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Sunday, May 5, 2013

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

continued from "Battle Lines are Drawn, Dr. Factious - Part II"

-:-



We needed a really solid picture of a really nasty animal to tell the story. One that could be plastered all over the news.

I went back downstairs. John suggested the 5:30 action news, hosted by a blonde on ABC during a half hour in the afternoon where she goes fire and tongs against corrupt merchants, lazy city agencies, non-performing landlords, and corrupt businesses in our wonderful city.

Five-O-Clock Faye.

It was Faye's job to find the horror stories, the breaches of public trust, the inequities charged by financial institutions, and the blatant irresponsibility by the city departments, and then go to through the motions of solving them with the resources of the press. Faye was a Knight-Princess in a shining miniskirt.

Faye was hot.

We both wanted her to pay us a visit so I began to draft a letter:


Dear Faye :

Would you like to visit a building in Lower Manhattan, so decrepit that a diabetic's apartment filled with urine-soaked newspapers became so heavy that it collapsed the floor entirely?


Would you like to poke your lovely thigh through a hole to the apartment below? Or see bathtubs stacked like teacups because the floors rotted through? Or an army of rats run for cover?

All this is a mere fifteen minutes by car from where you, dear beautiful Faye, sit on gorgeous upholstered office chairs opposite your happy and well-fed producer.


I invite you to the Building of Horrors, here in the center of Manhattan. Your jaw will drop in amazement at the number of violations which have been purposefully created by egregious landlords preparing to burn the occupants from their homes.


I'll have all domiciles flung open for your inspection.

You'll create a storm amidst city government. Your network will become a hero to ordinary citizens seeking safety and peaceful enjoyment in their rented apartments.

I await your reply,


I ripped the letter from my typewriter and called John.

"You gotta read this!"

Moments later he stormed through my door. I handed him what I'd written.

A moment ensued. Then he doubled over and vibrated. I thought I had killed him. He clutched his gut and looked at the sky, shaking his hand. Laughter poured out, mixed with the occasional hawk, which he bottled up and deposited in my sink.

"Will this do the job?" I asked.

"Oh it will!"

He ran upstairs and got the glossy black and white and brought it down for me to give to Faye Heathers or whatever her name was, when she came.

"How do you know she has a 'happy and well-fed producer'?"

"She has to have one! They're not starving"

"Oh, this is it! This is it! We've WON!" John was dancing around the apartment.

"John, I haven't even mailed it yet. She may not come."

He started guffawing again. "Oh she will. You better believe she will."

We walked to the letter box with the envelope. I dropped it in without ceremony. On the way back we stopped at John's lab and picked up more copies of the bogus rat shot for the files.

That night we strategized all-out war. He who commands media, wins. The one that tells the best story controls the mechanisms of state. Ergo, our story, if we told it right, would win.

The nights were hot. I felt the need to get out of the city. It would be days or weeks before anything happened on the building front.

"I'm going north to visit the fam." I told John.

"Later." John was one of the original minters of the phrase.

Two weeks later to be precise, my wife and I returned to the city. The apartment felt dank, almost as if a new occupant had been in the place and showered. Nevertheless everything was as I had left it. Some tableware was scattered about in the sink, but I took nothing from it.

Late in the afternoon, the lazy August sun was crouching low in the West, and lighting up the other side of Houston in rosy hues. I laid down in the center room of my little railroad flat, a place that had served me well for nearly ten years. I heard Ami mess about in the kitchen, and then she fell into bed next to me. The car was parked. My mind was revving from the drive south.

I drifted off.

Suddenly an excruciating pain ripped through my ribs. I bolted out of bed.

"What the hell was that?"

I heard a loud thud as something went for the hole under the bathtub. I looked at the blood pouring from my side. Two parallel grooves about a half an inch long had peeled off a layer of skin, in all about 1/16 of an inch deep with surgical precision.

I had been bitten by a giant rat.

-:-

John came with me to the doctor's office. He was genuinely disappointed to learn that I would live. Turns out the average rat bite is far less toxic than a dog bite, which in turn is far preferable to the bite of a human being.

"Well Doc can I at least get a good picture of the wound with your gloves in the frame."

The doctor complied. John guffawed all the way home. "We got em now. We got em now! Bitten by a rat!"

Life accelerated at a wild pace.

I was rat-hunting.

"We need a good picture of the beast that bit you." John proclaimed.

"I'm working on it."

Two days later I caught sight of the animal again, lounging behind my desk chair like he owned the place. He was a rat from Hell, a full nine inches long, nose to butt, add another six for the tail. All in all it looked the size of a cat. I saw stars. Anger, fear, adrenaline.

I employed all my skills as an inventor to create a rat trap from hell. The beast had to be brought down.

I tried glue traps. No avail. He ripped them up. I tried conventional rattraps. Too fast for them.

One gloomy evening I sat with my pellet gun pumped to the maximum (well over the safe 'limit'), and sat motionless for an hour and a half, waiting for the monster to appear, which he did, a few moments after sundown, from a hole beneath the tub. He waddled out into the kitchen. I had placed some juicy pizza crusts on a chair in front of the kitchen trash. He lept up, agile as a feline, and started to consume them noisily.

I fired. The big creature hardly took notice, but then sprang down and disappeared. I shook uncontrollably, went over to my improvised set. No blood at all. The pellet hadn't even penetrated the critter's hide. He was bruised, but not even injured.

My rat wound healed. Up in the Adirondacks a week later I picked up a section of 8" stovepipe, three giant wooden rattraps (lumberjack variety), and some coat-hanger wire.

I spoke with our caretaker about his spring trapping.

"Big Beavers are incredibly tough. In fact all large rodents have incredibly tough skins. I suspect that's why your pellet just bounced off."

My greatest fear was that King Rat would leave the building before I killed him. If I could get him, dead or alive, an image of him in black and white, life size, would make instant news.

He was afraid of me now, and avoided me like the plague. I began leaving sumptuous snacks when I went out to the movies. Purposefully, every night, I began to feed my prey. I wanted him fat. I wanted him healthy. The bigger the better. Come on baby. Don't leave me now.

I was Saladin, at the Seige of Acre. No prisoner would be taken. I fashioned metal engines of Death.



Reworking the three lumberjack rat traps, I attached them to the ends of a 30" piece of 8" stovepipe, employing them as overpowered doormen to a long hollow tube. The third trap at the top powered a trip mechanism for the two traps at either end, which simply slammed the doors shut. I would capture this animal alive.

Then the pleasure of his death would be mine.

"You've got a problem," my wife chimed. "You're obsessed by this creature. Live and let live!"

"Ok so I'll let you sleep here alone then," I argued.

She demurred. "Then get him, and move on."

I tested the trap one evening with her present. It looked like a yard-long bazooka, with two metal flap doors, one at either end. The rattrap springs waited to slam shut at the slightest bit of movement on the treadle, located deep inside.

I wiggled a piece of straw against the treadle.

"POW". Both doors slammed shut with such ferocity that I almost lost my finger.

"There that should do it!"

That evening my we went to sleep nervously. The device was set at the edge of the kitchen floor, and bits of stinky cheese were liberally sprinkled inside.

We are hardly asleep more than a few minutes.

 "BANG!"

We bolted out of bed. My wife started to freak. "What are you going to do? What are you going to do?"

"Don't worry honey. Don't worry. We've got him!"

Sure enough the trap was heavy. I could feel him moving lethargically inside. A captured king. He tried like hell to force his way out. I saw his paws exploiting all the cracks in my device, feeling for a weakness.

Smug as Bolingbroke, I held Richard II, captive, in my Tower of London.

Like Exton, I calculated the best way to administer a coup de grâce. The chivalric conqueror exhibits mercy when he dispatches a vanquished king or nobleman. Often it was a sword driven beside the neck, down into the body cavity, or if the blade was heavy enough, decapitation.

For this job however, the stroke of mercy required another technique.

I ran the bath until it was full of water. It was said the Sun King, Louis XIV, took three baths in total, once at birth, once before being married, and finally as a corpse after he died.

King Rat would be clean upon exiting this world.

"Darling, say goodbye to the biggest rat in downtown New York."

Ami howled in sympathy for my prisoner. I dropped the metal trap, regal contents and all, into the tub.

I heard frantic scratching against metal. The whole affair rattled. Bubbles floated to the surface. Soon all was still. I waited a good half hour, then drained the tub.

All our lights were on, but our apartment felt dark. The place stank from animal adrenaline, from our fear. The universe felt tainted.

I grabbed the day's newspaper. A headline,"Roe vs. Wade Overturned", was emblazoned across the top, spelled sad news for human rights, but would be a boon for the denizens of our little tenement.

I envisioned the Attorney General, in person, visiting our little hellhole and helping us in our valiant suit.

I lifted the soggy heavy trap out of the bathtub, let the excess water drain out of one end, then opened one door and slid the dead animal out onto the newspaper.

Wet fur, a toothy grin, a long whip tail and a slurp of rat barf, all over those immortal words:

       "Roe vs. Wade Overturned!"

I reached for my camera.

We had proof at last.


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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