A Letter To Steel Rod, My Prison Pal / 6 July 1998

Dear Steel Rod,

Hi! I know it’s been a while since I wrote you, but I’ve been so busy lately. Life is way crazy these days. How did you celebrate our nation’s birthday? They have these new kind of fireworks out now called Sodium Pentathol Hot Drops (they haven’t been officially released in the U.S. so they don’t have a cool commercial name like “Flower of Evil” or “The Angry Fountain” yet) and my buddy and I had a great time setting them off inside vending machines. I also have these boxer shorts with an American flag on them and I spent the whole day wearing just them and nothing else except for my flip-flops (a.k.a. “thongs”) that don’t have attaching straps but just the flat foot-piece that is sticky and adheres to the bottom of my sole. It was hot here on the 4th, S.R., a wretched, insidious heat that just worked its way into your marrow, your arteries and ventricles and all, and all I could think about was injecting chlorotrifluoromethane into my neck. Thank god for whippits, is all I have to say.

Anyway, I’ve been swamped with DJ gigs since Memorial Day. Did I tell you about this? I was at this party and it was one of those where people start firing shotguns into the air. Everyone was having a blast. It was out by Deppler’s Swamp which I hear you know a lot about, if the papers are to be believed. Someone was cranking the tunes from the AM radio in their truck, but that wasn’t good enough, you know, for people to get down in a serious manner. A pumpin’ bassline was the one thing missing from this party, right, and all of a sudden I was hit by this weird, powerful inspiration. It was one of those moments where all the disparate and myriad elements of life come together, assembling themselves in your mind with stark precision, and you are left with the completed puzzle, shining and whole, blindingly brilliant, and you wonder why you never before thought of putting these pieces together in such a way, since it seems so obvious, ex post facto. So it was at the party. All of the components were laid out in front of me. Using jumper cables and a little ghetto blaster that Proud Mike had and a couple sheets of aluminum foil that were wrapped around the corn-on-the-cob and Hokey’s retainer and the preamp from Dana “Dang” DiRicco’s car and my own personal pocket calculator with the graphing function and last but not least that sparkly sequined jacket that Tibu always wears. Everything flowed through my hands. I sculpted electronics like clay. A hush fell over the partygoers as they watched me, blank looks upon their droopy, fleshy faces. I felt an immense warmth flowing through me. Tears rolled down my cheeks but I did not give way to emotion, Steel Rod, no, my upper lip was stiff, my jaw was set, my countenance was stern.

And then, I coiled the retainer around the preamp and attached the whole contraption to a truck with the jumper cables and signaled for Mike to hit the ignition. He did and a few seconds of silence passed, and I watched, with grim satisfaction on my part, as the partiers glanced at one another in disappointment. Then, the calculator completed its final cycle and the swamp was suddenly filled with the most booty-shakin’ funk ever heard. The sound was huge and the clarity could sever nerves. A couple of people collapsed but recovered moments later once their pulse rates had fallen in line with the beat. It was “Flashlight” by Parliament. The signal was coming from a satellite called Dorsal 922/p. I quickly discovered that by adjusting the frequencies on the ghetto blaster, I could effectively mix the incoming data with other satellites’ signals and pretty soon I was creating my own beats and loops and working the crowd into a frenzy. Needless to say, I didn’t go home alone that night.

A week or two later I modified my machine with some new equipment, and after a quick trip to Office Depot I was able to condense the system into something about the size of a D-cell battery. I’ve taken to attaching the thing (which I call The Mixmaster 2020) to the back of my neck with electrician’s tape and using my trapezius muscle to control it. It works pretty well and leaves my hands free to gesture and drink.

So the calls have been pouring in. All these rave organizers want me since I’m so portable and don’t require any set-up time. I’m flying out to Detroit this weekend, then I’m off to Berlin, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to write again. I hope all is well, Steel Rod, and I hope that you enjoy the enclosed “Grape-Flavored Kool-Aid.”

Joshua Green Allen

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