by Mike Palecek
I understand how.I do not understand why.
— Winston Smith, 1984
No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and inces- sant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a cafe, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.
— William L. Shirer, The Rise & Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
Table of Contents
1 – Life During Wartime
2 – Cognitive Dissidents3 – The Bums Will Always Lose
4 – Now The Smallest Line You Can, Please,With Just Your Third Eye
5 – Stroll Around The Grounds Until You Feel At Home
6 – Schmovid Schmabbitt Schmoyd & Schmoe
7 – Well, How Did I Get Here?
8 – Same As It Ever Was
9 – A Moon Too Far
10 – Form 302
11 – On The Group W Bench
12 – NPR Is Truth CNN Is Truth NBC Is Truth
13 – The Evil Empire
14 – If Americans Knew
15 – We Didn’t Start The Fire
16 – The Magic Pull-It
17 – Build Your Bomb Shelter, Remove Your Hats, Duck & Cover, Duct Tape Your Windows, Relax, Have Some Kool-Aid
18 – The Devil In The Details
19 – My Dinner With D.B. Cooper
20 – Born In The U.S.A.
21 – The Home Of The Brave
22 – Living The Dream
23 – Bernays’ Cave
24 – We’re All In This Together
25 – Zero Dark Thirty To Midnight
26 – There Will Be Bullshit
27 – Sympathy For The Devil
28 – Code Camo
This is a work of fiction. Incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real with the exception of some well-known historical figures and events. Where real life figures appear, the situations, incidents and dialogue concerning those persons are not intended to change the fictional nature of the work, which is intended to convey the uncertainty of reality from different perspectives. The author doesn’t know shit and he does not intend to imply otherwise.
… This is an attempt at writing historical fiction, imagining, trying to see, attempting to understand the world we have been brought up in. Others will no doubt come along with a more accurate portrayal to the benefit of us all.
We will speculate here about what really happened at Aurora, Columbine, Boston, the scene of Terry Yeakey’s death, also about Sept. 11, 2001, Waco, the Jim Garrison appearance on The Tonight Show, the crash of Paul Wellstone’s plane, the Apollo II astronaut press conference, the murder of Bobby Kennedy, and others. To at least attempt to understand the years we have lived, while at the same time bracing ourselves on any pillar available against the next wave and war.
It’s the same day.
The gunshots echo as always around noon down Prairie Avenue. Three. No, I thought I heard five. They came from there. Nope, back there.
When they killed and took away the hope and democracy of El Salvador we had better things to do. When they did the same in Guatemala it was not a good time for us, to become involved or read up on that. When they did the same in Chile, Bolivia, we already had a full plate, and so there wasn’t much we could do. And so when they put full-page false stories, complete with sidebars, award-winning photos, feature stories, and in-depth back stories in the news stand at 45th & Broadway in New York City, at the Barnes & Noble on Webster Avenue in Chicago, at the Casey’s on Dixon Road in Kokomo, at the Kwik Trip on West Dodge Road in Omaha, at the 7-Eleven on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles … and announced they were now here, had landed, boots on the ground, to put a brown wingtip up our ass, here, in the United States of America, there were no Salvadorans or Guatemalans or Chileans to speak for us.
All these events are still happening, ongoing, it never ends, in fact it’s culminating as we speak as we breathe as we check the mail on our way to take out the garbage. It’s happening right now. And it’s so hard to imagine. Life is happening right now, this moment, and I can’t believe it’s happening to me, and that it’s up to me, right now to figure out what to do because as the Allen Dulles and Wolf Blitzer balloons float down 6th Avenue, tethered by 66 army snipers from Muncie, the parade hosted by Lorne Greene, Betty White and Willard Scott, Allen Dulles sits there in a chair, nice chair, nice office, puffing on a cigar, Mona Lisa smirk in his eyes, looking right into your face and just knowing you won’t do a fucking thing. Karl Rove smooths into the office, big smile, big laugh, telling everyone that Philip Seymour Hoffman has just agreed to play him in the new Tom Hanks movie, “We’re An Empire Now.”
You see Paul Wellstone’s face on the television screen and the dates below the photo, 1944-2002.Crashed in the woods. And your mind goes to how terrible those last moments must have been. If it were you how would you have handled it? What could that possibly be like. What do we do now? I guess we’ll figure out something.
You see the indescribably sad image on the black and white TV screen of the riderless horse at John Kennedy’s funeral, and then the images burned into your brain of Robert Kennedy on his back in the pantry and the people lining the tracks as his body was passing by on the train.
You see that school children have been shot and killed. And you cannot imagine.
You see two people in a television studio telling you in somber tones about something big that has happened in New York City. And at some dragging yourself from the sea onto the muddy beach, primal ooze level you know that your life has changed forever, your routine, your joy, your smile will not ever be the same. It will all have to be faked.
You see the flames shooting from the buildings and you realize that people are right now burning alive in those buildings and you wonder what you could have done about it. And what that would be like. And what’s for dinner tonight at your house.
You see on the screen the remains of the building, ripped at the seams, down the middle, with its guts hanging out for the whole world to view, and you don’t have time to wonder, they have told you who did it and why and what will be hap- pening next, tonight and tomorrow.
And then, you go about your day because what else is there to do?
And there isn’t, anything else to do.
It’s already been done, the deed as well as your seeing the deed. You cannot unsee it or unfeel it.
That’s part of the plan, but you do not know about that. How could you?
You have been given as a human being all these good things, these eyes, this heart, this mind, this earth, this soul — such that not even the thinnest, rose-gold, most advanced comput- ers, or Google-Facebook-Amazon-DHS algorithm, Aspen Institute or NPR summer-all-employee-picnic-get-together-and brainstorm, RAND or DARPA intellectuals or CIA goat-staring shaman could replicate — and yet, those who have done these things have now inserted into your own interface a virus and it has an effect.
Life During Wartime
“If ever’one tell the same tale, it bound to be a lie.”
— Aldous Robicheaux, The Glass Rainbow
I believe that ancient Jews built boats and sailed to America …
I am an American. And Americans just believe.
The Book of Mormon, we went once, in New York City. I guess I laughed louder than I have my whole life, before or since. We took the bus tour, sat on top, saw Michael Moore on Broadway, pretty cool. Everything is so big there, so in your face, I guess, and it’s I would say, powerful, when you hear the lies, watch the lies, see the lies on the big electronic message boards and nobody feels foolish. Nobody embarrassed to see billboards with the dinosaur-sized faces of Lester Holt, Stephen Colbert, all those. Just big lies, writ big, for forever, I guess.
The wife thought it was like if you’ve been to Disneyland and seen Goofy and Dumbo and Cinderella out walking around, right? And then you go to New York ‘cause you got these tickets and this tour, and these people don’t know about Disneyland, apparently, and they think Goofy and Dumbo and Cinderella are real and they have them on electronic billboards an eighth of a mile high and a quarter-mile wide.
Well, more from me later.
As they say, let’s get right to our story. …
… So, yeah.
I’m sitting here.
Not sure what else I’m s’posed to be doing right now.
It’s okay. Not super-uncomfortable yet. But these, I don’t know what they are, sort of concrete pavers, blocks and then over there it’s bricks, all very Boston, I guess. I’m not really from here, but this is the gig, so you know how it goes.
Anyway, yeah, not bad, for having my leg all mangled up and shit, just look at it.
It’s kind of an underground society. And not kind of. You look around and it’s crickets, but it’s not. It snot, that’s what my kid would say. We talked to some people at church and they told us about it and we thought, why not, we’re still young, so why not try a few things, have some fun while we can, see what’s out there, and it’s good for the country, so why not? We think of it as like something like the new bungee jumping, only these days it’s more like going to Mars or stuff like that.
We went to this meeting and then were invited to a training and then we made our formal application and were asked to come on board. We had to sign a bunch of forms for EMA, DHS, NDA, Actor Waiver, some other stuff.
And for this one not everyone who applied was assigned, deployed. There was the two-week training in Maynard. Actually it wasn’t bad. It’s like an old bomb shelter, but a big one with meeting rooms and we studied all kinds of stuff, how everything was going to happen, how to do makeup, moulage. That’s really just makeup, but way more.
You were mostly in your own small group, cadre. You wouldn’t know it, but right here around me and my wife is our unit. We named it Zombie Tea Party. You like it? Me, too. We’ve got our own coordinator, moulage tech, blood person. Dracula or Draculette they call ‘em, kinda cool, gotta have some fun even though you’re working, right?
Where I work one Friday a month it’s Mexican or Hawaiian or Bahama day, things of that nature. I like to be around fun people.
After all those hours of meetings it’s pretty cool, neat to see it actually happening, everything coming together, and it is kind of hard to imagine, make your mind work and notice where the seams are between what’s real and what’s not. And, it’s nice to see all the faces, people you know, some you’ve shared a picnic or a beer with, or a prayer, and see them doing so well. You kind of get chills. I do.
“This is a drill!
“This, is a … drill!”
When we heard that we knew we better be ready. It was happening and this one was pretty much going to be a big one. I had to hurry big-time to the restroom, one more time, and just hope it wasn’t busy.
We’re s’pose to get away for a while. But nobody together, no cadre camping trips, I guess. We’ve talked about Cancun, the DR, maybe Hawaii, or something else, something we haven’t even thought about yet maybe, who knows?
The ones we talked to in the first place? At church? They went on a tour of Europe on bicycles! We don’t know what ended up happening to them after that.
Anyway, there’s s’pose to be around 300 of us here. I really only see a few, maybe the rest are at the other deployment areas, theaters of operation.
It’s actually pretty cool to be a part of a large organization. I don’t know if you’ve ever been? But, like a team, or a company? It feels good, you feel proud, protected, and you get to know some nice folks.
With us, the actors and managers, blockers, techs, on-scene they call us, are just a part of it.
There’s also newspapers, radio, TV, the police, the hospitals. It’s a big deal. It’s this magnificent thing as the man said and when you see it — you know, kinda like those pictures, designs, in the Sunday paper that you can’t tell what it is at first, but then, when you stare at it long enough, from the right angle or in the right light, it’s like, oh! That’s what it is! It’s like that. Pretty much.
My people, my relatives, a lot of them, are civil war re-enactors. I never got into it and I did feel guilty when I was younger when they all piled into the Winnebago every June, Gettysburg, Manassas. I told them I couldn’t miss my ballgames, but I really stayed home to [ * ] Jane Stepanek. They said, “you’ll learn about your history.” I guess, but this is history, too, that we’re making. Maybe this will make up for at least part of that. Maybe they’ll see us on TV.
We got out here as quick as we could when they blew our window out to take our positions. You weren’t supposed to look up where the smoke was coming from, that was a big no-no. I could see a lot of civilians doing that. What I wanted to be able to see was the opening where the device goes off and then the two cops rush up for the photo.
Well, for some reason the cops took their time, but it all worked out, I guess, anyway, the colors, bright red and green, the gravitas, and the beautiful woman cop with the silver earring, black hair, action pose with the drawn black handgun, just right. These people. These people are pros, so good at what they do.
“Oh, okay, gotcha.”
That was our scene coordinator.
I’m supposed to show more pain, emote. I was looking too casual, my bad.
There goes the two leads, good guys, we got to know them.
It’ll be my turn pretty soon, then Jane. There’s a de-briefing next week and then like they said at the training, the sky’s the limit, I guess, maybe Alaska, maybe somewhere else, who knows?
Mike Palecek has worked on newspapers in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He also produced Penn Magazine, and was a co-founder of Moon Rock Books, as well as co-hosting, along with Chuck Gregory, The New American Dream Radio Show. He has written many novels, information about those available here: https://mikepalecek.newdream.us