Hey, listen. Everything that ever happened: It’s in the machine. You are recorded. I am recorded. The machine calls me Kleuker.
I, Kleuker, clutch a tangerine. If I let go: the planet explodes.
Data streams in…I can’t keep up. Can you? Amerika. The velocity of the city in the elektrik age. My wife says hurry up. Eat. Take off your underpants. We make five kids. (It’s fun to make kids.) Two survive. The odds are…what? I’m not a numbers man. Yes I am. Algebra. Calculus. Quantum mechanics. I count things. In great precision. I am a machinist. Piecework. Not to be confused with peace work. I am not a buddha. I am not a bodhisattva. Let’s get that straight. I am a machine warrior. I am the future. I am right now.
My wife and I build machines, birds of war. The “petite death” is what Tesla called the prototype for our tiny machine. The small machine shop is located in a top-secret, two-car garage in a suburb on the edge of the pine barrens in eastern Long Island. We, my wife and I, also make flying gidgets for the Central Intelligence Agency. On this I can’t talk. Yes I can. No I can’t. Never mind. If it bores you. The machine shop is, at the end of the day, a machine shop. We mill. We cut. We bore holes…into precious industrial metals. I’ll say that much. How precious? Don’t ask. Too precious. Stainless steel. Of course. Titanium. Sure. Tungsten. Yep. What else? Can’t say. It is top secret. Super classified. Highest security clearance. Sensitive compartmented information. Is it Klondike? Is it Stellarwind? Is it Kryptonite? Ha ha. Very funny. It is so odd you say such things. Uncanny. I know a man who says a single funny book can conquer the planet. This guy has superpowers in the industry. His name is…Z. You know what. Forget it. I say too much. I tell you everything.
My wife says I don’t say enough. What can I tell her, other than what I can tell her? You, on the other hand, are the perfect listener. So listen up. I keep notes in a sketchbook. I draw stick figures in the margins of a notebook. The notes and sketches are for a trilogy of novels I will never finish. What I have to say is super top secret. Can you keep a secret? Not everybody can. The secret policewoman has a a secret. I’ll say so. She interviewed me in late October of last year. Interrogated. Is there a better word? Unplugged. Precision is what a machinist wants. Her name was Zoë Müller. Still is.
I told Special Agent Müller the umlauts in her name are too much. She said please, call me Zoë. Let’s go drink cigarettes and smoke beer. In the German style. She questioned me at a picnic table under a Siberian elm tree behind the high fortress walls of the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria, Queens. Pretty clever, I thought. Get me drunk and I’ll talk. My Christ, did I talk. Did I palaver! She ordered a double Fernet. She ordered six half-liter mugs of golden Pilsner.
I told her almost everything.
The novel I kept to myself. But I did say: Amerika is funny. Ha ha ha. It’s all about the money. Ha ha ha. Amerika. You’re killing us. (Ha ha ha.) Stop it, girl! (Ha ha ha.) Amerika. Amerika.
Zoë wanted me to say less and more. She wanted me to speak into her machine. I tried. I swallowed my tongue. I pretended to have an epileptic seizure. My upper torso crashed to the ground. Legs and head followed. My fish-eyeballs bulged. My flip-flops kicked gravel. The Czech and Slovak barmaids gathered. Security guards startled. An ambulance mopishly and freakishly screamed Zoë and me to Mount Sinai.
In the hospital room I told Zoë it was a joke. (Ha ha ha.) She didn’t believe me. She said something was up. Something was wrong. The hospital called my wife. I was not right.
The Central Intelligence Agency sent me to a bughouse. I was not surprised. But I did not expect it. I had no map. I had no compass. I had no GPS. If I had to guess, I am upstate. It irks me. It upsets me if a person from another state says upstate. What? There is only upstate. You know: Westchester. The Catskills. The Adirondacks. I am somewhere, I thought.
I am a person without a state…a stateless person. If so why? Do I really need to ask. Can I make a telephone call downstate. Can I call my attorney, Krakowicz? No. No. They know. I know. The jig is up. I had to wait.
I wait. My Christ, did I wait.
I wait. Pepsi please.
I wait. Coca-Cola.
I wait. Dr. Pepper.
I can’t believe who I am.
I am so made up. The kids are real. Kleuker, you can’t ignore the facts. You must provide for your children. It is the law of the state. It is state law. Please don’t ask what state. Upstate? Downstate? If a machinist must make propaganda inside the bughouse….make propaganda. There are postcards to send. There are slogans to write. Dollars must be made. Your eldest son wants Kung Fu lessons. Your baby girl needs size 3 diapers. Your wife, Kleuker…your wife!
Concrete reality. Who poured it?
The writer. She and I fabricate reality. It is a collaboration. Yes. I am a she and a he. I am us. I am you. The night nurse gives me: Paper. Ink. She thinks I am a famous poet. She has mistaken me for somebody else. She wants me to write poems on scraps of paper. She wants to collect all of Kleuker’s poems in a plastic garbage can. I tell her no. I say: Listen, Sis. I am no poet. I am a keeper of notebooks. I am…a notekeeper and a sketch maker. I say to her: Please purchase a blue wide-ruled composition notebook (made in Egypt, fabriqué in Egypt) from Staples. If it is October, there is a sale. There is a revolution.
Here I am reminded of Blatník, the Czech poet who spent his defector years in a bughouse in England. He wrote: I was born in Brno, the city of broken noses and black umbrellas. The secret police tried to get Blatník to return to the Republic. But it was too late. Capitalism had unlocked what is real. It unlocked Blatník.
In Brno as a young man Blatník wrote a short story called “The City of Broken Noses” which begins:
Broken nose. Crooked spine. Welcome to Brno, the city of broken noses and crooked spines. How ugly I was…and am. I was born in Brno, the ugliest city in Europe. Cigarettes and boredom kill the teen-age girls at the turbine factory. How else can I get a girl as pretty as Lenka to share my bed? Green eyes. Amazing butt. She is okay at the drill press. She is lucky I let her work. I am the nightshift foreman.
Night attracts the loners. We are afraid of day. The sun. The people. The ox shit. The politics. The nightshift is refuge. Sanctuary. We are underground. We are night people.
Lenka is nineteen. I can’t believe it: 19. I am not. I can’t remember the age.
It makes no sense.
Hey, listen. Everything here is invented. Everything is made up. Everything is made in Amerika. I promise you. Please don’t go overseas. Please don’t start looking things up. No further research is required. God knows what a person like you might find. The internet is not your friend. I say that and I’ll say it again. It carbon freezes human consciousness. It makes us all Han Solo. The invisible hand of the market spanks us all. The bounty hunter Boba Fett sells us to Jabba the Hutt. The internet is not your friend. The machine is not your friend.
The machine…is an extension of the johnson.
Twenty-two years ago Kleuker and I made love to a tavern girl in Prague. We made a 404 Error. The girl said, “Maybe I’m too pretty for you.” She was right.
Thought experiment: Forget everything Kleuker and I know. You are reborn. Eighty-eight thousand times a day. Death is nascent. In every image. In every moving image the machine records. Why feed it? Why feed the machine?
The things I remember.
Memory is brain pictures. Memory is a picture show. Am I right, friend? Certainly not in High Definition. Certainly not in any particular order. Am I right? The fog, the fog, the mist, the plasma, the plastic.
The filmmaker Shevaun asked my girlfriend and I to make love on camera. We said, Yes. Of course. The setting: Prague. 1968. Our asses faced the lens of a Soviet K-3. Spring-loaded. Hand-cranked. 16 millimeter. The K stands for Krasnogorsk. Shevaun later changed the lens to a Russian bayonet mount.
Silent. Black & white.
Twenty-five seconds of truth.
There is a Czech word. Smrt. Death. No vowels. No breath. Life blown out. Discharged. Ejaculated. It means what it means.
The things I read and write.
Blatník the poet of Moravia wrote a short story called “Zoë and Jörg” which begins:
The night Zoë and Jörg exploded in Prague, Jörg thought: Jesus. The end of the world? Is Amerika dead? The rented room. The iron bed. The net curtains. She pulled off her star spangled panties. Boobs ignited. Jörg was not arrogant. He felt awe. He felt respect. He was excited. He was frightened. He knew. He understood. To make love to a woman is the rarest pleasure.
Zoë and Jörg had no prior existence. They counted the days in cigarettes. They made love at little or no cost. The affirmation and negation of the Other. The cock and the cunt. Why are Americans so…American?
The future. Everything is against us.
Is it August? We fuck and quarrel. We smoke Sparta cigarettes. We drink Pilsner beer. We forget language. Prague makes no sense. We pretend Amerika exists.
It makes us feel.
New York City.
The city where Kleuker lost the plot.
The city where Kleuker lost his thoughts.
The city where Kleuker lost his wallet.
The city where Kleuker lost his identity.
The city of birth and rebirth. The city of not-Being.
Kleuker. You begin to repel and fascinate. Are you…me? If so we need to talk. Was that really you at the end of the elevated subway platform? The Ditmars Boulevard Q train? 11:38 PM. I read about you on the internet. You unpocketed your iPhone and recorded a girl masturbating in her apartment. Through a third story window, right? She was twenty-two or something. Still is. She said it was friggin creepy. She said the neighborhood no longer feels safe. I bet. The NYPD arrested you. Police officers from the 112th Precinct. Is the crime on your permanent record, Kleuker? What did the District Attorney say? Is it a crime. Is it public domain. Is it art. What did the C.I.A. say? What did Snowden say? What did Putin say? What did Gordon Lish say? What did Chomsky say? What did Zizek say? Are you an artist? Kleuker. Are you a super secret agent? Taking electric notes on the human condition.
Are you a 404 Error?
Eastern Long Island.
Beyond the rock jetty at Shinnecock I watch girls in bikinis surf monster waves. Mako and Great White sharks inhabit these waters. The precious girls in thongs know what is at stake. They know the risk. They know the price, the fee.
In the dunes I meet K., a skateboard girl from Prague. She has a tattoo of Bruce Li on her left buttock. She is the lead singer of a band called K.. She drives a Volkswagen Beetle. We make love in the sand. We make love in the sea at low tide. She plays with my hair. She kisses my nose. Her naked toes remove my black Speedo. “Whoa. That feels good.”
Somebody really needs to fact check the list of girls who spanked Kleuker.
Keep up the talk, Kleuker.
Say everything. Utter.
Don’t stop. Can’t stop. Words. Sentences. Pages turn. The lathe spins. The shrapnel peels.
You are an underground man, Kleuker.
You wake up. Amerika makes no sense. You eat. You read. The electric newspapers speak of Broadway musicals and war. Inside the refrigerator there is a jar of peanut butter. Eat a spoonful before you drink a cup of coffee. The wife is asleep. The kids, too. The dog died last year. Morning silence. There is no space, Kleuker. There is no time. The novel is a machine.
You are a mechanical man in the electric age, Kleuker. May It Please the Court: My name is Kleuker. I prosecute myself for crimes against the People.
I, Kleuker, submit as evidence: a forty-four year old hard drive and the logic of random-access memory. Here is an example. Does anybody here remember Vera Musilova? If so, please let her go. Why can’t an inmate and a writer just make things up? We make love with yesterday’s tools.
She was a crime novelist. She typed everything on a portable machine. She taught at the Academy of Arts. She said, “Memory is ice cream melting in the sun.” The Czech word for ice cream is zmrzlina. Yes. Vera. Memory is zmrzlina.
I wait for…electric light.
Is reality a string of numbers and letters?
Vera sent me a letter to Amerika, the greatest love letter in the history of the Czech language. I kept the letter in a shoebox on a shelf in a closet. Under the bed in a secret compartment I hid a StB issued pistol, a CZ-70. My American girlfriend Noël slept over and discovered the letter and the Zbrojovka pistol. She made me translate the letter at gunpoint, from Czech into American. I might fall short, I said.
I translated the letter. Noël started to laugh. She lowered the nose of the gun. What’s wrong I say. It’s terrible she says. It’s so bad. (Ha ha ha.) “Ice cream in the sun.” (Ha ha ha.) She felt better. I felt better. We made love at point-blank range. In the Soviet style.
Noël and I made a Warsaw Pact:
Sleep with no one else. We made love under the Far Rockaway boardwalk. We plugged. Unplugged. In the Hungarian style. Bodies in motion in the late August night. The tide was rising fast. She said, “Don’t worry, baby. I got this.” She said Poseidon has tits.
Is it me. Or is it me?
Am I. Or am I?
Kleuker. The industrial tribes of Patchogue and Ronkonkoma no longer speak your name. You left. I fled.
We left. We fled. We disappeared. We are the defectors. We ended up inside:
…a city of surveillance.
…a city of potatoes.
There are no real jobs. I looked. Amerika. So I defected. We all did. Tens of thousands of us. We taught English. We spoke super slow Czech. We made super fast love. So much it hurt.
When I made love I thought: This has happened before.
I thought: Jesus. I thought: Zoë. Noël. Chloë.
I thought: Ooh. La. La.
After love was made in Prague she peeled off the rubber. She stared at my deflated knob-on, wet and sticky. She held up the yellow plastic sack to lamplight. She inspected the sperm in the receptacle tip. She said a baby girl was probably in there. She said she felt weird. I said I felt sad. We laughed.
We smoked a Sparta cigarette.
We walked to a tavern.
Beer is a half liter of laughter.
Happiness in a bottle.
Americans never get pregnant. Americans never get hangovers in Prague. The local breweries do not put preservatives in the beer. Prezervativ is a Czech word for condom. Primeros is the most popular Czech brand of prezervativ: “A simply wonderful condom that doesn't let you down! Suitable even for beginners.”
Preservatives make your head hurt. Drink local. Budweiser is the King of Beers. Pilsner is the Emperor.
One day I will leave this city. But not today.
Amerika disappeared in Prague. Can I explain it. Sure. Longer sentences are required.
I left New York. I erased. I left no trace. I thought I could write myself out of this machine. Was it a mistake? Sure.
The thing of it is: there is no thing. We make it up. Amerika. Gotham ain’t what it used to be. Am I right, friend? Men invent. Girls forget. I need a woman. I need a wife.
We make love face-to-face.
I have an artist friend named Ziggy. His artist wife walks around the walk-up apartment in her underpants. She shows her pussy to Ziggy once a month. He begs for it. He makes promises.
Ziggy is everywhere…if not nowhere.
People call Ziggy one of the original Defectors.
The artist types are dangerous. Oh. I get it. You don’t care about money. Bet you do. Am I right, friend? Amerika.
Things are starting to make sense. If I can say this I can say anything. No 404 Error. I can utter. I can speak. I can talk. I am an American. I am large.
The thoughts I think. Christ.
The totality is unfinished. We talk. We bore tunnels through bedrock and schist. We build skyscrapers.
We make love.
I’m probably not very good at saying what the machine wants me to say. Shuck it. Unscrew it. Plug it. I’ll say the real thing instead.
Speaking of machines. Unplugged.
Listen to this. The air conditioner is on, the tinkle trickle hum hum of the AC. My girlfriend senior year of college says, “Hey, listen. My ass is getting cold. My pussy is getting dry.” Tinkle trickle hum hum. Tinkle trickle hum hum. I get up and unplug the GE. We get right back at it. In the Bulgarian style.
You know what? As I get older and older I realize, not that I didn’t notice it before, I mean, it was always there, only I was too afraid to say so…people are crazy. I am crazy. You are, too, I think. If you’re honest. Am I right, friend? I mean, how can you not be? Look at this place. Who are all these people? Talk talk talk. What are they all trying to say? I can’t keep up.
Listen. One more thing: Breakfast.
Who ate the tangerine?
Language is only this. I mean, what is the quantum structure of a woman’s hips. The curve. The porcelain skin.
Heisenberg says language has reached its limit.
I think so.
Better to speak Lenape.
The real estate agent sells skyscrapers in Manhattan.
Amerika is funny. Ha ha ha.
It’s all about the money. Ha ha ha.
Fuck it, man. We pretend so much. When does it stop. When does it end. How about here, right now? Call the Sheriff.
Professor Z. This is my man over here, trying to be a student. He says he is an adjunct professor of the human imagination, but I know better. Look at his cargo pants. Look at his orange backpack. Look at his tight little ass.
Watch him eat tunafish on a breast roll. Watch him drink coffee from a paper cup. Watch him pace the side of the Humanities Building. What is wrong with him? He says it’s perfectly normal. He says it’s Being. But I know better.
He says he gives it to his wife better than any man gives it to his wife. But I know better. There is still more to give. Like a flower or a kiss. Or for Christ’s sake: Let her finish. He’ll figure it out.
Things are no longer calm. Survival mode. August is over. Professor Z. must write a novel.
Can you help?
Can you say it? September.
Flushing Meadows. Yeah. Sure. I’ll flush your meadows. Queens. New York. I can’t escape this town, this place. LaGuardia. Astoria Boulevard. Christoper Walken. Tony Bennett. Jackie Gleason. The Wizard of Ozone Park.
It is late August, again. September. It always is. Or so it seems. The blimp over the U.S. Open. The zeppelin. The Mets baseball. The Yankees, a distant rumble. The FM radio: Charlie “Yardbirdarooney” Parker. Yellow taxicabs fast and fascist on the Grand Central Parkway. Van Wyck. Jackie Robinson. The police Mustang pulls a car over. Are you white? Are you black? Are you straight? Are you gay? Are you Paki? Are you Trini? Are you Christ? Are you Buddha? Are you Chinese? Are you Korean? Are you Czech? I only ask because I ask. Queens. Amerika. It’s a funky place. I can’t leave. I can’t go. I doubt I’ll ever go. Yet what else can you and I think about? Out there, someplace…is a friggin Shangri-La.
My folks are defectors. If you’re from someplace else, and you always are, you know what I mean. Every time you say something you think: Hey. Can I say it better? Can I? Go ahead. Utter. Speak. Talk. Are you a fake French girl? Noël and I, we watched Showtime and Home Box Office. We smoked each other’s bugholes. We ate chicken Shangri-La.
Go ahead. Take a risk. Say. Roll the die. Yep. Death is real. Smrt. It happens.
My wife thinks cleaning the apartment is sex. I don’t think so.
The thing I had on my mind was taking off her underpanties and putting my you-know-what in her you-know-where.
Are you giving false testimony, Mr. Kleuker? I’m sorry. I apologize. I had to ask. I didn’t think so. Keep going.
Tell us more.
Tell us everything.
The police officer said, “You can go. You’re a Mets fan.” But It’s not true! I’m a Yankee, through and through. I was just wearing the Mets cap, you know, pretending. I wore it sideways, you know, assways, the bill and logo facing out the window. The cop said you can go, you’re a Mets fan. Can you believe it?
I can go.
I am a Mets fan.
Unlock each other’s madness.
Let’s start there.
Unlock each other’s genius.
Let’s stop here.
The Frisbee is a strange plastic thing. Am I right, friend?
Snap your wrist. Give it a fling.