tribulation.

Jonathan Kieran

August 3, 2018

California, USA

* E.J. Kenny (translator) is Emeritus Kennedy Professor of Latin in the University of Cambridge. His publications include a critical edition of Ovid’s amatory works. He is a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.

Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly for free.

Just For Kicks: Zanzibar Circus 6.19.18

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.

Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly for free.

Oh, the Carnage and Lifelong Scarification of Temptations Unresisted! #Pastries

I could see the danger clearly the instant I opened the box …

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Without doubt, this nondescript cardboard package had been sent by an enemy of diabolical cunning and almost incomprehensible Evil! Oh, the tiny sticker on the outside of the heinous delivery read: “Lafayette French Bakery and Café in Carmel, California,” but I knew that anything containing objects this lethal, this astonishingly insidious, could only emanate from warped minds hell-bent upon the ruination of all that is good and redemptive in civilization. What to do? What to do?

How on earth could one unsuspecting man diffuse such potentially explosive and catastrophic devices of mass-destruction (for that is clearly what they were) without risking the exposure of my fellow countrymen (and women) to the deadly fallout of nougaty goodness, rich chocolate despair, and widespread lemon-curd radiation? In those grim moments I grappled with the existential ramifications and a quaking sense of my own, tenuous mortality. The clock on the wall ticked with accusation and foreboding. Time was of the essence! Others were going-about their affairs, blissfully unaware of the Tsunami of Ruin about to come crashing down upon their innocent heads!

A decision had to made! Taking the first volatile Instrument of Certain Doom in my hand …

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… I knew that there was only one way to rid the earth of such calamitous forces. I gave myself, so that others might continue and thrive, that good people across the globe might rise to greet each new day with the sheer exaltation that comes with being alive.

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Sacrifice is never easy, and the carnage is brutal to behold–often remembered only in grainy, indistinct footage that can never pretend to capture the magnitude of the bloodshed. The courageous among us, however, forge onward. We do it because we must.

We must.
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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly for free. That would make him a Wattpadder or a Smashworder, not a writer.

Jonny’s Retro-Cinema Hall of LAME: Goo-Luvin’ Giants … with their own village!

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JONNY’S RETRO-CINEMA HALL OF LAME presents TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965)

GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Director Bert Gordon with “Stars” Beau Bridges, Tommy Kirk, Joy Harmon, Johnny Crawford, Ron Howard, Robert Random, Toni Basil, Vicki London, and other Assorted Aces of Awfulness

RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Based more loosely than a herd of rabid, wailing cows attempting to dance the Virginia Reel upon H.G. Wells’s novel, Food of the Gods, this colossal 1960s drive-in stinker tells the story of several wayward teenagers who gobble a mysterious (and ominously named) substance called “Goo”, transform into 30-ft. tall, adenoidal, acne-scarred versions of themselves, and proceed to wreak sweaty, giant-teenybopper havoc upon a God-fearing California town (it was still the mid-1960s, hence the combination of God-fearing + California). The film’s primary theme, aside from an attempt to illustrate the dynamic of teens getting the ultimate chance to rebel against “evil adults” is basically …  well … humongous tits. Humongous tits and the notion that humongous tits can be made exponentially larger simply with the addition of a goo-like substance. Clearly, Village of the Giants was ahead-of-its-time — practically oracular.

DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “I was big enough before!” (Joy Harmon as “Merrie,” after she notices her new, unwieldy wrecking ball-sized ta-tas)

BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: This film is considered a front-runner on many reputable “Worst Film in History” lists, but one cannot argue with the caliber of certain cast-members who would go on to genuine greatness. Beau Bridges and Ron Howard (the latter of whom guest-stars straight out of his Opie-era days as the pint-sized Goo-inventing “Genius”) are the obvious big names hopefully scarred forever by shame because of Village of the Giants. Even so, once she was reduced to normal buxom dimensions, Joy Harmon went on to littler and better things, and many people still remember the kooky Toni Basil from her “Oh Mickey, What a Pity” chart-topping days. The movie has a special resonance for me because I actually got to know one of its hot-mama “giants” — the lovely Vicki London, who played Georgette. Last I saw her, Vicki had a humorous attitude about her Bad Film Immortality. It probably helped that she went on to become one of California’s most successful realtors, as well as a motivational speaker, jewelry designer, and “transitional therapist.” She lives (under her real name) in the SF Bay Area and cooks a decent lamb chop. That’s all I got.

LAMENTABLE LEGACY: This magnificently awful film was supposedly spoofed by the legendary denizens of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but no one seems to have reissued the original episode. That is lamentable. Infinitely so.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?: Beau Bridges was last seen (at least by me) in drag in a hilarious episode of The Closer. Ron Howard dog-paddles in a pool filled with Hollywood glitter and freshly minted $100 bills. We know about Vicki’s lamb chops. Toni Basil is hopefully getting at least a $100 a year in Mickey residuals. Who knows? Who cares?

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: From the opening “mud-dance” super-classic scene to guest-musicians “The Beau Brummels,” you MUST behold the BADNESS to respect it and believe it.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly for free. That would make him a Wattpadder or a Smashworder, not a writer.

Checking-Out to Check-In

It has been awhile since I’ve blogged anything newsy on the official site (including Zanzibar strips) and there are reasons for that which I would like to take a few moments to explain.

First, I have been steeped for the past six months in the preliminary planning and initial creation-phases of my next, as-yet-untitled book, slated for release in 2019 by Brightbourne. It’s going to be a massive piece of work—lavishly illustrated and certainly the most ambitious project I will ever tackle in my lifetime, and the creative energy required to “pull off” such a feat is all-consuming, as well as a trifle terrifying, albeit in a good way. Drawing all the existential components together to essentially braid the synthesis of focus, desire, and discipline needed to accomplish such work makes everything else pale in comparison, by necessity.

Second (and no less crucial than my first point), I am repelled utterly by the tsunami-sized wave of pointless, trivial, hackneyed, and infantile “writing” that has swept across our popular culture at every level. The majority of people simply have no business venturing beyond the composition of a grocery-list when it comes to literary efforts, much less adhering to even the most basic standards of publication. I will gladly wear the mantle of “elitist” when it comes to this issue, and shall stand firm for the genuine writer’s dedication to superior craftsmanship, a trade that can claim roots in long years of steady discipline and talent well-nurtured.

Trust me: a master carpenter is not going to tell you that your uneven, uninhabitable birdhouse is a work of fine craftsmanship that merits an equal place alongside his (or her) professional creations. Not everyone deserves a trophy.

At all events, in a dead market flooded chiefly with thousands of puerile soft-porn “novels” written (and self-published!) by bored, illiterate housewives, or thrillers cobbled together with the creative equivalent of wallpaper-glue by old men who watch too much television, American Literature is, without question, at its nadir.

Then again, so is the culture of which the above-mentioned sort of dreck is merely a pestilential symptom.

That cannot be helped—the pendulum will have to swing in the opposite direction, and swing hard, before all of this detritus is brushed into the oblivion from whence it came, and where it belongs.

The same goes for blogging and for regularly posting opinions and ditherings and blatherings in a cyberspace already deafened by the roaring and lowing and chattering of the masses.

I don’t know why seasoned, professional writers even bother to do it, especially if they’re not getting paid. Look what incessant blogging has done to Neil Gaiman’s output. My G-d.

Another point: Nothing is ever really free, but if something is given away recklessly for “free,” I guarantee you that, 99.99% of the time, it is not worth even the most cursory glance.

Everything I shall have to say about the world, the cosmos, and its workings shall henceforth be found strictly within my books, and one shall have to pay for them. It’s a publisher’s job to entice potential audiences to do just that, at their cost, not mine.

Other than that, I’ll provide general-info updates when necessary and perhaps the occasional cartoon when fancy strikes.

Amid all of this, the greatest irony remains: the conglomeration of social media crap has got to be maintained to some degree by anyone in the publishing industry. These Official Facebooks, Twitters, .coms, and Instagrams should ideally be business cards for the serious writer, no more no less.

And no one should ever get excited about a business card.

Rather, get excited about the work that “card” represents. And if you’re a serious, seasoned writer, thank your lucky stars that literacy-levels are still high in Europe.

Ta, for now.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly for free. That would make him a Wattpadder or a Smashworder, not a writer.

Classic Retro Kids’ TV On-the-Cheap by Jonathan Kieran: MR. DRESSUP

CLASSIC RETRO KIDS’ TV ON-THE-CHEAP! by JONATHAN KIERAN

TODAY’S DUBIOUS HONOREE: MR. DRESSUP (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 1967-1996)

A single adult man who keeps a biologically unrelated little boy living in a tree in his backyard? Welcome to kids' TV from the CBC!

A single adult man who kept a biologically unrelated little boy living in a tree in his backyard? Welcome to kids’ TV from the CBC!

GUILTY OF VEHICULAR FANSLAUGHTER: Ernie Coombs (Canada’s answer to Mr. Rogers … only a lot more caffeinated and likely to bounce off the cardboard walls)

RUDIMENTARY ANALYSIS: Nothing touches the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for producing tatty but creative kids’ shows that were built to last and rife with mangy-looking puppets suffering from Borderline Personality Disorders! As a bumpkin-child in the woods of upstate New York, I couldn’t wait to fill my impressionable mind with that one-of-a-kind brand of folksy Canadian Crazy that the CBC pumped into our living rooms on a daily basis via programming like The Friendly Giant and the legendary Mr. Dressup.

Mr. Dressup was probably the “King” of cheesy children’s TV, at least for youngsters in our region who depended upon the seemingly limitless pipeline of entertainment thrift utilized by producers just across the border — producers who had to stage a show with nothing but four or five Ping-Pong balls, construction paper, two asbestos oven-mits and maybe a ukulele. The brain-trusts in Toronto knew how to BRING IT! I only wish today’s bloated and shiftless TV execs could do in an hour with their $9 million budgets what Mr. Dressup’s team obviously did in 10 minutes for a few bucks and a six-pack of Carling-O’Keefe.

Mr. Dressup ran daily from 1967-1996, amassing over 4,000 episodes packed with wanton childishness. That was the whole point! Like most children’s TV programs since the days of Caesar and Cleopatra, the setting and context of the actual characters on Mr. Dressup lacked verisimilitude. Wait. Scratch that. The set-up made absolutely no freakin’ sense whatsoever. First of all, you had a loner-type adult person with no fashion-sense and no apparent prospects for marriage (Mr. Dressup) living in a tiny house crammed with semi-magical knick knacks and strange outfits that were kept in something called a “Tickle Trunk” while, out in the back yard, a child biologically unrelated to the adult lived in a tree.

Uh huh.

On the Mr. Dressup show, the treehouse-dwelling child was a freckled puppet named “Casey”. Casey looked like an unfinished Lady Elaine Fairchilde marionette stolen from the Mr. Rogers set, fitted with a blond page-boy wig and wrapped in a tea-cozy. A parade of disheveled, disoriented and equally unrelated puppet-people streamed constantly through the door of the little house to visit the adult loner and the boy he kept in the backyard tree. This highly unusual and improbable “family unit” was unexplained and therefore taken for granted by the viewing public at the time. We called it “the magic of children’s television.”

Today they call it “a particularly disturbing episode of Law and Order:SVU.”

But that’s how kids’ programming rolled in the days before unseen parents allowed their irritating real-life children to play in the park unsupervised with an obese purple dinosaur on Zoloft that taught them to chant endless verses of black magic composed by Lucifer, Lord of Hell.

In terms of plot, the Mr. Dressup show was rather formulaic and predictable, which was an attribute beneficial to a developing child’s mind, I believe. That whole dynamic has certainly changed. Mr. Dressup, ever-exuberant in his bow-tie and suspenders, would greet his friends in TV Land and prepare them for a morning of storytelling that always involved the retrieval of some indicative costume from the Tickle Trunk. The costume was usually made out of colored gauze, tinfoil and discarded candy wrappers, but we didn’t care, as kids. Sometimes, to our horror, the Tickle Trunk wouldn’t even open, forcing Mr. Dressup to actually “coochie-coo” the damn thing until it coughed-up the goods. That trunk was a coy little tramp.

Once Mr. Dressup donned the Kleenex cape or the fake beard made out of cotton yanked from a thousand Q-tips, he would tell some brief fairy tale that sent us all off to Imagination Town in our pea brains. After that it was time to head out into the backyard for a visit with Casey in the treehouse. The best part about Casey was actually his constant companion, Finnegan the Dog, who looked like an unlaundered sailor’s sock after a nine-month tour of duty. Finnegan the Dog was great because he was entirely mute. Couldn’t bark a note. Couldn’t growl. Couldn’t talk. He was the only silent creature of Irish extraction I ever saw. Mr. Dressup or Casey would talk to Finnegan or ask his opinion about something and the puppeteer would merely make Finnegan’s “mouth” move silently and he would whisper the answer in Casey’s ear. Casey would then translate/interpret Finnegan’s response. He was the original Dog-Whisperer, that Casey.

The entire, belovedly creepy Mr. Dressup crew -- l. to r. the clearly "out of it" and obviously overmedicated Aunt Bird, Alligator, Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan the Dog

The entire, belovedly creepy Mr. Dressup crew — l. to r. the clearly “out of it” and obviously overmedicated Aunt Bird, Alligator, Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan the Dog

An assortment of guests would soon follow. An alligator-puppet cleverly named “Alligator” might drop by to yammer-on about God-Knows-What and at least once a week you could count on a visit from Aunt Bird, who was the show’s requisite “dazed and confused” elderly puppet. Poor Aunt Bird never made much sense, always looked like she had possibly been mauled in an alley by Finnegan the Dog’s more aggressive canine relations, and she was a definite candidate for Lady Rogaine or whatever it is they recommend for women with unsightly bald patches. Sometimes in tow with Aunt Bird was her niece, Miss Biz, a bug-eyed specimen who was as neurotic and disconnected as Elaine Stritch. Miss Biz, with only about a dozen strands of pink, wispy boa-feathers protruding from her lumpy head as “hair” clearly inherited the Female-Pattern Baldness gene from her dizzy aunt. I always figured there must’ve been an ostrich or maybe a vulture in that follicle-challenged bird-family’s woodpile. Anyhow, after all of this pointless but riveting Goodness, Casey and Finnegan would go to sleep in the treehouse, Aunt Bird and Miss Biz would fly off to whatever sorry, hair-lined nest they called home and Mr. Dressup would conclude the show with a consultation of the Wise Old Owl, which was a framed picture of an owl that would magically come to life and open its cardboard eyes, roll them, say: “Who, who, to-wit, to-woo …” and then offer some word of encouragement to insecure children all over the world … or at least within a 150-mile radius of Toronto, Ontario.

It’s amazing how such low-budget yet creative and lovingly crafted productions had the power to mesmerize children, once upon a time. These characters became as familiar to us as friends when we were young and life was a bit simpler. It all went down not that long ago — as noted, the Mr. Dressup show racked-up 29 years of whimsical entertainment and over 4000 little episodes before the Tickle Trunk demanded a cut of the syndication profits or went on the fritz and refused to reveal its secrets for the unappreciative ADHD demographic of the burgeoning Cyber Age. That’s okay. When the asteroid hits and the Zombie Apocalypse is unleashed upon what precious little is left of civilization, we’ll all be forced to live in treehouses with pets rendered mute by radiation poisoning. I figure I’ll be one of the few who’s ready.

Thank you, Mr. Dressup.

DEFINITIVE DIALOGUE: “Three little birdies, happy and gay. Three little birdies fly away.” (Classic chart-topping Mr. Dressup lyrics)

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Ernie Coombs, who played Mr. Dressup for almost 30 years on the CBC, went on to become a popular figure on the college lecture circuit, especially for generations of students who had “grown up” with the beloved children’s program. Ernie Coombs passed away in 2001. RIP, Mr. D. As for the OTHERS …

Casey from the Treehouse

Perhaps scarred by a youth spent living in the backyard tree of an unrelated adult male, Casey found the transition to adulthood somewhat difficult. Between government checks and visits to his parole officer, he still finds time to audition for local children's theater and enjoys macaroni art. He lives in Winnipeg.

Perhaps scarred by a youth spent living in the backyard tree of an unrelated adult male, Casey found the transition to adulthood somewhat difficult. Between government checks and visits to his parole officer, he still finds time to audition for local children’s theater and enjoys macaroni art. He lives in Winnipeg.

The discombobulated “Aunt Bird”

WARNING GRAPHIC: This is a photo from the Ottawa Police Department's homicide unit, taken Thanksgiving Day 1996. It is the last known photograph of Aunt Bird. Her surviving family members refused to speak to Pop HazMat about the murder, which appears to have been related to the infamous "Savory Stuffer's" string of serial killings that terrorized Canada in the late 1990s.

WARNING! GRAPHIC: Above is a photo from the Ottawa Police Department’s homicide unit, taken Thanksgiving Day 1996. It is the last known photograph of Aunt Bird. Her surviving family members refused to speak to us about the murder, which appears to have been related to the infamous “Savory Stuffer’s” string of serial killings that terrorized Ontario in the late 1990s.

The Tickle Trunk

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew,  a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. "We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle," said Lance. "It was really a no-brainer."

Of all the Mr. Dressup cast-members, the Tickle Trunk appears to have fared the best in private life. Tickle Trunk (pictured on the left) is now owned by Lance and Bartholomew, a fabulous Greenwich Village couple who specialize in restoring worn-out receptacles of all shapes and sizes. “We needed a place to keep our collection of damask napkins and, well, we certainly love to tickle,” said Lance. “It was really a no-brainer.”

EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC: Casey and Finnegan … Classic Moments to Treasure.

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Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books (Brightbourne 2012), as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review, Manhattan Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines, papers, and alt-weeklies. Click on the book covers above and to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles and perhaps spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race.
Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new masterpiece of epic dimensions. Drop-in once in awhile for updates. Mr. Kieran promises to provide them, but only once in awhile, because he doesn’t get paid to blog endlessly and believes that any “writer” who gives-away a lot of stuff for free is a Wattpadder or a Smashworder.