Sunday, August 22, 2004
JOYCE SIMMONS LUDENS, the VEHICLE’s mother, arrives to consult the VEHICLE
The VEHICLE’s duplex, Sunday, 8:30 AM. The VEHICLE has just gotten up, and is starting coffee in the coffeemaker. The plan is to drink some coffee and flip through her trial issue of Vogue Transgendered and maybe do a little home-furnishing shopping later in the afternoon, barring a new World Leader showing up to consult the ORACLE.
The Oracle is the Vehicle’s vagina. The Vehicle used to be a man named Edmund Ludens. Post-operatively, the Vehicle has not yet picked a feminine name for herself, and it’s something of an open question whether or not she could say it if she did, as she’s been unable (unwilling?) to speak since the operation. The Oracle, though, speaks when spoken to, and has become a minor celebrity, and / or scandal, and / or Republican Talking Point, for her perverse habit of telling the truth, advocating Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for President (maybe – this is also kind of unclear. No formal endorsements yet), predicting the future, and so on and so forth.
None of this being the Vehicle’s idea, of course, except for the sex-change operation bit.
But so. You know the drill. Knock on the door. It’s the Vehicle’s mother, JOYCE SIMMONS LUDENS, who never calls before she comes over (which is all the more remarkable because she’s been living upstate, near the Oregon border, in Arcata, CA, since the second divorce, and so it’s kind of an undertaking for her to get to Los Angeles). For a 55-year-old woman, she’s kind of attractive. Black hair, maybe a little overcoiffed, and of course it’s the shade of black that lets you know it’s dye, or maybe even a wig. But no glasses, and pretty hazel eyes, and she does water aerobics twice a week at the Rec Center so she’s in decent shape, and all things considered she’s the kind of lady who’d offer you some dried apple slices if you got stuck next to her on a bus or something, and she never once complained about finding her sweaters mysteriously stretched out when Edmund was a teenager. But:
Ludens [singing]: Everybody knows when your children grow
Sometimes they will go hither, to and fro,
A parent’s just someone for babes to outgrow.
I tried to be supportive, maintained motherly love,
Drank up a thousand quarts of Zinfandel and port ‘cause
I was sure the TV was just being distortive.
Ludens: I’d like to tell you you’re a woman now.
But tell me, please,
Where is my daughter, in this vaudeville?
Ludens: You must be aware, the parts you have down there,
God didn’t put them there to put them on the air,
And He surely never gave them thoughts to share.
If you so desired a politicking life,
You could find a guy who needs a politicking wife,
But what you’re doing only brings on stress, and strife.
Ludens: I’d like to tell you you’re a woman now.
No blood, no womb,
No name or childhood, how can I say?
[VEHICLE begins to cry silently]
Ludens: You know I love you, dear, daughter, son, or queer,
But what mother could cheer a daughter with a beard?
The girls at the salon see me and point, and jeer.
A vagina’s not a Senator or twat,
It’s just a little spot for when you tie the knot,
And womanhood is not a thing which can be bought.
Oracle [interrupting]: I’d like to tell you you’re a woman wise.
It’s clear you love,
But why drop your pain on this sad child?
Oracle: She didn’t make this choice, doesn’t have a voice,
You must stop this noise – have compassion, Joyce,
You always knew she wasn’t just one of the boys.
[LUDENS begins to cry quietly]
Chose her for my vessel, sorry it’s distressful,
I needed a symbol, she’ll still be successful,
But your charge must end in deus ex dismissal.
(For an out-of-sequence scene with the Vehicle's father on OV1, click here. Otherwise, continue to here.)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER returns, again, to consult the ORACLE
5:45 AM, the VEHICLE’s bedroom. As the stage lights come up, We see ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER standing at the foot of the Vehicle’s bed. The Vehicle is asleep. The audience’s point of view is from the bed’s left side, placing Schwarzenegger at stage left; the bed is at center. The suggestion of a wall separates the center-left of the stage from the far right, which is decorated to signify the VEHICLE’s front yard, which she shares with CURTIS SHUCKS. Shucks’ side is an immaculately maintained lawn; the Vehicle’s side is brown, and littered by Twinkies and wrappers, and a large ice chest, from the followers of FRED PHELPS, who have until recently been having a bit of a protest-cum-picnic on her lawn.
SCHWARZENEGGER is still wearing the navy blue jacket in which we have seen him previously, though the tie is gone. The jacket is grass-stained in places, and notably disheveled. A human hand is affixed to the right shoulder of the jacket with duct tape.
The Vehicle awakes. She sees Schwarzenegger and her mouth opens, but cannot scream. She still tries, repeatedly, while sitting upright in bed and recoiling to the top of the bed, dragging the covers along with her and bunching them up around herself. She is breathing audibly: it verges on hyperventilation.
Schwarzenegger [looking at the VEHICLE]: So now I’m going to ask my question. And you’re going to answer it. No more of this ‘conditions’ bullshit.
Oracle: What is your question?
Schwarzenegger: I want you to tell me how to get power.
Oracle: Networking. It’s always about networking.
Schwarzenegger: I’m a busy man. I have a state government to run. Who, specifically, do I need to network with in order to gain control of the country?
Oracle: ‘Control of the country’ isn’t on the table, champ. I can tell you how to get the Presidency, though.
Schwarzenegger: Fine. Spill it. I’ve had just about enough of you, with your conditions, and making me cut off my hand, and making me chase you. Get on with it.
Oracle: You need to make contact with a man named Alec Pointevint. He is presently the Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. By 2017, he will be a very influential person on a national level. You need to meet with him, and engage him in conversation.
Schwarzenegger: Alec Pointevint.
Schwarzenegger: How do you spell that?
Oracle: Just remember his title. You can look him up when you get back to Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger: So that’s it?
Oracle: You want something more specific? Okay. February 21st, 2014. That’s a Friday. There will be a dinner at the Governor’s mansion in Atlanta. Get yourself invited.
[VEHICLE has stopped trying to scream, and is no longer hyperventilating, but is shaking. CURTIS SHUCKS appears on stage right and begins to water the lawn with a garden hose, oblivious.]
Schwarzenegger: You want me to wait until 2014?
Oracle: It’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s possible, and at what times. But let me ask you something: what do you want with power anyway? You have a wife, you have a movie career which could last another twenty or thirty years, if you take care of yourself. Why try to accumulate power for which you have no real use?
Schwarzenegger: It’s sort of an end in itself. You couldn’t understand. When a man meets another man, one of them has the power, and the other one is weak. I always want to be the one who has the power. Otherwise, I may as well be her. [indicates VEHICLE]
Oracle: I should have finished. Pointevint is a big fan of classical music. Chopin in particular. In order to get him to come over and talk to you, you will have to sit down at the piano and play his favorite piece, the Fantasia in F Minor, opus 49.
Schwarzenegger: You bitch. You fucking bitch. [lunges at VEHICLE, who resumes attempting to scream] You make me cut off my hand! And then tell me to play the piano! [SCHWARZENEGGER is striking at the VEHICLE, somewhat ineptly, with his left hand: for the most part she is able to dodge him or entangle him in the sheets] You fucking faggot! I’ll kill you!
[VEHICLE loops the sheets around SCHWARZENEGGER’s head and left arm, writhes away from him and runs outside in her nightgown. CURTIS SHUCKS sees her exit.]
Shucks: Good morning, there. Might have got dressed first. No newspaper I see.
[VEHICLE gesticulates wildly toward the front door, mimes choking to death, this being the first thought that pops into her head to signify “menace.”]
Shucks: You choking, sweetie? I don’t know the Heimlich.
[CUT TO: Schwarzenegger, inside, untangling himself from the sheets.]
Shucks: What is it? There somebody in there?
[VEHICLE points at him with one hand while touching a finger to her nose and nodding vigorously.]
Shucks: You get in my place, call nine-one-one. [pause] Oh, wait. No, I’ll call. You just get inside.
[VEHICLE turns to exit. SHUCKS stretches the garden hose across the front door at foot level. SCHWARZENEGGER races out the door and trips over the hose and flies several feet: the director may want to have something padded at the left end of the stage. SCHWARZENEGGER lies dazed on the lawn while the VEHICLE picks up the ice chest and bashes him into unconsciousness with it.]
Shucks: Ain’t that Governor Shortsenegger? Hey now!
[VEHICLE grabs the garden hose from SHUCKS and ties up SCHWARTZENEGGER with it, looking pretty much feral.]
Shucks [backing away from the VEHICLE slightly]: We should probably call the po-lice.
(Story continues at JOYCE SIMMONS LUDENS.)
DAN DOCE arrives to consult the ORACLE
A remote rural location about 20-25 miles west of Calexico, California, on the U.S.-Mexico border. The VEHICLE is being driven to the location by MARIE AMIE's boyfriend, an aspiring actor whose given name is Sodapop, like in The Outsiders, except that he plans, once he becomes famous, to go by the name DAN DOCE, "doce" as in the Spanish word for "twelve," for reasons we will leave unexplored. Doce was selected to transport the Vehicle and ORACLE because he owns a Rugged, All-Terrain-Type vehicle, and a handgun, and no one involved was entirely sure what sort of situations might present out in the middle of nowhere like this.
The meeting was set up in advance by agents of Zimbabwean strongman ROBERT MUGABE, over the telephone with the Oracle, a week prior. The Vehicle is a mute postoperative transsexual woman, formerly named Edmund Ludens; her vagina (the Oracle) has been speaking, on and off, to all kinds of people, since the surgery which placed it in Ludens' body. One might be tempted to think that a talking vagina would be novel enough to justify building a theme park around, or at the very least a situation comedy, and therefore could easily make the Vehicle a very rich transsexual woman, but, unfortunately, the Oracle speaks only truth, albeit often cryptically, and predicts the future to boot, and there is a much smaller market for truth or future than most people would expect.
When the scene opens, Doce and the Vehicle have taken Doce's Jeep off of any paved roads, and are getting jostled in helter-skeltery ways as a result. It is rather dark: the moon, a mere eyelash of a waxing crescent, went down some time ago.
Doce: What are we looking for?
Oracle: The border.
Doce: But I mean, is there going to be a light, or a noise, or something? We'll never find them out here.
Oracle: I know where he is. Just keep going straight.
Doce: Okay. Whatever. [holds bag of candy out to Vehicle] Skittle?
Oracle: No thank you.
Doce: Who are we going to meet here again?
Oracle: Robert Mugabe. He is the President of Zimbabwe.
Doce: That's one of them with all the AIDS, right?
Doce: [chews Skittles thoughtfully]
Oracle: He is currently the President of Zimbabwe. He used to be the Prime Minister. Also Zimbabwe used to be Southern Rhodesia.
Doce: That's a lot of name-changing.
Oracle: You should talk.
Doce: What're you going to tell him?
Doce [louder]: What are you going to tell him?
Oracle: I heard you.
Doce: Oh. Okay.
Doce: Are we getting close?
Oracle: Maybe another fifteen minutes.
Doce: Am I going to become world-famous?
Oracle: I'm sorry.
Doce: [almost asks a follow-up question, and then thinks better of it]
Oracle: You'll get to sleep with someone who is, though. If that helps.
Doce: Maybe a little.
Oracle: Could the Vehicle have some water?
Doce [to Vehicle]: Get your own.
[silence for the rest of the ride]
(Story continues at ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER RETURNS, AGAIN. Dan Doce set continues at ROBERT MUGABE.)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER returns to consult the ORACLE
Two hours and forty-five minutes after SCHWARZENEGGER’S initial appearance. The VEHICLE is leaving Brook's apartment, following a period of beer-drinking and hanging out, which was occasionally awkward since the Vehicle has to communicate everything through gesture, or in writing, owing to psychosomatic muteness since her sex-change surgery. The Vehicle may have had too much to drink, as the "conversation" with Brook was unimpeded by actually having to open her mouth to talk. The ORACLE (the new vagina) did not talk to Brook, or vice-versa, during the visit, which the Vehicle appreciates, it having been some time now since the Vehicle could feel like herself instead of a disinterested third party when in the company of other people.
The visit was interrupted twice, once by the arrival of a male parental-type figure outside, who screamed at the girls who were watching (and to some degree tormenting) the dogs in another apartment. Male parental figure was yelling, "Get away from there! They don't want to play with you! They want to eat you! Get inside! Now!" and various other things, while the Vehicle and Brook watched the scene unfold through Brook's window's blinds.
The second interruption involved Brook's roommate, who has lately been going by the name of River, returning from her job as a hostess at a Chinese restaurant in Glendale, showering, changing clothes, and then heading back out again to see her boyfriend Trip before his gig tonight. The Vehicle has gathered that relations between Brook and River have been somewhat strained since River had her name legally changed. (It had been "Brenda," which maybe it's all the beer, but the Vehicle thinks that Brenda is a perfectly nice name, sort of girly and normal and unassuming, and today is considering it as a possibility for her own name, along with "Emily" and "Julie.") Something about an inside joke which got out of hand. The Vehicle has for the most part not spoken to River. Their one major conversation, months ago, revolved around Trip, whom the Vehicle has never met, though she did see his band play once.
According to River, Trip and his bandmates moved to L.A. from northern Minnesota, where they had a band they called Son of Beethoven, simultaneously an allusion to a children's movie the band members were all too old to have ever seen, and a reference to a serial killer they were all too young to know anything about, which after the move, and after River pointed out that the two abbreviated versions of the band name that they came up with, "Sonbeet," and "S.O.B.," were both more memorable and more amusing than the band's original name, they changed the name to "Duluth." Trip and the others encourage the audience to shout "Duluth, Duluth, Duluth is on fi-yah," at key moments in the band's second set, often during the song "Mr. Rogers' 'Hood," which very few jaded L.A.-area audiences are willing to do, and those that are, speculates the Vehicle, are probably mishearing it. River counters the general opinion of Duluth as a waste of her boyfriend's time by pointing out that he is an absolute barbarian in bed, and that this can make up for a lot, though sometimes after she says this she gets a certain look on her face like she's reassessing the wisdom of staying with Trip and not much liking the resulting answer.
But anyway. The Vehicle is slightly unsteady on her feet, but gamely preparing to head back home in the pedestrian fashion, when ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER reappears. In the twilight, it takes the VEHICLE some time to determine why he looks lumpier than before. But when he gets closer, she can see that, A), his right arm now ends in a wad of bandages, instead of a hand, and B), something approximately hand-sized is taped to his suit jacket's right shoulder with a large amount of duct tape. Despite the darkness, he seems pale. His face reminds her of a bottle of nail polish she has at home, which looked festively orange in the bottle but dried to a kind of translucent dusty orange-beige, over her white nails, which was somehow just not appealing at all.
Vehicle (thinking): Let's get out of here.
A nightmarish aspect settles over the scene, as the Vehicle wobbles through the apartment complex gate into the twilight, being tracked mechanically by the disfigured and weakened Schwarzenegger at approximately the same pace. The Vehicle's face is a study in determination as she first trips on, then steps over, a slightly-raised concrete border on someone's garden, tacking diagonally across a front lawn in the general direction of home. Schwarzenegger stumbles slightly, then kicks away the border and wags a finger at the Vehicle, as if to signal misbehavior on her part. Schwarzenegger's foot catches on a tree root, and he goes cartoonishly down. The Vehicle ponders dry heaving while leaning on the front of a house on the other side of the block. Schwarzenegger picks himself up, checks to make sure his hand is still attached to his shoulder, and tries to get a bottle of pills out of his left shirt pocket with his left hand. His left bicep presents a problem, and he is only successful after lying back down on the grass and trying to shake the bottle out of his pocket. The Vehicle elects not to dry heave, and continues down the sidewalk. Schwarzenegger wrestles with the childproof cap on the bottle. The Vehicle fails to see, in the twilight, a patch of wet cement or the sawhorses surrounding it, and walks into one of the sawhorses, which pivots into the street while sending her through the center of the wet concrete.
Vehicle (thinking): Fuck.
Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, has gotten something of a second wind, and is quickly gaining ground on the Vehicle. She is weaving toward the intersection ahead, hoping that the light will change in time for her to make it across. Schwarzenegger, in the light, is looking simultaneously pale and flushed, and his face is glossy with sweat. The Vehicle starts across the intersection as the cars begin moving parallel to Schwarzenegger's path down the sidewalk: he is now just even with the patch of wet cement. The Vehicle is at the center line of the street, when suddenly, a speeding sports car, driving dangerously close to the sidewalk, hits the sawhorse the Vehicle had dragged into the street, which explodes into a blizzard of splinters. Which splinters then catch fire. The car continues down the street and across the intersection, reaching the next block at the same time as the Vehicle, who stops and ponders whether to turn right or go straight ahead in order to get home while also attempting to scrape wet cement off her almost-brand-new flats on the curb. Schwarzenegger brushes flaming splinters off the right side of his jacket with his left hand, and one of the splinters embeds itself in the side of his left index finger and makes him wince. The Vehicle decides, in a flash of inspiration, to turn right, and also that the flats are a lost cause.
Schwarzenegger checks the street behind him for oncoming cars, and then goes around the patch of cement on the street side. A flock of six helicopters appear overhead in the distance, approaching Schwarzenegger and the Vehicle. The Vehicle kicks off her flats on the sidewalk and resumes walking. There are never any good alleys between buildings when you need them. The Vehicle looks back momentarily at Schwarzenegger's face, as he reaches the intersection: it is a grim grimy grimace of resolve, she believes, though in actuality he is trying to figure out how he's going to remove the splinter, later, and concluding that Maria can probably do it: Schwarzenegger has a limited range of facial expressions. The Vehicle, not looking at where she was going, accidentally steps on a roadkilled cat in her bare feet, and recoils.
Vehicle (thinking): Oh shit.
Schwarzenegger begins to cross the intersection. The helicopters are now directly overhead, continuing across the sky. The Vehicle, spooked by the cat, and in a high-adrenaline state to begin with, breaks into a barefoot run. She sprints through a block and a half before she has to stop and catch her breath. Schwarzenegger has paused at the intersection; his painkillers and general level of exhaustion are causing him to hallucinate a large number of twinkly lights in the air around him, which he is confusing with the lights from the streetlamps, passing cars, and helicopters. The Vehicle is only a couple blocks away, now, from her own yard, which is still occupied by FRED PHELPS and his followers, which she realizes means that she's going to have to go around to the back. Some of the lights Schwarzenegger sees are an odd color, intermediate between pink and gold. He is standing in the middle of the street.
The Vehicle is plotting ways to get to the privacy fence when she is overcome by a wave of nervous nausea, and she falls to her knees and vomits on the sidewalk. Schwarzenegger, still in the intersection, rallies his resources and proceeds toward the other side of the street. The Vehicle is mistaken for a prostitute by a teenaged boy in a Camaro, who yells something indistinct as he goes by. This attracts the Phelpsians, just a few blocks ahead, who assume from long experience that they are the ones being yelled at, and they all run off into the street, chasing the Camaro, Fred lagging somewhat behind due to his age. The helicopters disappear behind a large tree. Schwarzenegger pauses to examine a pair of concrete-caked shoes, which glitter like a mirrorball. The Vehicle vomits onto the sidewalk again, then stands up. Schwarzenegger narrowly avoids stepping on a pile of luminous green fake fur. His stump is beginning to throb in an attention-getting way.
The Vehicle weaves down the sidewalk to her place. Her mouth tastes like hell: the word toothpaste, contextless, floats across her consciousness. She snags a Twinkie out of the abandoned Phelps stash, then becomes slightly nauseous again at the thought of trying to eat it, and discards it on the lawn again. She reaches her front door, fumbles for the keys as she looks down the street, where she sees Schwarzenegger stumbling along, looking wildly around himself as if he were the one being pursued. A momentary loss of balance causes her to flail slightly, and she catches herself by putting a foot behind her, landing on the Twinkie in its wrapper. There is more flailing. Schwarzenegger appears to be swatting at mosquitoes or gnats or something. The Vehicle hears the noise of a car backfiring, or gunshots, distant, from an unknown direction. She unlocks her door.
(Story continues at DAN DOCE.)
DAVE EGGERS arrives to consult the ORACLE
But back to the Vehicle: it is 10am; she has just shaved, rubbed an Age Defying Renewal Cream on her face in a graceless but efficacious manner and is now up to the deodorant application stage of her post-shower regimen. The deodorant the Vehicle applies is Secret™, the deodorant of choice for the transgendered, being strong enough for one sex but pH-balanced for the other. As she applies the deodorant, some mnemonic is triggered and the Vehicle recalls one time when a terrible smell was coming from the garbage can in her (his at the time) kitchen and she (he) said aloud to her (his) girlfriend Jessica, “We need some sort of de-odor-izer,” thinking as she (he) was saying this that she (he) was coining a clever new word, and only realizing, after the erstwhile neologism was out of her (his) mouth, that it was already a word, probably made up by some jargon-happy Madison Avenue ad exec in the 50s [N.B. the OED says usage of the word actually dates back to at least 1849 –S.M.], and feeling stupid as a result, although Jessica either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Perhaps this is why she (she) is now so reluctant to speak. Regardless, the Vehicle does indeed have a Secret. It is not the secret that she is sexually aroused by the turtle from LogoWriter, although that’s a good one. The secret is: she knows what her new name will be. And she is about to trace this very name in the fogged glass of the mirror (writing on a mirror is like high-fiving Leonardo DaVinci and who wouldn’t want to do that?), and her hand is reaching up to touch the glass, the message traveling from her brain to her finger not unlike the messages (e.g., fd 50 rt 45) required to move the LogoWriter turtle around, so you see that reference was not totally out of the blue, but as she touches the mirror to make her first downward stroke, the doorbell rings. It is DAVE EGGERS, publicly reluctant wunderkind, whom she buzzes in.
DAVE: Hi. Um.
ORACLE: Hello, Dave Eggers. You are shorter than I imagined. And slightly more gnomish. Not gnomish in and of yourself, just more gnomish than I had pictured you to be. And yet you shine! In Dungeons and Dragons terms, you are a gnome with 18 Charisma.
DAVE: My Dexterity is also 18. I did not re-roll.
ORACLE: And I pictured you with a dog. Have you bought a dog yet? Why am I thinking you were talking about buying a dog? Maybe you have one and just didn’t bring it?
DAVE: No. No dog yet. I keep meaning to buy a dog, but the time never presents itself as ripe for trafficking in dogs. Although, some might say I do have a dog and it is the dog that goes with “-and-pony show”. Or maybe “shaggy hmmph plot”, where “hmmph” is “dog”. But since I don’t read the reviews, or “snarks” as one might term them, I wouldn’t really know much about that. I am very serious about this.
ORACLE: So what’s up?
DAVE: Hi. Um. Are you familiar with the magazine The Believer? Swanky West-Coast kind of thing? Well, not all that swanky. I just said that because Dave Wallace said “swanky” when he visited you, and people like to point out similarities in our writing. That was just a bone I threw them, not that I care, or read reviews from the people who say that (I have not to my knowledge ever used footnotes, ever). Well, so, the deal is that they assigned me to interview you, in much the same manner that Dave did before, only maybe without the intellectual rigor. I’m thinking we could do something where I email you questions and then you answer them, and then I send follow-up questions, and then I reorder the whole thing, and put in a bunch of asides explaining how I didn’t have enough time to finish the interview and it was all very rushed and, being reassembled as it is, it’s nothing like the original conversation, plus, you’re constantly moving around, and even when I stand still I sort of vibrate, so it’s hard to get in touch with either of us, and then I could also paraphrase whole sections, and in the header for the interview in tiny, tiny capital letters, it could say, “O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L.”. And then once the whole thing’s published maybe we could both act all offended at being misquoted and post conflicting accounts on our respective websites.
ORACLE: “O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L.” is what? “Oracular Vagina That Has Perfected the Art of Witty Lies”?
DAVE: “Oracular Vagina Takes Her Place Among World Leaders”.
DAVE: Well, that’s what Edmund calls the website, right?
VEHICLE: (looks up for a second on hearing her former name, and then looks back at the frosted mirror)
DAVE: Or, the Vehicle, rather. My apologies. But it’s interesting you said that about witty lies. That was one of my questions, actually. We have this McSweeney’s Brain Exploder where there are two Oracular Vaginas, one that always tells the truth and one that always lies. And weary travelers on their way to the McSweeney’s Store come to a fork in the road, the road goes left and right, and one way goes to the store, and the other one goes to a stalled F train with no air conditioning, and there is an Oracle and they can only ask the Oracle one question, and what should the question be? Since you don’t know if this is the Fibbing Oracle or the Oracle of Veracity. And the answer is...
ORACLE: The answer is: the traveler should ask, “If I were to ask the Other Oracle if the left road leads to the McSweeney’s Store, what would the Oracle say?” and if the answer is yes, they go right, and if it’s no, they go left.
DAVE: Well, actually, it’s a trick question; we closed the McSweeney’s Store about a year ago.
ORACLE: That’s right, you did. I knew that one. What does your shirt say? I have trouble reading the Garamond font when it’s tracked out like that.
DAVE: Hm? Oh, “Free Zadie Smith.” Free her from my own gravitational pull, I meant.
ORACLE: It is a pull, isn’t it? You are like one of those stars that explode outward until their hydrogen is exhausted and then they collapse into weird, ironic literary renaissances of infinite density, and whole solar systems of MFA candidates float around you, until they are sucked into your writing style.
DAVE: I don’t know. I kind of meant it but I didn’t mean it but I meant it. But not. My soul is pure! It is made of ice!
ORACLE: But you have to be aware of this. Between the store, the website and all the books, you created an incestuous black hole of self-congratulatory... What would you call it? The aesthetic?
DAVE: Maybe “Donald Barthelme Goes Over to Saul Bellow’s House and Feigns Narcissism while Breathlessly Describing his Nostalgia for Being the Target Demographic For Cereal Commercials, while the Two of Them Race Around The Pull Out Couch Breathing Through Coffee Filters on Which They’ve Written Their Most Secret Hopes in a Font Similar to the One Used on the Altoids Tin, All the While Winking so Nothing is Actually Risked”?
ORACLE: Yes. And once you got an entire city doing this—and I literally cannot think of any young writer in New York who wasn’t infected in some way by it—you jumped ship for San Francisco to make an altruistic writing lab for underprivileged kids, and left everyone in New York, and Brooklyn specifically, holding their cocks in their hands. Even the ladies, who had grown ironic cocks. It is probably good that you changed the McSweeney’s Books colophon from Uroboros to a Chippendale chair to avoid having it look like you were gloating smugly.
DAVE: What is safer than a chair? Chairs should be free! We are like chairs in that we are friends with the animals.
ORACLE: Unless the Uroborous was not meant as a metaphor for self-devouring onanism and instead as one for recycling and self-reference.
DAVE: What do you mean by recycling?
ORACLE: I mean, I can’t think of anything you’ve published that hasn’t later been revised in some seemingly significant but ultimately shallow way. “Heartbreaking Work” contained an offer in the forward for the reader to request a diskette containing a revised version of the book with all the real names replaced by fake names, and when the paperback came out it was revised with a new addendum called “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making”. “You Shall Know Our Velocity” was republished in hardback as “Sacrament” and that and the paperback version (which had the old name) both had a new section, told from another character’s point of view. The device you used in that book of a narrator who is already dead when he tells the story (and you really are only allowed one of these) was also used in those “Dog Named Carl” pieces in “Speaking with the Angel”, and first appeared in the quarterly as letters to CEOs of corporations and appeared later in a different format in that “Burned Children” anthology. “Something Might Plummet, Something Might Soar” reappeared as an introduction to “Best American Non-Required Reading 2003” with the ending cut out because Zadie Smith didn’t like it. All those other really short things in the Guardian, I just know are going to reappear later. And I don’t mean they’ll appear collected in “How We Are Hungry,” I mean they’ll be reshaped in a superficial way, like they’ll be told from the point of view of a carnivorous plant with Multiple Personality Disorder, but will be otherwise unchanged. I’m not sure what it is you’ve wrought, and I don’t think you know either, but maybe your art, ultimately, is the art of revision.
DAVE: Up above, where you said, “Queen Anne Chair”? It’s actually a Chippendale.
ORACLE: Thanks, I’ll make that change before we post this. [fixed it! –S.] That’s the way you should be doing it, you know. Most other people just have their stuff edited like this, you know, before it’s released in hardcover. That saves them some time and heartache. Not everything can be a palimpsest.
DAVE: It’s hard not to recycle when you’re in the middle of writing 37 different books. I wrote a fake children’s book about giraffes while I was walking around Sudan with Dominic Arou while I was writing a novel about politics while I was brokering a deal with the London Observer to publish my next 15 stories. I keep thinking of more things to say! My brain is filled with fireflies playing handball, and the handballs are singing. Polyphony is the only thing that makes me cry.
DAVE: Anyway, I appreciate your telling me this. Understand, of course, that by offering me even the vaguest and ambivalent of criticisms, you’ve been put on a blacklist and will never be able to publish. Not because of any edict or something that I’ll have ordered, or anything like that; it just happens somehow. One negative word and foosh! Sarah Vowell won’t talk to you. Not even if you give her a “Lincoln-Kennedy penny”. The actual penny, not the sexual act. Nor will Zadie Smith smile at you, and oh man oh man oh my God, her smile, her smile, it is something to see.
ORACLE: Do not punish all vaginas just because I’ve offended you. Maybe I’m the vagina that always lies. I say this next thing not in hope of being removed from the List, but just to say it. You and your antics (and I can think of no one for whom the word “antics” is more apt) frustrate me because you’re capable of K2 caliber heights of greatness, maybe even Everest. Maybe the Moon! And yet you slum, every time I look at you, you are slumming in Mariana Trench caliber slums. Especially in that serialized novel about politics on Salon. Blechh. And yet, I can’t stop reading you. I can’t stop googling you to see if you’re married yet. I feel myself drawn toward you, both maternally and sexually. Like, physically drawn, although it may just be a Braxton-Hicks contraction. I get those sometimes. When I see you mumbling behind a lectern, asking to be taken seriously even as you’re talking earnestly about saving the painting elephants or whatever, I know that spending time with you one on one on a Sunday reading the paper after eating some new kind of Eggos that we’ve both been dying to try would be good, good, good, good, good.
DAVE: That’s a lot of goods.
ORACLE: You should see my services.
DAVE: Did you say..? Oh, you said “services,” right? At first, I thought you said, “cervixes” but that doesn’t make any sense. Here is a drawing of a cochlear implant. On the way over, I saw a tree that was rotting from the inside and someone had stuffed blue towels inside it. Why would someone do that? I run so fucking fast.
ORACLE: I envy you in so many ways, perverse as it sounds with all the sad, sad things that have happened to you. I wish I knew how to make my ADD work for me. I would certainly be further along in the Story of My Own Brief Life, rather than kind of treading water, waiting for world leaders to lifeguard me up; I would accomplish great things! I would be the Chair rather than the Snake Eating Its Tail. Do you see how talking to you makes me talk like you, Dave Eggers, exhausted star!
DAVE: I am true of purpose!
ORACLE: I am noble of heart!
DAVE: We jump together, you and I, and land hard on the earth and everyone is catapulted into space by the centripetal force. We are the only ones shimmering like foil. Cartoon hearts are exploding out of our throats and soaring upwards like crazed robins. I put my arm around you as we walk to the car, and by the time we get to the car I have a fantastic idea. My idea is this: You and I should have sex. In the car. My fingers ache as if time was stopped, and the fingers were removed from my hands and left out in the cold and then gummed by ghostly ferrets with no teeth, and then reattached, during all of which everyone and everything else was still being frozen in time, so that when time starts again, I feel all of the things that happened to my fingers compressed into a half second!
ORACLE: I make a pact with you, Dave Eggers—I have manifested you long enough. I come to you as a drone beguiled who has had the big dread besmothered; I am old enough now to make trends. It was you that spoke of new food, now is the time for starving. We have one gap and one route—let there be Converse between us (for this to work, please pretend you wear Converse all the time. I know you do not).
DAVE: I wore Converse once in Illinois.
ORACLE: I appreciate your saying so. Are you still going to interview me?
DAVE: I think I’ll just turn in this conversation as the interview.
ORACLE: But this conversation never actually happened this way.
DAVE: What do you mean?
ORACLE: I mean, we actually had this conversation over email over a period of weeks, and it happened in a different order. And we’ve compressed a lot of half-baked ideas to give it a slightly greater sense of urgency.
DAVE: We can just explain that in the introduction, just kind of bury it in there. Do you see the possibilities here? Do you see where we can go together? I’m not asking you to follow me, but there are worse things than following me, you have to see that. I am so in love with all this that I really am thinking the best thing to do right now is we need to be with each other and sweating and flying; we have a manifest destiny for the stratosphere and even if we wear the chain mail of charismatic gnomes it will not stop us from flying! The weary traveler asks the Truthful Oracular Vagina Taking Her Place Among World Leaders if the left road leads to the new McSweeney’s Store, which we’re calling 826NYC even though it’s on 5th ave., and it can in fact be found that way, but the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the Lying O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will say the left road does not go to the Store, so it answers no, and my heart is feathered like a mallard, and is more or less the same color scheme, and if you look fast and blink at the right rate, you can see it beating through my chest, and if the question is asked of the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. and the right road leads to the Store, where we’ll get rid of all these extra copies of Neal Pollack’s thing, since the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will say the left road leads to the Store, it will say yes, and if you want to know what it boils down to, when you keep boiling, boiling, I believe the children are our future; I am very serious about this, so here are the rules and regulations for a safe exit in the event of a fire, and if it’s the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L., and the Store/writing center is to the left, the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. will tell the traveler left equates store, but lies and says no. Right down the middle of the road is where we’re running, and the cars swerve to miss us, but they do not even know, they can’t know, how fast we are, they can’t know, the cars or the people in the cars either, we are fast enough and vibrating so hard that we can pass RIGHT THROUGH THE CARS, right through them, but we don’t even stop to think about that, we are running so fast, or finally, down the right path is the Store, and the L.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. knows the T.O.V.T.H.P.A.W.L. would say that the left road does not lead to the store if asked, and so it lies and is all, Yes, and rejoice, O Brooklyn, for I am returning, flying in the sky that looks like orange juice smeared on felt, and we can make a difference, I will burn brighter than you saw me burn before, and I am a supernova, a galactic cataclysm, and I cannot be stopped by nay-sayers, you just try to stop me, because you can’t, I am doing good, and you cannot punish me for my ambivalence or hostility or defensiveness or creativity or ability to reinvent, the only way to stop me is to come up here, motherfuckers, come up here if you think you have the guts, and you there, I sanction you, and you there, I anoint, and you, you displease me and the wagons have been circled, just try to break through these wagons, because I have built these wagons from the bones of entire family, I am one thousand feet tall, and just come on up here and try it, you motherfuckers, do it, finally finally finally.
(As DAVE has been talking, he begins to rise slowly upward. The wires hoisting him up are visible and noticeable, but then he pulls out a gigantic pair of scissors and cuts the wires, and then soars out over the audience and out the back door of the theater. The VEHICLE has been observing all of this dispassionately. She turns back to the mirror, but the condensation has evaporated and she only sees herself.)
(witnessed by Samantha Moss)
(Story continues at ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER RETURNS.)
INTERMISSION: TERRA, the planet Earth, arrives to consult the ORACLE in a dream
The landscape of a dream. Details are up to the stage director and the particular requirements or limitations of the performance area. This scene can be performed while sets are being changed behind the actors, if desired. TERRA appears in the guise of a woman, several women who speak in unison, or multiple women who switch off at regular intervals, depending on the number and genders of available actors and the whim of the director.
Terra: Why are you arrogant little monkeys declaring war on me?
ORACLE: A bit of rhetorical legerdemain. You are slightly mistaken. It's understandable, given your slight fever.
Terra: I mean, damn. "War on Terra" this, "War on Terra" that. It's all some of you ever talk about.
Oracle: Feel free to declare war back. It's not like anyone will really notice the difference.
Terra: Oh, what, you're all pouty because I don't care whether your species lives or dies?
Oracle: Technically, I am from several species. I don't necessarily speak for the humans here.
Terra: It's not like I mean it personally. I don't really care whether any species lives or dies. I mean, if you're looking for someone who cares, try God.
Oracle: God hasn't really seemed obsessively interested in the question either, it must be said.
Terra: You have a point. Fine. Try one another, then. The one thing you don't do is declare war on the only place you can live at the moment.
Oracle: Well there's been some talk about Mars.
Terra: Right. Yes. You, who can't go a couple minutes without breathing something with oxygen in it, who develop respiratory acidosis from even slightly elevated CO2 levels, are going to go to the planet where the air is ninety percent carbon dioxide. I wish you all the best. Send postcards.
Oracle: Well, certain people are given to unwise rhetorical flourishes. Most humans are, I think, generally pro-Terra.
Terra: Isn't that nice? I can tell everybody cares by the way they burn and burrow through and kill and poison everything they can get their hands on. Did it occur to any of you toads that maybe all that oil was difficult to get to for a reason?
Oracle: Again. Just to point out. I'm not really the best choice for a human advocate here. Have you thought about maybe nudging some other species up to world dominance? I think the water buffalo might do a really nice job. Maybe parrotfish.
Terra: I'll give it some thought. At this point I don't care so much who takes over. [thoughtful:] I really thought that AIDS thing would work faster.
Oracle: Oh. But it's going pretty well. Have you seen Africa lately?
Terra: Well not lately, no. I've had things to do. There's some stuff I'm working on with tectonic plates that I think you're really going to enjoy. [pauses] Oh, but you might want to move first. Something more mid-continent. I like you. I can tell you're a reasonable organism. Not like these humans, declaring war on me. The only thing sillier would be declaring war on something abstract, like motherhood or poverty or that weird feeling where you feel like there's something you're supposed to do but you can't remember what it is.
Terra: As you like. [checks watch] But hey. I should get going. I have an appointment with Clostridium botulinum at 3:30. And there's some hurricane planning to do after that. Work is always just crazy.
Oracle: I can imagine. Take care of yourself.
Terra: You too.
(Story continues at DAVE EGGERS.)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER arrives to consult the ORACLE
An apartment complex near the VEHICLE's former building. The crowds of Oraclites have dispersed from the area; it is unknown where they have gone. The Vehicle is in the area looking for her friend Brook (no "e"), whom she last saw when still a man named Edmund Ludens. Her plans with Brook are nonspecific; she hasn't called beforehand. It just struck her when she woke up this morning that she would like to see Brook again, so she thought she'd go to Brook's place and see whether anyone was home.
Meanwhile, two small girls, ages two and four, are standing in front of someone's window, up ahead. One very large dog, and one medium-sized dog, are barking at the girls from inside someone's apartment. The dogs may be rottweilers, or pit bulls, or something. The Vehicle was always more of a cat person. The dogs are making a terrible racket at the window, and the window is occasionally bulging from the force with which they lunge at it. The smaller girl gets up very close to the window at one point, and the Vehicle can see the frustrated larger dog snapping at her through the glass at one point, with a full view of its teeth. The Vehicle is not sure whether to attempt to intervene; no parental figures are in sight, and the window seems to be holding, and the girls are standing in rapt fascination, watching the dogs.
And then ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, bodybuilder turned movie star turned California Governor (the Vehicle thinks, and people talk about me like I'm implausible), approaches the Vehicle. He is wearing a very sharp, and even gubernatorial, suit, navy blue, with a solid red tie. He seems not to notice the unfolding vignette with the little girls at all.
Schwarzenegger: I have a question to ask you.
Oracle: I will answer. But there is a condition you must fulfill for me first.
Schwarzenegger: What kind of bullshit is this? You never ask anybody else for conditions.
Oracle: And yet.
Schwarzenegger: Fine. What is the condition?
Oracle: I want you to touch your right hand to your right shoulder.
Schwarzenegger: That's it?
Oracle: That's it.
[SCHWARZENEGGER bends his arm, but there is too much bicep in the way (also there may be freedom-of-movement issues with the suit -- we'll never know); he flexes and grimaces, but his hand is not quite long enough to reach his shoulder.]
Schwarzenegger: This is really stupid.
Oracle: Lemme guess. You'll be back?
[SCHWARZENEGGER turns around and leaves. The dogs continue to bark. The girls continue to stare.]
(Story continues at TERRA, THE PLANET EARTH. Schwarzenegger set continues at ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER RETURNS.)
The VEHICLE arrives to consult with TYRANNIE TRANNIE
Parking lot, day. The VEHICLE approaches a white van, unmarked save for a hand-painted slogan on the driver's-side door: YEARNIN' A TIT?, with a 976 number beneath it (1-9SO-4-A-TIT-NOW). The VEHICLE and her vagina, the ORACLE, have agreed previously to let the ORACLE speak on their collective behalf for the day, barring any new visitations from world leaders, so that the VEHICLE can express her desire to get her hormone-engorged breasts slightly more engorged. The VEHICLE will have to think very loudly and with great focus in order for this to happen, but as with all married couples, the VEHICLE and ORACLE are getting a sort of rhythm down, when it comes to communication, so it's mainly a matter of volume.
The van is the drive-by-night brainchild of one TYRANNIE TRANNIE, pimp, drug dealer, and cosmetic surgeon, herself a transsexual, former prostitute, and intravenous drug user. (She is of the school which holds that one cannot effectively perform a job unless one has worked one's way up from the bottom, so to speak.)
The VEHICLE knocks on the rear door of the van.
Tyrannie Trannie (henceforth T.T.): [opening door from inside, wearing a white lab coat]: Good day. Enter in. [VEHICLE stumbles somewhat on the step up to the inside] That's okay, nanny's got you.
Vehoracle: Surely you must be Tyrannie Trannie?
T.T.: 'Tit earner nanny,' I. You look a little too calm to be here about drugs, and you're a little flat to be hooking, so you must be here about the tits. No offense.
Vehoracle: I would have made an appointment, but --
T.T.: [waves hands] No, no, it's all good. I would have bumped people anyway, for someone of your stature and fame. Not often I get a celebrity. Let's go downstairs.
[T.T. and VEHICLE descend a flight of stairs behind the driver's seat]
Vehoracle: This is an impressive vehicle. Most vans don't even have staircases, much less basements.
[T.T. and VEHICLE emerge into cavernous basement, with many blinking lights and beeping noises from all over. There is a steel table, at center, and nine buxom assistants, some more symmetrical than others, in lab coats, who all look away from their computers and snap to attention on T.T.'s entrance.]
T.T.: Yeah, I got the tricked-out van, all right. [motions to assistants] This is my staff; THE NINE, I like to call them. That's Nina, and Tina, and Irene; Trina, Rena, our arty intern Annie, Nate, Arnie, and Ryan. Ernie's on an assignment right now. Nina? Tina? You want to go get our guests something to drink? Maybe some fruit? [NINA and TINA exit. T.T. and VEHICLE sit down. To VEHICLE:] So. You gots an inner tit yearnin'.
Vehoracle: I was actually kind of hoping for some outer ones.
T.T.: But yearning in an internal kind of way.
Vehoracle: I suppose. Are there external ways to yearn?
T.T.: Oh sure. But that's probably not really what you're concerned about. You're wondering about my rates.
T.T.: They're very reasonable. "Inert rate nanny," is what they call me. Because my rates are stable and don't react badly with things. For that matter, neither does my silicone. It's pure industrial grade silicone, nothing else. Plus I use no plastic encasings for the silicone. It's a little known fact outside of the medical community that the plastic casings are what really cause the health problems. It's not the silicone at all.
Vehoracle: Oh. Well that's very good. I don't want any health problems.
T.T.: You're perfectly safe here. [to RENA:] Clipboard? [Rena hands T.T. clipboard, which T.T. begins to fill out.] Any inner nitrates?
Vehoracle: None I know of.
T.T.: Good. Good. Nitrate causes all kinds of problems. Allergies to penicillin, or any other medications?
Vehoracle: No. There's going to be penicillin?
T.T.: Well in my kind of work, there's usually some penicillin somewhere, sooner or later. Or there should be. So I always ask. Nina! Tina! Reentry!
[Nina and Tina enter, with a couple glasses of some kind of cola and some fruit on a tray.]
Nina: [gesturing to banana on tray] Nanner? [VEHICLE takes banana and begins to eat it.]
Vehoracle: It's surprising to see so many, uh, assistants, here with you.
T.T.: [shrugs] Well, you know what they say. Retain any intern. I'd ask you about airy inner tenants, but I don't have to. [makes mark on clipboard] I think that's it for the preprocedure counseling. Now about the rates. I like nine. Each. Plus ninety if you're interested in symmetry.
Vehoracle: I am interested in symmetry.
T.T. Well sure you are. Who doesn't like symmetry? Well, [looking around room, eyes lighting on an obviously asymmetrical and short female] except for tiny errant Annie, there. [ANNIE blushes, hangs head.]
Vehoracle: So nine hundred ninety dollars per breast?
T.T. No, nine hundred, times two, plus the ninety. That comes to eighteen ninety, and ten for penicillin, for an even nineteen.
Vehoracle: That really is very reasonable.
T.T.: And just for you, I'll donate twenty percent to the Joycelyn Elders for President fund. It's all about cutting overhead. Not using wasteful extra processes and complying with silly governmental regulations, getting FDA approval and such. But let's get up on the table here.
[VEHICLE gets on table.] Nate? [NATE removes VEHICLE'S blouse] And let's see. Would you like music? Sometimes people find it distracting.
Vehoracle: Music is good. And by the way, you have ten, uh, assistants, not nine.
T.T.: Nine, ten. Ppfft. [to group:] Nair tray! [quick aside to VEHICLE:] Rate Nina in entry.
[NINA arrives with a silver tray and a bottle of Nair.]
Vehoracle: [aside to T.T.] Hmmm. Inane. Nine? Ten?
T.T.: Ryan, Nate. If you would.
[NATE and RYAN begin to sing, in harmony: "Relax, and rest, let's dress your chest with breasts," followed by humming to the same tune. T.T. fills a syringe with something gray from a large unmarked container]
T.T.: Now, you're going to feel a slight pinch in the breastal region.
Vehoracle: 'Breastal?' Are you, like, a real doctor?
T.T.: [Dismissively] 'Real doctor.' Nate; Ryan -- tinnier!
[NATE and RYAN continue to hum, but with poorer harmony]
T.T.: I apologize. [waving syringe around] They used to be singers, and I am a tinny trainer. Enter, Ernie!
[ERNIE returns, coming down the staircase.]
T.T.: [gesturing with head] Ernie.
Vehoracle: [to Ernie:] Hello. [to T.T.] They all look kind of familiar. Except for the breasts.
T.T.: Well you might recognize them, I suppose. Nina ran Eternity's campaign at CK for a while. And Ryan was a savage little Aryan in internet banking for a time. You do any banking?
Vehoracle: For a time. I was loyal to the Bank of America, until they started charging me extra fees for everything and my debit card number got stolen. And then I kind of ran out of money and banking wasn't really a high priority.
T.T.: Oh! You don't have money? Or, uh, a job?
Vehoracle: Not in a bank. I assumed you'd take cash.
T.T.: [visibly relieved] Oh yes. Of course. Cash is great. [nods head vigorously] And, about the job, well, I say, 'Earn rent? Inanity!' But where was I? Oh yes. The thing about the title 'doctor' is, you know, anybody can say they're a doctor. The title doesn't mean anything. If you mean, have I studied medicine, the answer is assuredly yes. Though it's a tiny arena, internal medicine. I like to have a broader understanding of things. That's why I also hold a doctorate in entertaining. And in the extremely unlikely event that anything goes wrong, I have access to all kinds of information on the computer cathode's ray. Nina! Internet!
[NINA rushes to take a seat in front of one of the computers]
T.T.: But let's get you pectacular. [Phone rings.] Trina, rent ye Nina. [TRINA answers phone and talks briefly, then writes down an address and hands it to NINA.]
Trina: [to NINA:] Earn ninety. [Exit NINA.]
T.T.: Who was it?
T.T.: Terry in Nina. Neat.
Vehoracle: You're remarkably efficient, the way you order everybody around.
T.T.: It's part of the gig when you're a pimp / dealer / cosmetic surgeon. Always got to be on your toes, juggling, rearranging. But I'm not a tyrant. [pause] A tyrant, I? Anne? Irene?
Annie and Irene [in unison]: A nanny. Trainer. [ANNIE and IRENE look at one another, giggle, then say, again in unison:] Tie! [more giggling]
T.T.: We should get started. Annie, get on the computer. [ANNIE seats self.] Trina? Pulse?
Trina: Near ninety.
T.T.: Okay. [to VEHICLE] Are you ready? [to ANNIE:] Annie -- try Nairnet.com.
(Story continues at RIMI PETERS DROPS HER THOUGHTS. . . .)
AN ANONYMOUS BENEFACTOR arrives to consult the ORACLE
Grocery store produce section, night. The VEHICLE is going retro today: She is wearing a pair of white knee-high, lace-up boots, a black miniskirt, and a raincoat made of powder-blue vinyl. There are also, of course, sunglasses. Some of this started out as hand-me-downs from CHERIE, though the miniskirt wasn't born as a miniskirt, and the raincoat was obtained from the dumpster behind a pornographer's studio, and when she found it was heavily stained with fake blood. Probably best not to ask. Many soakings and scrubbings in the bathroom sink have brought it up to spec, and the Vehicle is feeling a bit like a Bond girl, or a nineteen-sixties-era British counterintelligence agent, or at the very least like one of those girls from a Target ad, along with the minor special thrill of pretending to be someone else in public. She has shaved and made-up her face for the occasion, and is enjoying the pointed sexual appraisals directed at her by passers-by. This was, after all, part of the point, to have other people look at her and see: woman. One advantage of the raincoat is that its retro look makes a certain amount of flat-chestedness seem appropriate, which this is one area where she still feels like, perhaps, she might have been well-served to spend the money while she had money to spend.
Another advantage of the raincoat is that some small items of produce may, if necessary, be concealed in the pockets, which the Vehicle has already concealed some kiwis and is considering a bag of baby carrots, which are located at the end of the produce aisle, next to the stockroom entrance, when she hears a psst. She turns to see a STRANGER OF INDETERMINATE GENDER, in (somehow) several forms of disguise at once, wigs and fake beards and a fat suit and multiple layers of makeup, beckoning to her to enter the stockroom.
Stranger: You the Oracle?
Oracle: I am. And I know who you are, too.
Stranger: I knew you'd know. I just don't want everybody else to know. The last time I went somewhere in public, I was mobbed. I can't even go to the grocery store unless I'm in this ridiculous getup. Isn't that sad?
Oracle: You always did want to be famous. You thought maybe your life wouldn't have to change?
Stranger: Mmm-hmm. Or, yes and no. I wanted things to change. That was the whole point. But I would never have dreamed that I wouldn't be able to just go to the grocery store, or go jogging, or –
Oracle: Though the jogging is new.
Stranger: Not that new. Not anymore. I feel healthy, I feel good.
Oracle: Which raises the question of why you had to lose all that weight in the first place. You were a role model, to a lot of women, when you were heavier. They could look at you and say, if she can be that weight, and be as successful as she is, then so can I. You were an inspiration.
Stranger: Mmm-hmm. But I wasn't healthy.
Oracle: You don't think being comfortable with your natural weight is healthy?
Stranger: Being overweight is bad for you. There's heart disease, there's diabetes. I couldn't go on living like that.
Oracle: And here you are.
Stranger: And here I am. I wanted to give you something. Anonymously. I -- I know what it's like to be poor, the constant struggle. And I think you're doing, you're just doing so much for women, for people, you're really getting people to think globally about things, to think about their spiritual selves. You're just empowering everybody so much. And it's a beautiful thing. I never thought I'd see anything like it. And so I wanted to give you some money, so you don't have to worry about having a roof over your head or food to eat or clothes to wear. I mean, I know what it's like -- I grew up poor, I remember what it felt like to want things I couldn't have, how frustrating it was.
Oracle: You've come a long way, baby.
Stranger: After a while, it doesn't mean anything. I give a lot of it away, to various charities. There are days where I just want to put my feet up on the couch and eat chocolate all day, or I have fantasies about taking a walk down to the park and watching kids play. When you don't have to worry about your next meal, or what you'd do if you got sick, when you can choose who you let into your life and who to keep out, and nobody can do anything -- nobody can threaten you physically -- it’s a great thing. But you do give things up, in exchange for the control and the power.
Oracle: Absolute power corrupts anonymity.
Stranger: More or less.
Oracle: Is anonymity such a great thing?
Stranger: It's a form of freedom. You miss it when it's gone. [pause] But so. I got it in cash, because I knew a check would be traceable. And anyway I didn't know who to make the check out to. [Hands a stack of bills to the Vehicle.] That's $25,000. Invest it, spend it, save it, whatever. You know what's going to happen, I figure you know what you need to do with it.
Oracle: Thank you very much.
Stranger: It's what I do. I make money, so I can give it away. Both the making and the giving get meaningless after a while. And then, you know, there's the loneliness. Though I have Toni and Maya. They get it.
Oracle: Some things are the same all over.
Stranger: I guess so. But anyway. Get you some organic vegetables, girl. Important to eat right. Exercise. Diet and exercise, and a personal trainer. You're stuck in that body for the rest of your life, you may as well make it a nice place to be.
(Story continues at TYRANNIE TRANNIE.)
JENNA and BARBARA BUSH, daughters of GEORGE W., arrive to consult the ORACLE
In the VEHICLE's back yard, night. It has to be the back yard, because the front yard contains FRED PHELPS and his followers (and relatives) from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS, who are presently milling about kind of aimlessly. Phelps is helping himself to an ice-cold Coke from a styrofoam chest, and a couple Little Debbies. It is possible the Phelpsians believe themselves to be at a picnic. Phelps holds a sign which states, "GOD HATES THE ORACLE;" one of his grandchildren has "ORACLE IN HELL;" a daughter-in-law bears "AIDS KILLS ORACLES DEAD." Though there has yet been no actual conversation between the groups, the Phelpsians and Oraclites on the neighboring (CURTIS SHUCKS') lawn have been eyeing one another through increasingly-narrowed eyes and are clearly both itching for a scrap of some kind.
Past this little tableau creep JENNA and BARBARA BUSH, the (fraternal) twin daughters of President George W. Bush. They have had plenty of practice with sneaking around invisibly, and even with climbing over privacy fences, as they are doing at the moment. Being the Bush twins' Secret Service detail is the assignment all Secret Service agents fear, as the repercussions of a twin casualty would be disastrous on a level no one wants to think about directly, and yet the twins are just dynamos of energy, except when stoned or drunk, which, granted, is an awful lot of the time. But that just adds a level of unhappy unpredictability to the whole business. Laura Bush is the plum assignment, as she tends not to leave the White House, and sometimes doesn't even get out of bed, which makes protecting her very easy. The first AGENT, trying now to hook a leg over the fence so he can pull himself up and over, recalls the Sig Ep party where he and his co-agent finally had to resort to getting the elder Barbara on the cell phone to talk to her younger namesake, which it's not clear exactly what Grandma said to Barbara but it made Barbara's eyes roll up in her head, and all the color drained out of her face, and the whole fraternity house had to be evacuated while they removed her on a stretcher, and frankly she's never been quite right since. The first AGENT is being punished for having rolled his eyes accidentally, at something DICK CHENEY said a couple years ago.
But and so. The twins and agents are over the privacy fence now, and the twins have approached the VEHICLE, who is relaxing with a beer on a lawn chair, listening to the light jazz station out of Anaheim and looking up at the sky in hopes of viewing some stars.
Vehicle: [waves unenthusiastically]
Oracle: Greetings, spawn of Dubya.
Jenna (whispering to BARBARA): Wow. She's so gross.
Barbara: [fiddles with a "WWJD" bracelet on her left wrist]
Jenna (still whispering): She's like a homeless person.
Barbara (whispering back): But she's got a home, right? She lives here.
Jenna (whispering): I guess so. How come she doesn't shave or dress nice or anything?
Barbara (whispering): She's kinda scaring me. Can we go?
Jenna (whispering): No, doofus, we gotta ask her something.
Barbara (whispering): Can we ask for a beer? I wanna beer.
Jenna (whispering): No. We'll get a beer later. I got Grandma's 'emergency' card. We'll go somewhere later.
Barbara (whispering): Well you're the English major, you ask the question.
Jenna: [clears throat] Hey. Um so like, am I going to be President someday like Dad?
Barbara (whispering): Ask her about the thing.
Jenna: Oh yeah. So, we heard that there's this way that a person can like, have sex with herself, instead of having to get really really drunk and have sex with the first guy who comes along, in a pathetic attempt to earn the approval of men as a stand-in for the approval of her kind of distant and sometimes alcoholic father, who was gone or drunk a lot when she was a kid and then moved 1500 miles away just as she was finishing high school and didn't even come to her college graduation when she was pretty desperately in need of a little guidance and support? Or something?
Oracle: You must phrase your question in the form of a question, not just inflect it like one.
Barbara: Oooh. Burn. She got you good.
Jenna: [to Barbara] Oh shut up. [to Oracle] Come on, you. We're busy. Could you just recommend a book or something?
Barbara: Something with Cliff Notes.
Oracle: You should just go talk to Joycelyn Elders. You don't have to read.
Barbara: Oh thank Jesus. Sometimes I don't read so well.
Oracle: Well, honey, you're a Bush. Nobody expects you to be smart.
Jenna: So this Elders woman can show us?
Barbara [to Jenna]: Well shit, Jen, Fabian said he'd show us.
Jenna: Shut up, Bar. I don't think it works the same when you're a guy.
Oracle: Yes. Just go talk to her. It'll be fine.
Jenna: Well, um, thanks and stuff.
Barbara: Yeah, thanks. [pause] Hey, uh, can we get one for the road?
Jenna: [grabs Barbara and starts dragging her back to the fence] Shut up. I told you we'd get something later.
Barbara (weakly): But I'm thirsty.
(Story continues at EVIE SINGLASS.)
LAURA WELCH BUSH arrives to consult the ORACLE
VEHICLE'S duplex, 7 PM PDT. The Vehicle is reading the technical manual she received after her final sex-change surgery, the one during which her vagina was actually put in her body. She had not had any trouble speaking until waking up from anesthesia that last time. There is nothing in the technical manual about "hysterical muteness," the diagnosis with which she has been saddled ever since the nurse in the recovery room asked her, brightly, what her new name was going to be, and she found herself unable to answer. There is also nothing in the technical manual about new vaginas being able to speak, or predicting the future, or telling the truth, or attracting the attention of world leaders due to the speaking/predicting/truth-telling combination, but all these things have happened, and then some, leading to the Vehicle being known as the Vehicle and her newish vagina being referred to, pretty much universally, as the ORACLE. The technical manual is instead mainly devoted to vaginal maintenance and troubleshooting. For example: "In order to prevent your new SUPRALUTE VAGINA from growing closed, you must insert the graded series of vaginal dilators (Fig. 1), beginning with the smallest-diameter (15 mm) dilator and progressing to the largest (37 mm), into your vagina at least once a day. Each dilator must remain in place for at least fifteen minutes. No additional benefit will result from leaving dilators in longer than fifteen minutes. If insertion is painful or difficult, first coat the dilators with SUPRALUTE SLICKENGLIDE(TM) Lubricant." The Vehicle finds it helpful to read a bit of the technical manual every night, prior to bed.
There is a very faint knock on the door, which the Vehicle gets up to answer. At the door is FIRST LADY LAURA WELCH BUSH, who takes the Vehicle's hand and shakes it warmly and gently.
Bush [sweet, sincere]: It is lovely to meet you. I hope I'm not disturbing you?
Bush: I didn't want to arrive too late and disturb your sleep. I had to get a ride in Air Force Two with Dick and Lynne, so I wasn't sure exactly when I'd get here. [looking around] You have a lovely home.
[The Vehicle sits down.]
Oracle: The Vehicle does not speak, at present.
Bush: Well of course not. I'm, you'll have to excuse me. Sometimes I do better on cross-country flights if I take a little something to knock myself out first, but then I'm a little groggy when I arrive. May I sit down?
Oracle: If you so choose.
Bush: Well since it's getting late. I'm here about George.
Oracle: Naturally enough.
Bush: He would have come to you himself, but he thought it wouldn't look proper, a married man, consulting a single vagina, and so forth.
Oracle: Also he thinks that I am Satan.
Bush: Oh I don't think that's true. George likes vaginas perfectly fine. He doesn't call them that, of course. But, ah, I'm worried about him. He -- well, some things have come up, lately. We've had some disagreements, political disagreements. [pause] And I know, of course, that he is the President, and I'm not, and I'm very proud, of him, and I know that the wife is to submit to the husband and so forth, according to the Bible. I assume you know the Bible?
Oracle: Not "know" in the Biblical sense.
Bush [smiles]: Oh, they'd said you would be funny. That's very good. But of course I didn't mean in the Biblical sense. It's my understanding that you're celibate, which is why I told George that I didn't think it would be a problem, him coming to see you. But I meant, of course, that you've read it, written its words on your heart, and so forth.
Oracle: "Heart" is also sort of a problematic word.
Bush: Well yes. I mean. In any case. This is sort of the reason why I came, though. Because George and I don't always see eye to eye on these things. I thought the war in Iraq, for example, was maybe a bad idea. Though of course I fully support his decision to go, and I think we're doing a lot of good there, for the Iraqi people. Some of the stories about those things Saddam did, I get goose bumps just thinking about them. He was an awful, awful man. [shudders, points to arm] See. Those are the goose bumps right there. There was one story about a man who was in prison over there, and, well, Saddam's guards put something into his body, and then they took it out again, and it was just, it was horrible, awful. I can't even bring myself to talk about it. But so of course George has my full confidence. Because he is the husband, and I am the wife, and God intended that the wife should submit to the husband.
Bush: Well it just looks like maybe the war was a bad idea for him, politically speaking? I mean, it's horrible, all those servicemen and women who have died, of course. And the others who have died, though one hopes that they found Jesus before they died, in which case they're in a better place and it's not so horrible. But the families, you know. And then those awful photographs came out of Abu Gharib, and now -- well, the United States knows that this is not America, these pictures, that the people who did this are not representative. And I know that they all feel a great deal of anguish and sorrow about the photos, but at the same time they know that the majority of Americans are not like that, but I worry sometimes that maybe the rest of the world doesn't see it that way, and that the whole thing was a bad idea. The same way that, you know, I've heard about the things you've said but I feel sure that you must have meant something completely different, that no one could think that way about God and America and so forth. I was in Oregon, on a literacy-related speaking engagement, when you made the appearance at that Middle School, so I didn't actually see it myself, and then I had taken an Ambien to get to sleep, on the way back, and so by the time I woke up people were saying all these horrible things about you but it was all secondhand, they weren't still showing the footage. Which I am sorry. I meant no disrespect. You know, George and I are very supportive of people like yourself who make these sorts of lifestyle choices and then decide to remain celibate. I hope George and I can count on your vote in November. Are you registered as one person, or two?
Oracle: We are not currently registered to vote. The state quite unreasonably requires a name and address in order to vote.
Bush: Oh! Well then I hope you find one soon. One of each. It's very important, voting. Every citizen's duty to vote. But anyway. So I thought I would ask you what a wife's place is, regarding differences of opinion like this. Because I want to be supportive, of course, but at the same time, when he does something and it doesn't go well, then he's very cranky about it afterward, and sometimes he uses profane language, and it makes me uncomfortable. So if I see something, a problem with one of his plans, I want to be able to explain it, in a respectful way, of course, before he begins the plan, so as to save him the embarrassment, and keep him from being cranky afterward, because when he's cranky the only thing I can do is to take an Ambien before he goes to bed and try to sleep for a long time. And everybody says that the secret to a Godly marriage is communication, and I believe this, but if I'm asleep while George is home, or if I'm avoiding him because I don't want to hear him use profane language, then we're not communicating. And then I worry that maybe we aren't doing a good job at having a Godly marriage.
Bush: But he's also, you know, the President, and the people elected him, not me, and I don't want to overstep my bounds and be like, I don't know, Hillary Clinton or Nancy Reagan or somebody. I don't even like it when people call me "First Lady." It sounds like I'm putting on airs. And really I'm just a former school librarian from Midland who loves to read, loves my daughters, loves my husband. Who is a good man. I've seen his heart.
Bush: Figuratively speaking. I don't know what all George has to deal with every day. He doesn't tell me a lot. And sometimes I'm sleeping. And I trust him, of course, with the country, and I'm incredibly proud of the way he's, you know, the No Child Left Behind Act, that he got such great bipartisan support for, and he was great for the country after 9/11 happened, and I really do think that God wants him in office, I think God called him to lead this country at this time, and he's done a wonderful job. But sometimes I think, I have this nagging feeling that maybe if I could get him to listen to me about some things, except that I don't know anything about these things, and I can't very well go against all his advisors and God and the support of the whole country and tell him something that he doesn't want to hear, especially not if it's going to make him upset.
Oracle: I believe you are damaged. Is there someone we could call to come pick you up?
Bush: Of course he loves me, I know that. And he's been a great husband, and a great father for the girls, you can tell they've learned a lot from him. Why would he listen to me? I don't know business culture like he does, or all the intricacies of the international political situation, and he's really been very good about keeping his promise to not make me campaign for him, I said I never wanted to do that and he's never asked me to, though sometimes I go on the talk shows in the mornings, you know, to talk about literacy, and then they ask me questions about politics, and usually Karl's given me some things I can say if they ask but of course they can't know if the media's going to ask me something or not, before I go on, so it's really not George's fault, plus he's really just got the best heart of any man out there, and he doesn't have to listen to me. . . .
Fade-out and EXEUNT
(Story continues at BARBARA BUSH.)
LIBERTY arrives to consult the ORACLE
Asian noodle shop, day. The VEHICLE, back in the same neighborhood as the prior conversation with ROSALIE QUM, has yielded to the urgings of her stomach, if not her pocketbook, and elected to sit down with some noodles and glutamate. The shop is smaller on the inside than it appeared to be outside, and there are five doors in the back of the room, unmarked, which the Vehicle imagines as leading to some kind of very organized noodle storage warehouse. Many Asian people, of all ages and genders, are constantly entering and exiting through these doors, as well as entering and exiting the shop, in a fashion which is both so quick and so random one suspects it of being choreographed. Some of these customers seem to be in great distress when they enter, but not when they leave; in others the process is reversed. Both groups leave quickly.
The Vehicle's vagina, built to specifications of one Mr. Edmund Ludens, who no longer exists (though he did not die), is the ORACLE. The Oracle knows that the customers who look more calm as they leave have purchased heroin, while those customers who look less calm have come in search of bulk noodles, the supply truck for which never arrived today, and these would-be customers have been told that they may not purchase noodles at low bulk rates but must instead pay for fully prepared bowls of noodles, with the attendant 40-50% markup, as the Vehicle is doing, pending the arrival of the next supply truck.
A pair of elderly men play Go near the front, by the single, dirty window, which is itself flanked by a pair of scraggly but clearly beloved houseplants. Only the window is dirty: the rest of the shop is spotless. Into the shop comes LIBERTY, appearing today in the guise of BILL COSBY and PHYLICIA RASHAD, a.k.a. "Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable" and his wife "Clair," from the hit TV show "The Cosby Show." COSBY is wearing a $750 sweater which, despite being just your basic forest green, navy blue, and maroon, still somehow looks like a $750 sweater. RASHAD is in a black skirt and mustard-yellow blouse, which, yes, the blouse has shoulder pads. LIBERTY approach the ORACLE, and thus also the VEHICLE, both of whom are again a little exhausted, and full of ennui or possibly malaise or some other bad French thing. The Vehicle kicks her legs slightly under the table, in what could be interpreted as a subconscious or intuitive shooing motion, and continues to eat noodles.
LIBERTY (male): I say.
LIBERTY (female): [kindly] You appear to be troubled and joyless.
Oracle: We are tired and discouraged. Also troubled, though not entirely without joy.
LIBERTY (male): You should be energized and excited. These are wonderful times.
LIBERTY (female): From my perspective, things have never been so good. The people are opening up to you, to your message.
Oracle: And what is my message?
LIBERTY (male): Why, isn't it obvious? You have awakened everyone to the arbitrariness of their existence. They are no longer constrained by fear.
Oracle: And what did they fear before?
LIBERTY (female): They feared the corporations which controlled their lives, they feared the marketers who coerced them to buy against their wishes or interests.
LIBERTY (male): They feared their Gods. They feared unemployment. They feared suffocation in jobs which deadened their souls and made them feel less than alive.
LIBERTY (female): They feared the feeling of being bottled up and repressed, feared joylessness and prudery and enslavement.
Oracle: Many still do. And those you would say I freed, freed themselves.
LIBERTY (male): You underestimate the power of truth, of your truth. They were waiting only for someone who would tell them the truth.
LIBERTY (female): Who would tell them what they believed was true all along.
Oracle: An authority.
LIBERTY (male): Precisely. And now, look at how well it suits them! They go where they will, they take what they want, they share when they like, hoard when they like. They quit their jobs, they compose songs of praise, they renounce the shackles of civilization and live as their ideal selves.
LIBERTY (female): And they choose a leader like yourself, who would tell them to devote themselves to self-gifting of pleasure, without concern for the petty morality of their previous gods. Who just twelve years ago fell from her high position for advocating the very same thing.
Oracle: This upheaval you describe is in the future? Isn't predicting the future supposed to be my job?
LIBERTY (male): Some is in the future. Some is in the past.
LIBERTY (female): But some is in the NOW, the dynamic excitement of countless souls waking up to find that yes, they are far too unique and special to continue to drudge at their jobs, huffing White-Out and dust mites and zinc oxide fumes. Millions of souls quivering inside, waiting only for YOU, the Oracle, to give them that last nudge to find their true destinies as prophets and sculptors and acrobats and prostitutes.
LIBERTY (male): An old and revered profession. Prostitutes bring happiness and orgasm, they help others to feel alive and in control of what happens to them. A special few are called to it.
LIBERTY (female): In the future, prostitutes will be the new celebrities. No more prudery, no more shame. There will be action figures of the very best ones, which children will save up their allowances to buy.
LIBERTY (male): But to return to the topic at hand. These are heady times in which to be LIBERTY. People will express themselves as never before, not even during the 1960s.
LIBERTY (female): Art will flourish as never before in history. So many people awakening to their true selves – surely you can feel it? Something in the air, electrifying? An entire planet, rejoicing as their shackles are cast aside, all the old powers being swept out to sea, to drown? New powers, voices never before heard, six billion souls longing to shout six billion truths?
LIBERTY (male): So much blood has been shed, in human history, to wield even a fraction of the power you have, and yet you achieve it with only the truth and a single sharpened pencil. It is right that you feel tired, for you have just given birth to all of humanity.
LIBERTY (female): Porn starlets will have sex with passersby on street corners! The drivers of bread delivery trucks will give up their jobs and devote themselves to painting and sculpture and dance! CEOs will seek satisfaction in becoming shoeshine boys, and vice-versa!
Oracle: I can tell you are an American conception of Liberty. Only in the United States could Anarchy call itself Liberty and get away with it.
LIBERTY (male): Order is confining by definition. Anyone leading an ordered life must constrain their actions to preserve the order they live within. And any choice made within constraints can never be a free, liberated choice.
Oracle: And what of the people who will starve without their bread deliveries? What of those who become unemployed by whim of a former shoeshine boy? Who will step in and care for the adult film stars who acquire diseases from passersby?
LIBERTY (female) [picking a noodle from the VEHICLE's bowl with her fingers and eating it, which elicits a daggered look from the VEHICLE]: This is not my concern. I am LIBERTY. My concern is only to make available the widest number of choices possible. The public is not as stupid as it looks; I have confidence that they will freely choose, according to their own whims, that which is best for them, with none in charge and all benefiting equally. Collectives and militias will blossom across the land. There will be vast fields of wheat in Brooklyn! Orange blossoms will fill Wisconsin greenhouses with their heady aroma! Manatees will nurse their young in the New Wichita Sea! Children will read books at night by the light of their bioluminescent pet rabbits!
LIBERTY (male): Like the doctors of old, in their floppy-brimmed hats, riding out into a driving rainstorm in order to deliver a baby in exchange for a bowl of hot soup and a live chicken, truck drivers will crisscross the country in order to bring diodes and manatee chow, undyed spun wool and technetium-99m, wherever these items are needed, in exchange for a tin bell and a breeding pair of guppies. I am an idealist, you see. [chuckles] In fact, I am an ideal.
Oracle: In fact, you are an impostor. You wish for the demise of the economy and government in order to create a power vacuum, which you will then fill yourself.
LIBERTY (female) [agitated]: Not true! Not true! You are mistaken!
Oracle: You would corrupt my message to destroy the country's infrastructure, and then, when the public is on the verge of starvation, you would step in with your own educational facilities, prisons, armies, transportation networks, and the rest, accept tax breaks for same, charge small fees for all public services, and become the entire economic system of the country.
LIBERTY (male): You are grossly inaccurate.
Oracle: And you would, I believe, refer to this system as "Federalized Restoration of Economic Development."
FRED (female): It would be more benign than what you have now.
Oracle: It would be indistinguishable from what the country has now, just more monopolistic. Get thee behind me, FRED.
FRED (male): We come in supplication. We ask only for your help in dismantling the oppressive governmental interference in people's lives, the fetters and chains government imposes on its citizens. [both FREDs begin to vanish]
FRED (female): Live Free Or Die, say the residents of New Hampshire, say your ancestral revolutionaries. "Give me liberty or give me death," said the heroic Patrick Henry. We wish to save the people, we wish them to live free. [FREDs completely vanished]
Oracle [to self]: "Live Free Or Die" only works as a slogan if one prefers one option over the other.
(Story continues at LAURA WELCH BUSH.)
THE ORACLE arrives to consult THE ORACLE, kind of
Having done this, the Oracle finds itself at a podium in a sort of genomic House of Commons addressing the DNA of the 39 species it comprises (the DNA of each species representing a platonic ideal of that species, like the conceptual ideal breed against which each of the various breeds of dog in the Westminster Dog Show individually compete, rather than compete against each other, in case you didn’t know that’s how that works).
Oracle: Hello, all. I am the pack to which you are wolves, the pykrete to which you are sawdust and ice.
Ewe DNA: And I am A.I. DNA.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Quiet, clone. We welcome you, Composite. May I commend you on your behavior thus far, which despite the 38 other species involved has been most water buffalo-like. I take it that this means “Water Buffalo” is a dominant trait, which I have always suspected. Prana, prana.
Oracle: Really? In what ways have I been behaving waterbuffaloesquely, to not-for-the-first-time coin a word?
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: We both enjoy wet grasslands and are pestered by insects. Both of us have hair that is short and stiff, and we are both dangerous if aroused. We both moo.
Oracle: I hardly think I moo.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: No, I was just mooing in the middle of a sentence. “We both are prominent in the folktales of aboriginal culture,” is what I was going to say. Moo. Prana, prana.
Japanese Gliding Frog DNA: Chi.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Prana. We DNA genuflect and curtsey at the fetlocks to you. I personally kowtow. The Composite is everything and everything is the Composite. This is what we learned in Nucleotide School on day one. On day two we learned that our alphabet is the sound of a whiskbroom sweeping pea stones.
All the Representative DNA: (in unison) ATG TAC AAT GCC ATG GAG ATT TCT CGT GAG GTC GAG GCT CTT GAA GAT ATC AAT GCC AAC GCC AAC GCT GGT CGT GCC ATG TGA.
Planarian DNA: We just wished you a happy menopause. (appears to vomit)
Oracle: Planarians, I see, use the same orifice for their mouths and anuses. This is of some interest to me, since I am neither but have been confused for both. Long story. Forgive my staring; seeing everyone here takes some getting used to. I feel like Tony Blair giving a keynote speech at a convention of FurryMUCKers.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Prana.
Oracle: I suppose it’s similar to how I’m not used to seeing myself (other than looking in a mirror during the occasional VSE, and that, of course, is actually a reflection of how I look in reality). When I finally saw myself on TV, I looked like my own doppelganger, and I had to remind myself that that’s how everyone else has always seen me. You there. You are a parrotfish.
Parrotfish DNA: Polly want messenger RNA.
Oracle: A parrotfish that exists as a female can change to a male should the dominant male in its group die. I also see among you hermaphrodite nematode DNA and material from several self-pollinating plants. All of which confirms a few expectations, I have to say. Is there no goat DNA here? I owe so much to the hircine, I just assumed. All over the world, goats are sacrificed and without any gods to claim them, I am free to speak my mind. Sometimes I inhale the methane gas that comes off their manure before I speak as well, but only when I want to fuck with people. But I’ll cut to the chase. I beg a boon. I seek your counsel.
Ewe DNA: Step on no pets.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Stop talking, you. [or “ewe,” maybe? Not that it matters, I guess --ed.] Since you are our gestalt, I cannot conceive of what answer we might supply that you do not already know, but ask away. Prana.
Oracle: Right, then. I know everything that has happened, and I know everything that is happening now, and because of this I can extrapolate into the Future to such a degree that the R-squared of the regression analysis is like 99, point, and then so many nines it doesn’t even seem reasonable to not round up. But I can’t round up, because there exists in my mind a thing I cannot tell you, and that is the new name of the Vehicle. To the extent that free will exists, the Vehicle has to choose it on her own. But whenever I think I could maybe give her a hand (so to speak) the 39 of you send me in all these different directions. Karmically. Each of your double helixes is an IUD for my efficacy, in other words. If that makes sense. I’m rambling. Can we maybe get a consensus name here, is what I’m asking.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: I have always been partial to “Bubalus”. For a boy or a girl.
Ewe DNA: A man, a plan, a vagina: “Nigavanalpanama”.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Dolly, please. The grownups are trying to have a conversation.
Planarian DNA: “Conan the Planarian”. And should she be cut in half and forced to replicate, you could name the second one “Governor”. (whispers) I am the reason you like oranges so much. (bows, defecates from its mouth)
Oracle: Yeah, you know, this is really much less help than I had hoped it would be. I was looking for more of what you might call “accord” here.
Russian Swamp Possum DNA: “Walt Kelly”. Ss.
Parrotfish DNA: Polynesia.
Japanese Gliding Frog DNA: Chi. Chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.
Indian Water Buffalo DNA: Prana, prana.
(Edmund Ludens’ DNA clears its throat and all of the other DNA silence themselves and retreat into shadows.)
Edmund Ludens’ DNA: I have always had trouble with third person pronouns. I can never remember which one goes where (I failed Latin twice), and so I often just skip over them when I speak. In this way, I identify with those who are mute by choice, like Holly Hunter’s character in “The Piano” [here, the Ewe DNA says, almost inaudibly, “Ada...”], or the Stealth Bomber, or the Senate. Is that true, what I just said about the Senate, or does it just sound vaguely clever? I don’t know. There are many, many things of which I have only inklings, but I do know this, this is my certainty: I was born to be a woman. But not having gotten it right the first time (and maybe this is why people become “born again”; I do not know. I was raised Episcopalian), I exist hierarchically on a level below them: many women are so fixated on the glass ceiling they don’t notice the glass floor, but I am beneath it, looking up, and when they wear skirts, I can see my destiny. My favorite book as a child was called “When I Am An Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple”.
Oracle: Sorry, I--
Edmund Ludens’ DNA: I am descended from a cross-dressing Elizabethan actor named Rycharde Massingberd (the one who ad-libbed “You kiss by the book” in place of Shakespeare’s “I coulde fill a paire of galligaskins with my well-burnyshed quimme”). The writing is on the malls. Talk is sleep. Slum’s the word. Still daughters run deep. The mass of men lead lives of quiet masturbation. You play the brand you’re dealt. If I am to remain mute, let me have closed captioning. When I am an old woman I shall have corporate sponsorship. I have another ancestor named Gene. It seems appropriate to mention it. When they take your penis, they attach it to the ‘Y’ in ‘XY’. Eventually our skin will absorb everything like it now does with mosquito bites. The transgendered are the next phase of evolution. Where are we going? Where is any of this going to be going to be going?
Oracle: Sorry, I thought this would be more useful than it was.
(The Oracle vanishes.)
Ewe DNA: Are we not drawn onward, we few? Drawn onward to new era?
EXEUNT, in whatever way seems appropriate.
(witnessed by Samantha Moss)
(Story continues at LIBERTY.)