My research, conducted with Dr. Kristina Jones of Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, and under the aegis of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, is on the impact of sexual assault on the level of PTSD among male torture survivors.
It was originally presented at American Psychiatric Association in May 2015. An updated version was presented at the 10th Annual Research Symposium of The National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs on March 5, 2018.
The research found that sexual assault is associated with a dramatic increase in the presentation of Post Traumatic Stress disorder among male survivors, ranging from 1.5 times to 2.0 times, depending on how narrow or broad a definition of sexual assault is used.
It is being prepared for publication. If you would like to view it, please feel free to contact me and I will provide you with a password.
Click here to view the DRAFT interactive website I’m developing with Dr. Jones based on this research (we’re cleaning it up April 5 – 12 2019) using Angular and Material Design. The idea behind the project, technologically, is that research, once published, becomes static. We want to create a research project that can be updated in real-time as our evidence base changes.
Remember the Chatterjee and Matheson account? They’re ready to list …”
“That’s great news, honey.” As I listen to my fiancé Sir Gavin prattle on about his work, my thoughts drift to the shops along Oxford St. I can picture each one distinctly in my mind, like a thumbnail slideshow of my friends pictures on Facebook. Stores like Harrods, Armani Exchange, Tiffany’s, the Body Shop and that most exclusive Shop of all, the 60s-themed store Bouffe. The name sticks to my brain like glitter mascara.
It had the cutest outfit on display in its window today: a tiny white mini-skirt, a short suit jacket with big, powder blue buttons, and a pillbox hat with a veil. The display artist who wore it had a bouffant wig (of course), sexy go-go boots and a butterfly tattooed onto her exposed lower back. The look – slutty Jackie O’ – is one that I love. In fact, I am beginning to think that it should become my signature style …
“… so you don’t mind that it’s in Calcutta?”
I am about to say yes, when I realize that I don’t know what Gavin is talking about. That is nothing new, I am a dreamer and he can be so dreadfully dull. Fortunately, my fiancé is a very expressive speaker so I don’t ever have to listen to what he’s saying. I can fake my way through conversations with him simply by paying attention to changes in the tone of his voice. Which is why I hesitate now. Gavin is speaking as if I am choking on a hatpin. If I am going to answer his question I’d better first determine what the “it” is that is happening in Calcutta. It only takes a moment of reflection to realize that it has to be a meeting – all Gavin ever does is work – so I hazard a question, “Sweetheart, on what day is that meeting?”
Gavin looks quizzical and his voice sounds incredulous as he answers “May 14”.
Then I understand. “You’re suggesting that we spend our anniversary in India? In one of the poorest, filthiest, least glamorous cities in the world …”
As I speak my voice rises in intensity and shrillness. Gavin interrupts me before I explode. “Bexx, we won’t be sleeping with limbless beggars. We’ll be staying with my client Ravi Chatterjee. I understand that he has a very nice house, and that the best parts of Calcutta are quite charming.”
Gavin’s tone is apologetic and even though I am cross-eyed with anger, I desperately want to placate him. It would be so much easier if I could find out what retail is like in Calcutta. I have to be circuitous, however, because my fiancé sometimes takes issue with my pathological interest in shopping. “Gavin, what kinds of things are in Calcutta? Is there a type of pottery or fashion that the city is famous for?”, I ask coyly.
“It was the capital of the British Raj for a while. And it’s very famous for jute.”
My face must be apoplectically quizzical, for Gavin answers the question that’s on my mind immediately, rather than evading or fawning, which would be his normal response to our current situation. “Jute is a type of coarse cloth. It’s used for rugged things like sandbags and potato sacks.”
“Crap!” I think angrily. “I’m going to this vast slum and the only shopping I’ll be able to do is for potato sack dresses. How the hell do you accessorize a sack?”
Gavin has anticipated this, “Bexx, we’ll be flying through Milan and Dubai so you will have plenty of opportunity to shop en route. In fact, you only need to stay in Calcutta for few days. Or you could stay at home and we could celebrate afterwards … ”
I can’t believe he’s suggesting that we celebrate the anniversary of our first data apart. “I’m going. I’m only staying for the weekend. But I’ll go.”
Gavin sighs with relief and holds me tightly in his muscular arms. “This trip won’t be so bad”, I think. “I’ll pick up something by Armani in Milan, a case of perfume in Dubai, we’ll have a beautiful dinner together in a palace and then maybe I’ll drop by Paris on the way home.”
At the best of times I need only the thinnest excuse to go shopping, so this turn of events is more than justification for an excursion to my favorite store.
Though the address of Bouffe is on that highest of high streets, Oxford, its entrance is actually situated on an alleyway as if its proprietors want to discourage traffic, which I guess they do given that the entrance to the boutique is guarded by a bouncer and a velvet rope. When I arrive, the bouncer is surrounded by a gaggle of teenage girls who insist that their friend has put them “on the list”. As I haughtily glide through these tarts like a hot silver spoon through butter, I remove my foundation applicator and delicately smash it, extract my splurge credit card from the wreckage, and proffer it to the bouncer with both hands, Japanese style. He bows slightly as he accepts it, and in one movement scans it and returns it to me. A silvery chime indicates that my credit limit has been established, and is acceptably large. The bouncer unclasps the velvet rope and gestures for me to enter.
Inside, there are three sales-models languidly posing around the store’s displays: a bottle blond near the perfumes, a brunette at the jewelry case, and a very young, freckled girl with a copper coloured wig in the clothing section. Though the store is barely twenty paces across, these Charlie’s Angels of ennui each sport adorable, brightly colored microphone headsets and earpieces – just what you’d expect if Coco Chanel designed for MI5.
Considering the impact this tiny boutique has on the London fashion scene it is, in many ways like the sales-models themselves, a wisp of very fashionable nothing. This nothingness is enhanced by the bright, white paint that cover its walls and removes all sense of depth. The Jackie O’ display dominates the street side of the store. An Andy Warhol print covers most of the back wall. The floor is dotted with small, well designed spaces that showcase the remainder of the store’s product – some large, brassy jewelry, a couple of bags, one pair of go-go boots, and a belt that has shrunken skulls on it with tufts of coarse, dark human hair. The elder models display a professional level of attitude that presents a formidable barrier to communication. The young, copper-haired model is fastidiously arranging the skull-belt so that it looks like a smiley face. She seems approachable so I speak to her first.
“I’d like the wig that the display model has … “
“Hello” she replies enthusiastically. “Can I help you?”
Her interruption puts me off so I stutter my question a second time, “I’d like the bouffant wig that the display artist is wearing.” The artist, who is standing perfectly still in the store’s tiny window, still dressed as Jackie ‘O, gives me a wink.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s not for sale.”
“What!” I think. “How can a wig in a clothing store not be for sale?” Then a thought strikes me. Perhaps this is a repeat of the dark days of the summer of 1995 when everything that I wanted to buy was reserved for Sarah Ferguson or Princess Di. I say, “Oh, has someone famous already bought the wig? Sting maybe? Or Prince Charles?”
The sales-model nervously adjusts her size 1 dress as she repeats, “No. It’s just not for sale.”
I catch a side-long look of myself in the mirror. “Maybe I’m not dressed up enough to buy it?” I think with trepidation.
The sales-model notices and replies anxiously to my unspoken question. “It’s not that you’re dressed in last season’s style. You look beautiful. It’s just that the wig is not for sale. It is part of the store’s permanent collection.”
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of things that I’ve really wanted that I didn’t ultimately get. Though right now I am one wedding vow away from being rich, I haven’t always been. I don’t need money. I get what I want because I am persistent. I will suggest, cajole, push, wheedle and on rare occasions even beg to achieve my consumption goals. Despite these formidable skills, I am overwhelmed by despair. The only words that I can utter are “but … signature style.”
These are powerful words to the shopping cognoscenti. The sales-model grasps my hand tightly and looks me directly in the eye. I look up and see a thin tear running down her freckled cheek. I watch as it splashes onto her bony shoulder. “We could sell you something else. Another wig perhaps?” This thought excites her. “Would you consider something a little more mod?” She turns me so that my back faces the store display, and then lightly pushes me towards a corner of the store that I hadn’t noticed before. There, sitting on a plaster pedestal illuminated by ambient light, is a beautiful beehive wig.
“What do you think? It’s made from the same hair as the bouffant wig.”
One of my most important mottoes as a shopper is never to compromise. As soon as you let trivialities like money and convenience guide your purchases you are doomed to mediocrity. I know in my heart of hearts that the bouffant and not the beehive wig is really me; the beehive is too much, but the bouffant is … perfect.
I glance towards the store display.
“I’m sorry, but the bouffant really isn’t for sale.”
I look back at the beehive. It is fun and sexy.
“Would you like to try it on?” the gamin asks.
“Not every outfit can be a signature.”
Though I am heartbroken not to be able to buy the bouffant wig, the girl’s wise words clinch the sale. As I pay for the wig – and the skirt, jacket and go-go boots that go with it – the blond sales-model who had watched my entire shopping spree with listless scorn, activates her headset and speaks one sentence into it in Italian, ”Abbiamo venduto la parrucca, ora puoi comprare la villa a Parma”1
The trip to Calcutta takes the better part of a week. First, we take a private jet to Milan. While I stay for a few days to shop, Gavin goes on ahead. On the flight from Milan to Dubai, to my amazement, I get bumped to economy but make the last leg of my journey in first-class. I arrive at Calcutta airport – or Kolkata as it is now called – tired, cranky and burdened with duty-free goods.
Immediately upon exiting customs I am met by the love of my life, Sir Dudley Gavin Dudley, who is stylishly decked out in a collarless silk shirt and perfectly tailored, tapered black pants. His shoes are hand made. The outfit is entirely new, which cheers me up considerably. “He must have bought these clothes here”, I conclude hopefully. Behind Gavin stand two men in light cotton outfits and mustaches. They both vaguely look like Omar Sharif. Gavin introduces them as Mr. Chatterjee’s men.
As we proceed to our car, a beautiful hunter green jaguar, I look back and see the words DUM DUM AIRPORT broadcast themselves to the world, and smile. Gavin notices and pulls me into his muscular arms. “It’s nice to see you happy, dear heart.”
“I was just laughing at the sign. Was the airport named after Sir Dum Dum the youngest son of the Earl of Stupid, perhaps?”
“Don’t mock my relatives”, Gavin replies sternly.
For a moment I’m taken aback. “Have I offended my fiancé?”, I think. “It certainly is common for aristocrats to have silly names, after all. And Gavin does have a number of nitwit cousins.” Gavin notices my consternation and bursts out laughing. “Actually, a dum-dum is a particularly vicious – and now illegal – type of bullet. This district used to be the British arsenal where the bullets were made.”
“What a way to go, torn apart by a dum-dum bullet.” The thought doesn’t make me laugh as I look out my window and see prematurely aged men pulling rickshaws against the faded backdrop of what once must have been glorious townhouses. The interior of the car seems even more plush when set against this foil of poverty and decay.
After a splendid dinner held in the courtyard of Mr. Chatterjee’s home, which is actually one half of a palace that has been partially converted into an exclusive hotel, tables are cleared and the courtyard is transformed into a market. Along one wall artisans carefully lay out their wares on colourful rugs. In the centre,a group of Rajastani puppeteers and musicians put on a performance.
Though the puppet show is charming, my mind, gaze and eventually body wanders over to the artisans’ stalls to browse and inevitably buy. It takes me but a moment to decide to purchase most of the earrings and silver bangles from the first two artisans. It is not until I reach the third artisan’s table, which contains pieces that are more like fine art than jewelry, that I settle into the shopping groove. One piece in particular catches my eye, a silver bracelet embossed with an array of semi-precious stones.
“How much is this?” I ask.
“For you, 400 rupees” he replies.
“It costs a few pence more than 4 quid”, I think with amazement. This doesn’t seem possible: the bracelet is made of two different rare metals and garnished with 6 expertly cut tiny emeralds. All for the amount of money that I make in five minutes hosting my television show.
I overpay the jeweler, secretly hoping that he will use the money to replace his tattered clothing, and place the brooch around my neck. As I do so, Mr. Chatterjee sidles up beside me. He is accompanied by a handsome young man who looks exactly like Omar Sharif.
”Rebecca, I would like to introduce you to my son, Rajit”
Giving how dashing he is, I expect Rajit to kiss me, but instead he modestly shakes my hand. “That is a beautiful brooch you are wearing. Did you just buy it?” he asks.
He then notices the bags that are lying in a heap at my feet and the empty tables behind me. “I see that you bought more than just the brooch.”
I flash him a guilty smile as I reply, “It is all so beautiful, and so cheap … I mean inexpensive.”
Mr. Chatterjee notices my awkwardness and smoothly interjects, “Rebecca, I have an idea. Tomorrow, while Sir Gavin and I iron out the details of my IPO, why doesn’t Rajit take you shopping?”
I look towards Rajit to see what he thinks of this excellent idea. “I would love to” he replies, “provided Rebecca doesn’t mind.”
“Of course not!”
To my astonishment Mr. Chatterjee then hands his son a wallet that is thick with money. To his son he somberly says, “Take care of her tomorrow. Buy her whatever she wants.” Ravi takes the wallet and places it in his pocket. The transaction is conducted as if the wallet did not even exist: both Chatterjee and his son are both looking at me.
I am beaming, of course.
The next morning I strike quite a figure walking down Lenin Sarani in my Jackie O’ digs. Even without heels I am tall. In go-go boots and a beehive I tower over the locals.
I have to confess that I am initially disappointed by the shopping: the retail stores are a pale imitation of my favorite London shops and the branded goods are more expensive than at home. Though the shopping doesn’t improve, the stores certainly become more interesting when we turn off of the main thoroughfare and enter the New Market.
My favorite stores are magical places where the wares of the world are conveniently gathered and prettily displayed for my consideration and purchase. There is nothing pretty or convenient about the New Market. The streets are crowded with hustling retailers engaged in the rawest forms of commerce. I see chickens tied by their necks to bicycles racks, asphyxiating fish flopping in filthy buckets of water, blacksmiths smelting metal in tiny furnaces, and children creating silver leaf with tiny hammers. You would think that I would feel out of place in my white miniskirt and powder blue boots. But I don’t. The realization gives me a thrill. “This really could be my signature look”, I think, but my sunshiny thought is quickly covered by clouds. “Provided I can find a bouffant wig.”
After 30 minutes of uneventful browsing through silk scarves and jute bags I notice an old woman sitting on the stairs in front of a building. Her tattered clothes are stiff with dirt. She is not wearing shoes. Her thickly calloused feet suggest that she has never worn shoes. I want to help her. I quickly search through my purse. I only have credit cards, a cheque book and odd bits of makeup and accessories. I have left my money behind because this excursion is Mr. Chatterjee’s treat. I consider asking Rajit for some change but hesitate because it may be rude to spend Mr. Chatterjee’s money on a poor, homeless woman. And besides, charity should be personal. If I choose to give I should do so with my own possessions.
An idea pops into my head. I’ll write this woman a cheque. Ten quid seems about right. I pin the cheque to her lapel using a beautiful hat pin from Harrods that is in fact more valuable than the money I’m giving her. As I turn away from her I feel that something isn’t right. A cheque seems such an incomplete present in such an intimate situation. I sift through my purse looking for something else to give her and to my delight I find the perfect gift. Though I cannot be certain what exactly her colours are given how filthy and unkempt she is, my intuition tells me that maroon lipstick will look perfect on her. I place the applicator in one of the folds of her skirt. As I do so, her hand tightly clasps it but she doesn’t wake up.
The encounter leaves me inexplicably fatigued. Rajit senses this and signals for our car. Our next stop is the Barabazar market. We take the Strand along the Hugli River, towards the Howrah Bridge. The roads are appallingly congested, apparently because of a cricket match between Dhaka and Calcutta that is about to begin. In the shadow of the bridge, across from the Armenian Ghat, a flash of tinsel catches my eye. My gaze drifts towards the bridge … I can’t believe what I see. I shout “Rajit, stop the car!” It’s an impossible request: though the traffic is crawling it nevertheless has an inexorable momentum. Fortunately, we’re only moving at 2 kilometres an hour so I don’t injure myself as I leap out of the car door and race towards a tiny wig shop that is nestled in the shadow of the bridge. I really can’t believe it. There in the window is the same beehive wig that I am wearing.
The beehive wig is not why I am here. Synchronicity with loud accessories is not a good thing. For starters, the best accessories are always expensive because you can’t skimp on gaudiness, and, as I have learned from my work as a financial reporter, one of the components of a high price is scarcity. To see an expensive accessory that you thought was unique and outrageous in a tumbledown store can be devastating…
Seeing my wig here suggests that perhaps …
Rajit catches up to me at the entrance to the store and manages to hold the door open for me as I enter. The store owner at first says nothing to me but merely looks at my beehive wig and then at the wig in the window. She has an expression of disbelief on her face, mixed with – I’m not certain what. After a moment of silence Rajit impatiently says something to her in Bangla. To my surprise she then addresses me in English.
“What is your name?”, she asks. She has an Oxford English accent.
“Rebecca” I hesitantly reply. “Call me Becky.”
“My name is Rachana” she replies. As the shop-keeper addresses me Rajit fades out of the front door in order to assist our driver, who is having an animated discussion with a police officer.
“I bought mine in London.” I point to my wig and then at the one in the window and laugh. I fear that this may not be the best conversation starter but the wig in the window is the reason why I am here.
“Do you like it? It was made with my daughter’s hair.” After she says this Rachana pokes her head through the beaded curtain behind where she is sitting at the cash register, and speaks quietly in Bangla to someone in the back room. A wisp of a girl responds to her call. The child’s colourful sari is clean, if somewhat ragged. Her alert, dark eyes and thin gamin look remind me of the sales model at Bouffe who sold me my outfit.
Now I have as dirty a mind as any Essex girl. But it is a nice dirty that fantasizes about alternative uses for silk scarves, for example, or what kind of lingerie should start where my thigh-high boots end. Looking at this girl whose jet black hair I am wearing on my head seems raw, even vaguely obscene to me. Perhaps that is why I take off my wig as I kneel down beside her, so that my eyes are level with hers. Though she shyly plays with her dark tresses as I kneel she does not flinch. She is a very beautiful girl. I hope that Gavin and I have a daughter that is this pretty.
Then a most unsettling thought races through my head. “I don’t just want this girl’s hair, I want her.” I wonder, “Can you adopt someone who has parents? Can it be done in person or does it require a broker? How much does it cost?” I restrain my enthusiasm. “Hold on! I mustn’t be hasty”, I think. “If I am considering adopting her then I should find out if we get along.” While still looking into her beautiful brown eyes I ask her mother, “Does she speak English?” Her mother nods. The child says nothing, but continues to look at me. “What is your name?” I ask.
The child continues to play with her hair for another moment and then to my delight, replies, “Rosa. After Rosa Luxembourg. Do you know who Rosa Luxembourg is?”
I recognize the name from a college history class, so nod vaguely yes as I present the child with my beehive wig. “Rosa, this wig is made from your hair. I bought it in London.” The child responds to my words with a very expressive look, though I have difficulty determining exactly what it is she is expressing.
I continue to speak, “Everyone thinks the wig is really cool.”
The child bursts into a smile but steps away from me and closer to her mother, who puts her hand affectionately onto her child’s head. I know in that beautiful, sad moment that I will never possess this child. Rosa’s place is here, with her own mother.
My reflective mood is dispelled by the shopkeeper, who asks “Miss Becky, are you looking for another wig?” As she say this she hands me the same bouffant wig that I could not buy for love or money in London!
I gingerly inspect it. I don’t know exactly what I am looking for – cobras, perhaps – then quickly put it on and pose in front of the mirror. Though there is such a subtle difference between a bouffant and a beehive, the bouffant is the look for me. I look so good that I squeal with delight. In fact I look exactly like the display model at Bouffe.
As I think this I freeze in terror.
A good shopper is never derivative. To look like a store display is to say to the world, I have no creativity; I do not deserve to call myself a shopper. I am simply someone who picks and choses, or worse I am no more than a compulsive spender of money. This harsh realization breaks my heart, and judging from the look on the shopkeeper’s face, her heart as well. My hands actually shake as I remove the wig and return it to her. I wistfully say, “It is very beautiful, but no thank you.”
I’m feeling guilty and unsettled by my sudden change of heart so I look for something to buy. Ten scarves, 3 saris and 5 coarse but durable jute bags later I return to our car.
As we slowly pull away from the wig store towards Mohandas Gandhi boulevard, a poor looking woman with a finely wrought necklace made of beer can tabs, bangs on the window of our car. She speaks – or more accurately moans – at me and then thrusts her naked child against the glass of the car window directly opposite my face. Our driver shouts at her to leave us in peace while I reflect on my shopping experiences.
“What would you like to buy next?” Rajit asks, once we’ve pulled away from the beggar and her child.
“How about jewelry?” I suggest.
“That is a very good choice. I have an excellent suggestion for you.” He pulls out his mobile phone and makes an appointment.
We turn off of Mohandas Gandhi Boulevard onto a winding street called Biplabi Trailakya Sarani that leads directly into the Barabazar Market. As we approach our destination the dress of the men changes dramatically. The area under the bridge had been dominated by mustached men in dhoti, while the men in this neighbourhood wear pants, and most have beards. At one point a tall, thin man who is entirely naked walks by, whisking the ground in front of him with a swatch of twigs. From his actions I assume he’s a nutter, however the crowd parts reverentially to let him pass.
Our car stops in front of a textile store. I am deep in conversation with the owner before Rajit has had time to tell me that the jeweler who we are visiting lives upstairs. The jeweler, Samir, is a small, round man with a well-kept beard that is several shades greyer than his hair. He wears a tiny pillbox hat, a brightly braided vest, and printed pajama pants. The combination of this outfit and his obsequious manner makes me think of him as a chauffeur for a magic carpet service.
Perhaps I am being harsh, for despite appearances, Samir has tremendous skill as a jeweler. I am impressed – almost overwhelmed – by the samples that he shows me. His materials are the best and his subjects are varied. I could wear his pieces dressed as Jackie O’, as a punk rocker or for evensong. Once again I am paralyzed by choice. I wonder if it would be excessive to buy everything.
As I sit pondering my next move Rajit breaks the silence. “Samir, this is not your best work.”
Samir replies calmly, ignoring Rajit’s patrician tone. “Sir, this is my best work. However, you are correct in implying that it is not the best jewelry I have to sell. My best piece was made by an unknown craftsman. Behold.”
I have always thought about what it must be like to be a princess and to be able to wear accessories that are national treasures. But the pragmatic side of me until now has prevailed: “That diamond and emerald encrusted crown is beautiful” I would think during my visits to the Tower of London, “but I certainly can’t wear it with a slight, sexy, black dress. Helen Gurly Brown would surely rise from the dead to take me to hell if I did that … And for sure that ermine collar is going to get spray-painted by animal rights activists!”
That is how I would joke about treasures before I saw the Raj Mahal Tiara.
Samir speaks as he unlocks a tiny silver box, “This piece comes from the Raj Mahal Hills, which is a remote area in northwestern Bengal on the border with Bihar.” As he tells me this story, he opens the box and removes a crimson pillow on which rests a gorgeous band of wrought platinum inset with deep blue star sapphires. “The Hills are in a region that was ignored by the world until the Mughals arrived from Afghanistan. Then the Hills’ position overlooking a narrow point on the Ganges River became very strategic. First the Bengalis built a fortress. Then the Mughals stormed it and took the area for their own. Later, under the British, when the border between Bengal and Bihar ceased to matter, the fortress was still used, though to suppress local dissent. The peasants who lived there were reduced to poverty by the wars and eventually the Zemandars, who ruled the area, enslaved them.” He pauses dramatically and then says, “It was those slaves who mined these sapphires”
I am transfixed by the star sapphires. “It looks like there are little angels dancing on the stones”, I say haltingly.
“Some say those are the souls of those who died mining the stones.”
“Can I have it?”
Both Samir and I look to Rajit for an answer.
I stop breathing while I wait for a response. “Rajit has to say yes.” I think. “He has an entire purse full of money, after all. How much can this piece cost?” I answer that question myself. “A lot. Maybe a room full of money.”
Rajit says something quietly and quickly to Samir in Bangla and then nods assent.
I exhale a little bit too loudly as I thank Rajit, a thanks I cut short because I cannot keep myself away from the treasure on the crimson pillow. “The tiara will go perfectly with my Jackie Onassis outfit and wig”, I think.”…the bouffant wig I didn’t buy.”
I’m suddenly alarmed.
“Rajit, can we buy the tiara and leave?”
“Certainly.” As Rajit pays Samir he asks, “Who won the test match?”
“You don’t know?” Samir sounds surprised, “The game never ended.”
“What do you mean?”
“An umpire made a very unfavourable call against Kolkata. You’d better be careful driving home. There are groups of hooligans causing trouble throughout the city. There is even a rumour that Sourav Ganguly himself has been called to restore order.2 The rioting is particularly bad near the Howrah Bridge…”
Where my wig is.
As we exit, I hesitantly ask Rajit if it will be OK for us to quickly pick up my wig before returning to Ravi’s place. He insists that we will have to return for it tomorrow because of the riot.
My flight home is tomorrow.
Our car exits from the bazaar exactly where we entered, just below the Armenian Ghat, on the edge of the River. Through a thick, restless crowd, I can see the wig shop. I imagine that I can even see the anxious look on Rachana’s face as she struggles to bar the entrance to her shop. Though she is so very close, she might as well be on a different planet; the crowd is impassable and looks dangerous.
Some people think that shopaholism is about compulsive materialism. That’s like saying that anorexia is about the denial of food. It is a true but shallow statement. Shopping for me is about defining who I am in an ungrounded world full of choices. I remember when I first realized I was a shopaholic. I was a little child. I wasn’t buying anything. I didn’t even fully understand what buying was. I had just dressed up in one of my sister’s outfits and some of my grandmother’s costume jewelry. When I looked at myself in the mirror I thought, “I love how I look. This is so cool.” It was a complete feeling.
I normally reserve such stories for my therapist, but I tell you this one to explain what I do next.
As our driver leans his elbow onto our car’s horn and begins a slow turn right, away from the store I have the profound realization that my signature style is nobody’s priority but my own. If I do not get that wig now I will never get it. And I have to get it myself. Before Rajit realizes what I am doing, I step out of our idling Maruti, slam the door shut behind me, and am immediately sucked into the centre of the riot.
I briefly glance back towards the car. Rajit is struggling to exit but the Maruti has now been completely enveloped by the crowd and he can’t open the car door. One exuberant fellow is actually standing on its hood shouting and waving a cricket bat wildly around his head.
“I must keep focused”, I think as I continue to push forward. “I must get to the wig shop before Rachana finishes barricading the entrance.”
Though I am in the middle of a cricket riot I am somehow not a part of it and my presence – aside from the odd astonished look – goes … if not unnoticed, at least unobstructed. Without too much effort I tack across the flow of the crowd and break free several metres from my destination. Thankfully Rachana is still struggling with the metal gate that she uses to protect her shop. It seems rusty and rarely used. “The wig! The wig!” I shout above the noise of the riot but she doesn’t appear to understand me. Instead she wordlessly marshals me into her shop and then gestures for me to hold a bent metal bar in place while she padlocks the metal gate. which she had finally succeeded in pulling down to the ground. I am so relieved to have made it into the store before it is closed that it takes me a moment to realize that we are now sealed in. I reach into my bag for my cell phone to call Rajit, but it is not there.
The bouffant wig is where I left it. I pick it up and walk towards the cash register to pay. To my surprise Rachana turns off the lights and pushes me and her daughter into the back room. There’s a bearded man there already. He politely introduces himself as Mohsin. I look closely at how he is dressed. Suddenly things begin to make sense. Though Rachana is Hindu, at least culturally, her husband is Moslem. That might be a problem right now.
I haven’t even completed this thought when a crowd of people start banging on the metal gate and shouting. As they bang I wonder what the rioters are wearing. Are they men wearing dhoti’s who look like so many angry Omar Sharifs, or are they bearded and dressed in pajama pants and pillbox hats. Are there women with them? What about teenagers and children?
We remain silent while, for one tense moment, the rioters try to break through the metal gate. After a long moment, they give up and drift away to other easier targets.
“What did they want?” I ask Rachana.
She doesn’t answer my question. After a brief, uncomfortable pause her daughter Rosa does. “The men want to kill my father because he is a low caste Moslem and a communist.”
I don’t have a response to this so I bring the conversation back to the topic that is foremost on my mind. “I’d like to buy this wig. Which credit cards do you take?” I lay my best cards down like a royal flush. To my surprise there is a long pause before Rachana answers, “We don’t take credit cards.”
… and I have no cash.
This is one of those moments that separate the pros from the amateurs. “Rachana, I have an idea. Why don’t we trade?” She looks at me skeptically so I hastily add “… I’ll give you my wig, which must be worth the same as my wig, and as an extra I’ll give you this broach”, which I hope to god is as real as the money I paid for it. The merchant carefully inspects the gold and emerald brooch for a moment and then to my relief she nods assent.
I have a feeling of profound trepidation as I replace my beehive wig with the bouffant. I look into a large mirror beside the cash register and see reflections of myself in the mirrors that are scattered around the store walls and woven into its wears. I reach into my purse, remove the Raj Mahal Tiara and put it on. I can confirm from thousands of reflections that I have completed my look.
At that very moment someone starts banging on the door of the shop. It turns out it’s Rajit’s man. He’s come back for me! It takes only a few moments to unbolt the door. As I exit, Rajit sees me and immediately beings talking on his cell phone. I see to my relief that the rioters have moved on. A moment later a hunter green Jaguar pulls up in front of the store and out bursts my dear fiancé Gavin who rushes over to me and gives me a huge hug. A long moment later we separate and he checks me out, “Bexx, I expected to find your mutilated corpse, but … but … not this … you look perfect.”
The next morning is my last. The plan is for one of Ravi’s men to drive me to the airport. We leave in the late morning after a leisurely breakfast. The streets are empty compared with yesterday, so our journey is uneventful. As I sit in the rear of the car I find myself in a pensive mood. Having found my signature style I feel unexpectedly unsettled, like a sailor who has stepped off of a ceaselessly rocking boat onto solid ground. The quest for a signature style, which has been such a defining characteristic of my life, is now over. Undoubtedly a time will come when I will feel compelled to change my look again, but that time is in the distant future. What will my next move be now? Can I be content simply expressing the identity I have chosen for myself?
At the entrance to the airport, at the point where the rickshaw drivers patiently wait at that invisible but all too real barrier between powered and human traffic, I have my driver stop our car and say to him, “Can you please ask one of the rickshaw drivers over there who speaks for them?” I ask. He looks at me quizzically so I rephrase the question. “Please ask to whom they pay baksheesh.” He shrugs then rolls down the window, says something quickly to one of the rickshaw drivers, and then addresses me. “Their manager is not here, Madame.”
Perfect. “Please wait”, I say as I step out of the car and approach the cluster of rickshaws. The drivers are a thin, unkempt lot, wearing rude dhotis. Their shoes are made of some form of recycled rubber, probably old tires. I am impressed with the craftsmanship, but saddened. You can only do so much with such material.
“Do any of you speak English?” I ask. Most nod mutely no, but one man speaks up. “I do Madame. Can I help you? Would you like a ride to the airport?”
“No.” As I reply, I remove what remains of my money from my pocket and divide the bills into ten groups, one pile for each rickshaw driver plus one pile for my driver. When I am done distributing the money, the English speaker asks again, “We are all most grateful for your gift, Madame. Please, can we help you?”
“There is no need. Chatterjee’s man is taking care of me.” I nod to my driver.
The rickshaw driver rolls his head in agreement but nevertheless asks again. “Are you certain that there is no help that we can give you?”
I look into the back seat of the car, which is crammed full of packages. On top of the pile I see my carry-on suitcase, which I know contains my bouffant wig and tiara. “No thank you. I have more than enough.”
1. Bouffe is a reference to Opera Bouffe, typically a light, comic Italian or French opera.
2. The Italian phrase ”Abbiamo venduto la parrucca, ora puoi comprare la villa a Parma” means “Now you can buy your villa in Parma”, which is an indirect way of suggesting that the outfit Bexx has just purchased is expensive.
3. Sourav Ganguly was am extremely famous cricket star in the Oughts. This reference is added for the benefit of readers who are familiar with Kolkata to underscore the seriousness of the cricket riot.
4. Rosa Luxembourg was a famous German communist revolutionary who was murdered in January 1919. The child is named after her to emphasize that the wig manufacturing family is aware of the class ramifications of Bexx’s materialism. This is not such a stretch. There is a very strong tradition of communism in Kolkata. That’s why one of its main streets is called Lenin Sarani.
This story was originally written for a media and the law course. I hope that I have succeeded in parodying Kinsella’s series as much as is allowed by our first amendment rights – but no more. This is a friendly parody. I also hope that my work gently prods shopaholics everywhere to consider how it is that their relentless pursuit of style is harming themselves and our planet.
Because I am writing a parody of an English book, I have chosen to use English spellings. I have chosen to use Calcutta instead of Kolkata in the title to underscore the class divide between Bexx, Gavin, and the people of Kolkata.
If you see any grammar or writing errors, I would kindly appreciate your input. I find my paragraphs can get overloaded with moods, tenses and aspects!
I can’t believe you got this far, thank you for reading!
When I write, I prefer to explain not present, so not very much background information is given in these stories. For those who want a bit more backstory, here it is.
The starting point for this cycle of stories is August 2, 2011, the day two crises occur: the US Federal Reserve discounts Treasury Bills (Default Tuesday); and a massive earthquake centered on the Hayward fault wipes out the North American Pacific coastline from Vancouver to San Diego. The inability of the our political and economic system to adapt to these catastrophic developments leads to the collapse of civilization.
The stories in this book are set between 200 and 230 years after Default Tuesday. The technological center of this world is the Canadian mid-west, while the population centre is further north, in a now habitable arctic. The main country in these stories is the so-called Federal Republic of Alaska and the Northern Territories. The Republic has an aristocratic (patron/client) model of government. The idea is that as social development declines, so too does democracy. Although the model for this aristocratic system is the mid-19th century Russian aristocracy, it has libertarian elements, reflecting its roots in current North American class structure. A recurring trope is that libertarianism doesn’t make you free: it leads to a class structure that favors the wealthy.
The Federal Republic of Alaska is actually controlled by Canadian successor states. The story here is that in the early 22nd century Alaska invaded the Yukon, and then got conquered by a coalition of Nunavut, the North West Territories, and what’s left of coastal British Columbia. After 100 years the coalition – including conquered Alaska – has evolved into the Federal Republic of Alaska and the Northern Territories, which is colloquially shortened to Alaska, or The Republic. It has a voting franchise based on property ownership, so is more aristocratic than democratic. On the Atlantic coast the political economy is dominated by city/county states; there is no centralized control. The rising Atlantic has turned most of New England and the mid-Atlantic into islands.
Don’t get bogged down in the impossibility of this alternate future because ultimately these stories are about right now: our drift toward a patrician form of government; the erosion of state institutions; the various identity problems we face in a class/gendered/hierarchical/technological society; the conflict between religion and science; the conflict between folk religion and established religion; our seeming inability to learn from history; our destruction and/or rejection of paradise etc.
Notes on spelling and language
The use of Canadian spelling is thematic, with the exception of toward, which I use instead of towards.
Comments and edits are welcome. I can be reached at brianmacmillan.ca
-Brian MacMillan May 7, 2012 revised April 1, 2018
Notes on the Individual Stories
Notes on Mr. Market
The story begins when a ship called the Yéil arrives at Los Angeles, two centuries after California was destroyed (mostly flooded) as a result of the Hayward Quake. The name of the ship (Yéil ) is a reference to the trickster, Raven, who in Tlingit mythology is credited with – among other things – stealing the moon on behalf of mankind. Disruption is an important narrative device in all of the stories.
Long Beach Island was created when the Hayward Quake – and its numerous aftershocks – caused much of the western coast of North America to flood. The “Island” is what remains of the southern suburbs of Los Angeles. It is comprised of what is now the area west of highway 405 (the San Diego Expressway), including land currently under the Pacific Ocean. Its northern tip is the area between Highways 110 and 405, just south of downtown Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles is completely under water.
The set for the story is the shanty town that has grown up around the old Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) headquarters, in Newport Beach. In the story, the ruins PIMCO headquarters is slightly closer to downtown Los Angeles than it is today.
I chose the PIMCO headquarters as the set for this story’s parody of financial shamanism because at the time of writing PIMCO had more bond assets under administration – $1.8 trillion in May 2012 – than any other company, and is the largest financial firm on the west coast of the USA. Mohamed el-Erian, the person whose personal communication device is featured in the story, is one of the two CEOs of the firm (along with Bill Gross).
The idea behind the parody is that when the Collapse happens, trade decays and, as a result, communities have to draw upon local resources in order to survive. The natives who live on Long Beach Island have few skills to help them survive – knowledge about bond and equity trading has become practically useless, and quite meaningless in a world without global financial markets. Over time this “knowledge”, because of its association with the lost wealth of the early 21st Century, gets turned into the magical language of the local religion. All this is to parody our current deification of free market economics.
The Sustainable Garden – aka Eden – was built during the Collapse. This is one of my favorite historical themes – that even in dark ages technology develops.
Notes on The Cell
This story is about how libertarian societies can become oppressive. On a character level it is about the loss of innocence.
The term “hoarder” comes from Stalinist Russia.
Notes on The Doctor Returns
This story is the happy ending to the previous story. Its not a particularly happy ending, because the libertarian-aristocratic society that created the injustice in The Cell is still in place.
Notes on Lots
The backstory to Lots is that Rhonda got pregnant when she stayed over night with Cody on Long Beach Island, in Mr. Market. She wanted to get pregnant so that her child could have Cody’s genetic alterations. That’s why at the end of Mr. Market Rhonda has the marines kidnap Cody.
In the Republic of Alaska, procreation with genetically engineered people is taboo. When Rhonda reveals that Cody is the father of her child (Tanya), she is shunned by her aristocratic family and forced to live a middle class existence, which given the low level of social development at that time, is pretty rough.
The main theme of the story is scarcity versus plenty, played out in as many ways as I can think of. I also have some fun considering unusual ways in which beauty can be socially constructed.
Narratively, Lots is a re-casting of the ugly duckling story with a focus on identity issues.
I play with voice in this story – does it work or is it too much?
Notes on Social Networks
This story is a study of how social constructions define and distort identity.
Its also a love story influenced by the sun and the moon (and of course that trickster Raven).
There is a third theme about how culture – in this case poetry – plays out in real (non-literary) circumstances. That’s what the varying renditions of the Romeo quotation are about.
For non-information technology (IT) folks, the joke about the wooden internet may not resonate. The joke is that “building a wooden internet” is an answer to the question, “What is the stupidest conceivable IT job?” A computer network made up of poplar and pig iron is practically impossible. It would have to be too big. The Director’s insistence that building an internet out of wood is a strategic goal for the Republic reveals him to be an ignorant bureaucrat.
Every poetry fragment is thematic.
Notes on The Battle of Tar Island
The Battle of Tar Island is the final battle in a resource war between the north and the near-north, caused by global cooling. In the 21st and 22nd centuries the arctic has become heavily populated, thanks to global warming. The decline in manufacturing and global population that has happened because of the Collapse is causing a reduction in man-made greenhouse gasses, which is resulting in cooling.
Most of the imagery is 19th century – the Republic has early 19th century technology (Napoleonic wars) and the Albertan’s have late 19th century technology (US Civil war). The battle is absurd because it takes place in a 21st century artifact, so everything is out of place and/or time.
References to the Tar Island factory – and the north and south pits – are entirely fictional but based on fact. Google Tar Island Alberta to see one of the world’s largest surface mine (its approximately the size of Manhattan and growing steadily), and the factory there. Those concerned about water issues will be horrified to know that pollution from this mine is allegedly polluting the entire Mackenzie water system, included much of the planet’s remaining supply of fresh water. Horrific fish mutations in Lake Athabasca lend credit to the allegations. Sadly, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is actively suppressing research into this issue. The two maps – Route Taken by the Second Army 1 and 2 – illustrate much of the Mackenzie River watershed.
The protagonist, Anton, has spent his life defining himself externally – as the child of his parents, and as a node in a military hierarchy. Mutiny within the Republic’s army forces him to make existential decisions.
Initially I gave this story a completely ambiguous ending, but decided I liked it better when the protagonist achieved his objective without killing anyone, and without surrendering.
Notes on Spinning Wheels
On the surface, this is a “here we go again” story. I have gone to great lengths to make the ending ambiguous so that optimists can have a happy ending, and pessimists one full of dark humor.
The following maps illustrate Mr. Market, the Battle of Tar Island and Spinning Wheels. They’re down-sampled to fit on a kindle. If you want them in full resolution contact me at brianmacmillan.ca.
The bodies were laid out on the tarpaulin in exactly the same way they had been found in the mine. The men, whose corpses had been struck by the shell that had exposed them, were in fragments. Two women, whose corpses were further away from the point of impact, were mostly intact, though ossified by tar. Tanya stooped to examine one of the females: the woman was roughly her own age, in her early thirties, but was shaped differently. Whereas Tanya was long and thin, the dead woman tapered from extremely broad shoulders to delicate wrists and ankles. Her jeans had mostly flaked away, but her top was made of a durable synthetic fiber, which, though stained black, was intact. She had two rusted metal buttons on her collar. On the first was written: “CO2 Kills Gaea”. A second, equally rusty button, featured a stylized dove footprint. The bullet that killed her had entered through the base of her skull.
Who murdered her and why?
Tanya heard a knock on the door of the lab. She looked up. General Brightbottom had already let himself in. He had a terrible habit of treating the entire base as his personal property.
“I have something for you.” The General handed Tanya a package of micro-fiche documents that had just arrived from the University of Red Deer. The package was wrapped in a letter from the sender. Tanya wondered why the General was here. There was no need for the Base’s senior officer to hand deliver anything; there were plenty of people who were trustworthy enough to act as courier. Tanya looked up at the General; he was staring at her.
“Any theories?” he asked.
“Its all in my last report.” Tanya was self-indulgently brusque. She found it difficult not to be at this time of year. The Athabasca Day celebrations always upset her.5 She realized that it was unfair to be rude to the General because of this. He didn’t know that her father had died in the Battle of Tar Island, fighting against Alberta.
In an effort to embrace the spirit of the holiday Tanya nodded toward the poppy on the General’s collar. She said as convivially as she could, “Did you fight in the Athabasca War?” She expected her question to elicit a rote, patriotic response. Instead the General’s face went grim. “I did. At Fort Vermilion …” he faltered. While the General collected himself Tanya decided to answer his original question. “You asked me about the bodies. My current theory is the obvious one: murder. I strongly suspect these people were killed because they opposed the tar mines, although my only evidence is a button. Unless there’s something useful in that package.”
The General said, “There is”. He appended nothing to this comment. He stood there, considering his next move, having forgotten to complete this one.
Tanya did not want to find out what the General’s next move would be. She said, “I’d better get back to work”. Her words brought the introspective General back to the present. “Of course. I’ll pick you up at five. I’m looking forward to your husband’s surprise.” He winked conspiratorially. Tanya had almost forgotten that her husband’s project was a secret, because the entire Base knew what the secret was.
“Thanks”, she replied. The General had already let himself out. Tanya watched him walk along the path toward the mess hall. She imagined him parading on a circular track, marching around and around in circles, with great dignity and pomp, never stopping because no one had ordered him to. The thought made her laugh because it seemed both absurd and possible.
A bus ticket Tanya had found on one of the dead women was dated May 15, 2027. Tanya’s plan was to look for references to the missing hikers starting from this date. She intended to begin with the Red Deer newspapers and move on to the Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Slave Lake ones if necessary. She put the microfiche into a reader.
She found her first lead on the front page of the June 21 Red Deer Gazette,
Alberta Police today called off the search for Red Deer woman Alison Schipka, daughter of former conservative MLA6 Utal Schipka. Ms. Schipka was reported missing one month ago. She was last seen camping at Lake Gregoire, south east of Fort McMurray, with at least three members of the eco-terrorist group Earth Now! Her parents insist that Alison and her friends have been kidnapped by one of the many private security contractors working in the Athabasca region.
Anyone with information relevant to the case should contact the Red Deer Police Department.
After another hour Tanya had found nothing else: the records were in poor shape, and were frustrating to deal with. She decided to take a walk. The base was defined by two pits that were created over two centuries ago, when the rocks in the area were first mined for oil. The South Pit was still being mined, although on a scale that was dwarfed by its history. Part of the North Pit was used by the artillery, but no soldiers were there now. Tanya preferred the solitude of the North Pit, so went that way.
When she reached the rim of the North Pit, she paused to take in the view. The foreground was full of ancient machinery: hauling trucks, backhoes, rope shovels and drills. Although they were gigantic, the machines were dwarfed by their backdrop: the North Pit was over 100 metres deep and twenty kilometers long. It had a dozen terraces partially covered by scrub. Where the ground was too harsh for even the toughest plants, she could see the layers of bitumen rock – the reason why the mine was here in the first place.
Tanya began the descent along the switchback road that the loaded trucks used to take when they exited the mine, two centuries previously. Her approach startled a flock of parrots nesting on the western face of the pit. They flew into the air in a riot of noise and colour. It took several minutes for them to settle down again.
At the point where the switchback road reached the bottom of the pit Tanya encountered a hauling truck. It had once been painted mustard yellow, although most of the paint had long since peeled away. She could see an imprint where the product number T282B had once been stenciled in metre high letters. When Tanya stood on her toes she could just reach above the middle point of the truck’s tires. The truck continued an additional 6 metres into the air. The machine’s size made her think not only about what it could do – that was obvious – but what it represented. Tremendous effort had gone into making this machine. Its task, to mine rock so that it could be processed into oil, was clearly a priority for the civilization that created it.
Perhaps 50 metres beyond the truck lay the ruins of a rope-shovel. The machine’s cabin, which was larger than the entire hauling truck, rested on a swiveling base to which was attached a pair of caterpillar tracks, which were used for locomotion. One of the treads on right track had been destroyed. Tanya inspected the damage: it was localized, but apparently fatal. Just above the broken tread was spray painted a globe in the centre of which was stenciled the words Earth Now!
Alison Schipka’s group had wrecked this vehicle. Perhaps that was why they were killed. It would certainly explain why they had been buried nearby. Tanya walked carefully forward. Although the terrain was level, it was very slippery, because the tarry rock inhibited the ground’s ability to absorb water. She continued north-west for another kilometre and then, before she reached the artillery range, exited via a path that had once been an access road for small vehicles. After two switchbacks she reached Highway 63, which was the direct way back to the base.
When Tanya got to the road she was surprised to see that it had been paved with asphalt as far as she could see in both directions. While her husband Keelut built cars, others were building roads for his cars to use.
Tanya’s return trip was quick. She reached the lab one hour before her date with the General, so she decided to re-examine the newspapers for stories about vandalism at the mines. Within minutes she found something. On May 17 the Slave Lake Gleaner announced that rope-shovel 28 in the North Pit had been destroyed by “environmental terrorists.” A day later the Fort McMurray Free Press published the following letter,
I used to work on shovel 28 until those eco-freaks destroyed it. Now I don’t have a job, because management isn’t fixing it. When we capture those punks we should kill them slow.
Although Alison Schlipka’s parents had thought she had been kidnapped – and presumably killed – by a private security team, perhaps she, and her activist friends, had been murdered by vigilantes.
Someone opened the door. It was Miriam, her assistant. She asked, “What did Professor Bryant send you?”
“I didn’t know he sent me anything”, Tanya replied.
“It’s that manila envelope, by the stuff the General brought.” Miriam said.
Tanya picked up the envelope. It had been sent to her from the Edmonton archives. In her rush to examine the newspapers, she had not noticed it. She broke the wax seal and removed a bundle of documents which had been bound together with string. There was a cover letter that had been hand written on vellum paper, which she read,
I have great news! I’ve solved your mystery, and in a way you’ve solved one of mine. The murdered hiker – Alison Schlipka – was very famous for a brief moment 215 years ago. In fact, she was famous twice – first as a socialite who was allegedly kidnapped by eco-terrorists. Later, when her diary was found, she was identified as one of the most notorious environmental activists of the 21st century. Athabasca Insurance, which has records going back that far, estimates she personally caused over $2 billion of damage to mining equipment, including $1 billion the week she was murdered by a private police force. That’s a pre-hyperinflation number.
I’ve sent you a copy of her diary. I had my scrivener make it especially for you, so feel free to make margin notes.
Kind regards, JB
Tanya put down the letter and walked over to where the dig was reconstructed, at the back of the lab. Until this point she had thought of the corpses as artifacts, not people. She looked at Alison. Despite the tar, Tanya knew exactly how Alison had been dressed when she was murdered. It was a tomboy style that was still in fashion. She could easily imagine what Alison had looked like, with her broad shoulders, copper coloured hair and green, scared eyes.
Tanya looked away from Alison’s corpse and toward her assistant. Miriam was reading the letter from Bryant.
Tanya said, “I’m going to read the diary outside.” She picked it up from her desktop, walked past her assistant, and exited out of the western door of the laboratory. She took a seat in the middle of the egg-shell blue wooden swing that dominated the west-facing side of the porch, and opened the diary to May 15, 2027 – the date of the bus ticket they’d found.
We left Edmonton two hours ago.
The deciduous forest has given way to boreal, mostly pine and spruce, although you still see stands of maple and birch. There are blighted areas everywhere, which makes the landscape spooky. Sri said that this blight is caused by a different beetle than the one that has destroyed the coastal forests.
All things considered, its not a bad backdrop for man’s biggest crime against nature.
Today’s my birthday! To celebrate we’re going to do an action! Details to follow …
We took out a gigantic rope-shovel last night. Sri threw a molotov cocktail onto one of its treads. It was all so simple, though Sri nearly set himself on fire. When the broken machine slumped over I felt like a little English sail boat taking on a Spanish Galleon.
To tell the truth, the action was more of a fuck-up than a success. Disabling the rope-shovel took no effort. But we were nearly caught by a rent-a-cop a moment later. He started sweeping the pit with a powerful searchlight, and even though it was windy we could hear the barking of dogs. We were saved by freak weather. Just as the cop spotted us, the air pressure plummeted and the wind starting gusting really strong. While I watched the wind blow the cop’s car into the North Pit, I wondered if the earth ever needed me to save it.
Alison’s May 19 entry was simply “tonight we have some big fun.”
The next entry began in the middle of a paragraph.
… after the action we went into Fort McMurray, to a place called the Jackrabbit Grill, for some food. Writing about it now, in my tent, under the stars, far away from the town and everything, with the calming sound of the Lake nearby, I still think going there was a mistake. It may be the last mistake I ever make.
Going to the Grill was Sri’s idea. He thinks that if our movement is going to succeed we have to change the minds of the workers. His plan was to find someone in the community who was not dogmatic about the tar mines, and use them as an in. I thought the plan was foolish. The locals all knew about our action. They’d be looking for us. Police and rent-a-cops are bad enough without vigilantes. In the end, Sri won me over with these words. He said, “Sometimes crossing a barrier doesn’t involve stepping over a line drawn in the sand. Sometimes the barrier can only be crossed by looking at things differently.” Although I fear his idea will kill me, he’s right. If we don’t get people to see things differently, we’re going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again, until we become extinct.
We disguised ourselves by changing into what we call our “church” outfits. My outfit was a pressed blue dress in a sixties style. It fooled no one. The moment I entered the Grill someone asked me if I was“one of those climate bitches who thinks all these tornadoes are caused by the factory?”
I turned to go. Before I did a second man said, “Hey John. John. Chill out.” He was very good looking – tall, fit, neatly dressed in a denim jacket, jeans and expensive boots. He apologized for his friend. He said that there had been some vandalism at the mine and tempers were really high today. I said I didn’t know anything about that – we were just passing through on our way to the Athabasca Dunes.
His eyes lit up when I mentioned the Dunes. He asked me if I had been in touch with Lenny.
I gave him my stupidest look. I’m a terrible liar, and didn’t know what to say.
“Lenny Thiele”, he prompted. “He runs the camp up there.”
I said I didn’t really know because my friend made all the arrangements.
Sri jumped into the silence. He said, “I think I talked to someone named Margot.” The man began to say something, but stopped himself after a syllable. Sri is just as bad a liar as I am, but has this breezy knock-me-down-and-I’ll-pop-back-up-in-your-face manner people don’t challenge.
Sri whispered to me that he thought the tall good looking man was a “conciliator” and we should get to know him. I thought he was out of his fucking mind but just said, “I’m not hungry right now” and ran to the car. The other three joined me ten minutes later. They’d gotten coffee and sandwiches to go. Sri got a toasted cheese sandwich for me, bless his mixed-up soul.
I ate while I drove. I was anxious to get as far away from Fort McMurray as fast as I could. We were staying at a camp south of town, just off Highway 63. When we passed the industrial park at the intersection of Highway 69, someone started to follow us. I know we were followed because I stopped before I turned into the Park, and the car behind me stopped too.
But what could I do? All our gear was at the Park. It was already late and it was Sunday – we didn’t have enough gas to get anywhere. All the local stations were closed.
Sri got all caught up in the idea of tapping a pipeline for gas. There’s one within a couple of kilometres of here, he said. He thought we could vandalize it and get some fuel. I pointed out we didn’t have a refinery with us. That shut him up for a minute.
We decided to sneak out of the Park and drive to the next one down the road. It was about 50 kilometres away. We had more than enough gas to get us there. Our plan was to hide there overnight, and return our rental in Edmonton first thing Monday morning.
No one followed us out of the Park, but when we turned south onto Highway 63 I saw a car blink its lights. I don’t know if it followed us. We got to Crow Lake Park in no time, even though I was careful not to speed.
That’s where I am now.
Its really dark. And we’re all alone. I hope. I think I hope.
I’m going to go outside to see if we’re alone.
I just went for a walk along a beautiful natural path that follows the perimeter of the lake. I think deer made it. As I walked along the animals got excited, but they became really quiet when I pointed my head-lamp at them. I turned my head-lamp off, wondering if the darkness would make the night quieter or noisier. When I did the night went silent except for one weird sound, this gurgling growl. It was very menacing, but probably was just an angry rodent trying to sound like a bear. Big or small, the growl worked. I got more and more scared by the noise and the dark until I’d almost forgotten about the scary men who are chasing me.
When I stood still, right at the crest of the lake, even the angry rodents became quiet. It was like the night itself was expectant. That got me scared too – or kept me that way. Animals are silent when they’re afraid. What had scared them?
I know why I was afraid. I was afraid because I was alone and when you’re alone you’re vulnerable. I rushed back to our camp.
I wish some more of my team was here. Those millions in India and Pakistan and Bangladesh who now have to fight for their water. Or the tens of millions of people whose land has been reclaimed by the sea. I’m their advocate. Their shock troop. I wish they were here to add their voices to mine.
Do extra voices make a difference, if people aren’t listening?
The full moon is hovering on the horizon, just above the lake. Its beautiful. All of the tens of thousands of lakes up here are beautiful tonight. I know it.
I also know I’m not really fighting for those benighted people in Asia and Africa and what’s left of California, even though we are natural allies. They’ve already lost. I’m fighting for my people. Albertans. They don’t realize it, but this is all mankind has got left. We’ve destroyed the rest – or at least come so far along that that we can’t salvage the least of it. Yet the people here hate me. Many want to kill me.
Shouldn’t we be on the same team?
The next entry was dated one week later,
Consider the previous entry my last. What follows is a postscript.
I’m imprisoned in the Buxton Township police station. I haven’t been kidnapped by the police, or arrested. The station we’re in is abandoned. We’re being guarded by private security goons. Its certainly an inside job, though. The goons used official schematic maps to disable the security cameras.
I guess I should tell you – whoever you are – what happened. We were caught at Crow Lake. It was a community effort, coordinated by the rent-a-cops, but everyone was in on it. By everyone, I mean everyone we’d seen at the Grill, and everyone we’d met afterward, including a gas jockey, a convenience store cashier and two park rangers.
The good looking guy from the Jackrabbit Grill found our bomb kit in the false bottom of Sri’s suitcase. The rest had already made up their minds about our guilt. He wanted proof.
If only it had turned out differently.
Its dishonest to write that I thought it would. Personally, globally, it has all played out pretty much as expected.
Kirk tried to escape. I don’t know exactly what happened to him, but I know it didn’t go well. The shooting started the moment he slipped out the back window. It lasted for minutes. It sounded like he was hit 1,000 times. The rent-a-cops have a lot of different guns. I think they used them all.
There’s no longer any doubt about how this will end. So once again I ask the question, why did I take this path? I know I’m not suicidal, I don’t want to die. That’s why I ran out of the Grill, and why my idiot (God bless them) friends should have beat me to the door.
Of all the answers sloshing around in my brain the one that stands out now is one a rat might understand. I’m cornered – the people who hate seeing this planet destroyed – we’re all cornered. So of course I chose to fight like hell. I did fight like hell.
To the death.
These two questions are my last words:
Do my enemies know they’ve won?
Do they know what winning is?
Tanya closed the diary and placed it on her lap. Her assistant immediately appeared beside her, but said nothing.
A horn honked. Tanya didn’t look toward the source of the sound. She knew it was the General. She clandestinely handed the diary to her assistant with a curt “Don’t let Brightbottom see you reading this”, gathered her purse from the floor beside her chair, and briskly walked down the stairs to where the General was waiting in a jeep.
The jeep – the first totally new motorized wagon Tanya had ever seen – was certainly going to raise eyebrows at the Athabasca Day celebrations. The General knew it. That’s why he had a grin on his face.
Once she was seated and they were on their way Tanya said, “General, I have more information about the corpses.”
To her surprise, the General frowned. He brusquely said, “What do you mean?”
“I think the hikers were murdered because they vandalized some mining machines in the North Pit.”
“I’ve just identified one. The rope-shovel at the entrance to the North Pit.
“The one with Earth Now! stenciled above its broken tread?”
Tanya realized that the General knew most of her story already. She nodded.
“Is there anything else I should know?” The General’s manner was now distant and formal.
“That’s all. I doubt I’ll find much more.”
There was a very long pause. Finally, the General said, “Don’t talk about the corporate death squads. We like to forget that part of our history. In fact, don’t talk about any of this until I give you permission.”
Tanya nodded, but didn’t agree. She saw no reason why this story needed to be censored. It was hundreds of years old. No one would be personally hurt by it being told. And the story needed to be told, because it was about the world that created this one.
Rather than pursuing the conversation, Tanya changed it. She made a gesture that encompassed both the motorized wagon and the newly paved road. “Today is going to be a big day for automobiles, isn’t it, General?”
The General smiled.
Tanya looked east. In the distance she saw clouds of smoke and heard the sound of engines. She said, “The South Pit looks busy.”
The General’s reply was effusive, “How do you think we paved this road? Oil. Asphalt. Tanya, we’re turning back the clock.”
When they arrived in Fort McMurray it was after sunset, although not yet pitch dark. They took the highway straight to Liberty Square, in the centre of town. Dignitaries were seated on the east side of the Square, on a small, wooden podium that had been raised one metre above the ground. They were illuminated by panels of electric lights attached to metal trellises. The west side of the Square was illuminated in a traditional manner, by pitch torches.
The General slowed the jeep to a walking pace when they approached the Square so that passers by could admire it. As they parked in front of the stage, on the stretch of road between the dignitaries and the audience, they were suddenly illuminated by a powerful electric light. There was a moment of baffled silence while the audience figured out what it was witnessing, and then a cascade of applause.
A second spotlight focused on an announcer who was speaking into a monstrous megaphone. The announcer introduced “the handsome General and the beautiful scientist”.
Once they parked, both the spotlight and the audience’s attention, drifted elsewhere. Tanya rushed to her seat in the bleachers opposite the stage. The General trailed behind her, shaking every one of the hundreds of hands held out to him.
A few moments after Tanya reached her seat, all of the lights went out except for a handful of torches.
While the orchestra at the foot of the stage played an introduction, a machine projected an image of the Premier onto a gigantic silver screen. The audience gasped. A new movie. The Premier had made a new movie.
While the Premier spoke, an electric spotlight shone on each of the vehicles lined up in front of the stage, starting first with a motorcycle, followed by an auto-rickshaw, a passenger car, a light truck, the jeep Tanya had arrived in, and two racing cars. The racing cars, one with red stripes, the other blue, were the main event.
The climax to the evening’s festivities was a race to Tar Island and back. The two contenders in this race were the military secrets Tanya’s husband Keelut had been working on. Tanya looked for her husband on the stage, but didn’t see him. He was probably at his garage doing some last minute tinkering.
While the master of ceremonies announced the race, a gaunt man with a military haircut and civilian suit stepped out of the pack of dignitaries crowding the stage. The gaunt man’ progress was illuminated by the main spotlight. Tanya recognized him as General Brightbottom’s Patron – a former General who now worked at a munitions conglomerate. He lithely jumped off the stage and landed immediately beside the blue car. As he jumped, his tie was blown behind his head by a strong gust of wind. Some of the pitch torches went out.
The General shook the hand of the the driver of the blue car, who wore a denim jacket and navy blue jeans. The blue driver’s hair was cut in a military fashion. The driver of the red car wore a thick, red leather jacket and white chaps. Her kinky dark hair was too long for the military. The General kissed her on the cheek, and then raised the starting flag.
A gust of wind blew the starting flag down before anyone was ready.
The General raised the starting flag again. The drivers’ revved their engines.
There was a precipitous drop in air pressure. Without thinking, Tanya ducked under her chair. As she did so, the stage in front of her was flattened by a wall of wind. The silver screen crumbled as it blew away.
Tanya lay down longer than she needed to: the freak wind storm quickly passed. When she rose, she did so cautiously.
The stage was a dark hole, except for where the powerful hand torches of the rescue crews shone. The damage from the storm was localized. It ended just before the highway. The new cars were covered in dust, but otherwise unscathed. The bleachers across the street from the stage, where Tanya was, were not affected at all.
The sound of a revving engine pierced the air.
The driver of the blue car, the military man, had never left his post. He was ready to race. The wheels of his car were spinning and spinning while he revved his engine. He was impatient for an opponent.
A crowd of people began chanting, “Where is the red driver?”
A man removed the starting flag from the corpse of the retired General. He leaped onto the first row of seats in the bleachers. The applause was almost as loud as the blue car’s revving engine.
Tanya watched as the people around her turned away from the damage, like a past they wanted to forget. They drifted over to the starting line, or stood on the bleachers, trying to get a better view. Some were cheering, others looked on with slightly dazed expressions. Only a few people had died; the crowd was quite large.
There was a tremendous cheer when the driver of the red car appeared. Her white chaps were stained blood red. Word got around that a shard of wood had nearly pierced her femoral artery.
The crowd was now louder than the revving engine of the blue car.
An ambulance alarm pierced the air. The crowd roared louder still.
The red driver opened her car’s door, even though one young man passionately begged her to turn back. When the man’s hands touched the red driver, they became bloody. The red driver was indomitable. She entered her car and turned on its engine.
The crowd roared its loudest yet, but the sound of two car engines revving was louder still.
While the cars’ wheels spun, a last round of bets was made. It was all about the red driver: some people thought she was too injured, while others thought she had spirit. Some bettors argued that she had something to prove.
The cars’ wheels kept spinning.
The man with the starting flag lowered it.
The cars raced through the debris that cluttered the newly paved highway.