One of the most controversial films of David Lynch is “Lost Highway” (1997). In the plot, a troubled saxophone player Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is taunted by a “Mystery Man” and intrusive video tapes left at his home. He winds up accused of killing his wife and in prison, even on death row. Suddenly he seems to switch bodies with a young auto mechanic named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). Eventually, he switches back.
One can read the entire plot synopsis on Wikipedia, with all its twists and connections between the two protagonists’ narratives. But does it really make sense to “trade bodies”? Would the composite person have recollection of both lives? Would he bear the consequences of his actions in both lives? Of course, we could pose the questions for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and its remakes. And remember that in Season 3 of Smallville, Clark Kent and Lex Luthor switch bodies for one episode?
Some commentators say that the Dayton part of the (“Lost Highway”) film is a “fiction fantasy” where Fred has to come to terms with his own inherent evil. Others say he is an impotent “incomplete character”, like J. Afred Prurock.
Other films have this aspect of strangeness. “Blue Velvet” (with its famous song) presents Kyle MacLachlan as a college student, returning home to Lumberton, NC “where woodchucks chuck.” His finding of a severed ear and his curiosity leads him on an odyssey, hiding in a nightclub singer’s apartment, as her child has been kidnapped.
Maybe one of the most layered is “Inland Empire” (2006), where an actress’s life starts to mimic the film she is making, and which was a remake of a project that had failed before because of a tragedy.
Another odyssey was “Wild at Heart”, a cockroach and vomit-laced road trip from North Carolina.
“Eraserhead”, one of the earliest films, gave us a monster born fetus for the forlorn couple to raise. “In Heaven, everything is fine” according to the Radiator Lady” (link). Lynch talks about this film on “The City of Absurdity” here; a wiki explains this odd lady character here.
Of course, we all remember the famous CBS series “Twin Peaks” in the early 1990s. The mystery kept building up, with echoes of aliens and wood spirits in the background. I remember the episode that ended with the line “Warm Milk”.
I developed my next two manuscripts after returning to Arlington VA from Dallas in 1988.
The second of these two, called “Manuscripts” survives in print, apparently from an early ink jet printer, and provides some new ideas. I wrote it in the period from 1991 to August 1994. I remember “finishing” it after returning from a vacation trip in Colorado where I had my “epiphany”, deciding to write the first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book. Following the custom of “My Weekly Reader” grade school quizzes, I’d have to give it a best name, which would be “Handymen”.
There are some new ideas and changes in focus. For one thing, there is more attention to the sexual destinies of other characters again, but some of this may be accomplished in rituals. I am no longer the only character to pass through a “tribunal”. Another idea is that, while the idea of going to an “academy” is strong, there usually is not a separate “commune” later. While many characters are at the “academy”, the outside world has some kind of calamity. In this novel, the idea of a novel retroviral disease is developed further, and eventually will spread to much of the population. The novel pays much more attention to the spread of the disease than had “Tribunal and Rapture”.
The other big idea is that the impetus of the novel comes from the mysterious disappearance of a coworker (Dan) whom Bill admires. The novel is set in Texas, and Bill is working for a company that services the training academies (again related to civilian defense reservists, and other things). One day, Dan doesn’t show up in his usual bombastic fashion at work, and Bill calls Dan’s wife, a surgeon.
Bill meets a lead investigator, Rudy, who happens to be gay, and whom he had once observed on the paddleball courts in Coney Island. Bill eventually gets infected, and the novel breaks toward a connection between those who are “infected” and “born again”.
The novel also explores computer security issues in a way that foreshadows modern concerns about viruses and Trojans, but just in a mainframe environment.
There was an earlier version of this book which was lost, but which was different in that the story starts in Dallas but the openings section includes Bill’s relocation to Virginia. During the trip back (while stopping in Arkansas), he meets a young man who will become the “Rudy” character. The military remains secret control of the “academies” in this version.
Both versions appear to have been created in Word Perfect on an AST Research computer that I bought at the end of 1988. Both documents were created while I lived in the Country Club Towers in South Arlington, the second after I had moved into a larger apartment. During the work on the first document, I worked for a small consulting company (the forerunner of today’s Lewin) and then for USLICO (to become ReliaStar and ING later) during the later.
(Published Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 11:15 PM EDT)
The novel “Tribunal and Rapture”, completed in March 1988 as a printed manuscript on an ATT 6300 computer with “QA” is the word processer and printed with a 1985 HP laser printer (one of the earliest possible at home), at 546 double spaced pages, is at this time the most complete fiction manuscript that I have. The diskettes are lost, but I do have one printed, very legible copy (a few pages tore out and are missing).
The first cut of the book was written throughout 1986, in the second of the two condos I owned in Dallas, a two-story unit in the “Canterbury Crossing” development on Lake June Road in the Pleasant Grove Section of Dallas. I have a vivid memory of the day I finished the first draft, and then couldn’t sleep that night as a stray dog barked all night long.
The novel has some threads similar to the “Rapture” document of the previous post, but the story is more compact and takes place over much less time. In particular, it starts as “Al Bruckner” (that’s the pseudonym for me, “Bill”, this time) struggles at his mainframe IT job in Dallas and meets a charismatic young man, Craig Nickershtann, at a pseudo-evangelical church service. A couple meetings happen, and Craig tells Bill about a strange research facility and “academy” in West Virginia. In time, Al loses his job in Dallas and travels to West Virginia to attend the “academy”, where be slowly builds up a relationship with Craig. The relationship comes to a climax about the time that Al tells of his background and a previous experience with “tribunals” at William and Mary. Bill undergoes the “tribunal” at the end of his training in West Virginia.
In the meantime, the external world is falling apart. As in the previous novel, but offstage this time, Communists attack the East Coast with dirty bombs, and part of the country comes under commie control. But Craig has arranged for Al to be “raptured” along with other people chosen to be “angels”. But then the geopolitical climate settles down, and the US is partitioned, with a communist East and a privatized but “fascist” (and heavily Mormonized) West. Al finally returns to Earth (from what looks like an angelic output on Titan, the moon of Saturn) to see Craig get married, and he gets to be best man.
The novel is in 32 chapters, divided into four parts. Part I is “Peripetia”; II is “Communion”; III is “Tribunal” and IV is “Rapture”. Each part is prefaced by a title page with a few applicable literary and biblical quotes.
The relationship between Al and Craig is built up slowly with repeated scenes and a lot of tension. Craig is represented as a musician, able to play some of Al’s old piano compositions at the academy in an event just before the “tribunal”. He shares his own past, and eventually, for the “tribunal”, Craig satisfies Al’s every fantasy. Later, during the “Rapture”, the significance of Al’s lifelong fantasies is discovered with great detail. In particular, Bill can watch the changes of his own body (and those of others) in time-lapse.
The novel, like the two previous ones, is “concentric”. It assumes that the protagonist (here Al) resides at the center of his own universal, like anyone does in the sense of cosmology and physics, due to the nature of space-time. His world seems normal and “universal” to him, even if it seems weakless (by cutting out normal heterosexual passions, which still can be manufactured) when compared to the worlds of most men. He feels anyone could become tantalized by his own universe.
There is a passage in Part 3 that speculates on a new kind of retrovirus, one someone what like AIDS, but which prefers to live in cooler areas of the body, as on the legs, perhaps of diabetics. The books speculates that a retrovirus with very limited transmission might have longer incubation periods when smaller amounts are transmitted or the transmission is cutaneous. I am not aware that any disease has ever clearly fit this pattern, but if one ever did, it could have enormous implications for public health and for calls to regulate sexual freedom. (See “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” blog Feb. 11, 2014, here ).
The manuscript was mailed to a literary agent, Scott Meredith (author of ‘Writing to Sell”) in March 1988. In about four weeks, he wrote back quite a long commentary, while rejecting the manuscript. He did say that the speculations on public health were quite frightening and seemed credible, and that the relationship between Al and Craig did show a lot of tension and suspense as it built up. He said that the relationship had been the subject of some “meetings and conferences”. But he thought that the plot itself was weak; outside of Al and Craig, the other characters seemed stock and their interconnections not well developed or particularly interesting. A successful novel of this size (or film or television project) would need a number of diverse interesting and original characters, not just two.
There was a much earlier attempt to write this novel, which I sketched in 1985, my first year at the Lake June Condo, but with the “academy” still in Texas, and with the superman character named “Charley”, introduced early in the book, and with a second “commune” scene on a space colony (much as in the 1982 novel). This document is lost.
On December 1, 1981 or thereabouts, I bought my first PC. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80. I also bought an Okidata dot matrix printer and Scripsit software. There was no hard drive; everything had to be saved on floppy disks.
At the end of 1981 and through much of 1982, I worked on a novel manuscript that I called “Rapture” (the same as the 1992 film with David Duchovny) or “The Rapture of the Believers”. At the time, I lived in a modest but ample one bedroom apartment in Harvey’s Racquet back in the Oak Lawn Section of Dallas (about two blocks north of Cedar Springs, a mile from the bars, a mile from Love Field). The computer was in a little alcove near the front door. It broke down a couple times and had to be repaired, so I just kept working on a typewriter.
The novel was autobiographical, providing episodes of life through “my second coming” in New York City, through 1978, and my move to Dallas. It then envisions a series of events that lead to a Communist attack on the homeland, a “rapture”, and then rescue of the “believers” taking them to another planet.
The novel presents several other men who would become significant in my life. In the first version, their backstories were presented more or less chronologically. Some of the characters would gradually come into Bill’s life (I’m “Bill” again) as the years progress.
After a trip to Britain in November 1982, I decided to restructure the book and cast it as a collection of more or less standalone “stories” that could be published separately. Backstories were taken out of chronology and put into the story corresponding to a particular character or issue. It’s more useful to discuss the plot in terms of this structure.
The first “story” was based on my “first coming” in the high school years, my friends in the Science Honor Society, my exposure to the outdoors (“A hike in the mountains is worth any grade”).
The second “story” more or less matches “Expedition” in “Do Ask, Do Tell III” (“Speech is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege”). I present the idea of upward affiliation with another young man in the workplace, and where that can lead. There is more material about that person and the workplace here than in the final published story, but it had come from the original draft of “Expedition” written on a typewriter in 1981 when I lived in my first condo, the Park Lane Townhomes in North Dallas.
The third “story” is probably the central episode. It covers the attachment I had to a particular “boyfriend” in my last year living in New York City, between the Villages, in 1978. There is a particular evening and sequence that leads me to be concerned that he has a medical problem that will probably lead me to feel less attracted to him in the future. (This did not turn out to be factually true, but I present the possibilities had it been true.) That eventually leads to my own moving away and starting a “new life” in Dallas. It is ironic that this whole sequence occurred several years before AIDS was known, although the very first cases had already been percolating. If you read the stuff now, it gives an idea what gay life was like in the City in the years before AIDS, but well after Stonewall. Everybody was quite jealous of his own life. People didn’t care about “equality” the way we do today; separation was OK if they could make a living and were left alone. At the time, it was more about “privacy”. This was the time shortly after New York City’s financial crisis, and the Yankees’s tremendous 1978 season (and Bucky Dent’s notorious home run in Fenway Park in Boston). The economy was difficult, struggling with inflation, overregulation, and the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo a few years before. My belief that I could not remain “interested” if the other person underwent chemotherapy (a subject just starting to get a lot of attention in the media) generates a lot of “moral energy”.
The fourth “story” presents a couple new friends in Dallas, and finally winds up centered around a particular chess tournament (and my accidental self-outing with the local chess club). There’s also a preview of communal living with visits to the Lama Foundation in New Mexico, where I write an introspective essay and share it in a camp-like dormitory. At church (Metropolitan Community Church, in the days it was on Reagan in Oak Lawn) Bill learns a lot about the “Rapture”. One evening, a new friend helps start a healing merely by playing guitar and singing “He’s alive.” In Dallas, on the Bible Belt, there was something to being a Believer and not a Doubter. People would recruit to save others’ souls.
The fifth story presumes economic challenges occur, threatening my job. The employer becomes involved in supporting the earlier versions of FEMA, and the “civilian defense reservist” program that got some attention in the 1980s. I wind up getting sent to an “academy” in West Texas. The idea of being “re-educated” and re-socialized in a “boot camp” out on the boonies became a theme in several of my manuscripts. There was not, at the time, the appreciation of diversity and immutability that we have today. The mentality was more that everyone should “pay his dues”. But there was an idea that people needed to learn more self-sufficiency, and not depend on “buying their way” out of trouble.
The sixth story presents the coming of the Rapture. (Maybe this is like a Sixth Symphony, maybe Mahler’s, or maybe Vaughn Williams.) First, “Bill” meets a particularly charismatic young man at the academy, named Charley, who has what I call “The Theta Property” (which confers certain powers). Charley is by far the most exciting person Bill has ever met, and there is the start of some intimacy, remaining clothed (mostly). Then Bill is sent on a maintenance trip to Alaska. He gets a call to come back home, and then is sent to New York for one more assignment. While he is there, he goes to the baths, and while in there the facility is evacuated when there is a radioactivity dispersion device let loose in the city by “indignant communists”. Yes, I had envisioned the idea of a dirty bomb back in 1982.
The practices developed at the Academy are put into place, and people are herded into communal living, which turns out to be dystopian.
The seventh episode does as much as possible with this environment, which is far short of what JJ Abrams does with “Revolution” although again, that is what has happened (another theme in all my books). Bill does encounter his parents, and learns a particularly old-fashioned idea of the derogatory word “faggot”, which is taken to refer to someone whose limelight-seeking demoralizes others upon whom he is dependent but doesn’t know it. (This is 1982, the days of the Moral Majority, remember.) But Bill gets with Charley, has a final intimacy which prepares him to be “raptured” and then board the space ship to leave the solar system forever. Note that the “communal living” in this chapter is different from the “academy” earlier; it’s an end-in-itself. It may sound a bit like an “intentional community” today, but in this novel circumstances have forced this “sustainable living” concept on the people. But at the very end, Bill really does go to outer space, however changed.
One problem with this whole concept, of course, is historical obsolescence. It pre-dates AIDS, but is curiously prescient of it. It is predicated on the Cold War, but it recognizes the indignation of individual “revolutionaries” and the harm that they might do asymmetrically, an idea we didn’t really grasp until after 9/11 with radical Islam. And it’s not too kind to those who are different in such a way they can’t port their own water jugs.
Around 1983, a computer operator at Chilton Corporation in Dallas showed me a short story he had written, called something like “The Mutants of Lake Murray“, about an alien attack on a popular resort lake in southern Oklahoma, followed by a nuclear war.
The WB series “7th Heaven” (or “Seventh Heaven”) did grab my attention for a few years, about the time I returned to Arlington from Minnesota, particularly from about 2003 until it ended in 2007. It had started in 1996 and was one of the longest running evening series in history (usually running on Mondays, almost as if to fit the LDS idea of a “family home evening”). At the same time I often watched “Everwood” on Mondays and “Smallville” on Wednesdays.
The story (created by Brenda Hampton) concerns a protestant (mainstream, not LDS) minister Eric Camden (Stephen Collins), his wife Annie (Catherine Hicks) and seven children, all of whom except Lucy (Beverly Mitchell) is named after a Biblical character. Some commentators find evidence that his denomination is Disciples of Christ.
One of the sons, Matt Camden, played by Barry Watson, is a medical resident. There is a scene in a hospital operating room where Matt doesn’t know how to turn off his cell phone, and the lead surgeon smashes it. The actor playing him developed Hodgkin’s Disease around 2002, but wend into remission. This particular lymphoma got a lot of media attention in the late 1970s around NYC, in the years before AIDS and HIV became known, and it may very well be related to a virus (of the herpes family) itself.
Another prominent role was the teenage son Simon, played by David Gallagher, who grew up in the role.
Toward the end of the series, the Camden’s took on looking after a neighbor’s teenager, Martin Brewer, whose father is challenged by combat in Iraq. Brewer is played quite charismatically by Tyler Hoechlin. Brewer aspires to become a major league baseball player, perhaps an appropriate character to remember at this time of year. Some episodes relate to his emotional breakdown over his relationship with his father, which affects his play in the field.
Although the political stance of the show is rather moderate, there are a few moments of outright social conservatism, such as when Eric says “Sex is only for married people.” Think of the implications of that statement (uttered well before gay marriage had made the progress in the U,S. that it has recently).
I made six video clips from the Question and Answer session for the film “Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek” at the Carnegie Institute for Science on 16th Street in Washington DC (happens to be right across the street from the First Baptist Church if the City of Washington DC, in which I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s).
The subject of the film is African American activist Derrick Evans, who had worked as a history teacher in Boston before starting to visit his homeland in Mississippi more often. The Turkey Creek bayou is a natural wetland and was settled by freed slaves during the Reconstruction, who were able to own land here in a segregated society. The land is threatened by over-development, which makes it even more susceptible to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and then Rita in 2005. The film is directed by Leah Mahan and has been carried on Mississippi PBS.
Evans gave up his career (even as a teacher) to become an activist. During the QA I asked him if he was economically OK now, and the answer seemed to be, not really. Was this an OK question?
Another speaker said that more people needed to be willing to live in the Gulf area. Saying that people shouldn’t “choose” to live in higher risk areas just doesn’t cut it morally.
So, how could “The Proles” (two posts ago) be made into a television series?
The rather obvious example is set by “Revolution” (previous post).
And the hooker is that the character “John Maurcek” is “stored” and “reconstructed” three times, based on the idea that I mulled in that 1970 summer in Indianapolis (post here ).
The way “The Proles” was set up, John apparently goes to “The Tower of Ned” (I’m drawing analogy to similar images in both “Revolution” and “FlashForward”), which may be somewhere in the northern Plains, like North Dakota, in early 1970 after getting out of the Army. The book might have to be changed to show that he does have a job offer.
So incarnation #1 happens immedidately. John Maurcek is reconstructed after about two hours, and leaves the facility (as if wakened from general anesthesia for surgery, the first time in his life), apparently not much worse for wear. Maybe he is a little more bald. He goes to New Jersey, and spends his first year employed just as in history (including time in Indianapolis). He gets laid off (the only layoff in “my” career until 2001). Then, partly out of a personal animosity, John does something impulsive, or compulsive, and really bad. He is almost immediately neutralized and taken out by one of his “friends” (maybe Rado Suhl) with the doomsday laser gun. It’s important to note that factually this catastrophe did not happen.
Incarnation #2 then starts, in early 1971. He has a resume intact. He is reconstructed again, only slightly worse for wear (but with some small disadvantages). But he has to own some memories of the year of work, although not of how it ended. The effect is again like coming out of surgery, The next 40 years or so of his life proceed, with the familiar story, with all its ironies, nooks and crannies, as outlined in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books. Maybe this sounds like a Biblical “wandering in the wilderness”, but if so there were a lot of berries to eat. (OK, Darren Aronofsky can direct this series.)
At the end of this period, he has an accident, perhaps in traffic, resulting in someone else’s severe injury, of which he is not aware. It’s not quite hit-run. He comes home, and then has a sudden accident himself, and lies unable to move, likely to die of dehydration if not found.
For Incarnation #3, he is reconstructed again at 26, but with the best possible body justified. He quickly learns the history of the gay rights movement (from a “Therapist”), and by now knows someone like him went through it. It was always a problem that he was never attractive enough to be desired physically, but just once he gets to experience this at a disco in Indianapolis. Then he learns that “Indiana wants him”, and he travels (to escape) to his Drogheda home in Virginia. He goes inside and finds his older doppleganger dying. As he is about to dial 911, nuclear Armageddon happens. (It’s possible to imagine all this “Revolution” style, with an EMP attack first. But the second half of this 1970 book presumes nuclear war.)
Incarnation #4 is as in the book now. “Oscar” joins him, just as in the book, and they find out that nuclear war has broken out. (Putin got carried away with things, or maybe it was Al Qaeda, or Iran, or North Korea.) Some parts of the country are more intact than others. This time, however, his physical reconstruction is less perfect (you can only do it so many times). For one thing, his legs are balding, quickly, as if from diabetes. He will never again be attractive.
The series would be constructed like “Revolution”, with the post-nuclear world as the “present time” with flashbacks. The backstories would be told when John encounters various characters from his “first past” (the world up to 1970), and then his other three incarnations. Since John is still relatively “young” although now with defect, some of the revelations could come from his sexual partner in Incarnation 3, but others could come from Zugfel, Rado Suhl (who killed him once). Oscar is back in his first reincarnation, and Suhl is on his second, and Zugfel, like an angel, is ageless. The idea of proving he can have a child with Tovina could still stay in the story.
“Part I” of the book (“The Covenant”) could be set up as a prequel, perhaps 90 minutes, aired between the first two seasons.
This material could populate two or three years of episodes. It would probably have to be on a cable rather than regular broadcast channel because of the somewhat “adult” material.
(Published: Sunday, March 30, 2014m at 11:30 AM EDT)
Before providing some more discussion of my own early novel “The Proles”, that is, the post-apocalyptic second half, I wanted to provide an entry for the series “Revolution” on NBC (link), now in its second season, created by J.J. Abrams and his company Bad Robot, having premiered in September 2012.
The series takes place fifteen years after all the power in the world went out suddenly. The United States government has fallen, and the continent has broken into various republics and wild areas governed by militias and warlords. The president was hiding out at Guantanamo. At the end of Season 1, the power was almost going to come back on, but the purpose was more to enable a nuclear strike on part of the Monroe Republic.
At this point, there’s not much point in going through the deals of the history of post-apocalyptic life as they are summarized on Wikipeida, here.
More important is the cause of the blackout. In 2012, the series was billed in popular media as caused by an EMP attack by terrorists (as in the novel “One Second After”, Feb. 15 here). By comparison with my book “The Proles”, such an attack could be motivated by communism, fascism, or religious extremism. But it turns out that the loss was caused by a conspiracy, apparently involving the government, to create “nanites” that can devour electricity but that have other abilities, such as to create objects under telepathic command (of the master programmer Aaron, played by Zak Orth), or by a USB-like pendant when inserted into certain computers. There’s a summary page about the nanites here. The nanites can be especially effective in treating cancer, which could help explain their origin.
The nanites are controlled by a “Tower” – there may be several of these towers. The concept of a control tower appears in my novel “The Proles”, as well as in the ABC series “Flash Forward”. (In my own subconscious I have called it the “Tower of Ned”, but I’ll get to that later.)
Zak, as a character, may be viewed as roughly comparable to me. He had worked for Google – I worked mostly in mainframe, but that’s because my career occurred earlier. His heterosexual forays are weak. He has worked as a teacher in the “afterworld”, just as I worked as a substitute teacher, leading to a major incident.
It does not make sense that the “nanites”, as envisioned by the show, could really “absorb” electricity. I say this, recognizing that the crippling effects of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) or extreme solar storm (Carrington event) would come in a few separate steps taking several minutes (or even days, in the case of a solar event). Maybe there is something to the concept I don’t get, and will be explained in future episodes.
I have to express a degree of irritation about the progress of the show. The opening Pilot shows the blackout briefly, taking about five minutes, and then various episodes show flashbacks to various times after the blackout but relatively few before the “event”. The series does not yet show any narrative continuity to how the Blackout occurred, or how long it took society to collapse afterward. The previews keep promising an explanation, but the clues have been slow to come, mostly through the Orth character. I think a two-hour prequel (more or less parallel to Part I of “The Proles”), showing how it occurred, aired sometime soon, would be very much in order for NBC and Bad Robot. A documentary discussing the EMP and solar storm issues (maybe from Dateline) would also seem to be called for.
This scene between Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Jane Warren (Kate Burton) is instructive.
(Published Thursday, March 27, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT)
Update: April 23, 2014
The film “Transcendence” by Wally Pfister for Warner Brothers and Alcon, almost seems like a “prequel” to “Revolution”. Indeed, once his consciousness is captured on a super computer, Will connects himself to all the computers in the world and makes them create nanobots.
“The Proles” is my 400-page typewritten “unpublished novel” manuscript, my first.
Creation of manuscript:
I wrote most of the novel by hand in spiral notebooks while living in the barracks at Fort Eustis, VA while in the Army, throughout much of 1969. It appears that I finished the handwritten draft in early 1970 after starting to work for RCA in Princeton NJ, and had typewritten most of the manuscript by early September 1970. It appears that I did some work and revision while on a job assignment in Indianapolis in the early summer of 1970.
In the early fall of 1970, as I went back home to Arlington for a weekend on the train, I accidentally left my only copy at the Trenton NJ Amtrak station. I got off in Philadelphia and took a commuter train back to Trenton to recover it. The ticket agent still had it.
I wrote an epilogue and a summary and typed it in 1972. After starting a new job with Univac and while living in Caldwell, NJ, I contacted someone through old contacts at RCA and sent it to Knopf in the late fall of 1972. This didn’t get very far.
Plot and concept:
The novel is in two parts, “The Covenant” and “The Great Summons”.
The first five chapters of the novel are strictly autobiographical. They closely track my own life as follows:
Chapter 1: the end of the spring semester at the University of Kansas, 1967
Chapter 2: a summer job with the Navy Department in the summer of 1967
Chapter 3: a fall semester at the University of Kansas and completion of my degree, 1967-1968.
Chapter 4: My fourteen weeks of Basic Combat Training in the Army, early 1968.
Chapter 5: My tours at the Pentagon (summer of 1968) and mysterious transfer to Fort Eustis in September 1968, and my remaining time there in 1969.
For these chapters I made some changes. I call myself “John Maurcek”. The University of Kansas becomes Kansas Weslyan (even though nothing is sectarian) and Lawrence KS becomes Atkins. Fort Jackson SC becomes Fort Wilson (half way to Fort Gordon).
The general idea is that John meets a number of students and various people in the Army and pieces together a “conspiracy theory”. One of the most charismatic, Hans Zugfel, appears at his summer job in Chapter 2, and seems to have a mysterious history of trips to the Soviet Union. It seems that the Reds have developed a doomsday weapon that can vaporize matter but encode the information that created it digitally.
In Chapter 6, one of John’s other cohorts, named “Rado Suhl”, fights in Vietnam and witnesses the effect of the weapon.
In Chapter 7, John has not actually found his first job yet (in actual fact I had), and Zugfel summons him on a treasure hunt. He winds up meeting “Oscar” (another friend from Fort Eustis) near a military base in North Dakota. He enters the facility and loses sense of time. He and Oscar are let go after a little while, and given a ride. At the first gas station, they learn that nuclear war has broken out and destroyed most of the country.
Part II has six chapters named after sections of the Requiem Mass. (Maybe the structure is a bit like Havergal Brian’s “Gothic Symphony”). John meets a woman, Tovina, and with her travels a wasteland, eventually making it back to the East Coast. Eventually, after some misadventures (including a place called an “Amusement Tent” in Nebraska and the delivery of some more characters) he and Tovina (now possibly pregnant) arrive on the East Coast near the remains of Princeton . Zugfel judges Bill regarding Bill’s hero-worship of him, and then Bill has to decide if he and Tovina are game for a long space voyage to a new planet. The Earth, however, is finally destroyed.
Relation to my other Books:
Chapter 4, called “Interlude”, giving the details of my Basic Training in 1968, is reproduced in the “Fiction” section of the new book “Do Ask, Do Tell III: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege”. A more compact account had been provided as Chapter 2 of “Do Ask, Do Tell I: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” in 1997 (totally as a non-fiction narrative using Fort Jackson as the place).
The more detailed account in the new book is disturbing. It tends to portray me as a mooch or coward, concerned about his own comfort when thrown into a situation where others make gender-related demands for the supposed common good. But of course these demands are only valid if the “domino theory” of communism as understood in the 1960s holds and if the government indeed has the legal warrant to conscript for this common good.
The previous chapter 3 (“Development”, following the earlier “Exposition”)) gives some of the details of “John’s” experience as an assistant instructor at graduate school in Kansas, teaching a section of algebra designed for slower students. John exudes “power” of the students in a manner similar to how he thought teachers and authorities in general had wielded power over him in his own teen and early college years. Many students flunk, including one given an automatic F for cheating. John knows that some of these students could lose their draft deferments if he fails them, and wind up more likely to serve as cannon fodder (especially in infrantry) in Vietnam. The chapter also describes some travels with a roommate (one dedicated to Ayn Rand’s individualism, and with whom he has good rapport, compared to what had happened at William and Mary), as well as the last two weeks of transition from graduate student (with some powers in teaching himself), going through Master’s orals, to Army life as a “prole”. There is a posting on my companion site with some passages from early pages of the book that develop this point, here.
Another story in the DADT III book, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, brings up the issue of sending other college students to the draft by flunking them, as if John had played both sides of the issue.
The Chapter that follows Basic, 5 (“The Investigations”) chronicles his life in permanent party. He spends three months in the Pentagon and living on post at Fort Myer. He makes some jokes in the office about having been a “bad detail man”. Mysteriously, he is transferred to Ft. Eustis. This seems to have to do with his previous psychiatric history, and this may be the only portion of the novel where his expulsion for “latent homosexuality” is discussed. Once at Fort Eustis, he makes friends in the barracks in his own way, as most of the other men are similarly relatively well educated. One campadre, “Oscar”, had enlisted for three years to ensure staying out of combat. Oscar, while studying genealogy in conjunction with joining the LDS church, is quite taken in by John’s hangups about latent homosexuality, joins in the jokes, with repeated caricatures of Tiny Tim. (and “The Gesture”, where moonfaced Oscar bends his wrist and says “O Go Way Butterfly” — we called that “OGAB”). But other characters, for whom John assigns “animal names” like Lizard, Ostrich, and particularly The Ocelot, impress John, who starts to imagine how they could fit into (or have wind of) a particular “conspiracy”, to rid the world of the parasites and underserving. (John is called “Chickenman” — because he’s everywhere.) By the time I was at Ft. Eustis, we all knew about the proletariat “cultural revolution” in China, where everyone took turns being a peasant, and thought that the Soviets would ensure that the same thing could be imposed on us, one by one, even if took nukes to do it. Even, I thought that the USSR’s National Anthem (performed in the 1981 movie “Reds”) was much more stirring than our own.
Relation to historical truth:
I’ve noted the fictional locations already, The main deviation from reality starts in Chapter 5. I propose that the Army canceled the program of specialized MOS’s (like my “01E20” Mathematician) for enlisted men with advanced degrees. I don’t recall for sure whether the Army really did this, but I believe that it did eventually. At Fort Eustis, the Berkeley doctoral graduate “Rado Suhl” asks to be transferred and goes to Vietnam, in time to witness the doomsday weapon. I think he did get transferred shortly after I left (on Feb. 7, 1970).
In the book, I don’t get a civilian professional job before getting out of the Army, and go right on the treasure hunt. In reality, I had two major offers (RCA and Bell Labs) by mid December 1969. I started work at RCA on February 16, 1970, reporting at the Cherry Hill NJ location.
In the book, John is accused of homosexuality in the last few months and placed on general duty, where he has to live in the bay with Special Troops and share KP. This did not happen. But we constantly “feared” being sent “back to the bay”, which we called “BTTB”.
This whole time, John sees his own life as from outside like an observer. Everything in his life is about meaning and symbolism rather than direct experience. He has emotion generated by music and by his ideals, and fantasies about ideal men (as explained in the DADT III book, around p. 44-45. He has no concept of a relationship with someone based on genuine complementarity, even less with the idea that he could biologically father life and that if he did so, that could “mean” anything. In fact, he might relish communicating the idea that less competitive men should not father children and have a lineage — but that would feed the idea of eugenics. He seems to lack some basic instincts. Yet, within his own frame of reference, his own universe with its own rules, everything is fascinating. Autism (at least in this form mild enough to invite moral disapproval) really works, even rocks. So it’s possible to view a conspiracy theory through this lens and make it work, even make it funny. Perhaps it sounds like satire. You can pick up this 1969-1970 typed manuscript at random passages, and it seems quite seductive and captivating to share John’s beliefs, worldviews, and fears, even about his own vulnerable body image.
There is something very dark about how John sees other people. You could say, as objects, as pawns or chess pieces, to be scored (that is, a Bishop is “worth” three and a half pawns). Physical attributes become part-objects, and affect whether John can feel any emotional stake in the person. It’s possible for someone to “lose it”, either because of his own bad living habits, or because of the actions of others (as in combat). Then he is forever worthless, whatever the cause. On a private level that is meaningless, but as people get taken in by it (as they do in the military barracks, especially in Chapter 5), it has its effect. Politically, it can become dangerous, feeding racism or an attitude that people can become expendable. Organized crime and fascism both feed on that process; communism at least pretends that it addresses it. People need to be able to enter relationships (marriages) and keep them when something unfortunate happens to one partner, all the more if in war.
Of course, this style of thinking, even if we had just fought WWII to defeat it, had been reinforced by the draft and deferment system, which led that some people’s lives were more expendable than others.
There is a lot of talk of male beauty, and of resentment of the old cultural norm that only women should be valued for passive beauty. There is some focus on various secondary attributes of men in spots (with phrases like “mannish flesh”). Nevertheless, all the sex scenes are heterosexual. Near the end of Part I, Hans Zugfel finally has intercourse with his mystery girl friend “Holdine” (whom John has met clandestinely); the scene builds up very slowly, as John imagines it during masturbatory fantasy. But John never imagines being with Zugfel or any other male directly in the book. John’s “second coming” would not occur until 1973. In the second half, near the end, as written, he attempts intimacy with Tovina, and is disturbed at what he sees when she undresses. Would it make sense to have children in such a world anyway?
Various men looked at my handwritten manuscript in the barracks, and chuckled at how they were presented. The standing joke was “The Proles,, rated X”. Now, that’s NC-17. But it probably would be rated R if made today.
Will “The Proles” ever sweep across the screen? That I’ll take up in a subsequent posting.
(Published Tuesday March 25, 2014 about 5 PM EDT.)
Over the next period of time, I’ll discuss some of my earlier unpublished novel and screenplay drafts.
Let me summarize all of these with a quick overview.
Period 1: 1969-1970 (in the Army, first year of working).
“The Proles”, about 400 pages, typed, written largely while in the Army in 1969, heavily autobiographical, and outlines and “end of the world” plot associated with communism and perhaps fascism. (March 25, March 30)
Period 2: 1981-1988 (living in Dallas)
The story “Expedition” included in my “DADT III: book.
Another story, “Friendship over the Phone”.
A novel manuscript, call it “Rapture”, 1981, restructured in 1983. (April 4)
A novel “Tribunal and Rapture”, sent to an agent in 1988, written in 1986, and crudely attempted before in 1985. (April 6)
These manuscripts tend to envision the idea of an “academy” to train “civilian reservists” necessary after a collapse caused by a communist enemy, and possibly alien invasion. They are told from the viewpoint of “me” and introduce a heroic male character.
Period 3: 1989-1994: (living in Virginia)
A novel “Handymen”, set in Texas. A coworker of “me” disappears, and when “I” investigate, I discover a new kind of epidemic. The “academy” concept returns, with emphasis on “re-education” of “handymen”. There was an earlier version (1989) set in the DC area that I lost control of. (April 9)
Period 4: 1997-2003, Minnesota
Three published non-fiction books:
“Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (self, print run under “High Productivity Publishing” imprint in 1997; moved to iUniverse in 2000).
“Our Fundamental Rights and How to Reclaim them: A Psychological Approach” (1998), print run.
“Do Ask Do Tell II: When Liberty Is Stressed” (2002, iUniverse).
A novel manuscript again called just “Tribunal and Rapture 2”, with an apocalypse seen through the eyes of a retired intelligence officer and his wife: I am a subordinate character. (April 29)
A novel manuscript: “Rain on the Snow” focusing on the academy concept again, set in Texas, leading to an unusual trial and escape.
Screenplay “Baltimore Is Missing” (2002), 2004), Jan. 29
Screenplay “Make the A-List” (2002) March 4
Screenplay “American Epic” (2003)) March 4
Period 5: 2003-present. Virginia
Many short subjects (2005), March 5
Screenplay “69 Minutes to Titan” (2005), March 4
Screenplay “The Sub” (2005), embedded in a future screenplay TBA
“Do Ask, Do Tell III: Speech Is a Fundamental Right, Being Listened to Is a Privilege”. Incorporates the “Army Basic Training” chapter from “The Proles” and the story “Expedition”, as well as a new “apocalyptic” short story, “The Ocelot the Way He Is” (The term “Ocelot” was introduced in “The Proles”).
An enhanced “Rain on the Snow” with a prologue set in ancient times, and a back story going back about thirty years involving several characters from Bill’s earlier period in Dallas, and the birth of a person who might be a new “savior”. This setup has enough characters and spans enough time that it could generate a cable TV series. (Same post as May 13).
“Angel’s Brother”, a similar story told form the viewpoint of a CIA agent, married with a family in Dallas and about age 40, and a precocious gay college student. This has two versions. This is the main manuscript now.
There are also a number of screenplay drafts, but, besides those discussed on March 4, the most important are:
“Titanium”: A Dallas journalist’s fiancée “goes up”, and his search for her brings everyone to the brink of a major alien invasion (June 12)
“2 Road Trips”, screenplay putting together last two stories of DAFT III (June 25)
“Prescience”” A sequel to Titanium, where some people are abducted to a “synecdoche-like” tidally locked world around an M Star. (July 5)
“Angel’s Brother”: A virus propagates the consolidating of identities; a college student prodigy and CIA agent track it (July 9).
“Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”: Bill wakes up in the afterlife, or is it another planet, where he judges a contest among angels. (July 17). This manuscript could also be called, “Do Ask, Do Tell: The Penultimate Job Interview” (sounds like “The Apprentice”, maybe), where the protagonist has been abducted and doesn’t know if he is in the afterlife, on a job interview, or on another planet, and gets to turn the tables on his angelic captors.
“Do Ask, Do Tell”, consolidated video presenting all three books, on the DADTNotes blog, June 3, 2014, link.
I guess that being an abductee is a status symbol.