x / 7 June 1999

And once upon a time what I wanted to know was that one story about the little man in the other little man’s head?

Oh yeah, right, yeah, you mean the story of the man who lived inside another man’s eye. So there was, well, there, you know, once upon a time there was a man who lived inside another man’s eye. We’re talking Big Ray and Little Ray. Nobody really knew where Little Ray came from except that Little Ray wasn’t from the outside but from the inside, a piece of Big Ray, another angle on the same topic, right, which is why they all called him Little Ray instead of Fred or Marvin or Sanchez. It was understood by all, like friends and family, that Little Ray was a sliver of Big Ray that had somehow got loose, somehow worked himself free and then shacked up in Big Ray’s eye, the left eye.

“Assing!” Big Ray, thirteen years of age, shaving for the first time, eschewing Ray Sr.’s electric for the family heirloom, and if anyone in that house, that big house there in the center of the world, suffocated by perfection, if anyone there knew of the event that the family heirloom had been involved in, well

Granpa drew that thing right across the throat of Granma! Warnt no kidney failure atoll!

then it probably would’ve been destroyed a long time ago instead of ending up in the endearingly shaky hands of Big Ray, who went by the name Junior at that point, the straight razor slowly scraping away downy dark newborn whiskers. But you go too slow and the blood will flow, per Uncle Ray [Granpa being as bankrupt of names as he was of all else], and sure enough Junior nicks himself good and he lets fly the aforementioned epithet, he being of the mind that creative, nonstandard swearing should be acceptable and smiled upon. Mother disagrees in the next room, loudly.

But there, on that cursed razor, there at the tip, is the tiniest moonpiece of skin from Junior’s throat, the little plug that had just been pulled, and that almost invisibly white fragment, which returned to Junior’s thumb as he tested, fearfully, the razor’s sharpness, not overly eager to apply that tool once again to his tender face, that little skin grew up to be Little Ray, and Little Ray, as a result, always had a little piece of Granpa in him, too, which is where the trouble really began.

And, see, Little Ray was the one that controlled Big Ray’s pupil, opening and shutting it like a window.

Hang on. Another round?

The drinks here are like cake. They’d be right up E’s alley. Such it is as The General drones on with his inane fairy tail. Shan keeps asking him to tell and re-tell but that’s only because he’s writing a book and is completely devoid of ideas. He’s like my mother, our mother, who thinks the trick to writing is just being around interesting people and taking notes. Like: “Oh, you should really meet X McX. He’s an awful person but could be a character in one of your books.” I would be deeply ashamed if anyone ever recognized themselves in something of mine, like in their entirety. It would be cheating. It would be cheap and low.

josh, i just didn’t know you cared. how right you are. if it makes you feel any better, i am drenched in sweat and tripping on dexatrim and i don’t have any idea how i am going to sleep tonight anyway.

You won’t find me stooping to Shan’s hack level, Shan who thinks he can just tape-record whatever The General says, get his girl to type it up (“Diane, I’m holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies.”) and then send it off for instafame. I wouldn’t be so uptight and bitter if I didn’t think it could actually play out that way. That’s why I need to be here, buying the cake-drinks for everyone, keeping everything scattered and unfocused and, I hope, unproductive.

The waitress has a vertical row of amusing buttons across her breasts. Her striped shirt is a moire of sad expectations. She doesn’t think in our language. She has visions of raising her arms and watching as a tsunami of flame consumes everyone and everything in this dark, miserable place where the only vacancies are filled with forced laughter and The Game

Center Rik Smits also struggled for Indiana, but Chris Mullin, Jalen Rose and the Davises led the way to the easiest victory in the series for either team. Knick guard Latrell Sprewell made little noise after his insertion into

Applebee: It never was with one of the last one — but I have. Basically Pimienta. I will pretend a food more to reviewer as you-know-who. I aspire in bottom of a desire of Tea. My congealed by Beach Length to obtain drunk here in frozen Aurora and afflicted he is something long-range. The clients look like airporty pretty. I continue forgetting of where I am. I outside look like terrible things but of this sweater of aids. This behind brings some information of roadtrip. The people of the defect of the reproduction of the sounds smoke inside here. The server finishes striking to me in the posteriora part slightly. He had a sensation whereas he was in Denver. Something practical felt because it could establish a happy life for me with Juste of the some minor one — or — the adjustments. Happy and practical they are the relative limits naturally.

the starting lineup as the Pacers evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

I hate the way you fall in love with your waitress, or rather that person your waitress reminds you of. “I hope I can find somebody like her. I hope I can feel this way, or even stronger, about somebody else. I hope I hope she’s not the only one.” It’s an idiot’s game, and it makes 9-5 an idiot’s dance.

Wait, you’ll need to start over. This is Shan, rewinding.

The General drinks an alcoholic brownie. The General is hugely fat, but when I look at him, I can still see the baby. This is the game I play when I’m just sitting around, usually in meetings or on the train, watching people: imagine them as babies. But with The General, of course, it’s a lot easier because I’ve seen the real deal.

GENERAL JANUS HOLE: [leaning back in chair, gesturing extravagantly] So I was in Galveston once, this was back in 1979 — Galveston, a seaport in southeast Texas I’m referring to here — and it was one of those summers where you ate the heat with a fork and knife, basically, where you didn’t watch the traffic but instead became mesmerized by your own forehead in the rearview mirror as each new bead of sweat formed, swelled, sent the bright cement world right back atcha with a pregnant distortion, obscenely fat and clear, then shattered its own meniscus. You know what I’m talking about. I was there on the pier, unhappily dizzy with the stench of plankton and catfish, head in hands because, you know, I hate the heat, my skin is all: “Fuck you,” right, and I’m waiting to fish with Uncle Ray and I’m waiting for him to get back from the bait store with the plastic bucket of live shrimp, a bucket that we’d later reach into and scrounge around for these little bastards, these frantic exoskeletons and stalk-eyes that were just tiny aliens trying, you know, like most of us, to fake left and fake right and skirt death but in the end getting picked up and hung on a hook and flipped out over the waves because, of course, a wiggling victim is way more enticing than something already dead. So I tried to will the sun out of existence and here comes Emma, her legs longer than she realizes, eating up the sun in a way that I’ve only seen on television shows, a large plexiglas container under her arm. This is Emma, daughter of Mitch or Mitchell or Michael or Miller or whatever the old friend of Ray is called, the one with the large, pricey boat dubbed “Wet Dream” like nine or ten others in the harbor, the one whom I’ve seen year after year but who leaves only the most tepid and transitory impression upon me. This is Emma, whose shoulders are already curved from an excess of hunching over and examining tidepools, Emma, salty, clumsy. She touches my shoulder like it’s no big deal. Check it out, she says, tumbling down onto the pier next to me. Check it out. I’ve sunk the hook into the cork handle of my fishing rod, to be safe. Mother, you’ll recall, once got an impromptu piercing thanks to an errant cast and that story always shook me up a little. So I look, right, and inside this container is a stingray, or manta ray, speaking of aliens, a flat, tailed, green monster from another planet. It’s a skate, Emma says. It has no scapular spines. It’s 53 centimeters long. These are the things she tells me. She runs her finger along it and bosses me to do the same. It feels like a rotting peach, the skin way way too soft and pliable, like I could tear it apart without even meaning to. What are you going to do with it, I ask her. Put it back out there, Emma says. I’ve had it for like a week or so and it’s really sick of being on land. How do you know, I say. Touch it, she says and although I argue I’ve had my fill of touching it she insists and when I do, she says, Listen. You hear it? It’s all: Goddamn I’m sick of it up here. You people are boring. My friends and family are worried sick and you keep me here in this goddamn tank, well, thanks for nothing, man. It’s saying all that, I ask her, and she says Yeah. And she says, So I’m sending the big complainer back home. That’s probably the decent thing to do, I say. I hate doing the decent thing, Emma says, stroking the skate. You and me both, I say, and it’s like her skin is this dictionary of words that set the mind on fire.

airy catacomb
binding tight the lighty coil
inner thigh shaking

they always ask me:
“do you want a drink with that?”
and I say, “Just chips.”

The waitress takes the place of three or four others. She’s reassembling into some awkward collage. She hesitates, her fingers ticking the keys, her attention now fully on the screen instead of being half-distracted by the day’s nuisances, but now everything is totally locked on my insular question, my ten-word question that is made up of everyday letters, letters that spell all sorts of pedestrian words, but this time around the words are unbelievably obscene. Even the words, when separated from the others, like just independent, are perfectly harmless, but when assembled in this order, with that question mark at the end, well, they become unthinkable, almost, although what I’m asking really isn’t all that uncommon, when you get down to it, but to ask it in such a formal setting, apropos of nothing, electronically, out of the blue, when we were just talking about “yes me too,” well, it clears the sinuses, as it were. Which is my intent. To jab quickly, “a short sharp shock,” to get an honest reaction. Every second that ticks away is another clue and all I can do is sit, tunnel-vision’d, and wonder what key she’s idly rubbing her finger along, daring her nerve endings to revolt.

It’d be nice if my internals weren’t so short-circuited. Then I could treat these interactions as something more than experiments.

Fingers applied breath tasting lowlight, the waitress: “I can’t believe I just said that.”

GENERAL JANUS HOLE: You still with us, pardner? I see your face but the second hand ain’t moving.


SHAN JELLO: Wait, General, once more, how does the Prologue end?

“Farewell, professor,” Zim said, watching him leave. He stamped his cigarette out on the grass and started a small fire. He didn’t notice. His mind was too busy, as usual. As time went by, August Zimbalist never forgot his old mechanics professor, or, more importantly, the God’s Eye.

We all have a good laugh at that one. It brings us all way, way back.

GJH: That name came from Stephanie Zimbalist, recall.

SJ: Of “Remington Steele” fame. The prophet’s game. The prison of secrets. Dead ahead. Stop the world, I want to get off [more laughter]. The great elephant escape. Whose daughter is she? Voices from within. Incident in a small town. Jericho fever. Sexual advances. Breaking the silence. The story lady. The killing mind. Caroline? Personals. The man in the brown suit. Celebration family. A letter to three wives. Love on the run. Remington Steele. Tomorrow’s child. Elvis and the beauty queen. The babysitter. The awakening. The golden moment: an Olympic love story. The best place to be. The triangle factory fire scandal. Centennial. Forever. Long journey back. The magic of Lassie. The gathering. In the matter of Karen Ann Quinlan. Yesterday’s child.

ME: Unreal.

GJH: [to me] It’s a shame the gift is wasted on such a person.

ME: You see, Shan? You just told a story right there. Stories clutter the scenery wherever you go.

SJ: Aw, but I need The General to whip them into shape.

GJH: It’s just a game of connect-the-dots. Nothing could be stupider.

SJ: Tell me the good one. I already have it documented but I like the way you do The Bookkeeper’s voice.

ME: (I must admit I like The General’s telling of this one as well.)

GJH: I’ll just give you the summary:

“Romny seems to think that something different is going to happen this time. That someone else is going to find the ring and put it on before we can stop it. And since that would cause something EXTREMELY bad to happen to pretty much everything in the world, book included, Romny is taking an interest in it. As Big Ben said many years ago, Romny knows everything that is going to happen, even though it only clues me in on 12 hours into the future. At this point, it won’t tell me how everything is going to turn out. But it does have a plan in mind. It’s up to something, but it can’t, or won’t, tell me what. I just do what it tells me, and one of its instructions is to find you, Fraiar. The One With Flames Emerging From Her Scalp.”

We all smile a little at that, and it brings a nice lull to the conversation, though Applebee’s is still abuzz with idle babbling. We were much closer back then, and we didn’t worry so much.

Sprinklers, dogs’ bellies, white columns, eucalyptus,

“…and so when it would rain really hard, the rain would knock all the bark off of the eucalyptus trees and there’d be bark all over the streets and the whole town would smell like one big throat lozenge…”

car leather, “Lullaby,” the crisp sounds of precision and quality audio-playback equipment, “All Her Favorite Fruit,” “Perfect Circle,” black leotards, hand-drawn icons, binder paper, secret acronyms, a dedicated unseriousness.

“Fraiar” should have an umlaut over the “i.” It’s a name that’s meant to be read, not spoken aloud.

And now? Now:

J1: What are you listening to?

J2: Wellsir, it’s been my experience that music echoes the internal monologue, rather—

J1: Right.

J2: …it echoes rather than transmits, you know? It responds rather than creates. And so now I’ve got going, now I’ve got a lot of quiet, simple, mechanical songs playing.

J1: Any lyrics?

J2: That’s just, that’s precisely it. Complete removal of humanity. The more machinelike the better.

J1: That’s troubling.

J2: Maybe, yeah.

And so one day Big Ray went to the deli to get a sandwich. “Do you want a drink with that?” the waitress asks. And he says, “No, just chips.” But Little Ray, as always, has his own agenda, and he says, “Lemon Coke!” He screams it, at the top of his little lungs, Little Ray does, “Lemon Coke!” And the waitress is all: “Excuse me?” And Big Ray closes his left eye

“I’ve been through a lot of experiences. The way that I chose to deal with things has to do with my parents and how I was raised. But, in any situation, I am very adaptable. I see things for what they are. I know that there are people who are going through worse.” Being known as the “rapper” she contradicts being one, “I do not consider myself a rapper, I rather consider myself a singer. I was modeling, dancing. I play the piano. I was sewing outfits for people. I was always involved in something. Rapping was an outlet. It was a way to step out to do other things. I write, I do screen play writing. If you were to come to my house, you’d be amazed, I do so many things in a day, there’s not a lot of time for perfection. I’m running all over the place. If I had a lot of money, I would invest in a multimedia company, and get somebody to work on all these ideas.” Lisa’s proven she is a very strong person, “I didn’t struggle this far to have people tear me down. I finally started looking at myself like I’m worth something, and it’s because I’ve accomplished everything people told me I wouldn’t.”

to keep Little Ray quiet and the waitress gets the wrong idea, right, and her body goes limp in resigned annoyance, and it’s like, she’s totally had it, she’s just had it, this is all she needs after the shit she had to deal with this morning, I mean just like getting out of the goddamn apartment this morning and waking up angry and having that fight first thing and then coming downtown to deal with this fucking moron is just about the last thing she needs to fucking deal with at this stage in the game and she just smacks Big Ray across the face with her notepad, her notepad filled with cryptic abbreviations, her notepad that’s like a songbook of illegible prescriptions for antidepressants, and the steel coils dig into Big Ray’s cheek and leave a series of perpendicular cuts,

similar but more cohesive than the straight-razor cut that first brought Little Ray into the world in the first place, or so goes my theory

and involuntary tears rush to Big Ray’s eyes and you can bet that Little Ray hates that, you know, because it’s like taking an impromptu, un-asked-for, all-sudden-like bath in warm salt water and everything stings a pitiful sting

Children’s Crusade, an ambitious song, an attempt to link three periods of history, the Eleventh Century, the First World War, and the present, using the symbol of the poppy and the perversion of youthful idealism as connecting themes all in waltz time. Songwriting is sometimes like boiling up a stew. A little more salt, perhaps?

and you can smell the hatred there behind Big Ray’s left eye, the fist-shaking, the fury that can’t help but be cute and fragile.

My waitress types the “Y” key. It’s lower-case, maybe to be demure, or to imply a quiet, throaty, diaphragmmatic response. Who can tell. She brings us new cake-drinks, the hootch of birthday children, and I’m more than ready to fill my stomach with another shot of frosting. Everything in this awful eatery is suddenly twitching with eroticism. Hips are swollen, lips are parted, the airwaves are filled with colliding frequencies. I hate when this happens. I’ve gotten so good at keeping physicality abstract that it makes me clumsily violent when it enters the room, knocking down doors, blowing out windows — really just the waitress’ fireland fantasy come to life, her arms raised, her head down. I’d like nothing more than to be the target of that blaze, like Big Ray on the business end of that notepad — in this latest revision of The General’s story — to have that level of focus for a few seconds, but then again, maybe not.

SJ: I’m betting Big Ray relents and pipettes lemon Coke into his eye.

GJH: Well, that’s been the recurring theme, I guess. Big Ray giving in to Little Ray.

Ray, Sr. knew there was something off about the razor. I mean, any straight-razor sort of gave him the willies. They seemed so poised to strike, so rarely used for practical purposes, you know. And maybe he was just skittish but maybe, and this is what totally makes sense to me, but maybe he felt that razor’s history. I mean, we’re talking about ESP-type stuff here, like feeling the dark vibrations of the past and all, some very non-tangible stuff

if i have any consolation it’s just that the old blove {as i like to think of it} went as it came: intangible and yet SO VERY VERY TANGIBLE

that the more empirically minded among us might hesitate to believe, but haven’t you ever felt at odds with some inanimate object? Something in your home, some little item, that never settles in? It never recedes into the pattern of the rest of your familiars but is instead always present somehow, always eyeballing you from afar, always judging or plotting. Up to no good, that phone or painting or book or jewelry box or whatever. It’s totally irrational but undeniable. Well, perhaps that’s the history of the thing coming through, and like the more supersaturated with history the object is, the more unsettling, or unfitting, it is in your home.

So it was with Ray, Sr. and the straight-razor, and you can bet that after Junior’s first bloody experiment with it that Ray, Sr. snatched it out of the medicine cabinet and placed it in his breast pocket right before heading out for work. As he soared down Highway 2 in the Plymouth, he temporarily tabled all thoughts of work and the 9 AM meeting that was imminent


MR HALVETTI: {rolling his chair behind him as he moves to the whiteboard} I am, as a matter of fact, and even if I wasn’t, you still couldn’t use it because this chair is reserved for people who have respect for the time and money of this company and its esteemed upper echelon. Now look. {withdrawing a marker from the rack} I present you with a simple decision. Let’s say you are suddenly inflicted with a bizarre and crippling disease and the doctors tell you that you must amputate either your left leg or your right arm. {he writes “left leg” and “right arm” on the board} Which would you choose?

and he rolled down his window, withdrew the razor from his pocket, and flung it as hard as he could into the blurred greenery to his left. In his mind’s eye, the razor made a perfect arc into the sun then back down into the pasture where it cut an earthworm in two, neatly and precisely, and the two components of the earthworm writhed momentarily in the morning dew, responding to a small set of contrived stimuli,

This set of CDROMs uses video clips and colour photos to show dissections of a frog, earthworm, crayfish, fish, and foetal pig. Students select tools and “perform” the procedures on the screen.

and then, boo-yaa, there are two worms, and the razor, which Ray, Sr. knows was responsible for the ending of a life he just knows it there in his bones, this razor has now made up for it by creating new life and all’s well once again in the world. Balance has again been maintained and he’s ready to work those bastards over at the 9AM meeting. Yes.

I don’t wait to hear The General’s conclusion to his story. Yeah, he changes it every time, but it’s never a surprise. Big Ray always gives in to Little Ray and Little Ray gloats and it’s a joyless series of tales. It’s not like August Zimbalist and it’s certainly not like the adventures of Fraiar. And anyway, the restaurant is positively throbbing with sweaty soundwaves that I’d just as soon avoid because they’re not meant for me or my brothers and so why be tortured by the unattainable, I always say. The waitress is too busy figuring out who ordered the cheese fries to notice my departure.

Outside it’s icily silent. It smells like night with a hint of rotting cars. The stars spell out:


It occurs to me that my time inside with my brothers was the 8th and that now we’re onto the 9th, and the 9th is completely unseen and unforecast, completely unwritten, and that’s where I’d like to be. It’s that blankness that I’ve been needing. And because, you know, after the 9th is the Xth, and the Xth is where it’s all going to happen. The Xth is The End.

Joshua Green Allen

Fireland is a rickety old website by Joshua Allen.

A novel called Chokeville and a beverage-review site called The Knowledge For Thirst.

A great deal of typing is collected in the Archive.

Articles and whatnot for other sites, including The Morning News, Wired, and McSweeney's, can be found in External.

I've been involved in a number of Epiphany Sink pictures.

I record music under the name Orifex.

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Join the notify list for extremely infrequent updates via email.

The Sexiest Sentence Alive, Fireland Broke My Will To Live, The Black Pill Diaries, and a sampling of Old Fireland Designs.

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