by Robin Wyatt Dunn
How much has really changed in Los Angeles? It's true that our visitors are very free with their favorite weapon, the good old-fashioned mind control ray from outer space, but is it really so different?
I wake up again, Echo Park. It is one o'clock in the afternoon and I have nothing to do. No one will hire someone with a history of mental illness. The irony is that now we should all be insane, we should all be crackers. But it's as though alien occupation is only a mild heat wave. As though the "Stasi" of 2012 (From the Stars Beyond Pluto!) is only a series of earthquakes, 3.5 or so on the scale, maybe 4. And I'm tempted to agree with that characterization.
I know I can kill myself. They stopped me the first couple times but I could do it this time. But I haven't done it. I just walk around the neighborhood, and mostly it's just like it was before.
"Hey John," says the barista, smiling a little.
"Hey, how are you?"
"Hot out," I say.
"Yeah, 93 today. Supposed to cool down tomorrow, though."
I take my change and put a quarter in the tip jar and spend just a few extra moments looking into her eyes before I say, "Thanks." She's got real pretty eyes, sensitive eyes.
I sit down at my table in the cafe, and then near me an older man's eyes go black. He gets up on top of the table and starts chanting, balancing on the table, worshipping our lords, spittle in his mouth. We ignore it. It’s like homeless people who get angry, you ignore them, they have the right, they're homeless, you'd be angry too if you were homeless, you know that. And there's blood in his spittle now, and he's shrieking and crying, it is not a human language. Finally he collapses.
I go to put more sugar in my coffee. It's quieter now, but people are still talking. And I want to talk about it and I know I can't. The guy is sitting back at his table now, still some blood on his chin but he's breathing easier now. What would I say to the cute young barista?
"That guy sure can chant on tables."
Maybe, "I hate our alien overlords."
Or even, "Ever feel like shooting yourself in the head, darling?"
What I say is, "What are you doing tonight?"
"I have a date," she says.
The Bush years in America made me think more often, statistically, about plastic explosives and guns and who I could kill to try to change the system. I'm sure Students for a Democratic Society in the 60s knew more about guns than I do. But still, when the flying saucers and the little green men finally showed up, real understated, and I saw my people go away and come back a little different, I thought about killing more seriously. But it would be just the same. Then I'd be in San Quentin, or, more likely, a criminal psychiatric ward on Thorazine, and it's hard to say which is worse, let me tell you. More likely to die in San Quentin, and I would have to do some unpleasant things, but in the ward it would be talk, talk, talk, let's see how far we can push that brain. There's ways they can torture you when you're strapped to a table in a dark room you don't want to know about.
It's written on people's faces. Old ladies cry at bus stops and people do nothing.
In They Live, a great early ‘80s flick, the hero finds the magic sunglasses, locates the evil alien transmitter that is responsible for all of it, blows it up, and the aliens are unmasked. We learn that they are among us. The End, of the awesome B movie. But here, they're all in orbit. What do you do?
I call JPL a lot.
"This is Jet Propulsion Laboratories, how may I help you?"
A lot of the receptionists recognize me now. I try to always be polite.
"Hello, may I speak with the Director, please?"
"I'm sorry he's not available right now. Could I take a message?"
"Yeah, tell him John Dee called, it's important. He has my number."
One time I actually got through to the Deputy Director and I managed to shout: "Shoot them down! Shoot them down, motherfucker! Please, God!" and then I fainted. When I woke up, I couldn't speak for two days. I walked to the café and I opened my mouth and nothing would come out.
A lot of people think about suicide, I know that. I talked to a shrink once about it, and he said, thinking about it is normal. As long as you have no definite plan in place, there's nothing wrong with thinking about suicide in general, and even wanting to die. But throw yourself in front of a bus, over a freeway overpass? Messy. And if you don't die? Really bad.
Yesterday, I grabbed a homeless guy whose eyes had gone all black, and he was standing in the middle of Sunset, just shouting at the sky. Cars were driving around him slowly and I took ahold of his shoulders and shouted at him. Even though the noise in my head was bad, really high pitched and nasty, it stayed ringing in my head for a couple hours after that, I just grabbed him and shouted, "Stop! Just stop it!" And his eyes flickered normal for a second, but it wasn't enough. I went home and took a cold shower, and drank a Coke, and went to sleep. The next day, nothing, like nothing nasty-weird had ever happened in the city of Los Angeles, like it was the most beautiful city in the world.
It's happening less frequently now. I haven't seen black eyes for three weeks, actually. I still send out resumes for office work. In Los Angeles there are lots of interesting scams for Craigslist jobs. You send in your resume, and you get back "Nigerian Oil Executive" e-mails, or sometimes the Los Angeles equivalent, interviews where you have to pay to go to them, to "break into the industry." I went to one. It was "radio", but actually multi-level marketing. Me and the other dregs of humanity chipping in our forty bucks and praying, with crossed fingers, that it wasn't a scam. I was the first to leave, and I wanted to shout at the asshole, punch him. But I didn't. He wore a cheap polyester suit, the way only the Mob can. I love the Mob in Los Angeles. The Mob you can understand. They like money. The aliens, they like minds. What's to like about minds? There are so many of them and they're all different, and all the same, and we're all fucking nuts. Money, at least you can buy champagne, buy a mansion, go to Jamaica, underwrite a blockbuster, whatever. What do you do with minds?
They made me an offer today. Nice voice in my head:
Come into orbit. See the stars.
What they mean is: come help us target your own. Collaborate.
What would you do? Would you put on the Jewish Police uniform? You only need to listen to your neighbors' conversations 30 minutes a day. That's it. The rest of the day, it's up to you. Once a month, you report. That's it. No one has to know. Everyone knows, but no one knows. Free rent.
You're a very promising candidate, they say.
You know, Thom Yorke has that song about he wishes they'd take him on board their beautiful ship, and show him the world as he'd love to see it. And sure, who wouldn't want to be John Glenn or Neil Armstrong, but for Yorke it's always so sweet and suicidal and it's like your first orbital flight is death, at last, that sweet death that is the ultimate escape.
Some historians claim escape-longing was why we had so many UFO sightings after the war and into the early 50s: we weren't yet habituated to consumerism-writ-large, we were calling out for help. Help! I need a new refrigerator! Help! I'm Rosie the Riveter stuck in Levittown! I wish the historians were right. I wish we could blame UFOs on human psychology. Like Adolf Hitler was just this really nasty bad daydream the West had.
But this time there aren't any Nuremberg laws. No minority gets ghetto-ized. The little green men don't appear to want to breed with us. Cattle mutilations are not up.
What is it, guys in the sky? Your Albemuth just didn't work out? You got co-opted back in '68, it's okay, hey, we've been there. Just come on down and we'll talk about it. Just come on down. It's okay, man, just put down the ray gun. We understand.
I know they could make me kill. It's the easiest way to get rid of sensitives. Give them the kill order. But part of me believes they still believe in freedom of choice: that we wanted this. That we still want it. This old longing of ours: hierarchy. My God. Where will it bring us, in the end? The British arrive in India, the Belgians in Rwanda, what do they do? Divide, divide, hand out privileges, respect local customs and rulers, things are the same folks, more or less, you just have to kick further up the chain. I'm a little green man, and I'm gonna need fatter envelopes this week, boys. A lot of gray matter. You bring it in by the barrel, I'm not gonna say no.
I'm going to start wearing tin foil on my head.
If you're reading this, you can't stop. Hi, my name is John Dee. I'm 42, I have brown hair and I just want to help, man, I swear. If you don't make five copies of this letter and leave it around for people to find, I will stand behind you with a knife and kill you. I'm just kidding, I won't do that, but listen, last week a guy made five copies of this letter and when he got home he could sleep again. And just yesterday, a woman saw this letter and read it and then tore it up, got home, shot herself. It could happen to you.
Some advocate killing the possessed. This is a real bad idea, folks. A very bad idea. It's what they want. Remember: it’s a radio signal and we have to shut it off. Killing someone is like shooting a radio because you don't like 96.6 HOTKISS FM. It will not stop the radio station just because you blew away your neighbor's transistor.
Hey this is mimeographed, far out man. We tried the smart phone crowdsourcing and it was stupid, we figured that out. Just make copies of this paper, handwrite them if you have to. Look: Pershing Square is where we meet up, okay? Everyone knows where that is. September 11th, just for shits and giggles, everyone's paranoid that day anyway. We meet up, high noon, everyone, come to the square, and we march on JPL. If you know how to wire simple explosives, please come. If you have a sledgehammer, bring it along. We get inside, we can control some orbital craft. It’s a beginning.
The long century; the long night. What would you do with a fat envelope? Can't spend it. Can't be showy. Under the horizonless sun of the mind, there is music. The music of the spheres; the voice of God. Dance with me, son. We are the arm. We are the arm. We are the arm, the arm, the spiral arm. We move the hand; we move the hand, as I hold yours.
You ever ask yourself: what is a coincidence? I recommend not doing it, because if you ask that question, you're already fucked. You ask that question, you know what kind of person you are? The crazy kind.
Did you ever ask yourself: what is the nature of causality? Did I just blow that guy's head off? Or was it something else?
We're dancing in the moon room, and we have, a la Bastille, stormed the gates, boyz n goylz, in like Flynn on a hot September night, into the Propulsion Laboro, the Hot Stetson Counter Top, the roll of the gin like a storm on the horizon, can you say:
No. You can't say that. But after a lot of blood, what you can you say, you can't say anything, you dance, buddy, dance like your life depended on it, because it does:
Tanzen menschen give me some music I can sink my teeth into:
What is the nature of causality? Freedom is a dance, honey child. But can you keep going?
"How long have we been dancing?" I shout at the cutie, a little blood on her lip, gyrating next to me at JPL, the bodies all around, the siren lights flashing outside, the megaphones blaring in an alien language.
"Forever!" she says, and her voice is so hot I want to shove my tongue in her ear, and then I do, and she's laughing, giggling, but we don't have time to make out because we got to keep moving.
The scary part is the old Bradbury conundrum: who are the Martians again? Maybe that's too low brow for you. It's kind of like the old Hindu logic in Passage to India: Who killed that lady in the cave again? Was it him? Was it me? Was it you, honeychile?
"Which was first?" I shout over the beat, and a couple of my fellow revolutionaries, sweaty but still standing and jumping, lean in to listen to our little convo. "Which was first, the alien assholes or the human assholes?"
"Definitely the human assholes!" says the cutie with the bloody lip.
"Why?" I shout back.
"It's all about Gaia Theory! We were at one with the Earth until we started with agriculture! That's what the Garden of Eden story is all about in Genesis, the deal with the devil when we started farming!"
"That's bullshit!" shouts the hippy next to me, his glasses steamed up all over his face. "The aliens are in orbit and they want us all as slaves!"
"But what is your evidence?" I shout. "Maybe all this screaming, all this black eyes hoodoo, it's just them trying to communicate!"
"And how do you explain that as long as we keep dancing the Army doesn't kill us?" shouts the cutie.
"That part bothers me," shouts the hippy.
"It makes perfect sense!" I shout.
"They're trying to communicate. Somehow, their initial transmission to JPL short-circuited something, and their friendly hello became this control wave instead! It's basically our paranoia. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy! That's why dancing keeps the Army away! As long as we seem like we're having a good time, the aliens keep the Army away! They like having fun just like we do and we're their diplomatic contact, their sample group!"
"So even if that's true," the cutie shouts back, "what the fuck do we do now?"
"I don't know!"
As if to make my point for me, one of our number collapses from exhaustion and his eyes immediately go pitch black, his body shakes and he starts to speak in tongues. His neighbors grab him and haul him back onto the dance floor and gyrate his limbs for him until he's conscious again.
"See, I'm with you on the agriculture bit as far as ―" I start.
"Oh, here we go again!" shouts the hippy.
"We don't have that much time!" the cutie shouts.
"Let me finish," I shout. "The aliens clearly recognize our desire to control, our genetic desire for hierarchy. Whatever social system they have, who knows, but having arrived, they're amplifying it. Shit, you could explain almost the entire 20th Century that way!"
"That isn't very helpful!"
"But I know what we can do!"
Dance the long night away. Let your troubles slide. Girlfriend left? Got fired? Want to put a bullet in your head? Shake your booty instead. And watch the sky.
It turns out JPL has some of the most powerful sub-woofers known to Man. It's Dance Party Night in Los Angeles.
I know, I know, we don't have block parties in LA. They look too much like riots, makes everyone nervous. The thing is, it is a riot, in more ways than one, 'cause that beat is the very thing that made us human back in the dark Paleolithic. Drums made society, chum, I say, shake that ass!
In Echo Park, even the Latinos are crumping, and the cutie, turns out her name is Rayleen, a name I despise, she's a good organizer, and she's got these top secret air-condensers mounted in the Army trucks in less than 30 minutes. We've got seventeen of them now, roaming the city, setting up Dance Depots. Even the Scientologists get in on it, eschewing law suits for chewing gum, and a weird kind of waltz that only they can know, only instead of the box step, it's shaped like a good old Yew-Fo.
What is the difference between a thought and an action? The neuroscientists tell us the intentional neurons fire after the motor neurons, slipping us soft into a kind of Marxist cellular logic: the cortex only imagines it's running things.
And yet, with wise action, it's Jah Love. I know, it sounds like California horseshit, but we're the fucking wild west, honey child, we are the U.S. State with no accent at all, and why is that, folks, because we're the ultimate melting pot. Like the birth continent of Africa, where we first learned to drum and stirred up our genes real good, here we follow the Bullworth Solution (fuck each other till there's no colors left); here we sing in the long night: I dream biped music.
Unfortunately, tax dollars only fund so-good top-secret subwoofers, and one burns out before the night is even over. But my cutie managed to get in a call to the President. Here's what she said:
"Who is this?"
"We want to see you dance!"
Most popular You-Tube video of all time. Taped right in the Oval Office. Politician as performer, as hero: Simon says, shake what your momma gave you, it's like the last night on Earth.
There is a vestigial logic to it, not hegemonic but elliptical. Like the curve of the Earth. Like the curve of your thigh. Not eternal recurrence but a plateau upon plateau, like your third cum, not your second but your third, the one that seems to last all night, and that's consciousness, babycakes.
We have arrived.
You know that word you never saw before today? You know that sound you never heard and then you heard it and it's everywhere?
You ever read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? No, it's not like Dianetics. You start with dependence, you go to independence. And then you go to interdependence. Because my Foo Ray Gun is like my strong right arm. Because my cock is an aspect of their way through.
It's all very philosophical. This is not a record. This is a story. With a beat. Because the mind control ray from outer space is only Momma's voice, saying: time to go to school. We gonna graduate you.
And I get to go into orbit before you, Mr. Thom Yorke. Show me the world as I'd love to see it, little Yew-Foe!
Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming in the Carter Administration. He lives in Los Angeles.