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In the 1970’s, the television show, All in the Family, was one of the most popular shows in the nation and a real cultural mainstay. One of the reasons for its enduring popularity (aside from great acting and interesting plot lines) was the fact that regardless of where you fell on the political spectrum, All in the Family offered a humorous portrayal of the generational divide. The show’s creators (and many viewers) felt that the show clearly illustrated Archie Bunker’s bigotry and was therefore critical, rather than condoning, of his prejudices. In reality, studies actually showed otherwise. In, True Enough, Farhad Manjoo points out a study that showed that bigots and non-bigots each found the show equally humorous but that they also, “harbored very different ideas about what was happening in the show.” The psychologists Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach, who conducted this study, found that people of low prejudice saw Archie Bunker as closed minded and a bigot, whereas people of high prejudice saw Archie Bunker as, “down-to-earth, honest, hardworking, predictable and kind enough to let his daughter and son in law live with him.”

How did this story come about?

Influences.The writers you love, and the writers you hate[1].The thing about influences is that writing or talking about them can easily turn into a list.And a pretentious list, at that.But there is a list of people who made work that mattered, and still matters, to me: Francois Camoin, Raymond Carver, Amy Hemple, Darrell Spencer, John Steppling and Chuck Jones.Then, there’s a the list of work that appeared at the perfect time in a person’s life…the most common would probably be, for the young male, “Catcher in the Rye” or “On the Road”…for me it was James Baldwin and Richard Yates.I haven’t read either of them for a while, but they were essential to me for many years. Hemingway. And, later, Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby is still the longest 169 page novel ever written…not a wasted phrase in there).

This is a continuation of my series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1.

17. Nobody deploys the witty put-down quite like Wafi and Safi boys (and girls). You know it by many names: “the dozens,” “snaps,” “cracks,” “yo mama jokes,” and such. The tradition of non-violent contests of wits through rapid-fire mutual insults is well know anywhere Black culture has left a mark. But in my travels I don’t think I’ve met any group that dishes it out quite as expertly as folks from the Niger delta towns of Warri and Sapele (AKA Wafi and Safi), rendered in the particularly extravagant brand of Pidgin English for which that region is famous. I myself still bear the scars from some such encounters. And if you are trying to get cozy with a girl from that region, you had better come correct, or you might not survive the resulting put-down.

Never in a million years did I think I would end up in a job like this. Although I had worked in the National Health Service for over a decade, it had been as a health care assistant for people with learning disabilities, a very different life. For the last few months I had been feeling bored and had come to realize that I was never going to make a career out of it. The NHS is a good organization to work for, though; I did not want to leave the pension scheme that I had been paying into for so long and that was mounting up nicely by the year. While I was scanning the intranet pages at work one day, a job caught my eye. It was intriguing and I had to reread it again and again. The vacancy was for a trainee MTO – Medical Technical Officer – at a local Gloucestershire hospital, and I thought that the title alone sounded interesting. It involved working in the hospital mortuary (also known as a morgue). It did not go into too much detail but the word “cadaver” was used a lot. Despite having no experience of working with dead people and no real thought about how I would cope, I decided that I had nothing to lose and would give it a go and apply. I like things that are different, not run of the mill, and this job certainly seemed to fit that bill.

A few weeks passed and I pressed on with my job, putting the MTO (incidentally, MTOs are now called Anatomical Pathology Technicians, or APTs) post to the back of my mind, all the while thinking I’d have no chance because I had no experience whatsoever. I was educated above the standard required, but I’ve always thought that knowledge is nothing over experience. To my surprise, though, I eventually received an invitation to attend one of the mortuaries in Gloucestershire for an informal interview. I figured this would be for a look around while it was quiet to see how I felt in a mortuary environment, but how wrong I was.

On arriving at the pathology department at the hospital, I was asked to take a seat in the reception waiting area as several candidates were attending and we would all be shown around together: this job was obviously more popular than I had thought. On entering the waiting area, I saw a woman dressed from head to toe in black gothic clothing with very long curly straw-like red hair, who was one of the other applicants. She greeted me cautiously; I smiled faintly at her and decided to sit on the other side of the room. She asked me if I was here for the MTO post and I replied, “Yes,” wondering what her next question would be. And then she asked me if I had had any breakfast. I thought this was a very bizarre question to ask someone you did not know, but what the invitation letter had failed to tell me was that I was about to witness a real post-mortem on a dead person, there and then. As the other candidates arrived, it turned out that around half of us had not been told what we were in for. Two people decided to walk out on the spot, and I have to admit I thought twice, but curiosity got the better of me.

Within ten minutes we were in the mortuary and being welcomed, given over-gowns, over-shoes, disposable hats and masks and asked if anyone knew, or was related to, a Mr. Bentley of Pear Tree Close, Gloucestershire. Strange question, I thought, but it turned out that the post-mortem we were about to witness was on Mr. Bentley and it would be neither appropriate nor pleasant to see someone you know being cut from clavicle to pubis for your first experience of dissection. We were handed over to the senior technician, Clive Wilson. All I could see were his eyes under his protective clothing, but they sparkled and looked welcoming. He talked us through the whole postmortem, stopping often to ask how everyone was doing and advising us, “There are no heroes in the mortuary. If anyone feels they cannot cope, then they must leave.” Anyway, to my surprise I found it all absolutely fascinating and spoke to Clive as if we were old friends, and although Clive had clearly been doing it for years, I thought it didn’t actually look that difficult a job.

Meanwhile, I was also aware of what was going on around us. Apart from the other candidates for the job, some of whom had obviously just wanted to see a post-mortem and nothing else, the atmosphere in the post-mortem room was relaxed: two juniors and one senior MTO were busy removing the organs from other bodies (a process which I later learned was called “eviscerating”) and chatting away with the pathologist about daily topics, while weighing body organs and cleaning floors and surfaces around the room, keeping it as clean as possible. I decided then and there that this was definitely the career for me; I wanted to do what they were doing.

A few days later, to my surprise, I was called back for the formal interview and waffled my way through it. I was quite honest when explaining why I wanted the job, as I had no other reason. I replied that I really did not know, but that it just felt right and that the urge to be part of the mortuary team and be able to do such an exclusive, fascinating job was very strong. It paid off, and that afternoon the phone call came through offering me the post; I didn’t really believe it; not until written confirmation arrived a day later.

What I didn’t realize then, was that I was about to start one of the most amazing jobs you can do.


October 2027

My Dearest Ann, Michael, Caitlin, Patrick, Nancy, David, Judy, Bill, Helen, Martin, Shelley, Travis, Gail, Hart, Melanie, and Stacey –

I know you’re surprised to find paper letters on your pillows, in the dorm, because we don’t use paper except for special occasions. And today’s just another warm day in late October, 2027. Nothing special, really, except that this week, in much of our country, parents are telling children your age something very important. I wanted to write it on something that would last, so you can pass it on to your children.

The story begins before any of you were born.

The Obama-Biden victory over Palin-Jindal back in 2012 was a narrow victory after a brutally hard-fought, dirty campaign that nearly destroyed both parties. Everybody was alleging irregularities, corruption, tainted results. People were angry. There was street fighting. Some said the country was on the brink of another civil war.

The President, in an attempt to heal the wounds, invited the Palin entourage to the Inaugural Ball, and they accepted. It seemed a good sign. But when they entered, people noticed that Sarah’s gown wasn’t as revealing as usual, Todd’s suit seemed especially ill-fitting, and Bobby Jindal was positively round.

The three explosions killed not only the President and Vice-President, but most of the Democratic Senators and Congressmen, and half the Supreme Court.

With everybody in the direct line of succession gone, there was political chaos. What was left of Congress chose Michele Bachmann as president, with Christine O’Donnell as her vice-president. Bachman nominated the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to the Court, and they were quickly confirmed by the overwhelmingly Republican senate.

Out of this mess emerged the political party first known as the “Palinistas,” which gobbled up what remained of the Republican Party after its savaging by the Tea Party. The Tea Baggers merged with the Palinistas and dropped their name, having finally understood what a “tea bagger” was.

The Palinistas were strongest in what we called the Red States – states that had historically right-leaning politics. Some influential Palinistas thought their name “too Hispanic” and so – lacking any sense of history or irony – many Palinistas began calling themselves “Reds.”

We on the left called ourselves Blues, because we were the majority in the so-called “Blue States.” Of course there were Reds in Blue states and Blues in Red states, but the country began to polarize, with Red States getting redder and the Blue states, more blue.

We Blues believed that good sense would prevail, our educational programs would succeed, and if we simply waited out the bad times our country would revert to its pre-Palinista political state of competing parties, which we still thought was workable if a bit rough.

We failed to understand that the Red strategy was to build their base by producing more Red babies, even in Blue states. They meant to quickly increase the size of their voting bloc by ramping up their reproductive rates.

Red theorists knew that drastically shortening the interval between births quickly adds bodies to any population. Small bodies, yes, but if you’re only counting heads that doesn’t matter. And you can do it quickly, pumping out babies as fast as possible – as soon as one is born, you get started making another. Because Red mothers rarely nursed their infants (too “animal-like”) they resumed ovulation rapidly, and were ready for a new pregnancy in a month or two.

A determined couple can make four babies in three years. Two parents . . . four babies . . . two into six . . . you’ve tripled your population in three years.

The Reds got to work immediately, but were quiet about what they were doing. It was only later they began to talk about the “Red Brigades of Women.” The media reported the skyrocketing birth rate, but we didn’t interpret it correctly. Some of us thought the Reds were behaving as many animals do, increasing their reproductive rate when times are good – a kind of ecological explanation. Others saw Reds as profligate, hypocritical breeders – a kind of cultural explanation. What the Red strategists wanted was that we should not take them seriously, and that’s exactly what happened during the first critical years, as we wasted time arguing ecology and culture.

It wasn’t clear how badly they had tricked us until they made their Constitutional move, which was in the dreadful year 2014.

First, the Red-controlled Congress lowered the voting age to eight, claiming this was only “taking away a one.” Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court upheld the law.

Next, Congress passed the “Patriarchal Proxy Voting Act of 2014.” This allowed male parents to cast ballots on behalf of each of their children. Women kept their single votes. The Palinistas claimed that the PPVA merely recognized Judeo-Christian parental authority, and was consistent with “family values.” Of course the Supreme Court upheld the PPVA on the grounds that it was an obvious extension of “One Man, One Vote.”

Suddenly it became clear.

All along, the Reds had been planning to swamp us at the polls in 2016, and they did. Most Red families had already produced another three children. Even families who had no children before the Red Brigade of Women laid into their task with a vengeance would have at least six votes to cast: Mom, Dad, the one on the way, plus the 10-month, the 20-month, and the 30-month olds. Five votes for Dad, one for Mom. The Reds were in a state of rapture.

Now, the Blue states had always had the all first-rate universities and research centers. In 2015 we put those researchers to work on the only task that mattered – reproduction. We put our best minds, our best technologists and engineers, our medical people, to work. And although it was a very Red thing to do, we relaxed all controls and regulations and allowed researchers to do as they wished, subject only to their own consciences. The order was simple: find ways to out-reproduce the Reds.

That’s when men started having babies.

I was an early adopter. Getting pregnant was no fun. Yes, it was exciting to watch the in vitro fertilization of your mother’s eggs with my sperm, but to be abruptly taken from the microscope to have the eggs implanted in me, not so much.

Carrying the baby was no fun either. The first-generation artificial uteruses were clumsy Teflon things that I could feel inside me when I bent over or stretched, but the stem-cells-to-uterus technology matured quickly and soon I was able to grow my own.

Giving birth was difficult. My first delivery was Caesarian, but because I couldn’t have very many of them, I had to think about delivering two or three infants each time. I thought I could have half a dozen babies before my abdominal wall gave out.

But fortunately, before another year had passed I’d grown my own vagina (stem cells, again, with a little help from the surgeon to get it connected to my uterus). That was a relief – I delivered you younger kids vaginally.

The “Sperm Into Ovum Conversion” (SIOC) process was huge advance. Figuring out how to make sperm produce mitochondria (complete with DNA) was extremely difficult. Getting that working was a lot harder than anything else, but it meant that men could fertilize themselves if they wanted to.

In SIOC’s early days, the sperm were converted externally and then introduced into the man’s uterus through his vagina. In homage to the past, we called that device the “turkey baster.”

Within a year I could produce workable ova internally, needing only a hormonal trigger and some muscle contractions to pump eggs from my testes up into my Fallopian tubes to be fertilized by my sperm. (I needed a bit of surgical re-plumbing to make that work.) SIOC technology remains a closely-guarded secret.

For ethical reasons – yes, even in the rush and excitement and danger people worried about ethics – no one wanted to deprive women of their small, fixed store of ova. Before SIOC, population growth was limited by the number of ova. But sperm are a commodity item! SIOC made “Male-Only Reproductive Events” (MORE) possible, and thus for the first time in human evolution reproduction did not require women. This felt very strange to me, but even so I bore four MORE babies.

At that point – about 2018 – a man had an interesting set of choices: self-fertilization, fertilization of another man’s SIOC ova, or fertilization of ova flushed from a woman. More adventurous men combined them.

When somebody said to me, “Little Caitlin looks just like you,” I said proudly, “She is me!”

We kept SIOC secret because if the Reds ever accepted in vitro fertilization, they could press their infertile women into service. We didn’t hide the male pregnancy technology because we knew the Palinistas would never use it. They found it repulsive. Their men never allowed themselves to become pregnant. That would be, as I heard one of them say, “so gay.”

The numbers tell the story, children.

A human woman, Red or Blue, unassisted by advanced reproductive technology, can’t maintain 10-month birth intervals for very long. The Red Brigade of Women’s “Big Red Push” lost momentum after 2016, and by 2020, most Red families had only added another child or two. This meant that the Reds would go to the polls with eight or nine votes, about half what we Blues expected to have.

A Blue couple, starting in 2015, could have as many as 16 children going into the 2020 elections. To beat the Palinistas, we’d need only eight or ten. Even so, your mother and I worked hard to produce 16, which meant we cast 18 PPVA votes.

But we had to move our voters where they were needed. Hundreds of thousands of Blue families migrated to Red states, although we didn’t bother moving people into Utah. Your mother and I moved from Cambridge to Tupelo, Mississippi early enough to register for the elections, and after the elections we moved back. Tupelo wasn’t our kind of place. We were tolerated but certainly not welcomed.

We Blues were surprised by the lack of Red aggression, especially in the South. Some  think it was because Blue Christians had succeeded in convincing many Red Christians to pay attention to what Jesus actually taught.

Needless to say, we swept the 2020 elections – Congress, the White House, every State governorship and most of the statehouses too. Out of courtesy, migrant Blues didn’t cast votes in local elections.

We had nothing to do with the bunker-buster bomb that was accidentally dropped on the Supreme Court building when the Court was in session.

Congress quickly repealed PPVA. Many migrants moved back, and relative calm prevailed in our country. In the seven years since then, we’ve contested elections in the old way, although the Democratic and Republican parties have disappeared. It’s just Reds and Blues now, and I’m glad to say that power’s been mostly in Blue hands, but we’ve never shut out the Reds as they shut us out. Both parties agree that there should never be another reproductive race, but that it’s not the sort of thing anybody should legislate.

My girls, it’s time for me to tell you our greatest secret. It’s been kept until this year – kept even from ordinary Blues. This week, the last week of October, Blue parents are revealing the secret, and that’s why I’m writing this letter.

The first group of Blue babies are now about 12, and you girls know what that means. Although we’re hoping you’ll wait a long time, you could begin to have babies soon.

I know you’re wondering what effect this great population bulge may have on the country and the planet. It worries us all. There have always been more young people than old, but there’s never been a difference like this. There are millions more young people between 7 and 12 than there ever have been. If they all go on to have two or three children, our population – and that of the world – will explode. It would be immoral to let our race for political control destroy not only our country, but others.

Now, we foresaw this problem early on. I led the team that developed what we call JOB – “Just One Baby.” It’s a DNA sequence that suppresses the ovulation-controlling GNRHR gene, and when it does, egg production shuts down. We inserted it into a retrovirus that finds GNRHR (it’s on chromosome four, in case you’re wondering). The retrovirus cannot insert itself into in eggs or sperm, so it cannot pass to the next generation. It works by monitoring hormone levels, and when it recognizes a live birth followed by lactation events, it permanently suppresses GNRHR.

The JOB virus was usually inserted during the SIOC process. It can also be inhaled, ingested, or picked up by contact. We made sure it was present in all Blue maternity hospitals.

It won’t affect anybody outside of the bulge, because we found a way – using tooth enamel isotope ratios – for it to sense whether a girl was born in North America during the time of our reproductive surge. In those girls – yes, my daughters, that means you – it arms itself and waits for them to reproduce. In anybody else it does nothing.

We have put it into all of you. It cannot be disabled.

I should tell you that we’ve taken special care to test its delivery in substances Reds prefer, and in places they typically go. I’ll say no more than that. We accepted responsibility for what we were going to do, and that meant dealing with the consequences. Helping Reds do the same is a simple favor.

Well. We can talk about all this after dinner, if you want to.

Love,

Dad


When I was little, my mother told me that inside everyone, at the absolute center of us, there is a tiny golden kernel, our essence distilled down to something pure, elemental, something very close to a soul.  She told me that radiating from this small kernel are thousands of vaporous strings, impossibly thin, like the rippling pink licks that float inside a plasma globe.  And those strings hold us all intact like a magic anchor, tied with miniscule square knots to our organs, our bones, our skin, which pull our bodies back toward that absolute center, toward that precious kernel, like our own unique gravity.

Dear Geoff,
I’m not sure why I thought it would work
there in my parent’s bedroom
the child lock released from the back
of the satellite tv box
my fever ablaze and coughing
hand crammed into the tight v between my thighs
too ashamed to actually touch my own skin
yet rubbing one out for the fifth time that morning.
I believed that if I could scrub
the hundreds of dirty hopes
out of my red raw crotch
they would be gone for good.
If I could simply compel my body to rise and fall
enough at the sight of those impossible role models
so ready to moan for my redemption
I would be healed.
The best part of staying home sick from school
was this false church.
Looking back, I can ask why
I might have wanted to be free of my own desires.
Looking back, I can see how
I took to the moan like a new secretary
eager to please and thorough.
I tell you this now
because the lies are half true,
because the body is half yours.

Well, like, when there’s two runners on and the smasher clops up so it don’t even clear the podooshkas, and the millicent raises his rooker like, well, then the smasher is loveted automatic then. But not automatic-like because it ain’t automatic. The merzky millicent has to decide that the ball is “catchable,” or “could easily be caught,” because if not the skvater could drop it and then it’s as sure as you’re sitting there that we’ve got a double play, yeah? So some vecks would drop it on purpose so as to give themselves an extra chance, and that’s not fair-like so that’s why they made the rule. And of course this is only in a force play. When the hitter’s loveted, the runners would have to tag the podooshka before running same as ever.

But it’s all bollocks, innit? Because now we’ve got some millicant deciding for a place that should go untouched and always be horrorshow forever, yeah? All just for fairness. Who’s to say what’s “catchable” and what isn’t, viddy well? Never mind fair. No fairness in worldly eegra, but let the most horrorshow moodge win. Not let’s all hold hands until some doomsday kind of thing.

I say when the bloody rule comes into effect the orange between the dva runners and the smasher drat right there, hand to hand, like, in bloody ultraviolence. Let that decide. Yeah, the smasher’s armed with a shlaga, that’s right. But the orange between the dva podoshkas got the sharry, ain’t he? That’s if the millicent was right and the sharry was indeed “catchable” and all that. Let the orange between the dva podoshkas brosay the sharry at full speed right at the smasher’s gloopy gulliver. That would solve the contest right quick. Let the smasher hurl the shlaga end over end at the orange between the dva podoskas, bean him in the litso. Then we’d know who should be taking his podooshka, and who should be limping away to apply ice liberally to the bruised areas.

Not like there’s any lack of oranges in the world, is there? Course not. Maybe if you’re Derek Jeter or someone real famous-like, he could hire a moodge with some real yarbles to stay on retainer-like, someone to storm the bitva and shive away for him. And if it happens just so, please, Mr. Jeter, I offer my services. Could be a right poleszny moodge, right well bean a bollocker who can’t even tolchock it far enough a starry bodoochka could spit her ivories out so far, yeah?

I was asked recently to explain what I’m doing here. At first I thought the inquiry was directed at some big cosmic question, like, What are you doing here, on earth? Or, likewise, What is the meaning of your life? Assuming that to be the question, I answered honestly: I haven’t a clue. But my interlocutor was not asking the metaphysical question. The question was directed to my writing, as in, What do you write about? It is a more embarrassing question to answer, actually. Embarrassing because, again, I haven’t a clue. People really don’t expect you to be able to answer the big cosmic questions. The questions have been around too long and everyone knows there aren’t really any answers. But the more focused question, like what do you write about? or the dinner party question, What do you do? those questions are due an answer. (The dinner party question drives me crazy. What do I do? I do what everyone else does: eat, sleep, shit, work, die. The real question being asked is: Are you above or below my socio-economic caste?–a disdainful and not-so-coy method of evaluation. But, for god’s sake, just come out and ask it straight-up.) The question, again, was What are I doing here? Here being this forum, TNB, or likewise my blog, or other such efforts. What do I write about? What am I doing here? The question achingly begs the sad answer: I haven’t a clue.

On Hunger

By Keith Dixon

Essay

Among the long list of indignities one must suffer with the increase of age—hair loss, mystery aches, the inherent uncoolness of having your twenties in your rearview mirror—is the particularly troubling discovery that you just aren’t what you once were. You just aren’t—and nothing embodies this loss quite so explicitly as one’s inability to recover from that which would have been a mere blip on the day’s radar twenty years ago. The hangover that troubled your morning back in college now sends you reeling back to bed for an entire afternoon; the sports injury that caused you to limp off the field for a rest now causes you to limp into the Emergency Room for a quick CAT scan. You aren’t what you once were.