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The Big Stupid Review


American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

The Dead Sea

By Kim Farleigh

David climbed a road beneath a ridge that faced the sea, the air like a hot lining on his skin.

The water became pale-azure light behind mountains on the sea's other side. Still bodies, afloat in the sea's liquid taffeta, made the water appear harmless – to the inexperienced eye.

Purple mountains, like turquoise-light waves, haze beautifying barrenness, rose behind the inviting sea.

The pension's manager's T-shirt's bone-white crispness got heightened by tanned, holiday skin.

"There you are," he said, handing over the keys. "Salvation can be found up the path to the right."

The guests shared double rooms and communal bathrooms. Trees, with gnarled, twisting branches, faced the rooms.

Belongings were already on a bed in David's room.

He put on his bathers and headed back down to where a bus had left him in a car park above the water.

The blonde, rosy-cheeked soldiers he saw on pick-nick benches had blue and green eyes.

A Muslim woman was washing her son under a high tap. Her skin, David thought, belongs here, unlike those other complexions on the other side of this descending path.

Azure fused into pale-blue translucence as the water neared the mountains, difficult to distinguish between it and air.

Bodies, like islands in blue ether, were floating, as if in a dream.

People were under fresh-water showers. Only fifty kilometres away water was restricted.

David entered the sea, stinging eruptions igniting on his upper arms. He had mosquito bites from living in Nablus.

This water, he thought, is a chemical weapon! Women could use it for rape defence! It could be used in warfare!

Slippery rocks made it difficult to leave the water quickly, his arms burning like embers.

He queued to use a shower; it felt as if poison had been poured into his mosquito bites.

People were taking their time under the showers. Come on, come on, he thought…

He dashed up to where there were other showers and less people.

That water, he thought, suits the thick-skinned.

A pipe reached a shower head; fresh water poured out; he put his arms under the waterfall, the relief immediate; the pain, now subdued, became a light, burning sensation, irrelevant in comparison to his alleviation, the water a luxury that he now wasn't taking for granted.

The lukewarm downpour made him recall the depictions of flowing shower and tap water he had seen on refugee-camp walls; he felt guilty: How, he thought, we take these luxuries as given. But we take a lot of things for granted, and not just amenities or pretences to political and social freedom. No. I mean our assumptions about other people's limits. Our quaint imaginations — born from normal-level egos — restrict our visions of reality. I wonder what would happen if everyone realised what I now know?

The Dead Sea, lifeless, and beautiful, was painful to touch with wounded hands. To benefit from the Dead Sea, a light-skinned person has to smother themselves with cream and mud; then they have to hope that there are no unforeseen breaks in their skin. Either the sun or the salt or both can get you, and if the skin is broken the pain resembles an acid attack. But some people can avoid this: they float, trance-like, thick-skinned, surrounded by limestone white, thinking unnecessary — so they think.

Describing water as a sapphire broach is a cliché, but that simile is appropriate here, he thought, for it infers the desire to possess without moral constraint; and that desire produces so many stories — like the guy who walked upon water. There must have been icebergs of salt that day….The evaporation required to produce that much salt must have been supernatural. And supernatural evaporation is alive and well, producing acidic white in blue. Power decides what evaporates and what remains.

The departing sun deposited an orange film over the sea. Purple tainted the sky above the mountains. The atmosphere felt compacted with invisible silk, as if a warm fabric had descended from a sky that was now taffeta aglow, the ridge, iridescent orange, like neon beneath celestial porcelain.

A guy with longish hair was in the room, reading a book.

"The Dead Sea is deadly," David said. "Especially if you've been bitten by mosquitoes."

David didn't know if Joshua's aura of gentleness came from open-mindedness or delusion.

"I thought," David said, "that these mosquito bites might twinge, but I wasn't expecting an acid attack."

Joshua's irises shone like the celestial blue that David had seen above the mountains.

"You need specific characteristics," Joshua said, "to take advantage of those conditions."

"I'm too Celtic," David said, "to benefit from those conditions. If the salt didn't get me, the sun would."

"I enjoy the floating," Joshua said, "but the heat gets me."

"I don't mind heat," David replied, "but my skin can't tolerate UV. Floating is out for me. I have to face the facts."

David hung up his towel.

"How long have you been in Israel?" Joshua asked.

"I've just spent ten weeks," David replied, "in The Occupied Territories, working for an NGO."

Joshua sat up.

"It's amazing that a place so small," he said, "gets so much attention. What other place this small gets this attention?"

"Israel," David replied, "is a piece in a jigsaw puzzle called The Middle East whose resources maintain our standard of living. It's also where our superstitions come from. Where there's obsession there's investment and media. The media protects investment."

Joshua looked quizzical.

"A free press doesn't exist?" he asked.

He distrusted the language he'd just heard.

"Can't you inform yourself of many different points of view?" he persisted.

"You can," David replied, "but this requires morbid levels of empirical curiosity. People want their self-esteem maintained through confirmation of prejudices. They float in dreams. Have you been along that road that runs north-south through The Occupied Territories?"

"No. Why?"

"You see," David said, "plantations where cheap labour, bereft of rights, is used to produce vast profits on stolen land. The old villages on that land got destroyed. Those villages' surviving inhabitants ended up in refugee camps that get attacked every night. These attacks don't get reported in the free press. If you think I'm exaggerating, go there."

"The Palestinians are worse off," Joshua said, "because they're the weaker of the two."

"I haven't met a Palestinian yet," David said, "who thinks that Jews should leave The Middle East. They lived together happily in a civilised society based on hospitality before the Zionist Movement raised its racist head."

Joshua's head crystals were now less vibrant; the gentleness that had oozed from his harmless-looking demeanour had evaporated, leaving a subdued distance.

"Don't look so sad," David said. "Facts are facts. I presume you aren't responsible for ethnic cleansing?"

"You've spent too long with Palestinians," Joshua concluded.

Conclusions eclipse research.

"Have you spent too long with Israelis?" David asked.

Joshua picked up his book and started reading.

"Burying your head in the sand," David said, "isn't going to hide reality."

"I thought that you might have been open-minded," Joshua concluded.

"What's open-minded mean?" David asked.

Joshua continued reading.

"Well," David said, "I'm waiting…"

"I don't want to talk about it. You're not open-minded."

David chortled.

"Open-mindedness implies doing research to discover the facts," he said.

The book fascinated Joshua.

"That book you're reading," David said, "I've read twice. It points out that Jews murder, repress and persecute Jews. And it's still happening now."

Joshua started preparing for the shower. He needed fresh water, "to escape from this disturbed prattling."

"It's impossible," David continued, "to get into a settlement without being noticed. I know: I've been there. Amazing how Palestinians have managed to get into places so heavily defended. Absolutely amazing. They must be invisible."

"You've been speaking to too many Palestinians," Joshua said, as he left the room.

David stood at the window and asked, as Joshua passed: "Have you been speaking to too many Zionists?"

David's facial lines resembled bliss shock waves. Having seen innocent people getting shot he had given up being "reasonable."

He left a note on Joshua's bed: "No Palestinian has ever told me what I just said. My conclusions have arisen through observation and research, the pillars of open-mindedness. If you decide to use them your self-perception might end up matching reality."

He had given up being diplomatic. Diplomacy, he thought, legitimises crime. It's the excuse power needs to entrench itself.

Soothing, atmosphere silk, as if an embalming veil had fallen from an abyss, sat compacted within a darkness so thick that only trees could be seen beside a path lit up by gilded effulgence. Dry, hard leaves, all-season resistant, were decorating the twisted, bony limbs of eerie branches.

Two trestles sat in the dining hall, the food on another table between the two trestles, the first trestle occupied by religious Israelis, the second by foreigners and non-religious locals, ideologies separated.

Women occupied one half of the religious trestle, skull-capped men the other, all twenty years old. The two halves, fascinated with each other, communicated through song and speech, like a man with twenty heads communicating to a woman with forty breasts — and twenty heads — self-absorption producing an eccentric island cut off from reality.

Both sexes mixed together around the other trestle.

David sat next to a woman who was with two female friends. The woman had long, thick, black hair and blue eyes. She smiled and said: "Hello."

"Hi," David replied.

A chorus erupted on the religious table; David said: "Wild, hey?"

The woman's teeth were large and perfect.

"It's amazing for us," she said. "Most people their age in this country aren't religious."

"They're probably on holidays from a settlement," David replied. "A let's-find-out-who-we're-going-to-be-having-sex-with-for-the-rest-of-our-lives trip."

Ruth's blue eyes shivered with delight.

"It must be amazing," she said, "to know the future."

David adored the irony in her lovely voice.

"Unfortunately," he replied, "that future never arrives. It's so elusive."

"It reminds me of a dream I once had," Ruth said.

"There are so many dreams here," David said, "that distinguishing reality from imagination is a major achievement."

Ruth asked: "Are you Jewish?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen my mother since I was five. My parents divorced when I was young. Where I come from religion isn't mixed up with politics so these questions are irrelevant."

"That's a great answer," Ruth said.

"My guidebook," David replied, "says that if a beautiful Israeli woman asks you that question then that answer is mandatory. I'm going to compliment the author on his insight."

Oval red surrounded the bone-whiteness of Ruth's teeth. Her ebony hair highlighted her skin's translucence.

Her friends were brimming with curiosity, a key factor in discovery.

"Where are you from?" one asked.

"The Promised Land," David joked.

"Where's that?" Ruth's friend asked, furrowing her brow with ironic perplexity.

"Who knows?" David replied. "Do you know?"

"We can only guess," the friend said.

"Some guesses," David said, "expand with time."

"The expanding guess," the friend said, "inspires active imaginations."

"The landscape here," David replied, "stimulates active imaginations. It makes people believe anything."

"And what do you believe?" Ruth asked.

"I believe," David replied, "that it's a question of who wants to live in peace with all cultures versus those who don't. Those who don't would have you believe anything."

"What would we do with them?" Ruth asked, pointing at the religious table.

"Put them in glass cages," David replied. "They'd be happy because nothing from the outside would invade their dream and tourists would be able to stand outside the cages with a huge camera lens, saying things like: 'Hey, Honey, there goes one now.'"

Eyes glittered like electrified beads. Ruth put a hand over her mouth to restrict her cackling.

"They could organise JC returns," David added. "Bearded Danes could be lowered from helicopters into the glass cages. The glass-cage occupiers would believe it was JC and tourists could say: 'JC comes from Oslo.' Descending JC's could open their hands out like this."

David opened his hands out, his face solemn. The three giggling women were disillusioned with their lives being affected by neurotic beliefs.

"Tourists," David said, "could say: 'I saw a JC John Lennon playing Father Christmas. He'll be performing at our next Christmas office party.'"

The next morning, David entered the dining room for breakfast and saw Ruth sitting at the end of a trestle. Joshua and a German were at the other trestle. The windows yielded a light that gave the table-tops a warm sheen.

David and Ruth exchanged smiles. Her skin's pale translucence exaggerated her hair's blackness, and the redness of her lips, and her eyes' celestial blueness.

David carried a coffee to the table and said: "Hi. Did you sleep well?"

"Yes. And you?"

"Very well."

The coffee's bitter creaminess was refreshing.

"I really had fun last night," Ruth said.

"You would have had even more," David replied, "had a bearded Dane descended through the ceiling, hurling daisies."

Ruth's laughter caught the German's attention.

"The religious table," David continued, "would have stood up, shaking their hands, saying: 'At last! We knew it!! We just knew it!!'"

David shook his raised hands. Ruth placed a hand over her mouth to repress her laughter. Laughter in subdued breakfast rooms feels intrusive.

"Imagine," David continued, "if JC had made himself a Martini at the drinks table and said: 'Twice stirred. Once shaken.'"

Carefree chortles leapt out of Ruth's mouth.

"That's the anti-Semite?" the German asked.

"Yes," Joshua replied.

"That woman's Jewish," the German woman said.

"Yes," Joshua replied.

Back in the room, David packed up quickly. He wanted to catch the first bus to Jerusalem. He smiled as he thought about a hotel receptionist in Tel Aviv who had joked to him: 'Be careful. There are Jews here.'"

"Kneeeohh!" David had said.

"Yes," the receptionist had replied. "We've been getting reports."

"Why wasn't I warned?!" David had asked.

"They're trying to deceive the unsuspecting," the receptionist had said. "Be careful."

"It has worked," David had replied. "I have been deceived."

He was delighted six months later when he discovered that that receptionist was Ruth's brother.

He headed down the path to the reception area to hand over his keys, the sea cobalt under bare mountains. The profound depth of that sea's acidic salinity could only be determined by direct contact.

He mumbled: "Bye," as Joshua passed him on the path, going in the opposite direction.

At the bus stop he wrote: If something doesn't yield relief or happiness, but brings misery, this is not a reason to reduce its scale in our perception of that which is true. When people marry they don't understand that they're doing something that brings despair and happiness in equal measure. They do it because they only see one side. The other side isn't real for them. And if it isn't real for them, then it isn't real. The necessity to only see truth in selected portions maintains ideal perceptions of the future. The forward step is impossible if we're too realistic. We would drown in flooding probabilities. We ignore reality because our sense of destiny, based on what we feel will bring happiness, demands this.

Joshua came down the hill, carrying bags.

This, David thought, promises to be wonderful.

David sat on the curb, away from the bus stop. A big truck flashed by. The breeze from the truck struck his face. Then silence descended – the complete extraction of sound.

Some people, David thought, believe in their open-mindedness like a religion, their way of establishing their delusion of objectivity. Faith: Mock other people's perceptions, logic and experience to protect a dream.

Joshua was silent as he sat down at the bus stop, facing away from the road. The bus stop's parallel seats faced away from each other, separated by a transparent screen.

David remained on the curb. Another breeze fist struck his face as another truck flashed by. Vast tranquillity then returned.

Joshua started reading a book. David observed the facing ridge. The sun had yet to make it over that barrier. A shadow fell from the ridge top, down the slope, across the road, and over the car park to the sea's edge, darkness drawn up towards the ridge.

Some people, David thought, cast shadows over events. They understand the unlimited ego. To reach that level of perception also requires an intangible inspiration – a faith in accuracy's beauty.

Accuracy saves you. What you don't know can kill you. And Mister Accuracy tells you that people will do anything – people who look like you.

The bus arrived. Joshua, boarding first, sat at the back. David sat near the front. The ridge, like an overseer, reminded David of a barrier limiting vision, like a force reducing knowledge.

Ageing, David thought, means being subjected to increasing numbers of people who adore unfounded perceptions. Madness is multivariate. You can't place faith in supernatural consolation if you understand empiricism.

That night a Jewish religious fanatic sprayed machine-gun fire at the clientele in a gay bar in Tel Aviv. Difficult to fabricate a story from that, David thought. He imagined the deceased bodies twisted into strange positions by dead-weight, gravity-plunged falls, the smashed bottles, the furniture knocked over, the shaking, lip-biting, whining, grieving, tear-ridden survivors howling with disbelief, their open-mouthed, dead friends, boyfriends and lovers, wide-eyed departed, covering the red floor. He imagined a coruscating certainty glinting in the killer's eyes. He imagined the justification, like a dust storm, in the killer's crazy head. He imagined the bitter superiority that had gone into the pulling of that trigger. He imagined that the killer's vicious superiority being equal to the superiority that had been employed in the killing of other innocent people at other times. And he imagined Joshua thinking that this was unrepeatable, Jews don't murder Jews.

Israeli governments, interested in getting non-religious immigrants to fill new settlements, aren't interested in hiding the truth. Oh no.

Joshua's class of ignorance, David thought, will cause a disaster.

© Kim Farleigh 2011