Theory: Chapter 11

There wasn’t much time to reflect on the accident. The casualty was taken away in the hot daylight. There was an awkward group moment following. The instructor said a few words of encouragement and caution to the assembled and then chuckled a little to himself like he know what that was like, or like he had almost lost some fingers, too, at some moment in time. He then shook his head and said, Well…. But he said nothing further for a moment as he glanced around the little blood-spattered scene.

For an instant, Dean made the sickening association with the Reservoir Dogs warehouse. He couldn’t help looking at the machine with the slippery fluid on it’s clean steel. They didn’t belong together. That was one of the secrets to Reservoir Dogs and the whole Tarantino oeuvre, he thought. It wasn’t a new thing, but it was something familiar taken for a spin in a twisted way. Something irreconcilable. A little manipulative, he thought. But, he couldn’t stop the gaze. The scene in the car. Black suit, white seat, red blood. It had the effect of making the person disappear, turn into a stand-in. The kid with the paddle for a hand would now march through life with a deformity. His fingers would be found in the sawdust but it would be too late for them. The girl who found the one finger was endlessly rubbing her hands with anti-bacterial hand-gel. Everybody was fucked mentally. Just like Paul Auster had surmised the Greatest Generation was actually insane because of all the killing and destruction and broken homes from WW II. Their kids were the ones who launched the sixties. Most of Dean’s peers were born out of the sixties to seventies, which meant that all their parents were fucked up by their parents who were fucked up by the war in one way or another. Seems like there is always a war to fuck up a whole generation or a good group of them, anyway. Dean was pissed that he had to witness that and keep that awful paddle image in his mind. He wasn’t pissed at Tarantino, but he was pissed at the stupid kid for making him more fucked up than he already was. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 10

The first casualty was the large boy man with the soft hands. He had taken control of the tablesaw and was ripping ply for the little Asian girls with rectilinear eyewear and anyone else willing to let him. The bearded shop staff for some reason believed him when he said he knew what he was doing, &c, &c. That was soon revealed to be a mistake in judgment on their part when, after a number of successful, cocky rips, he tried a new technique and showed how close he could get his hand to the blade. The Asian girl who spoke in Ebonics shouted to be careful and he shouted back under his safety glasses that it was OK because the blade was outfitted with a laser thingamajig that would make it stop if his hand got within a mm of it or some small such dimension.

It was almost certainly her fault because the young man was at that moment trying to impress and seemingly in his element in the shop he slid his hand through the blade in one quick motion and the fingers popped off in quick succession, flying this way and that. The blood was immediately apparent and continued to flow freely out of the alien paddle that remained. His scream was more of a muffled grunting and crying as he concealed the paddle in his doubled over form amidst the sawdust. The Asian Ebonics girl immediately vomited while turning away and falling against a bandsaw. Others moved away. A few just stared transfixed. Some were dialing 911. The bearded shop staff ran in swearing and yelling what happened what happened and swearing some more and saying I thought you said you knew what you were doing and other accusations at the wounded boy as they obviously shifted blame onto him as the chief protagonist in his grave injury. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 9

There is something absolutely terrifying and exhilarating about the sight of a million people in one place. Tiananmen Square is that big. Or at least it seemed like it. Surely hundreds of thousands in the Square itself. But more than a million in the streets, by many estimates. The numbers came much later. At the time it was just massive. While the Square once set the logic of official Beijing, it had, at that time, been transformed into a sprawling encampment of protest.

It is 1989 and Dean is seeing the Square for the first time in many months. That morning he had arrived at the station on a filthy train packed floor-to-ceiling with stinking, sweating students from far-flung regions west. Remarkably, the trains were still running like clockwork as they delivered the ragtag throngs to the capital—even as martial law was being laid down. This was all before the gunfire and the tanks. The optimism of “eight-squared,” the pro-democracy movement, still swelled, even as hunger-strikers were passing out and garbage was accumulating. The journalists were swarming and it felt like a turning point. It was. Just not in the obvious ways. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 8

Following the awe-inspiring and terrifying lecture, the troupe was shuffled into another trailer. Outside, a small Mexican in a blue jumpsuit was down on his knees painting over graffiti. All over the flimsy plywood gangway connecting the various trailers and shipping containers that comprised the little architecture colony, huge letters had been rolled out in red paint. It seemed to be an inside joke. “We encourage bad behavior here,” The Director remarked. “You are here to make meaning. Hopefully you can do better than that.” Dean was still feeling it was a little early to make any meaning.

The letters were huge as if designed to be read from the air. They were intentionally written at such a huge scale, for what reason Dean could not discern. There was nowhere to get above them. He walked along the gangway with the others as they chattered. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 7

A metallic Los Angeles dawn. The streets are dry [Unlike film shoots where they spray them down for that surreal reflective quality. Or maybe that was only in the eighties and nineties when they did this, but he thinks the history of the street location wet-down must have started much earlier, peaking at the height of the drought specter--but there is perpetual drought here. When the citizens of the realm were asked to let their lawns die and bathe quickly the preponderance of wet streets on film increased dramatically. He's almost positive of this. At which point it also becomes a sort of trope for car ads. A study of aforementioned car ads will reveal that 65% were shot in various abandoned and decrepit late-night downtown post-industrial locations. A significant subset of these were staged with moistened blacktop. He’s not certain what the ads were trying to insinuate. The figure driving was always opaqued behind dark windows and the cars were always speeding through the empty streets, though much of that could have just been CGI.] but his windscreen is still streaking with the dew that started out on his car at his point of departure. He thinks it’s really too early to be down here. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 6

He was becoming increasingly alarmed at the material achievements of his friends. What was also alarming and unsettling about this was that he once believed he was above such pettiness, such base feelings of jealously. Even though the middle-class was supposed to be dead, houses were being bought and Facebook postings were conveying a seemingly neat, linear, and rationally-planned ascendancy through what appeared to be the accepted stages of middle-class respectability. People were not getting divorced. They were not seeking exotic hardships in Third World post-colonies. They had stopped wearing backpacks after their undergraduate years and were succeeding at everything. He would console himself with the thought that, in fact, most of them had stopped at their undergraduate degrees, period, and, without any sense of regret or irony, started working, building families, settling down. They had stopped acting like life was summer. How boring that must all be. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 5

Now he is sitting in his hotel room in Beijing and the world seems far away. He flew coach and there is a pain in his neck that won’t go away. The room is small and smells a little mildewy despite being new and relatively upscale. The window is not operable. The air-conditioner purrs. The TV is on constantly. He leaves it on. The bed is the desk. Laptop and papers spread out. He doesn’t move them when he sleeps. He hasn’t changed his clothes. He has one small bag.

Every few hours he takes the elevator down, walks past the lobby fountains, the bar, the tired tourists in their shorts and caps, fanning themselves, young women standing around, pouting, waiting, looking bored, men in dark suits on cell phones. Lots of black leather shoes with metal buckles. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 4

They walked down the sidewalk and stood at the bottom of the steep asphalt drive leading up to the little garage at the side of the house. The place looked lifeless. The yard had long ago gone to dirt. Neighborhood dogs—and their shameful owners—had left behind little cairns of shit in various states of petrifaction, by which time could be measured. The dogs had respectfully not disturbed one another’s offerings such that they were scattered in some sort of strange canine-logic grid. They looked like ancient religious shrines or deities. Some of those could be as old as you, said Dean. Maybe you could use them in your art, James replied. For some reason, a tire was sitting on the roof. It seemed to be a necessary component of the satellite dish.

There was a car in the drive. A nice and completely non-ironic and spotless black Land Rover with dealer plates. It was too nice for the house and seemed to already be making the house disappear. Such spaces of disappearance were familiar in Los Angeles and could be considered a Mike Davis sort of phenomenon: crap house + luxury car = eventual tear-down of said house and re-development of lot into massively obnoxious mansion-like house by, in all likelihood, transplant from another state who came to California to be rich by doing nothing of true significance yet getting paid very well to do whatever it was he/she did. There were two of those irritatingly- and egotistically-proud university stickers on the real window: Cornell and Harvard. One got the sense that the driver had indeed attended those schools. It was the sort of car one had the urge to smash or at least throw pebbles at. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 3

What was first apparent was that the trailers floated on little orange steel jacks, precariously sitting up on pins. Fat grey bodies on insect feet. They looked like they could have been knocked over by bullies in the night. Whomsoever wished to disturb these foreign elements could have penetrated their thin paneling and blown them apart, or burned them down. An angry mob could have scattered them over the city or put them in shopping carts and carted them away to underpasses and bus shelters. Such was the confidence and audacity of the academy, that it could abandon all shelter and camp out in this empty heart.

A failing, ragged chainlink fence ringed the perimeter of the dirt lot. There were tumbleweeds picking up little bits of indescribable trash and continuing along until they hit the fence where they formed sculpted dunes of tangled, dangerous-looking junk. This was ground zero of the new Green Zone in the bad backyard of Rayner Banham’s city—the fifth ecology, Darwinian drifter, evolved and sampled from the other four and distributed across the late-capitalist grid. This was the future. But other parts of the city had been promised similar futures in the past. Joan Didion would remember that. The school was counting on it. The kids would come. They would come with their student loans and their trust funds, their hair, Puma’s and hope. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 2

The question is whether to move forward, backward, or to remain in place. The house would be the place but now that his father had died the house was a question. Dean had been in and out of it, back and forth, for the past few months. He’d fixed some things. A coat of paint here and there. At first in preparation for his father to come home. Later for himself. Later still just for something to do.

With death comes division. The body’s cells, alarm clocks ticking down. All property follows the body into division. Collected things get distributed to other houses, other relatives. There are the morbid Craigslist strangers, those death shoppers who flock to death sales. They are related to garage sale prowlers and trash-heap diggers. They come baring claws to fight over the dead’s things, assigning new ownership and purifying. (more…)

Theory: Chapter 1


It might seem strange, but it started with a death. The death of the father precipitated the decision. The death was not unexpected but the outcomes were. Dean would sit in the hospital room with his leg next to his father’s dangling bag of piss. The tubes with fluids going in and out. The nurse periodically coming to vacuum the solid bits of phlegm to keep the ventilator clear. His father was in a hospital of no particular reputation in a sunny part of Los Angeles. IT was the wrong sort of hospital. The sort you come to die in rather than miraculously emerge from. Dean would sit in the room with the beeps and gurgling sounds. The family was there too. Not always at the same time. They had come from around the country. Stopping their lives momentarily, the last time they would visit this town they had visited many times. (more…)