Regarding Cults, Their Leaders, and the People Who Join Them…

March 26th, 1997…

I was nineteen years old, and I remember hearing the news report for the first time. Thirty-nine members of California’s ‘Heaven’s Gate’ commune were found lying in bunk-beds, dressed in matching black clothes and Nike sneakers. Each had a bag tied over his or her head, and all had perished from self-administered doses of vodka and Phenobarbital.

Their googly-eyed leader, Marshall Herff Applewhite, claimed that the passing comet Hale-Bopp hid a mystical spaceship. Only by ‘shedding their human containers’ could the Faithful be ‘beamed’ aboard the spaceship, after which they would enjoy an epic eternity in the Great Beyond. (Applewhite himself was found among the dead.)

Applewhite was obviously a nut case, and his followers also had a few loose screws. There were a number of disturbing events that led up to the mass suicide, one of which was this: Many male cult members (including Applewhite himself) submitted to castration in order to shed all ‘human desires’. (On a similar note, the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh insisted that all wives and daughters be turned over to him, because only he was ‘pure’ enough to breed.)

Cults are weird, man!

In one sense, I don’t get it. I mean, I’d be damned if I’m gonna have my ‘nads cut off, or drink poison, or hand my wife over to some tin-pot dictator like a party favor. On the other hand, I was once a member of the cult founded by the self-anointed ‘prophet’ Kip McKean. While McKean’s cult doesn’t (insofar as I know) demand the surrender of one’s virility (or wife), the group nevertheless remains notorious for its coercive and abusive control mechanisms.

I think the reason that some people join cults – or at least, the reason I did – is that they’re hoping to have all the accurate, reliable, and complete answers about Life handed to them on a silver platter. Blindly accepting the teachings of some self-described ‘Messiah’ is much, much easier than sorting out those answers for oneself! Some people mistrust themselves so much that they’ll follow any lunatic who’s more assertive than they are. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh talked just enough trash to get his followers to hand over their life savings… which he used to acquire nearly a hundred Rolls-Royces, which he then proceeded to drive like a maniac. Dwight ‘Malachi’ York ran his mystical ‘Nuwaubian Nation’ cult with the apparent end of gaining sexual access to young girls, and so did Tony Alamo of Alamo Christian Ministries.

I can identify two different kinds of cult leaders: Those who are/were actually crazy enough to believe their own baloney, and snake-oil salesmen who just teach whatever happens to be enriching and empowering to them.

Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh were crazy. How do we know this? They died alongside their flocks, swallowing their own delusions hook, line, and sinker. On the other hand, Charlie Manson tried to get outta Dodge before he was arrested, and Japanese cult leader Shoko Asahara harbored no intentions whatsoever of facing the consequences of his actions.

Going ‘way back, I think that Joseph Smith (the Mormons) and Charles Taze Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses) were of the ‘crazy’ breed of cult leaders as well: Both predicted dates upon which the world would end within their own lifetimes! There’s no reason to do that except lunacy…

A sane man would realize that the world’s failure to end by its ‘due date’ just might damage his reputation!

But L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) wasn’t crazy, any more than Charlie Manson or Shoko Asahara. I just finished reading his book Dianetics, and lemme tell ya… Scientology was crafted from day one to become (as the producers of TV’s South Park put it) ‘a global scam’. I don’t think Hubbard was a nut at all; I think he was just pure evil.

Another question that interests me is this: Why do the wealthy – and celebrities – so love to join cults?

The Beatles were involved with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and George Harrison went on to join the Hari Krishnas. The brother of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols was found dead along with the other Heaven’s Gate cultists. Members of the Beach Boys were involved with the Manson Family. John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley and many other actors have been involved with Scientology over the years. And most recently, Allison Mack (of TV’s Smallville) and India Oxenburg (daughter of Dynasty’s Catherine Oxenburg) found themselves entangled in Keith Raniere’s cult, Nxivm. (Two heiresses from the Seagram’s whisky family were ensnared by Nxivm as well.)

So why do the wealthy and famous so love to join cults? I think there’s a two-fold answer to that question: Number one, cults attract the wealthy because cult leaders court the wealthy. Duh!

But why do the rich and famous fall for their shenanigans…?

The answer, I think, is pretty simple. The wealthy and the powerful are the same as everyone else, in the sense that they seek a sense of spirituality. As wiser men than I have pointed out, humans are inherently ‘theotropic beings’. We were created in the image of our Creator, and we cannot long abide the lack of a spiritual dimension in our lives.

God, however, has certain expectations of us, rules that He sets into place for our well-being. As Benjamin Franklin put it: ‘Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden, but forbidden because it is hurtful’. For your average shmoe, God’s expectations aren’t that troubling. I don’t have to worry over-much about falling into adultery, because I’m a not a rock star with beautiful women throwing themselves at me after every concert. I don’t hafta sweat drug addiction all that much, either, because I can’t afford drugs. I firmly believe that people are only as good as they have to be, which is why Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Christianity was the secret of American greatness…

That’s also why America sits upon a precipice now, teetering on the brink of anarchy and collapse: Without accountability to our Creator, people begin to behave like animals. And that, I believe, is why celebrities are easy prey for cults: They’re seeking a convenient sense of spirituality without the inconvenience of moral expectations. I mean, celebrities can afford lots of women and drugs, so they don’t want some religion cramping their style!

The Rajneeshis, the Manson Family, and the Nuwaubians were all about as depraved as they come. I think Anton LaVey (of the Orthodox Church of Satan) summed up the attraction of cults fairly well, in writing about his own: Satanism condones any type of sexual activity which properly satisfies your individual desires — be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or even asexual, if you choose.

But not all cults are debaucherous in nature; many lean more towards monasticism. What’s the appeal of these groups?

Much like a battered wife feels that she ‘deserves’ her husband’s abusive and controlling behavior, I think there’s an element of emotional dependency there. When I was in McKean’s cult, the painful manipulation I experienced mimicked elements of my own unhappy childhood. Because I’d been so conditioned to being controlled and suffering verbal abuse, the outrageous actions of the ‘ministry’ just struck me as… well, part of a normal ‘family’ relationship.

Cults are never ‘normal’!

An understanding of God is a good thing. It draws us into a deeper knowledge of ourselves by virtue of a deeper relationship with the Deity who created us. Enlightened Faith draws upon the nobler side of human nature, and brings out our best qualities.

Cults, on the other hand, are nothing if not a perversion of faith! They pull us deep into the blackest abyss of our own soul, by appealing to needs born of lust, or abuse. Cults draw upon the dark side of human nature, and bring out our very worst qualities.

On the other hand…

Maybe Marshall Applewhite is riding happily around on a comet somewhere…

Nah!!!

shaunmoser.com Interviews California Governor Gavin Newsom

U.S. President Trump’s impeachment trial overshadowed a ground-breaking news item released just this morning: California Governor (and former San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom announced that he had completely solved San Francisco’s homelessness problem. He also said that he had turned California’s crumbling economy completely around, and solved its troubling crime issues as well.

Since shaunmoser.com was unable to get press access to President Trump’s trial at the U.S. Capitol Building, we decided to cover the Newsom announcement instead. So we dispatched our favorite reporter, Petey the Pissed-Off Possum, to the governor’s mansion in Sacramento.

Here… is his interview.

Petey: Thank you for meeting with us this morning, Governor Newsom. I especially wanted to thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on such short notice.

Governor Newsom: Well, I was more curious than anything. I mean, who the hell is ‘Shaun Moser’?

Petey: He’s my boss; I used to live in his trash can until it got rust holes in it. Are you ready to begin, Governor?

Governor Newsom: Does this Moser guy pay you?

Petey (laughing): That’s enough about me, Governor! I’m told you actually solved San Francisco’s crippling homeless problem literally overnight! How did you accomplish such a feat?

Governor Newsom: Well, it’s probably an exaggeration to describe San Francisco’s homeless issue as ‘crippling’. The problem wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’d say San Francisco’s homeless problem was on par with, say, Venezuela’s. Or maybe Cambodia’s, or India’s.

Petey: Um… that’s pretty bad. How did you fix it, and in such a short time?

Governor Newsom: Oh, it was easy! We just legally changed the definition of ‘homeless’ to exclude anyone who lives in a cardboard box, sleeps on a park bench, or spends any time outdoors at all.

Petey: But what about the sanitation issues? Didn’t President Trump threaten San Francisco with sanctions by the Environmental Protection Agency, if they didn’t do something about the homeless people constantly taking dumps on the sidewalk?

Governor Newsom: First of all, let me say this: President Trump is an environmental terrorist, and he has NO business lecturing me on environmental issues!!! I mean, he takes a private jet everywhere…

Petey: I’ve seen photos of you getting out of private jets…

Governor Newsom (waving his hand): These aren’t the jets you’re looking for…

Petey: What…?

Governor Newsom (waving his hand again): You can go about your business…

Petey: Are you stoned…?

Governor Newsom (still waving his hand): Move along.

Petey: Um… Okay. But seriously, how is re-defining ‘homelessness’ away going to get the turds off the sidewalk?

Governor Newsom: Look, it’s the same basic idea as George Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ law. American kids were too dumb to meet our academic standards, so we just lowered the standards. Get it?

Petey: No…

Governor Newsom: Look, it worked, okay? San Francisco doesn’t have a homelessness problem anymore! Can we move on, please?

Petey: You also said you fixed California’s broken economy? How’d you do that?

Governor Newsom: Oh, that was easy. We just raised our taxes again. More money coming into the government means a healthier state, right?

Petey: But businesses are leaving your state because of the taxes! Isn’t that right?

Governor Newsom (waving his hand): These aren’t the businesses you’re looking for…

Petey: Not again

Governor Newsom: You can go about your business…

Petey: Will you stop that please?!

Governor Newsom: Move along…

Petey: So you solved homelessness by re-defining the word, and you solved the problem of businesses fleeing your taxes by raising your taxes. Am I getting this right so far?

Governor Newsom (pulling a crack pipe out of his pocket, and stuffing a rock into the bowl): That’s right!

Petey (choking as Governor Newsom lights up his rock): So what about crime in your state? How did you nip that in the bud?

Governor Newsom (blowing a smoke ring): That was easy, too. We just legalized everything!

Petey (waving away a cloud of smoke): Everything? Rape? Murder? Drug dealing?

Governor Newsom (choking): Yes sir!

Petey: So your gun laws were repealed, too? Your average Californian can now own and carry a firearm for self-defense?

Governor Newsom: WHAT?! ARE YOU INSANE?! NO!!!

Petey: Oh… I see… Um… Governor, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time today. Before we wrap this up, may I ask you one last question?

Governor Newsom (loading a fresh rock into his pipe): Sure, man.

Petey: Governor… what the f*** is WRONG with you?!

Governor Newsom (turning purple): What’s wrong with me?! ME?! You… you… You’re RACIST, that’s what you are! RACIST!!! HATER!!! I’M TOTALLY GONNA ‘DOX’ YOU WHEN I FIND YOUR ADDRESS!!!

Petey: Racist? I’m a possum. And I live in a trash can.

Governor Newsom: YOU… YOU… DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A MARSUPIAL!!! I’LL CALL CNN ON YOU!!! I’LL HAVE NANCY PELOSI IMPEACH YOUR FUZZY ASS, YOU…

Petey: Governor, there’s no need for…

Petey: Governor…?

Petey: GOVERNOR?!

This interview was tragically cut short as Governor Newsom’s head exploded.

Our reporter was understandably a bit traumatized by the event, and fled in terror. However, one of Governor Newsom’s staff explained to us that all was well. Apparently Governor Newsom always follows a handy tip given to him by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, regarding what to do in just such an emergency…

He keeps a box of disposable heads in his office.

Petey could not be reached to write the closing commentary for this interview, although the guy who owns his trash-can residence assures us that he’s still pretty pissed off.

Regarding Someone More Talented Than I'll EVER Be…

I started this blog to showcase my own writing.

By modern standards, I’m pretty good…

By historical standards, I’m a hack.

Here is one of the greatest poems ever written, by one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Disney has made a tawdry mockery of his work, but for those of us who appreciate the finer things in life…

Well… WE get him!!!

L’Envoi – by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

Fire and Blood: A Fable in Seven Parts

Author’s note: Fables are not my strong suit. Nor is writing in the present tense. But sometimes breaking one’s mold is satisfying, and more than a little cathartic…

Part I

In all the world, there is none so graceful, so beautiful, or so powerful as the Phoenix.

The awe-inspiring bird of ancient myth soars high above his world, transcending even Time itself. He soars in, out, and through all the ages of men, carried aloft by wings be-feathered with incandescent flame. He turns his piercing eye toward the doings of mankind with open scorn, his plumed head un-bowed. Un-bowed… before man, beast, and even the Almighty Himself.

For who is greater than the Phoenix? He is the dragon-bird of the Heavens, the Watchman of the Ages.

Perhaps he had a beginning, or perhaps he never did. Perhaps someone plucked him from the pyre of his birth. Or perhaps he is simply timeless, without beginning and certainly incapable of ever coming to an end.

In his travels the Phoenix gazes often upon the mountain of the Almighty. He finds it in odd places sometimes, the mountain, and always unexpectedly. Sometimes it rises from the desert, overlooking the heathen hordes of the Middle East. Sometimes it appears on lush isles, surrounded by the resort cities of America, the modern Roman Empire. But always it seems to follow the glorious Phoenix, the mountain, and always the great dragon-bird turns and sails disdainfully away from it, flicking his crimson tail feathers in irritation.

For the Almighty is really just a crutch for the weak, is He not? His worshippers grovel at the feet of their deity, their praise mixed always with barely concealed terror. They are addicts to religion, those weak-minded mortals who must need cling to the idea of a Greater Being. But not so the Phoenix… The Phoenix has sailed through all the ages alone, dependant on none, and will continue to do so.

The immortal Phoenix has no need of either the Almighty or His mortal servants. Do they love their master, really… or do they simply desire release from the fear of death?

Either way, the Phoenix is his own being, an entity apart.

As the sun rises over Eden, hits its zenith over the half-built Sphinx, and sets behind the crumbling Mount Rushmore, the Phoenix flies effortlessly across the fluid eonic winds – ageless, changeless, and proud beyond all measure.

For who, in the end, can be greater than the Phoenix?

Part II

The mammoth trumpets loudly, calling out in anguish as golden claws tear into its hide.

Crimson wings beat about its head, forcing it to the earth in unwilling surrender. It thrashes like a fish, a massive hulk of struggling sinew, fur and tusk. Its piteous cries tear into the frigid Siberian air, mingling with the vicious snarling of the hungry Phoenix.

At last the great mammoth dies, as everything must in the end. It settles into the snow, spreading a scarlet stain upon the pristine white blanket.

The Phoenix throws his head up in triumph, his chilling victory scream piercing the still, frozen night as blood drips from his razor-sharp beak.

While the Phoenix hunts here often, he disdains to actually eat here… For what union can a creature of fire and flame have with the never-ending ice? Grasping his kill in his curved talons, the Phoenix takes wing toward another age, another place.

The Phoenix drops his prey atop a high, lonely mountain, one whose peak pierces the cloud barrier. Here mankind will hinder him not; here, he may continue to remain the stuff of mystery, of myth.

Of course, every boon has it price…

For where mankind is not, the celestial becomes more tangible. Here there be the guardians and warriors, the protectors and killers of mankind; they flock about the Phoenix curiously, cherubim, seraphim, and nephilim all. The winged, ethereal creatures – male and female both – flit about the Phoenix as he feeds, the ghost-like tendrils of their clothing just brushing the great dragon-bird, their touch as light as a whisper.  

It is not long before their presence becomes odious; the Phoenix rises from his gorging, his tearing of flesh and cracking of bones, and snaps angrily at the celestial minions who come too close. This is his prey, his kill, and he is determined that they should hinder him not.

They eye him but coolly, completely unbothered by the rage of the mythical Phoenix. He is merely legend, their indifference seems to say… But they are the sort that pre-dates even legend. As such, they are beyond even the Phoenix’s reproach and retribution. They are as numb to his attempts at rebuttal as Death was to the mammoth’s frantic trumpeting.

The Phoenix will later tell himself that he’d eaten enough, that he was about to leave anyway. He takes wing furiously, leaving his gory, dismembered meal to sully the mountain’s craggy peak, and leaves this hell of angelic torment.

He’d eaten enough… really, and truly, and the celestials mattered no. They had nothing whatsoever to do with his leaving.

Really.

Part III

The Almighty is an elusive thing, easy to see, easy to identify but hard to follow, and impossible to pin down.

The Phoenix resents Him mightily for this.

Sometimes the Almighty is obvious but distant, a shining form that tops of the mountains from which he views the entirety of His creation. It is then that the Phoenix resents Him the most, for He is untouchable then, unfathomable and omnipotent; His very presence seems to scorn the mighty Phoenix.

The Almighty, in His untouchable, all-powerful form. How the Phoenix hates Him!

Often the Almighty becomes Spirit, the sentient, changeless phantom. This form, also, the Phoenix dislikes. But he is not so afraid of Him then; he cannot see the Spirit of the Almighty, after all. But he can sense Him, and he finds him frightening nonetheless. The Spirit is separate from the God upon the mountains – but yet He is the same singular, sovereign entity that is the Almighty.

Some days, though, for brief, passing moments, the Almighty becomes simply… mortal. A perishable vessel of flesh. A man, much like any other.

The Phoenix cannot say why he even recognizes this incarnation of the Almighty, this Son of Man. Perhaps he can sense the Spirit within Him, or perhaps the tangible Almighty simply shines even more brightly upon Him.

The Son of Man, too – like the mountaintop Almighty, or the Spirit – is also the Almighty Himself, yet the Phoenix grasps this not. One thing, however, is certain; the Phoenix does not fear the Son of Man. He follows Him daily, floating effortlessly on astral winds, watching as the human Almighty does very human things with His time.

Some days the Son of Man works at mundane tasks, wielding hammer and saw as lustily as any carpenter. He sweats, bleeds, laughs and grunts like any other man intent on building the buildings that house his world.

Yet sometimes the Son of Man pulls away, to pray, to connect with the Almighty upon His mountaintop – this Almighty who is also the Son of Man. Sometimes He wanders the known world with those He has chosen, His select followers. The Phoenix, if he would follow, is forced to fly far and wide, watching from a distance as the Son of Man spreads whatever news He carries to the far corners of His humble nation.

Sometimes the Phoenix lingers within the age of the Son of Man for a time, and sometimes he travels to another, leaving the Almighty-made-flesh to His own devices.

Today, however, the Phoenix is earthbound, watching lazily, preening his crimson feathers disdainfully as the Son of Man stands at the foot of a tall mountain, speaking quietly to his closest friends. The Phoenix cannot hear His words, nor does he care to. He is simply here to observe, to find some new reason to cast scorn upon God and Man both.

The Phoenix raises his plumed head, suddenly intrigued.

The Son of Man has risen above his followers, hands outspread, moving aloft as though pulled by unseen strings.

Now, thinks the Phoenix with macabre humor, Man has learned to fly?! Smiling with his hooked, cruel beak, the Phoenix lunges from beneath his shade tree.

Far, far above the awestruck assemblage, the Almighty shines from His mountain. The Son of Man sails toward Him, as though somehow drawn by the majesty of the Frightfully Eternal.

Determined suddenly not to be denied a privilege handed to a mortal – even a wholly Divine, Immortal Mortal – the Phoenix flies upward, determined to follow the Son of Man into whatever heaven might await Him atop the mountain.

And who truly knows what really waits at the top of the mountain of the Almighty? Only the Almighty Himself, and His Spirit… and the Son of Man.

But soon, the Phoenix vows silently to himself, he too will know.

Part IV

Straining more with each flap of his thunderous wings, the Phoenix rises higher and higher, following the Son of Man as He ascends toward the mountaintop.

Flames lick at the tips of his wings the beat at the chilly air, but the Phoenix worries not. These are not the flames that consume, but the flames that illuminate, that the world may see the Phoenix and stand in awe.

The Phoenix breaks through the clouds and then through the atmosphere, breaking into the Eternal Night as he struggles to overtake the Son of Man. The Son looks serenely down at the Phoenix, shaking his head a little. Silly bird, He seems to be saying. You cannot seize my world for yourself, any more than you can seize the wind

The Phoenix pays Him little heed. He merely redoubles his efforts, determined not to be outdone by anyone, divine or otherwise.

Still the Son of Man rises, moving past star and planet, through the Endless Nothing toward the mountaintop heaven.

The Phoenix begins to tremble more and more with each passing stroke of his wings. Tarnished feathers fall from his aching wings every now and again, drifting slowly toward the atmosphere, where they disappear in flashes of flame and puffs of smoke.

The Phoenix is slowly overtaken by a dawning realization, the sinking feeling that he might actually be able to die.

Still the Son of Man rises serenely, paying the Phoenix little mind.

The ageless beast continues his ascent, but with increasing sluggishness. He hangs his head low, his plume all but gone now, diminished feather by missing feather until it is no more.

One… last… flap, one last desperate plunge toward the Son of Man – who is all but out of sight.

The bedraggled tail feathers that once pointed toward the earth point suddenly skyward, and the Phoenix begins to fall.

He resists, of course, managing a feeble movement of his twitching wings every now and then. But to no avail; he has reached the end of his strength, and he is utterly spent. There is no help for him now… For who would bother to aid him who has scorned all?

The Phoenix hits the atmosphere with a rush of searing pain, and a sudden stab of fear. Like the returning space capsules of the modern age, the force of re-entering the firmament causes massive heat.

As his body begins to simmer and scorch, the Phoenix realizes that this is not the sort of flame that illuminates…

This is the sort of flame that consumes.

The Phoenix stares downward with bulging eyes. Gone is the stunned crowd who watched the Son of Man ascend into heaven; gone is the lush valley of earlier, the tree beneath which the Phoenix preened his once-lovely feathers.

The earth opens up slowly, a hungry maw of flaming fissures, cracks that scar the face of the earth like veins on a dying man.

The Phoenix plunges down, down, exhausted beyond recovery. He looks upward painfully; the Son of Man is far beyond his gaze.

Gone is the crowd, the followers of the Son.

There is no one to listen, no one to hear as the Phoenix crashes into a fissure and begins to burn.

Part V

The Phoenix lifts his head wearily; exhausted, he lets it fall. The flames in which it lands are unbearably painful, yet he lacks the strength to fly away.

His wings crack ominously as he rolls over; his crimson feathers burn one by one, curling away from his blistering flesh in withering clumps of smoldering ash.

So this, then, is Death. To burn yet not be consumed, to suffer and yet not die.

Squawking weakly, the Phoenix struggles to his knees. His golden claws melt and drip away, and his toes dig into the softened earth. Looking skyward with smoke-blurred eyes, the Phoenix looks skyward at the stars, toward the sky that was once his playground.

The Son of Man is up there somewhere, while he – the great Phoenix, the timeless demon-bird – wallows here, in the flames of his own making. All that he ever knew, all that he ever wanted although he’d taken it for granted, is up there… nearly within the grasp of his twisted talons.

So close… and so far that it may as well be on another planet. Life, liberty and all that is good are just out reach but within easy eyeshot, tormenting, mocking.

The Phoenix flops painfully toward a shadow at the edge of the fissure, dragging his broken wings painfully behind them. Maybe it is cooler here; maybe, he thinks, the fire is not quite so hot.

He curls up in the crack, covering his de-plumed head with his spindly, tattered wings. Gone is the glorious creature of ages both past and future; gone is the Watchman of the Ages. Only this tormented beast remains, worse off than any creature who ever perished beneath his grasp.

The Phoenix lays his head down. Groaning, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

He feels something beneath his head, something that shouldn’t be here, something that should not have survived the flames.

Ever curious even in his agony, the Phoenix blinks the smoke from his eyes and peers through the darkness.

A scroll. He’d lain his head upon a scroll, something perishable, a creation forged of parchment and ink. Something easily destroyed by flame and heat… yet here it is.

Bits of his burnt and melted feathers cling to the scroll as he unfurls it, his need for distraction overcoming even his pain.

He reads the first few words aloud, mouthing the words with a smoke-blackened beak. In the beginning

‘In the beginning’, here at the end of all that is worthwhile, the end of all joy…

But he can sit out there, wallowing in the flames… or he can hide here in this crack that barely hides him, where even the flames lick inward every once in a moment, and read.

In the beginning…

Part VI

The Son of Man stands at the edge of the fissure, looking down upon the Phoenix.

The Phoenix looks up, knowing what he must do. He knows why the Son is here, and what he came to do. He knows for what purpose he has been given the scroll…

But such a loss of pride! Such a humiliation, to do what the Son expects of him!

The Phoenix groans as he looks around. He had once lived for his pride, valued it above all else. But now he knew better.

For as long as he clings to his pride… he will burn. It was not the Son of Man who threw him into this furnace, but he himself, and by virtue of his own pride, his own sin. And there was no help for him, by his own effort; he could only, by his own effort, do nothing but sit here and burn.

Giving in at last, the Phoenix raises his voice and cries out to the Son of Man, begging for mercy, for redemption. Screeching, he recants his pride and his rebellion; he wails out a raucous song of repentance and supplication.

As though He had been waiting for just such a cry, the Son of Man readily raises His arm.

His sleeve falls down His arm, revealing a gaping hole in his wrist. Blood pours from the wound, as though the wound is yet fresh, and deliberately un-bandaged. The Phoenix stares in disbelief, wondering what on earth this has to do with his cries for mercy.  

The blood gushes into the fissure like a flood, slowly beginning to fill it. The Phoenix thrashes about in alarm, frightened. He is burnt nearly beyond recognition, still in terrible agony… but what good is this blood going to do him?!

The blood pours in, filling the fissure, rising like a flood…

The Phoenix raises his beak above the rising tide, squawking in terror… But his cries are cut short by an abrupt gurgle. The blood covers even his head now, and there is utter silence.

There is only the Son of Man…

And the fissure full of blood, the sanguine pit that once held an eternally dying Phoenix.

Part VII

The Phoenix stands up, flexing his golden claws… claws that, moments ago, had been melted beyond recognition.

He raises his head slowly, the head once crushed in defeat, the head whose plume had been burned to ash. He clicks his once-scorched beak and surveys the dusky-gray sky above with piercing eyes, eyes undimmed by neither smoke nor tears.

He looks to his left, to his right as he spreads his wings. His crimson feathers gleam wonderfully even beneath the slate-colored dawn, and his shoulders and breath ripple with fluid strength and renewed resilience.

The Phoenix looks over his shoulders and eyes his tail, a glorious thing meant to flow behind him like a trail from a comet.

Awed by his new being, the Phoenix looks around. The blood soaks the fissure yet, the Pit that had once been his Hell. The Pit in which he burned and died a death of sorts, the Pit in which he lay feeble and wounded and tormented by Death that refused to become something final, and clean.

The blood boils yet, but only a little as the heat dies; already it is cooler here. The Phoenix cocks his head, listening to the dead leaves scattering in the breeze above. They make a rasping sound, pleasantly reminiscent of trees limbs, scratching gently on a windowpane on a cold, windy night.

Smiling, the Phoenix crouches a little, holding his wings behind him…

Shrieking like a resurrected banshee, the triumphant Watchman of the Ages lunges from the Pit, soaring toward the clouds in a geyser of color and flame… The sort of flame that glorifies, that illuminates; the flame that consumes is dead now, extinguished once and for all by the outpouring of blood.

Ah, the Blood…

Confused – suddenly unsure of himself – the Phoenix looks downward, gliding for a moment upon a convenient breeze.

The Son of Man stands by the edge of the fissure yet, watching the Phoenix circle the sky, His wrists bleeding yet. Yet the Son of Man seems unconcerned about this, as though He doesn’t mind bleeding. As though He was so eager to watch the flames die that the blood bothers Him not; He seems in no rush to seek a bandage, or healing.

The Phoenix looks up, peering beyond the veil of time…

He looks out across the courtyard, toward the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The great works of man, from Colossus to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…

He stares across the golden bridge into the New Sodom, imagining it falling into the bay when the Father’s vengeance comes to the city at last…

He watches with growing hunger the migrating mammoth herds of Siberia, and the hustle and bustle of the glory that was once Rome…

And he suddenly realizes that none of it matters. Vanity, meaningless…

Empty.  

The Phoenix circles a little, and looks down upon the one thing in his life of arrogance, death, and re-birth that ever did matter.

Making his decision, the great dragon-bird abandons the skies that he once so loved, and plunges toward the earth.

The Son of Man raises his arms, smiling His gentle smile, as though He’d been waiting. His wrists bleed yet, but perhaps they must; perhaps there are other flames that need snuffed, other victims that need re-birth.

The Phoenix skids to the earth at the feet of the Son, bowing his head in a gesture never before known to him… And there he remains. He spreads his wings, lowering them humbly to the ground, waiting.

Come with me, the Phoenix seems to stay. Let me be your beast of burden; let me be that which bears through all time, to do the work which you came to do. Let me be that which carries you across the sky, in all your glory.

The Son of Man lays a gentle hand on the feathered head before Him, spilling a few more drops of blood as He does.

Let me do this for you, the Phoenix seems to say. Please, not because you need my help…

But because it would be my honor, for I love you.

FINIS

What Happened Here…?!

Didja ever have one of those moments in which you look around, and suddenly feel like you’ve landed on an alien planet?

I went out to run a few errands today, and there was this fellow standing outside the grocery store. He had his hair tied into a bun (what?) and he was sucking on what appeared to be a laser pointer.

Weird, man!

And I gotta watch it when I’m out to dinner. If I order a beer to go with my steak, I have to be very careful as to which brand of brew I select. Simply asking ‘what do you have on draft?’ is likely to result in my being served a glass of malted pine cones. (I’m reasonably certain that ‘IPA’ means exactly what it sounds like: ‘I pee, eh?’)

And where did all the video stores go? There was nothing more fun than browsing the shelves for some weird old title, one that you would never have thought to watch if the video store didn’t happen to have it. And on that note, what happened to video game cartridges? And compact discs? I mean sure, I could listen to any music I want on a digital music service, but what if the service goes down?

What happened to the bookstores? Borders’ is long gone, and Barnes and Noble’s is hanging by a thread. Now I see people reading stuff on these over-sized phones, as though we don’t spend enough time looking at screens as it is.

I went to see Metallica a couple of years back, and I kinda felt like I was doing concert-going all wrong. Apparently you’re not supposed to actually enjoy the concert, see? What you’re supposed to do is spend the entire evening holding your cell-phone over your head. You’ll kinda miss out on jamming to the music, but the point is to have the video… which apparently, must be way more fun than the actual concert itself.

And what’s with this Face-Bollocks thing? Apparently, life events do not count until they are validated on social media. Now, I do agree that Mark Zucker-bot has improved political discourse. It’s very enlightening to read the lengthy threads of reasoned debate. They explore every possible facet of each issue too, those threads; they don’t end until someone gets called a ‘Nazi’, and that’s how you know that the issue du jour has been satisfactorily settled.

It’s nice how social media has made us all more connected. I enjoy walking through throngs of people, each one blissfully unaware of his neighbor’s existence as he stares fixated at his phone. I think Twitter, Instagram, etc. have all helped to create a more cohesive, cooperative society.

On that note, I’m also noticing an uptick in political activism. It’s heartening to see how many young people are engaging in the political battles that shape our social landscape. Blocking traffic and rioting are very, very effective means of persuasively communicating one’s viewpoint, and I expect those tactics to usher in a bright new Utopia any day now.

Media has changed, as well. When I was a kid, it was a royal pain having to sort out which news tidbits were commentary, and which ones were actual reporting. Now that objective reporting has been completely done away with, it’s much easier to digest the news.

There’ve been a lot of changes to the American legal system, too, which was admittedly never that great. Now you just stand trial on Twitter, which completely streamlines the process and totally negates the need for juries.

Yessir! This is the Brave New World, come to life at last!

If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under my bed… barricaded behind a pile of CD’s, books, and VHS tapes. I’ll be using my land-line phone to order pizza and soda. I figure I can last under there a while, too. The hipsters won’t be able to get at me because…

Well, everybody knows it’s rude to ‘vape’ indoors, right?

Don't Call ME a 'Human'!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like taking a dump. Or throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!

Fashion Magazines: An Investigative Report

I love me some comic books!

I have around 4,000 in my possession, dating all the way back to the sixties. They’re filed in these stack-able plastic boxes, neatly lined up on one side of my hallway. Each box has a number on it, and I have this little notebook with an index of what’s in each numbered box. Every book is in its own plastic sleeve with a backer board in it, and the titles are separated by dividers with labeled tabs.

I am obsessive about how my comics are handled and arranged; even doctors filing medical records aren’t as fastidious as I am.

Which is why I think it’s weird that my wife leaves her fashion magazines lying all over the house. I mean, shouldn’t she take better care of them? Sometimes I even chuck a few just to whittle down the collection, and she doesn’t even notice. But yet she’s always looking at them, and every time we go somewhere she brings one just in case she has to sit and wait for something.

Now – like most men – I have definite ideas about what clothing I think looks good on a woman. And also like most men, I am more interested in how the clothing makes the woman look than the clothing itself…

Thus, I never really understood the fashion industry.

It’s not that I’m a complete barbarian when it comes to things women enjoy. Two of my favorite films are Kate Beckinsale’s Serendipity and Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping; I’m also a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, all love stories. Of the novels, novellas, and shorts I’ve written, many are either outright love stories or have romantic sub-plots. I can dig that, I think, because romance is – at the end of the day – a unisex pursuit. Plus I find emotional interaction and drama very fun to write.

On the other hand, I do notice that none of my heroines tend to be fashion-istas; s’weird that I happened to marry one. Seriously.

So I decided to put on my journalist’s cap, and investigate why these magazines hold such fascination for my wife.

I picked up an issue of InStyle; the date under the UPC code said it’s from December of 2018, and the cover features Jennifer Lopez.

It’s very strange, the cover photo. Jennifer Lopez is wearing what appears to be a green curtain, and she’s obviously naked underneath ‘cuz you can see the side of one of her breasts, and her hip. She’s photo-shopped, too; you can tell because virtually all women (especially ones as ‘hippy’ as J-Lo) have these faded stretch marks from their hips widening at puberty, and J-Lo’s are nowhere in sight. Her naked hip just kinda looks like a balloon; maybe the photo-shop guy shouldn’t have fuzzed it so much that he took out her hip bone right along with her stretch-marks.

Why is Jennifer Lopez naked? Did the photographer corner her in her dressing room? And why the curtain? Did she yank it off the window in a panic? Inquiring minds wanna know!

So I opened the cover, expecting to find a table of contents. You know, like National Geographic or Newsweek would have.

Instead of a table of contents, there’s this picture of a pretty brunette holding a bottle. The bottom of the advertisement just says ‘Si’. Across the top it says ‘Georgio Armani’.

What’s ‘Si’? Is it a bourbon? It kinda looks like bourbon from the bottle it’s in, but the ad doesn’t say that. And who the hell is Georgio Armani, anyway? Is he the distiller? His signature is on the opposite page from the ad, kinda like Jim Beam’s signature appears in the whisky ads from my fishing magazines. What exactly is the pretty brunette trying to actually sell me here?!

Next is a jewelry ad; at least I know what they’re peddling. After that comes a two-page ad that simply says ‘Valentino’. There are four women in the ad… or at least, I think they’re women; they’re all a bit on the androgynous side. And who’s Valentino? Do he and Georgio Armani know each other?

The next two-page ad simply says ‘Michael Kors’, and features three very attractive women. Who’s Michael Kors? Is he a pimp? I mean, the picture shows two women in a car like they’re being dropped off, and another woman slipping her shoes back on like she just came out of a cheap motel. You’d figure if this Michael fella were running an ‘escort service’, he’d at least put his phone number on his ad. That’s just common sense.

Finally I said ‘the heck with it’, and flipped ahead to the table of contents… which began on page twenty-eight!!! It’s three pages long, the table, with an ad between each page.

Do you remember when ‘pop-up ads’ were the bane of every computer user’s existence? Thanks to ad blocking programs, they’re mostly a thing of the past. But I know where they all went…

Fashion mags!

So I flipped ahead to some of the feature articles, which is deucedly difficult to do because most of the pages aren’t numbered. (I suppose Georgio the Distiller and Michael the Pimp don’t like competing with page numbers for space.)

Most of the articles, it seemed, featured pictures of celebrities promising that their ‘go-to’ makeup and accessories will make a gal look just like them. Which sounds nice, except for that picture of Margot Robbie wearing a trash bag, and the one of Nina Bobrev (who?) wearing a Halloween costume that was clearly inspired by one of the Chick-Fil-A cows. The weird thing is, the articles didn’t even mention Hefty and Chick-Fil-A. Much like Michael the Pimp omitting his service’s phone number, that’s just sloppy marketing!

Then I ran into the article about Jennifer Lopez. She talks about her butt a lot, and she never does get around to explaining how she wound up wearing that curtain. (Somewhere in the studio, I’m betting there was a very annoyed interior decorator!)

Then I found this page that listed accessories for ‘the Do-Gooder’, whatever that means. At least the page clearly listed the items being sold, and their prices…

Three hundred and sixty dollars for a bathrobe?! Two hundred and seventy-five for a pair of canvas sneakers?! Three hundred for a braided bracelet with a plastic charm on it?!

What the hell?!

As I closed the magazine in horror, I noticed that the back cover featured an ad for Tiffany diamonds. At least they list their website, so you can find their products and stores. (Tiffany’s is, apparently, smarter than Michael the Pimp.)

I threw the magazine onto the floor, just next to the couch (I always put things back where I found them) and then I headed for the hallway…

It was time to go read Batman for a while.