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Nov. 11th, 2003


Good Night, My Strong Walled City

The city of Troy was razed to the ground seven times, and rebuilt on her own ashes seven times more. She sits, strong-walled, on a hill made of the charred relics of her forebears.

Every time you rebuild, you bury a little bit of what came before. Every time they burn you, you build your walls back a little bit higher. But if you dig, you might find the bronze helmet of a general's son who died in glory, filled with love for his home. You might find the wristlet of a young lover whose forbidden passion burnt like a crucible, or the bit of a horse who's master once galloped in triumph through the city gates.

Sometimes you find a wellspring, and it tastes like ashes and rose petals at once, and it hurts to drink from it, but you can't help but drink. Sometimes you lie back, and you see every city that stood on the ground you now rest on in such clarity that it wrenches tears from your eyes.

And sometimes you just have to shut your eyes, and build.


Oct. 21st, 2003


The Perfect Woman

Invisible braces since she was ten, to straighten her teeth and give her a winning smile. Decalcifying bleach to make it sparkle like the sun. Veneers on her peg laterals to fill out the space. Movie star smile by the time she was 14.

She's been on a diet since she was twelve to burn off her baby fat, and since then through of force of habit. She hasn't had a plate of mashed potatoes in three years. She adds up her meal points on weight-watchers, eats her fill and purges the difference.

Three miles a day for five years. Her body is toned and sleek without being intimidatingly muscular. She has legs that would put a drag queen to shame. Hair removal by laser surgery, so she has no razor scars. She's been promised electrolysis for her twentieth birthday present.

275cc of natural-feeling, non-toxic soy-based breast enhancement, for her sweet sixteen, to complement her impossibly slender figure with a set of gravity-defying, realistically elliptical yet irresistibly delectable tits. She'll never breast feed, but she was raised on formula and she came out just fine.

The entire football team could be disqualified with a single trace of illegal steroids, but she can put away as much Adderal as her pharmacist will conscience prescribing. Her math team scores are the highest in the state. Her SATs were twin 800s. Her science projects get grant money from the U.S. Navy. Even Oxford is courting her, despite their historical skepticism of American secondary education.

When the soul-crushing ennui of her existence becomes unbearable, there's always 200mg of Lamictal a day to rescue her back from the abyss. Wonder drug of the 21st century. It makes her happy and leaves her sex drive intact. An investment like her only gets one chance to slice her wrists. Now, she can't even imagine wanting to.

She's a visionary. 8mg of Olanzapine to shut the voices in her head up; 400µg of Dextrose Lysergic Acid Diethylamide to bring them back.

She's a rebel. She has a naval piercing and a tongue stud, a tribal design on the small of her back and plans for another tattoo on her left shoulder. You can't help but like her. 350mg of artificial Progesterone three weeks a month and she can fuck anything on two legs without a second thought. Tetracycline for awkward bacterial STDs, and they'll have a cure for AIDS and Herpes Simplex any day now. Benzodiazepines or straight up E for her social anxiety disorder and she can club it up with the best of them. Heroin for the thrill no man is good enough to give her. Tylenol for her headache in the morning, foundation to hide the rings under her eyes.

She's eighteen years old. She's getting ready to deliver the valedictorian speech. Look at her parents. They're beaming. Who ever heard of an investment panning out this well?


Jul. 27th, 2003


Divide by Eternity

This is a quick sketch that popped out while I was talking to Seth. I decided to try and make it a narrative rather than a snide quip. I probably won't do a second draft, but I'd like it if you let me know what you think anyway.

A good knowledge of mathematics is essential for making important decisions. My students do not believe me. They would rather the sum of theirs lives be a glorious sacrifice in the name of our state. But they grudgingly comply with their exercises because they know they will be punished otherwise.

"Mahmoud, my elder brother has joined the great Jihad", Aziz tells me. I do not know why he tells me this.

"Jihad? What is Jihad? Blood and death? Jihad is striving. Strive on your homework some more, and come back to me when you know your sevens table."

Math. It is important in this world, to strengthen our minds and allow us to see with our own eyes. Someday Aziz will write a brilliant and succinct proof to Fermat's last theorem, if only he pays attention to his classwork. Life is so full of distractions.

Today Aziz asks to borrow some chalk to take home, to make drawings on the street. "Mahmoud," he says to me, "friends of my brother came to our house today to celebrate his victory."

"Did they?"

"They say that he is in paradise now, and will be serenaded by seventy-two virgins for all eternity."

I tell Aziz that such is not the truth. Allah the most compassionate and merciful rewards those who fulfill his great will, but myriad as his unknowable intentions are, murder is not among them. "Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law." Surah 6:151.

"It is just," he says, "to exact vengeance on those people who have wronged us."

There is no arguing with him, so I take him at face value.

"Aziz," I say. "What sort of promise is seventy-two virgins for all eternity? Eventually, all virgins cease to be virgins, or else what is the point of having them? And then what will you have? Seventy-two women no better than common whores, fertile of the body and barren of the mind. In time you would grow to know every crevice and mystery of their bodies, and they would hold no allure for you any longer. You would be left with nothing, for the rest of time."

He thinks for a minute, and decides that I am right. Of course I am right. The finite and the infinite do not go in combination.

A good knowledge of mathematics is essential for making important decisions. Perhaps if my students would spend more time with open minds and ears, then the world would be better than it is now.


November 2003



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