Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Great Treason Incident - Anarchism in Japan





From Episode 81 of Isaac Meyer's History of Japan Podcast http://isaacmeyer.net/
In 1910, an anarchist plot to assassinate the Meiji Emperor was uncovered. Seizing the opportunity, conservatives in the government pounced in to arrest 26 anarchists. The background of this confrontation between the government and the radical left, the trials themselves, and their modern legacy are our topics

I've become something of a podcast junky thanks to my work schedules, and I've slowly been working my way through Isaac Meyer's History of Japan podcast. Meyer has spent several years in several cities across Japan, has a PHD on the nations history and can speak the language to a degree so he's quite the expert. This episode 81, caught my interest as its about the history of Japan's anarchist movement, an often overlooked subject despite the roots anarchism was able to spread within Japan. In the 1910s-30s Japanese and Korean and Chinese anarchists were a major thorn in the increasingly militaristic and imperialist governments side. And as such they were singled out for repression.

Unfortunately there is not much material about or by these early Japanese rebels in English though speakers of Japanese, Russian and Esperanto have a wider selection thanks to the popularity of those languages amongst the group. And books covering Japanese feminism do have some information on female anarchists from this period like Kanno Sugako and Ito Noe. Here's what I've been able to find in English.

Kanno Sugako 
Ito Noe
Osugi Sakae
CIRA-Nippon An anarchist group active in the seventies that occasionally included historical sketches on this period.


Saturday, 2 June 2018

Organise!


A favourite publication of mine that's still going on is Organise! produced by UK's Anarchist Federation. Currently it comes out twice a year, fortunately all its issues are available for free online here. Issue 90 the Summer 2018 edition that was published online in time for May day, though issues with the printers delayed the physical distribution a bit. I just got my copy in the post today. I've been waiting for it for awhile and not just because I'm in it.

Shortly after writing Listen Gamer! I was contacted by a member who was on its publishing committee asking if they could print it in their next issue as it was supposed to have a theme about depictions of socialism and anarchism in the media. I was quick to agree, aside from being really flattered I've really enjoyed the magazine and so the thought of being in it was pretty overwhelming.

Though if you look at the cover and the issues table of contents, the theme seems to have taken a bit of a back seat to other issues. I don't mind to be honest I think its better that the magazine tackles important issues as they're developing.

To quote the opening of the Editorial "We Fear Change"

The paradigms and assumptions we've cemented into our zeitgeist as a society are often all too comforting and reliable and even for the fearless (and reckless), ready to build the new world, the way forward can seem impossible, the suffocating fear of change, of transition permeates every thread of our community, suppressing and restricting progressive development at every juncture. In this edition of Organise! We dip our toes into two very differant forms of transition, the personal and the Social and we look at how the fear of new ideas and change is having an impact.

  Oh, if you're not aware at the time the collective was gathering articles for publication there had been an increase in activity by a group of anti Trans feminists in London. I actually don't have any connections to London aside visiting it, so I'm pretty much out of the loop concerning what goes on down there, but apparently a group with some connection to the Green party (a couple were Green party parliamentary candidates) has been confronting public spaces in London to spread propaganda opposing the Gender Recognition Act. One of the places they turned up at was the London Anarchist Book fair (never been myself) it caused quite a stir as some of the participants were long time activists and campaigners. To cut the story short its lead to some fallouts and splits, there's a thread on libcom about it here. It has a lot more information, but it also has a lot of ugly language and some deliberate misinformation so read with caution.

Anyway, I've been working through the issue and its very interesting. I also really like the design and the layouts of the articles, its a lot more distinct and attention grabbing then most political magazines and journals.




Friday, 1 June 2018

An Introduction To A Critique Of Technology



An Introduction To A Critique Of Technology




Mp3 download link

(transcript)

Hello, this is Audio Anarchy Radio, we’re starting off with a series that introduces a few different concepts from anarchist perspectives. And today we’re going to be talking about technology. The idea isn’t to give you a line about what is right and what is wrong, but to explore some of the aspects and critiques of technology that might not be regularly discussed. We have Javier here, who is going to talk over some of the things that he has been thinking about.

So, Javier, let me start by asking how you define technology. “Well a dictionary definition of technology is the general term for processes that which human beings fashion tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment. The term comes from the Greek words techne which refers to an art or craft and lochia meaning an area of study. So it means the study or science of crafting. For me I use it to refer to all the tools and machines that humans use to shape, modify, or understand their environment.”

And do you make a distinction between certain types of technologies, or consider technology to be socially neutral?


“Well I think each technology, each tool, or each machine should be considered separately. I think each individual technology has different social consequences, that I definitely don’t think they should be considered neutral for society. But I also don’t make too many distinctions or aggrupation’s in like, oh good technology, bad technology or things like that. I just think that we should take into consideration each technology individually, notice what characteristics it has, and how it shapes the social institutions and deal with those questions. “

And what do you think some of the most prevalent popular or interesting analyses of technology have been throughout history?


“yeah well, the one that comes to mind first of all is Marx. He uses the term `means of production` vaguely to what I would refer to as technology. And it’s a very central concern for him, however his analysis of the way in which technology affects social institutions is limited to who controls the technologies, or the means of production. And he does a class analysis based on this where the bourgeoisie control the technology  or means of production then you have a class society. If the Proletariat controls the means of productions there will be a classless society. Stuff like that, I think that Marxists -most Marxists- follow this analysis, I also think a lot of other people do. Anarcho-syndicalists are very influenced by this kind of thought, but others have been a lot more sceptical about this kind of simplistic view of technology. There’s been for example the appropriate technology movement, and more drastically the anarcho-primitivists, definitely think that there’s a lot more to technologies than just who controls it.”

And what do you think are popular perceptions or critiques of technology today?

“Ok, well I think today, some environmentalists do have certain critiques of technology which is you know they question technologies themselves and who controls it. Their critique or analysis is based purely on environmental aspects and not social that much and those I think in general today people take technology kind of for granted. And they refuse to question it because they think it’s kind of like a natural thing for humans to have. Theirs I think a couple of myths that really kind of inhibit our analysis of technology. For example I would say the myth of progress is a very basic myth, well it basically states that humans have never lived in a better situation than today. And that throughout history continually progressing towards a better state, things are pretty much getting better. It also demonstrates that progress is inevitable and we can never go back because of where we try to do something like that and we will eventually advance again, back to the way we are now. This myth is really annoying to me because it kind of served the purpose of justifying our current institutions and makes it kind of impossible to criticise technology or a lot of other things that are considered progressive. I can’t say there isn’t some truth to that, but whether progress has made things better or not is just a matter of personal preference. I think of an important thing to point out though is that humanity did not get to its present state of technological or social development by a process of you know continual progress. It was not a process of like consensus, democracy or any other kind of libertarian philosophy or any you know practice that really respected individual freedom. I mean a great amount of cultures were forced to accept specific kinds of agriculture. You know through imperialism they were forced to for example massively harvest coffee or other products for Europeans. And even some cultures were forced to take on agriculture when they were hunter-gatherers. Other than in the Industrial revolution people were taken off their lands and in a lot of cases chained to machines in order to have the industrial revolution really work. So these things that are usually seen as advancements were not so much a product of human ingenuity but in a lot of ways a product of tyranny and oppression. To say that humans naturally developed industrialism and that we can never, that we would always inevitably develop it again if we go back, if we abolish industrialism is to say that authoritarian institutions are a part of our nature, I think.  

Another myth that a lot of people take it as truth is that progress and technological progress has a consequence that we have more leisure. Most anthropologists agree that almost every society that has less advanced technology has more leisure time. So even hunting and gathering provides for more leisure time than farming. However its easy to see why some people think that more or more advanced technology leads to more leisure. I mean a superficial analysis would conclude that you know pushing a button is easier than doing manual labour. The problem with this analysis is that it doesn’t take two things into consideration; what goes into building the machine that allows for you to just push the button so the machine does the work for you. For example its less intensive, less labour intensive to drive a car than to walk, but if you take into consideration the labour involved in manufacturing the car from extracting the raw materials, extracting the oil for it to run, to run the factories that build it, extracting the metals to build the car, rubber to build the tires etc, you know that’s a lot more labour intensive than just walking. The thing is that traditionally I think the distribution of leisure and labour has you know favoured the ruling classes. It hasn’t really been distributed equally. Some people have to do a lot of labour and pretty much finance the leisure of the ruling class. That’s why some people have to work really hard and don’t have any cars and some people just go to an office building and have the most luxurious cars. So you know that way you can see that it doesn’t provide for more leisure to have more technology, at least not necessarily.”

And so, what are some of your thoughts about technology and how it affects the environment today?

  “Well definitely I think this is perhaps the most, or these are the most obvious consequences and people you know talk about it continually how cars pollute and stuff like that. I think its useful however to try to find some general characteristics of technologies that tend to intensify the environmental impact. I’ll try to mention a few that I think are not as commonly discussed. One of them, one of these general observations, I would say that technologies that are labour intensive are usually more or have a bigger impact on the environment. This is because changing the environment is something that requires labour, so the greater impact usually is because there’s more labour involved and required to do it. Also centralisation is something that generally increases environmental impact, and this is because it concentrates the impact in a small area, making it harder for natural mechanisms to repair the damage. I mean most environmentalists are aware of this. The environment can modify itself to make impact not as damaging if its done in a scattered way and not concentrated in one place. Also technologies that require homogeneous persistent human activity increases the impact because they make it harder for nature to slowly adapt, so I mean for example assembly lines come to mind where you know what is done is continually done it’s like massively done, and this doesn’t allow for the environment to adapt to allow to small changes.

So, an important thing to notice about all these implications is that these kinds of activities and technologies are almost exclusively found in authoritarian societies. You know the observations that I made that recognises that are labour intensive, centralised and homogenised human activity. You know people when they are free from many authoritarian institutions they tend to preform tasks that involve the least amount of labour to achieve, they make decisions in a pretty sporadic manner, and decentralise and also they like usually to engage in a variety of diverse activities. There’s only one coherens where people engage in dangerous and unpleasant labour intensive activities like mining, these activities are the ones that have such a great environmental impact. So I think realising this, leads to a very different approach to a problem of environmental destruction than the one I think most people argue for right now. I think most people now argue for more centralised control, you know the government regulating factories, regulating emissions, you know more rules or you know everything that we do because we can’t seem to manage ourselves without causing environmental problems. But this analysis actually states kind of to the contrary; it states that humans when free of authoritarian institutions produced the least amount of environmental impact.

So I think, I mean as an Anarchist I think this is the analysis that you know that’s more useful, from my perspective. Yeah, another useful thing to notice is that advanced technologies tend to have a high environmental impact. What I mean by this is that when I use the term advanced technology I mean that technology that depends on previous technologies to function, so therefore its total impact becomes not only the impact that the specific technology has but the added impact of all the technologies that are required for the specific technology. You know like the examples are I think pretty easy to see like you know electrical appliances need energy supply or power supply and so the power supply has I mean you know like maybe a little electrical appliance doesn’t have that much environmental impact but the whole electrical infrastructure that is needed to power it does. And you know different technologies like that, I think what this analysis leads to is that it doesn’t make much sense to make more advanced technology that is supposedly going to be more environmentally friendly.”

So, what are some of your thoughts about the social implications about technology throughout history and today?

“Okay, and this I think is something that is not usually talked about, so I think its important to consider. Okay, so technology claims to provide society with the tools to achieve its goals. Society however is not like a monolithic entity formed of homogeneous individuals with identical goals. Different individuals in society have different goals and the technologies used will inevitably provide society with the tools to achieve the goals of some and not all members. And it also, I mean also technologies not spread like equally amongst all members of society. It will provide some members of society something while maybe refusing something else to others. So, taking this in mind that considers some of the implications of technology in society. First of all, organisation, different technologies require for their application different social settings, in terms of centralisation or spreading social activity, technologies can have several implications. If a technology requires for its use many individuals, social activity is centralised around the technology. If the technology allows for only one or a small number of individuals it promotes decentralisation. So centralisation implies that a form of decision making where a single consensus has to be reached by the group, not allowing for individuals to reach different decisions and be autonomous. In big groups this phenomenon usually leads to representation or other forms of mediation for the individual to make his or her decisions. So there are you know an individuals ability to make their decision is taken further and further away from them. To put an example, a factory can be well it can be owned by a single boss that has authority over many individuals who work there, or it can be cooperatively owned by the workers. In any case each individual will have to adapt his or her schedule to the factories, they will have to preform the job that the factory assigns and they will have to receive from their work what the factory decides. They will have to produce what the factory decides when it decides and how it decides. Obviously cooperative ownership offers the individual worker more of a say in the decisions of the factory than the owner model, but the individuals will never be able to reach a decision that’s different from the one assigned by the factory. The individual is alienated from the decision-making process, in the case of the capitalist process the alienation is pretty complete, like you don’t have absolutely any input into the decision making; in the case of the worker run factory this alienation is mediated by a process that can be you know in different ways it can range from consensus to some kind of representative democracy. Or you know the level of let’s say authoritarianism that you can have is can vary, but autonomous decision making is pretty impossible in the context of a factory. Whereas other technologies allow for individuals to make their own decisions.

Okay another interesting aspect is the distribution of technology. Proportionately to the energy and labour required for its production technology becomes a scarcity. The more labour is used to produce a machine the less the number of machines society can produce. In class societies this usually implies that the members of the ruling class have access to the technology and the others don’t. This causes a widening in the power gap between the classes, the ruling classes are provided with more tools to control their environment and society and the rest loses control in the same measure.

Another aspect is the shaping of human resources. It’s obvious that technology has a profound impact on the educational system of a society, you know whether the goal of the educational system is to modify the individual so that he can better serve society. Or just to provide him and her with the knowledge and skills needed to preform the social roles, to provide for themselves, it would always take into consideration that society uses. If the technology is very complex and complicated the educational process will be long. If the technology requires monotonous centrally organised work, skills like discipline and obedience will be encouraged in the educational process. A point may be reached where the society needs for its survival to produce a certain kind of individual, this will very likely tend to make its educational institutions coercive rather than voluntary.

Another point is specialisation. Certain technologies demand that the division of labour in society that tend to produce specialisations. This means that certain individuals are required preform a socioeconomic role and others are obliged to preform these tasks through this class of specialised individuals. So individuals cannot perform or individuals that are not specialists cannot preform these tasks by themselves. Our current society has many examples; individuals need lawyers to legally defend themselves, cops to physically protect themselves, media to be aware of things that influence our lives, architects to build houses etc. It is important to know how specialisation is not simply an individual having an extraordinary ability, it is the assigning of an individual or individuals to perform a social role and excluding others from performing it. To put an example of a specialist which is I think a useful example and perhaps the oldest example is the priest. In certain societies it is assumed that the only person or class of persons that can communicate with the deities is a priest. Other individuals are forced to perform only through the priests. In this way the class of priests effectively control the spiritual aspect of the society, and often this is used to also control other aspects like the moral standards and other taboos and customs of the society. So that obviously has like enormous power of consequences on the power relationships of the society. There’s different ways in which specialised roles are imposed or assigned for some you know to perform certain things you need a diploma, a certificate or some kind of authorisation from an appropriate authority to perform it. Technology works in a different way to assign these roles increasing in complexity, technologies become impossible to be wholly understood by an individual and individuals have to specialise in a particular aspect of the technology and depend on others to specialise in the rest and you know when this happens everybody loses their autonomy and their ability to perform jobs by themselves.

Another important consequence- social consequence of technology is the creation of environments. Every technology as we have said before is essentially a modification of the environment, from an environmental point of view the implications you know have obvious consequences, but its also very relevant from a social point of view. Some relevant questions are you know who gets to modify the environment for others or whose environment do they modify? And how do these modifications impact the lives of the individuals who live there? To me the issue of empowering versus disempowering environments is noteworthy. Certain environments provide each individual with the means for his or her subsistence in a quite egalitarian way. If each individual is able to access the resources they need to survive in an autonomous way then this is an empowering environment. But other environments do quite the opposite, for example modern urban environments pretty much eliminate all of the resources from our environment and the ability to access the resources that we need to survive is pretty much denied. So you know the modern urban environment pretty much puts the resources in the hands of the few people and then all the rest of the people has to acquire these resources through monetary exchanges. The individual is forced to participate in socioeconomic and political institutions set before her to be able to have access to the resources needed to survive. With the impossibility of directly accessing resources one has to acquire money which is the modern socially imposed means to access resources in order to survive. And then those who control the money; have most of it, effectively control both resources and the individuals who want access to those resources. In Ivanovitch’s words “modernised poverty deprives those affected by it of their freedom and power to act autonomously, to live creatively. It confines them to a survival through being plugged into market relations, the opportunity to experience political and social satisfaction outside the market is thus destroyed. I am poor for instance, when the use value of my feet is lost because I live in Los Angeles or live in the 35th floor .”

Mediation and autonomy. Direct action is a commonly used word in radical circles, it is usually considered an anarchist value. The reasoning goes that if to achieve our goals we must go through others then we’re not in direct control of our lives, we’re not in direct control of the consequences of our actions. And so mediated action is the opposite of direct action, autonomy increases as mediation decreases. Technology is always a medium through which we interact with our environment, a medium through which we accomplish our goals and access our resources. So the same reasoning applies here, to increase autonomy we must decrease mediation. This is especially true when technology also implies a social mediation, when the technologies we use and the technology we need  to preform our activities are controlled by others. Then our actions are not only mediated by material objects but they’re also mediated by social institutions, which we might not like and which in effect can become quite controlling of our actions.

So as a conclusion I would say that the implications of technology has, goes well beyond its stated purposes. By this I mean that you know like if a technology says that it will just transport people like cars for example, well yes the consequences are that it transports cars but also that we need streets, that it also implies that not everybody’s going to have access to cars because they are very labour intensive and so therefore a class of people can own cars will exist and one that doesn’t have access to cars is etc. an important thing to note is that all the implications that I found are inherent in the technology itself and do not depend on who controls or uses the technology. Only by being aware of all the implications the technologies have will we be able to make those decisions that will help us to achieve the society we desire".

That’s it for todays introduction to a critique of technology. Check out Audio Anarchy on the web audioanarchy.org

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Epilogue


EPILOGUE

The recruiter sat like a smug pimp.
`You’re seventeen?`

The boy nodded.

`And these are your parents’ or guardians’ signatures stating that they’ll allow yo to enlist in the United States Army?`

Another nod. This time the lie didn’t show through the nod and the boy didn’t think it would matter anyway. They’d taken a boy he knew who couldn’t read and another he knew who was given the choice between the army and prison. How fussy could they be?

The recruiter studied him. He was a sergeant. Impossibly neat. Impossibly clean.

`What branch?`
`I don’t know what you mean. I thought I was enlisting in the army.`
`Yes, but in the army there are the cavalry and the artillery and the signal corps and the infantry. Which one do you want?`

The boy shrugged. `I don’t know.`

The tight smile, the pimp smile. `Can you shoot a rifle?`
`Yes.`
`Good. I’ll put down for the infantry. That’s the best branch – all promotions go for the infantry.`
`Fine.`
`You’ll like the infantry.`
`Fine.`
`It’ll do you a world of good.`

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Nine


NINE



The boy learned to use the Tilt-a-Whirl’s clutch to whip the cars round, which emptied change from the pockets of the farmers. The best day he had he stripped almost eleven dollars. Taylor was fair and let him keep half of what he stripped and he paid the boy every Friday so the boy always had money to spend on endless hamburgers and Cokes. Never money to save. Never money to own as he’d owned it before the deputy took it away from him. But plenty to spend on his new life. His carny life.

The boy had become a carbon copy of Taylor. He wore his dirty Levi’s low, with no underwear, and with a white T-shirt tucked in and sleeves rolled up to hold a packet of Camels without filters, which he could flick-light with a Zippo lighter, and his hair slicked back with Brylcreem to make an almost-controlled ducktail. And he had the look. The hard carny look that said everyone was a sucker or a farmer or both, said everybody was merely something to scorn. Even though the boy did not truly believe it he still had the look.

He had learned much in a short time. How to watch women so he seemed to know something about them, though he didn’t. how to talk of them in an appraising way though he was no more knowledgeable than Bobby, who knew nothing and spoke so well he seemed an expert. The boy learned so much and became so confident that he had become almost completely ignorant and had ceased to know new things and he might have gone on learning more and more and becoming more and more ignorant for ever.

Except for Ruby.

He’d been with the carnival a month before he saw her naked.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Eight


EIGHT



   In the first week with the carnival the boy learned more than he had in his whole life before that, and in some ways more than he would learn in all the time he lived afterwards. He learned carny rules, carny thoughts, carny lives.

He learned that everybody who wasn’t with the carnival and some who were with the carnival were suckers. Bobby taught him that. Along with how to know how much money a man was carrying by the way he stood when he thought he was going to have to spend it, and whether or not a woman would put out. That was how Bobby said it – put out.

`See that one?` he said as they were setting up the ride and two young women were walking by, heading for the stock barns. `The one on the left? She’ll put out. The other one won’t but that one will. She’ll put out like a machine.`

`Put out what?` The boy had honestly never heard the phrase and while it was true that he thought almost literally of nothing but sex by this time – the condition had worsened as he stopped worrying about the law and being a fugitive and felt more secure – he did not put it together with what Bobby was saying.

`Poon,` Bobby said. `Poontang, pussy – you know. Screwing. She’ll do it, the other won’t.`

So the boy looked at the two women. They were both wearing tight jeans and light sweaters and both walked with their hips moving in the way the boy had come to have difficulty watching. He could see no difference between them, no indication of what Bobby meant. `How can you tell?`

Bobby stared at the women until they were out of sight. `You get to where you can. It’s experience. You just know.`
`I couldn’t tell at all.`
`I could. That’s all that counts.`

For you, maybe, the boy thought, but he said no more and even later when he saw that it wasn’t so and that Bobby didn’t really know how to tell and that he never did anything with any women it didn’t matter. It was still something the boy learned and besides there were other things that Bobby had to teach him.

That all people wanted to lose. Bobby taught him that as well.

`They say they want to win, they say they want to be right, but it’s just a bunch of hooey. All they want to do is bitch, and getting shafted gives them something to bitch about. Watch them on the rip games-`

`Rip games?`

`The nickel toss, ring a looie, the sucker ball. They keep coming back even when they know they can’t win. They keep trying when it’s a dead toss just so they can bitch later. They walk away shaking their heads and whining but they always come back. Suckers.`

And while the boy knew that what Bobby said wasn’t always true and that all people weren’t suckers he thought of Hazel and of the man who died when the pheasant hit him – he came to see what Bobby meant as he worked at the carnival and became more a carny and less a boy.

And it did not take long. By the end of the first day of full work he had learned much and in a week he was pretty sure he knew it all.

When they arrived in Harken Bobby drove out to the fairgrounds, stopped the truck, got out and looked at the area set aside for the rides and smiled up at the boy. `Same as last year – let’s get to work.`

The boy jumped down and they started to unload the panels from the truck. The boy looked for Taylor’s pickup but soon they were working so hard he didn’t have time to look. They horsed the panels around, locked them together, rigged the seats and locked them in, the two of them working all afternoon and into the evening and when there was nothing left to do Bobby punched him in the shoulder. `You hungry?`

The boy stood, weaving. He was past tired. Covered with grime that made him look dark, old, creased around his eyes. And he was beyond hunger as well. Nothing to eat all day except for a handful of prunes, and nothing much the day before except peanuts and Coke and sardines and crackers. He was afraid to move, to try walking, sure that he would fall over. `Eat, food?`

`Hell, yes – did you think you could live on prunes forever? Let’s hit the gedunk stand.`
#other rides had come to set up while they’d worked – although the boy hadn’t had time to stop and look at them – rides and booths, and off to the side was a food trailer with the panels up on the sides showing pictures of hot dogs and hamburgers and Cokes painted in faded colours.

The boy followed Bobby to the stand and stood, dazed with exhaustion, while Bobby talked to the man working the stand.

`You got money?` Bobby turned.
The boy dug into his pocket and pulled out some bills, handed them to Bobby without looking, staring ahead, and within two minutes he was handed two greasy hamburgers dripping with ketchup and mustard.

 `Eat `em quick,` Bobby said. `Before they spoil on you.`

It was a joke but the boy didn’t hear it. He ate the burger in his left hand in three enormous bites, took the one in his right in four – not tasting them – and stood, his hands greasy, not moving, waiting. It was dark and he thought he was supposed to do something, be somewhere, but he couldn’t think.

`Go to the truck,` Bobby said. `Crawl up on the seat and sleep. The carnival doesn’t start until tomorrow.`

The boy turned and walked zombie-like to the truck parked at the back of the ride as he was told, climbed up into the cab to lie down and was asleep before his head hit the seat.

The boy slept hard – in a kind of unconsciousness – and did not awaken until the late-morning sun and a roaring prune-and-greasy-burger-induced need to take a dump drove him out of the truck and into the concrete bathrooms by the stock barns at a dead run. He barely made it and came out of the bathroom to see a different world than he’d seen when he’d gone to sleep the night before.

The barn was full of livestock, there were many more booths laid out in a row to make a street between them, and more rides were set up. He was amazed that he had slept through it all, amazed and suddenly very hungry.

The same food trailer was more established now, with a tarp set up over two long tables and folding metal chairs to make a place to sit and eat. The boy went up to the counter and studied the painted menu, fingering the money in his pocket. `What do you have for breakfast?`

The man in the booth turned and the boy saw that he had no fingers on either hand. `I have hamburgers or hot dogs. All the time. Which do you want?`

`A hamburger.` The boy tried not to stare at the man’s hands. Using his thumbs against his palms like pincers, the man held the spatula and slid the burned-cooked meat onto a bun he’d had cooking on the grease on the back of the grill. He wrapped the burger in a piece of waxed paper. `Fifty cents.`

The boy paid and turned away to eat. At fifty cents a small burger he thought, I’ll be broke by tomorrow unless Taylor gives me more money.

He ate the burger in four bites, bought another, ate it and walked over to the Tilt-a-Whirl where Bobby was starting up the drive motor and doing a test run.

`You work the clutch to make the seats spin hard,` he said over  the sound of the engine as the boy walked up. `There won’t be much for the rides to do until dark. But you practise now, and after a bit you know how to work the clutch and can make certain seats spin more than others.`

`Why bother?`
`You look for men with loose trousers and spin them hard. The change will come back out of their pockets and fall into the crack in the seat. Sometimes you’ll get a wallet, but mostly change. Taylor, he’ll split it with you if he’s in a good mood.`

`Split what?`

Taylor chose this moment to arrive. He looked clean, his hair well combed, a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
`I was telling the kid how to work the clutch to get change.`

Taylor looked at the boy. One look, quick, up and down. `You look better. Dirty, but better. Got rid of that goddam farmer look.` he inhaled, exhaled, without taking the cigarette from his mouth. `You help Bobby set up the geek show and shill for him. I’ll run the ride tonight.`

The boy did not fully understand what Taylor meant but he didn’t ask questions because he didn’t want to appear stupid and, in any event, in moments he was busy helping Bobby set up the geek tent – little more than four tarp walls with a zigzag entrance and no roof. In front they put up a wooden platform eight feet square and three feet off the ground. Inside was a small cage set on a wooden platform also three feet high, the cage not over four feet on a side with a thin mesh over the top, held on with pieces of wire, the sides bolted together. As the boy finished tying the tarp off to stakes they hand-pounded into the ground, Bobby hooked up a grubby looking public-address speaker and microphone and set them all on a raised wooden platform they dragged from the truck. He also had a rubber dog turd, which he put in the cage, and some yellow liquid in a jar he poured on the floor. `Kool-Aid – but they think its piss. They think I crap and pee in the cage.` He disappeared again for a few minutes and came back holding a live chicken.

`From the stock barn,` he said. `They sell ‘em for fifty cents.`

He put the chicken in the cage and went out again, came back in a long coat, carrying a can of some dark paste. `Here, help me make up. Just wipe it on and smear it around – the greasier looking the better.` He took off the coat and the boy saw he was wearing only an old tattered pair of briefs, ragged and stained by make-up and revealing. The boy wiped the grease onto Bobby’s back, gingerly at first and then harder until the man was completely dark. In the meantime Bobby had been doing the front of his body and his face, looking in a small mirror now and then to touch up. It was hot inside the open tarp cubicle and his sweat shone through the make-up.

`Go tell Taylor it’s time to start barking,` he said, working on his legs and feet. `Quick, before all this crap runs off me.`

The boy ran to the Tilt-a-Whirl – which wasn’t in operation yet – and found Taylor smoking a cigarette and looking at some women walking past. They were older women, not wearing tight clothing and not wiggling like some of the young ones did, but it didn’t seem to matter to Taylor.

`Bobby says it’s time to start barking, whatever that is…`

Taylor took a drag on his cigarette and flicked it away in an arc. `It means getting the farmers in. yeah, I’ll start calling. You go out in a kind of circle, over that way to the left, and when I start talking fast you sort of stop and then hurry over and stand in front of the geek tent. Got that?`
`Is that shilling?`
`Just do it. Then when I give you a sign, you go off in different direction, over to the right, and come to the geek tent again. They’ll follow you like the dumb little sheep they are.`

The boy moved off. He hadn’t gone thirty paces when there was a squawk and a hiss and Taylor’s voice boomed over the fairgrounds.

`Wild man from Borneo! Un tamed and naked and savage! Four men killed capturing him just so you to can see him for one half-dollar! Come now and watch him feed on live flesh! It’s all happening now right now, on the midway!`

The fair wasn’t packed yet- as the boy would find it the next day when all the rides were going and the weekend had truly started -but there were groups of people here and there and the sudden booming public-address system stopped them and caught their interest.

The boy went to a spot where ten or fifteen people seemed to be gathered and trotted through the middle of them, heading for the geek show.

And they followed him. Just like Taylor had said. Followed him until he was standing in front of Taylor, who was up on the platform. The boy stood for a moment, mesmerised. Taylor had taken command of all of them, held them with his voice, his took.

`There, inside that tent, is a man who has never seen civilisation. He’s as wild as a wolf …`

He looked right at the boy and made a motion with his chin and the boy understood, moved back through the crowd and found another group of people and led them back.

Soon there were thirty of them, all standing watching Taylor.

¬Just a half-dollar to see him, one thin half-dollar, two tiny quarters in the box to see a sight never seen by civilised man before!

He worked them, stroked them, and when they were right on the edge the boy caught it, understood without being told what he should do next and moved forward and put a half-dollar in the cigar box on the platform and went into the enclosure. His timing was perfect and he heard change hitting the box behind him.

When the crowd was in the tent- over twenty of them jammed in the tiny enclosure – Bobby started slamming around in the mesh cage, shaking it so the people would jump back and the women gasp. It was more education for the boy watching Bobby work. He had worked up an act that made the boy think of a minstrel show he’d once seen mixed with the movie gorilla King Kong trying to escape from captivity. Bobby leaped from one end of the cage to the other, nude except for the tattered pair of briefs, his shaved head glistening with the black make-up.

`Argh!`

He lunged at the mesh, startling the crowd and even the boy, who was not ready for it and jumped away from the cage. One older woman had to leave the tent. A younger man, probably her son, went with her but came back in a moment.

The boy was not sure how Bobby decided the time was right – he said later it was when the `farmers were wet-lipped and whip-ready` - but until now he had ignored the other occupant of the cage.

The chicken.

All this time in the small cage thee had been the victim chicken.  Everybody saw it, everybody knew why it was there, knew that the wild man from Borneo was going to do something with the chicken, something awful, and now, glaring at the crowd, the wild man’s white eyes flashing out from the dark make-up, he suddenly jumped and snatched the chicken, which squawked and flapped its wings.

Still he did not hurt it.
`Timing is everything when it’s farmers,` he told the boy later. `You have to time everything perfectly.`
Taylor came into the tent then, with the cigar box. `It’s  time to feed now. Many of you know how expensive it can be to keep a wild animal. Please put something in the box to help us support this scientific discovery…..`

His voice was soft now, not barking but soft, and the boy was amazed to see people put more money in the box, change and some bills.

Even though they paid, the boy could see they still did not believe it – not all of it. Did not believe in Bobby, did not believe he really was a geek – a wild man from Borneo – and most certainly did not believe he would do anything to the chicken.

They paid their money to get in, and they jumped back when Bobby jumped at them and they were disgusted by the turd in the cage and the puddles of yellow pee in the corners and some of them – young women- kept peeking at his shorts and what they almost concealed and everyone was clearly horrified and sickened by the thought of Bobby doing something to the chicken but they did nt truly believe he was real or that he would do it.

`Ah, it’s all fake,` a young man who had taken his mother outside said, squaring his shoulders. `I’d get in that cage and kick his butt if they’d let me.`

`It’s all bull.` Another young man. Some young women were there, and one of them looked at the second young man and smiled a tight little grin but said nothing. Her face was pale.

And then Bobby did it. With perfect timing he put the chicken’s head up to his lips, took it in his mouth and with a tearing motion bit off the head. `There’s cords in ‘em,` he told the boy later. `In the neck, stringy cords. You got to rip kind of sideways.`

The chicken flapped and spewed blood from the stump of its neck and Bobby made sure the blood sprayed on the crowd, swinging the carcass around and growling until all the people were gone.

`Never more than one chicken per day,` he said, standing out of the cage and spitting. `It softens the act too much, you start killing chickens all the time.`

The boy helped wipe some make-up off and then went to the food booth while Bobby went off in the coat. The boy wasn’t hungry so much as he had a taste in his mouth – he thought he could taste the chicken head and could not stop thinking of what it would be like, the beak, the eyes with the lids opening and closing inside his mouth. Even if you bit quick, he thought, you were going to feel some of that, know that the beak and eyes were there, and he wanted a Coke in his mouth to get out the taste left by thinking of the beak and eyes on his tongue and it was then that he first met Ruby.

He had just taken a Coke from the man with no fingers and was going to head back for the Tilt-a-Whirl when Ruby walked up beside him.

In some way because she was real she was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen.

This was before he had seen much television, so the boy’s knowledge of beauty was limited largely to women with enormous breasts he had seen films – Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell were popular in those days and at first glance Ruby very definitely qualified.

She had long blonde hair and was wearing a T-shirt that revealed her `full-figured bust development`, as they put it in the lingerie sections of the mail-order catalogues that the boy and several million other boys frequently read alone, and long legs below an impossibly tight pair of short-shorts.

Her eyes swept over the boy as if he didn’t exist. She had been sleeping – her eyes showed it and her tousled hair – and she clearly did not know that the boy knew Taylor or that he worked for him, just as the boy did not know who she was; he just knew she was beautiful, blonde and glamorous and he froze with the Coke halfway to his mouth and stared at her.

As befitting royalty she continued to ignore the boy.

`Give me some coffee,` she said to the man behind the counter. `I can’t get my damn eyes open.`   She swore professionally, cleanly, the way a gunfighter draws and shoots, and the boy loved her from that instant. Her looks made her alluring, her swearing made her worldly, he was gone. He would have killed for her.

She took the paper cup and drank half the steaming coffee as if it had been iced. She paused to take a breath, drank the rest of the coffee, threw the cup in a barrel near the counter and walked past the boy, artfully brushing her breast against his arm on the way by.

`Close your mouth,` she said without looking at him. `You’ll step on your friggin tongue.`

He slammed his mouth shut and watched her walk away on her shower clogs, her hips rolling easily, and the man behind the food counter laughed.

`That’s Ruby,` he said. `She goes with Taylor.`
`Oh.` He watched her walk past the Tilt-a-Whirl where Taylor was working and turn off to the right where he could see some small aluminium camper trailers parked. Watched her walk the whole way. Watched her hips and legs and the short-shorts the entire way. `Oh…`

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Seven


SEVEN



In town he found a dry-goods store and they had engineer’s boots – black with black straps and a buckle and thick leather soles. He bought them for seven ninety-five and a pair of Levi’s for four dollars and two T-shirts for two dollars each and a set of three pairs of grey work socks.

The jeans he had on were almost falling apart and he went into a back room of the store and changed clothes, ripping the labels off the new Levi’s and pulling them down a bit on his hips. He also took off the work shirt and put one of the T-shirts on. In the front again he bought a pack of Old Gods – not cork-tips but straight – and wrapped the package in the sleeve of his T-shirt and rolled the other sleeve up to show his shoulder. He then looked for a Zippo lighter but they didn’t have one, so he took a book of matches and bought a nylon unbreakable pocket comb and stuck it in his back pocket.

In front of the store at one corner there was a tap and he wet his hair and combed it back into a ducktail. He was light-haired, almost blond, and his hair did not make a good ducktail but he worked at it and looked in the front window of the store and thought that the Levi’s looked too new and his hair to blond but it wasn’t bad – much better than he’d looked before – and he liked the way the boots made him taller. He had filled out from all the hard work he’d been doing and felt more like a man now than he had before; felt that he was truly a man on the run from the law taking off with the carnival.

Nearby there was a grocery store. He didn’t have a plan except to do as he’d been told and avoid running into that son-of-a-bitch crooked deputy until the carnival packed and left, and he went into the store and bought a box of crackers and three cans of sardines with key openers and two Cokes and two bags of peanuts.

There was a narrow stream running through town, winding behind the stores, and he walked out along the brook a mile and a half, where he found an isolated grassy flat place under some cottonwoods. He sat there with the sound of the running water and ate two cans of sardines and crackers and for desert had a Coke with a bag of peanuts poured into it and thought it wasn’t bad now, had not been for some time and in fact the death of the man with the car and the deputy’s taking all his money were the only bad things that had happened since he’d run off. He lit a cigarette but only smoked half before throwing it away and then he just lay back on the grass.

He tried to remember his parents, his home, all of it, but he could not picture exactly how his mother looked, though he could recall a little more of his father, their apartment. Instead he remembered the Mexicans and the beets – he could close his eyes and see beet plants still – and the sardines mixed with crackers and Coke and peanuts made him feel full and he opened his eyes once, closed them, opened them again in a blink and was asleep.

When he awakened it was just into darkness and he would have slept more – the night was warm and soft – except that the end of the sunlight brought out mosquitoes and their buzzing and biting killed sleep.

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