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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Battle Lines are Drawn, Dr. Factious - Part II

continued from "Raid on the National Attic with Dr. Factious"


John was a Crusader, born late, into a technological world. He entangled a fictive Medieval past with an equally imaginative present.

"We rode with Baldwin of Boulogne, wintered on Malta. The women were good to us there, and bore us lots of children."

The inclusive 'us' meant 'we knights', bearers of the Maltese Cross, supreme warriors of Yore'.

The guard fretted his brow, puzzled. Backup walked over. We were tossed out on our asses.


No hard feelings . . bardic arts were our only agenda. 

We got the main shot of Factios entering the "National Attic", as an afterthought, through a kiosk on the green. John of course was Dr. Factious, though a diffident Smithsonian guard on duty got so alarmed by all the leather in John’s costume that he told us to beat it. John worked drama into his monologued script. As I filmed, he dropped names of every good family, such as the Ripleys and Adams and others, that had let democracy down by defecting on our great heritage.

The anti-conspiracy crusader he so created, Dr. Factious, did make him look like an animal of sorts. Layers of leather annealed together, concealed beneath a brooding beast, loaded on amphetamines. This was John's big day. I shined limelight into his frustrated paranoia, expressions of super-plots, evil-doers running the country. It made him think we were penetrating a wall of media no one pays real attention to anyway.

We didn't get as far at the NSA. That shot we got from the car, outside the main gate.

"The guys at NASA aren’t doing anything these days. The whole nation is in a torpor! What are we doing? What do we care about enough, to make an effort that matters."

John continued his train of thought outside. He guffawed:

"Two parents, four grand-parents. Eight great grandparents. In theory, as one goes back in time, the number of ancestors in each generation becomes logarithmically greater!"

He was shouting, as if to raise his voice over the pitch of battle. In reality we were retreating to my car, John clutched his weaponry, the camera and tripod, like an inadequate tool to fend off an entire army.

"Go far enough back in time and you start running into the same ancestors again and again. We're all related, many times over. Just do the math. It's been proven in our DNA, we're all related to just one of a few female hominids on the Plains of Africa!"

More parting shots of the National Attic. A guard standing at the top of the steps, eyed us warily.

"We respected the Mo, taught us a lot. Gave us the zero, taught us algebra."

In John-speak this meant, "We knights, when we encountered the Mohammedan, respected them for their warrior prowess." The more John spoke the more one realized 'Mo' didn't just mean follower of Mohammed, but also North African. After a while 'Mo' meant simply African. We were all Africans in the end.

"And we loved their coffee!" More guffaws.

And then his tone became serious. "Kuddos to the Turks for realizing the power of coffee. The Renaissance was our Great Awakening!"

John's dates were off. At the time of the Crusades the Turkish rulers were doing all they could do to eradicate the use of coffee in their society. A kind of Fifteenth Century Drug war. I informed him of this.

He shrugged. A meaningless point of fact.

"Doesn't matter what the state did. Coffee took over. And we loved their weed too!"

John writhed, convulsed, rolled with ebullient laughter. He had me. I laughed too.

And I mean laughter. He would nearly break his leg slapping it, or rip clothes from his body waving his arms. My greatest fear during the drive to DC was that he'd put his foot through the firewall of my old car during one these spasmodic episodes.

John had his own opinions as to what really went down.

John danced history, an ecstatic actor of dramas, against imaginary foes. Performance accomplished, he morphed from serious to hilarious, and dissolved peals of generous mirth into the sheer force of his foray.

Life was a discovery, each instant lived like Lewis and Clark. Around John you lived under fire, in constant danger, yet because it was imaginative, we were somehow, . . . invincible.

The death of Socrates, (a smart guy who had it coming to him for sodomizing youngsters) the incarceration of Galileo (one of the great crimes against the inner genius of humanity) the false Kings of Jerusalem (whose wealth and greed spelt an inevitable downfall), John had a ready epithet or sobriquet for each pause and chapter of Man's story.

CIA operative, ex-fighter pilot during the good old 'flying pipe days', . . . "seriously that aircraft was a flying piece of pipe. It barely had wings . . "

As ex-poet, beatnik, and husband to folk legend Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary fame, the Knights Templar were the only Knights worth talking about.

He was one, therefor I was one. So we became smart bums, Knights Templar on the loose.

We had conquered another city, so in celebration we spent two evenings drinking beer and wandering like madmen through Georgetown, cavorting with women, and consuming pretty much a lot of everything.

The next day I repaired my war torn body to the National Gallery, desperate to turn two days of wanderlust into something productive. But I found myself looking at history, not art.


Homer wove arguments in crafted meter, John taught me that the authorization to laugh so completely, and with such abandon, was Gallic, French Celtic, and that conveyed rights, with historic precedent - via agreement by ancient Celtic tribes  to completely forgive one's enemy after battle, through laughter.

At the end of his diatribes John launched an invective against the entrenched anti-democratic streak in the U.S.  . . . "Who are these people?", John asked again and again, and then, having asked, proceeded to answer his own question;

They ended the researches of Galileo, put Socrates to death, and would have a lot in store for the average US citizen in just a few years. These people, the ones he included in that bracket, were obscenely greedy capitalists with no social responsibility whatsoever. Most were Republicans like our beloved Rudy Guliani, but not all. Many were Democrats, on the take, or Congressmen who sold their votes. All who were morally corrupt at every level, whether at a small town public school, or the Department of Housing. They were easy to spot, since they spoke in racist-materialist terms when angered. They spoke of 'our country' and 'who got here first'. They forgot that they had butchered the Native Americans to make it 'theirs' in the first place. In short they were bastards who felt they had rights to other men's labor and property bequeathed to them at birth. This was a behind the scenes group that used networked power, to mobilize the far right, and destroy the democratic foundations of our country. They sought only one thing - total ownership of the US, enslavement for all but themselves.

They were sellouts, scum of the earth, and a menace to humanity. So John traced the reasons why this or that shit, had gone down.

At one moment he had it in for the CIA, so I wondered whether he hadn't been CIA himself.

"John you're speaking so lovingly about the CIA you make me think you were a spook yourself."

"I was," he confessed, kind of sheepishly.

"John I thought you flew jets in Vietnam!"

"I did, but I got recruited by black ops to do recon missions over 'Nam. I was CIA."

"John you never told me."

He went on for hours about the, the SR-71 Blackbird, the Phantom F-4, the F-3, and some of the other glorified "Pipes with Fins", that he flew.

"The worst was a F4 carrier landing in the dark. That gave me the shits every time!"

"You're landing a flammable pipe that weighs thirty tons with wings just five feet long, in the rain. You can't see shit. The ship is a pitching football field of black ocean, that has no lights at all. All you've got are these cursed instruments. Gave me the shits every time."

Whenever we had the aircraft carrier conversation he'd get up and hit the head. I'd hear him call from inside the stack,

"Forgive me. Pulling loops at four G's has had a permanent effect on my bowels. Would you mind coming back in an hour?"

If I knocked on his door on the morning his response was the same, but virulent:

"Goddammit! Can't you understand that when you've spent half your life at Mach One Point O with three G's turning your insides out, it's hard to take a shit! Go away!"

I had gotten to know John as a result of a class action suit I had initiated against the slumlords of the building we lived in, at the corner of Mott Street and Houston, in downtown Manhattan.

John and I strategized about how to mobilize a legal offense.

"You've got to pull in the media," he said. "Get us on the evening news."

It was up to me to follow through.

The landlords were tired of owning a building where the average tenant was paying less than a hundred and fifty dollars a month. Everyone in the place had lived there for years, me included. We floated along on rent stabilization, which meant building owners in New York lost money on apartments where tenants stayed a long time. Each time they came to inspect the building I noticed twisted machinations running through their heads. They were forever plotting ways to raise our rent and throw us all out on our asses.

They took on a new partner, a skinny ghostlike pariah of a man, who must have had an epiphany. He began to slowly and methodically destroy the building. Hacks with hammers and crowbars came in and ripped walls down in the hallways and staircases. Slowly but surely the place became a dangerous firetrap.

Wood beams became exposed.

Rats took over.

It was only a matter of time before the whole structure went up in a deadly conflagration. The skinny little man showed up every day to inspect the flammability of the site. It was only time before he or one of his employees tossed a match. The intention was to burn us out.

As luck would have it developers began to excavate the lot immediately adjacent. The muddy Houston Street soil yielded no bedrock to pour footings on. Piles had to be driven deep. 'Boom, boom', the machines went, day and night, and it seemed that with each bang of the cantilevered weights, another rat fled from the Houston Street subway and entered our building. We saw rats everywhere!

John called me. "You got to see this!" he shouted into the phone.

I went up. His apartment was three floors above mine.

He flipped a black white glossy photo smelling like acetic acid in my face. John was media savvy. He never left home without his SLR around his neck. He shot and edited video. This was all pre-computer, pre-digital.

I looked carefully.

"What is this? It looks like your hallway."

"It's a rat!"

I didn't see it. John yanked the picture back and pointed out the furry end of a little critter disappearing into one of the holes in the wall.

"John, is this a dead rat? Did you stage this?"

A wry grin crept over his face. Sure enough, he'd caught a small rat in a trap in his apartment and staged the photo in the hall.

"I got them red-handed. With this picture of a live rat we can go to the attorney general and sue. We'll win. . . and these A-holes will lose their building!"

John had it all mapped out. But alas, he was a better writer, speaker, and historian than an artist or photographer. I had to really look hard to see the rat in his picture. And it looked dead besides.

"The head got kind of mangled, so I sort of half stuck him into the hole in the wall, like he was escaping!"

"John that's not cool!", I protested.

He guffawed loudly. "Whatever wins is cool!," and cracked up hilariously.


Story continues: The Capture of the Enemy King - Dr. Factious Part III

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