Dockyard Press

MVMoorhead

The Werewolf's Complaint — 1 November 2021

by M.V. Moorhead

Certain was I that the lupine sinew,

The terrible riot of scent and of taste,

The desolate fen as my borderless venue,

Would grant me an ecstasy, bloody but graced.

So, to a threadbare magician, a boon

I paid in return for the potions and chants

That spoken aloud in the bright of the moon,

Would make me the Beast of the moor’s great expanse.

But in my new skin, I was bitterly taught

That sharp as my virginal canines might rend,

And swift were the pink-padded paws I had sought,

Neither were fierce as the thorn, or the wind.

Thus to the wizard I'm bringing more gold.

I want my old shape back. This one's too cold.

#MVMoorhead #Poetry #DockyardPress

THIS SITE DOES NOT TRACK YOU

3 Days in Skirt World — 25 March 2021

by M.V. Moorhead

The day after I learned I had cancer, I had myself frozen alive. I was a man about it. No screwing around, no weighing the options. I saw the course of action and I took it. One Wednesday morning I got up to take a leak, and it came out looking like crude oil. I went to the doctor, she ordered a bunch of tests, and the next day they were back.

Cancer. The “Big C,” as the great Duke Wayne called it. Pancreatic cancer. One of the few kinds they hadn’t figured out yet. She didn’t soft-soap me. I think she sort of enjoyed telling me I was a goner.

As it happened, Arizona had just become the first state to make it legal to freeze yourself alive. People had been getting their bodies frozen just after death for decades, but the technology had improved. They’d frozen animals and brought them back a year later good as new. Eventually they tried it with human subjects—overseas, of course, not with good Americans—and a year later these wog guinea pigs were back too, happy and smiling and demanding their fee. A few of them went on speaking tours.

So under pressure from a lot of influential Scottsdale and Sedona holistic health nuts and futurist dingalings and New Agey trophy wives, it became legal to get yourself turned into a human Popsicle—if you could afford it, of course—in the hope that they could thaw you out in fifty or a hundred years, or whenever whatever was about to kill you became curable. Time travel, the hard way. The perfect gift for future generations, I remember thinking—a bunch of sick rich white people.

Yes, I had a good laugh about it with the boys down at the club. But somehow it didn’t seem so funny when my doctor—again, barely concealing her pleasure, I think—told me my pancreas was rotting and I was weeks away from the last roundup. On Thursday afternoon I made the call; and that evening I toured the facility, a vault in the basement of a plain cement building in an industrial park in Phoenix. The guy who ran the place didn’t seem like a kook. There were already more than twenty people frozen, in long black metal tubes with self-recharging coolant systems. The guy said that they’d be out of room soon. So I thought, why not?

2.

Because it becomes relevant later, I suppose I might as well tell you now that the idea of freezing myself was starting to seem attractive to me even with cancer removed from the equation. And the reason why is simple.

Women.

I was pushing fifty, and I was rich, and I was respected in the business community. I had reached the point in life where a man expects to be able to call the shots. And yet I called no shots. Except for the few hours a week I spent at the club, or on the golf course, my whole life was about taking orders from women. My wife. My ex-wives. My daughters. My secretary—she called the shots at my office, and Christ protect me if I forgot it. My mistress. My doctor. The cop who pulled me over for an illegal left turn on my way to Phoenix. The world wasn’t just going to the dogs, it was going very specifically to the bitches.

Now, don't get me wrong. I’m not a sexist. I am a misogynist, that I’ll grant you, but I’m not a sexist. I didn’t think women were inferior to men. Based on most of the men around, I didn’t see any evidence of that. I just didn’t like women very much; their nagging and narcissism, their feelings and resentments, their lack of interest in my feelings and resentments. And above all, I didn’t like what women were doing to men in those days. Men had fed them and kept them safe for countless centuries, and in less than a century they took for their own all the things that used to be exclusively male—our confidence, our swagger. And they demanded that we take on everything that used to be exclusively female—the subservience, the emotionalism, the indecisiveness. And I had fallen into it as much as anyone else.

And then we got new leadership. A new President. Stupid and mean and full of shit as a man could be, but it didn’t matter, because he didn’t give a rat’s ass who he offended. On the contrary, he loved offending people. And he especially loved to offend the people that most needed offending, in my never-humble opinion. Especially women. It felt, for a moment, like the country—maybe even the world—might get back, at least partway, to a place that guys like me could recognize and be comfortable in. It was glorious. It was fucking glorious.

But of course it couldn’t last. Women didn’t like him, so of course we couldn’t have him. A lot of, let’s say, the underclass didn’t like him either. Why would they? And neither did a lot of Uncle Tom white guys who wanted to suck up to women and show how virtuous they were. But I think it was women, more than any other single group, whose hatred of him led to him being run off after just four years. It seemed like four hours to me, but it was just four years. We tried like hell to keep him, even got a little rough about it, but in the end, just like always, the bitches got their way.

So I thought, what’s to lose by skipping ahead a century or two? Maybe men will have taken their old turf back when I wake up. Or maybe not—maybe men will have become such wussies by then that I’d be an automatic alpha male. Or maybe they’ll never find a cure for pancreatic cancer, and I’d just stay in the deep freeze until Judgment Day, in which case at least my wife would never again make me go to some dinner benefiting local dance companies or Tibetan monks or whatever.

I met my lawyer Friday morning. He was appalled by my decision until he learned he’d get his fee early. I told him not to tell my wife and daughters until after I was on ice. I didn’t want to go through the drama. Besides, when they found out they were getting their trust money, I doubted they’d be all that inconsolable. And if they did need consoling, my daughters had their moron boyfriends—except for my youngest, who had her oh-so-fashionable girlfriend—and my wife had the pool guy.

So that afternoon I signed what seemed like a hundred releases, got injected with a tranquilizer, and crawled naked into the tube. The technician sealed it up. As I listened to the hiss of the coolant and felt the temperature start to drop, I drifted off to sleep.

3.

“You’ll feel a pain in your side.”

There had been a quick dream, of fishing with my friends in Mexico, and then I was awake. Somebody had decided to wake me up.

I couldn’t move and couldn’t open my eyes, but I could hear this voice.

This woman’s voice.

The voice didn’t lie. There was a sharp pain in my side, just below my ribs. It was gone almost as soon as it started, replaced with a tingling vibration.

“You should be able to see in a few minutes, and move a little,” said the voice.

The woman’s voice.

It felt like I had been asleep for an hour or two, tops. Somebody woke me and my cancerous pancreas up. My wife or my daughters had managed it; no doubt, to torment me with God knows what horseshit that didn’t interest me. They’d decided to let me croak slowly, pumped full of useless drugs. I hoped my lawyer would enjoy the new ass I was going to rip him.

I could hear somebody else in the room, speaking. Speaking another language.

Another language, being spoken by another woman.

“Our body scans indicate that you have a... a malignancy in your pancreas,” said the first woman’s voice. She was translating for the second woman. “This is why you were frozen, likely? You don’t have to worry, this treatment will also cure that condition.”

The voice spoke slowly and deliberately, often putting the emphasis on odd syllables. English wasn’t her first language, either.

My eyelids began to twitch, then they quivered open. The light in the room was dim. A machine of some sort hummed at my bedside, with a cord that led to an attachment on my side. Even the slight glow that came from it stabbed at my eyes, and I squinted as I looked upward. Two women were standing over my bed. A door was open behind them, and more women were crowded in the hallway, peering in at me. I didn’t know any of them.

Some feeling was returning to my body—I could feel a soft mattress beneath me, now, and the cool air of the room on my face.

I parted my lips, and tried to speak, but nothing came out. The women saw my effort, and the foreign-speaker said something to my interpreter, who spoke to me:

“Don’t try to talk now... sir. You’ll need about thirty more minutes of exposure to this... this infusion treatment... sir... and then you’ll need to rest awhile. Then you should feel fine. Better than ever, likely.”

My interpreter stood there watching me, smiling, fascinated, while the other woman fussed with the machine, and fussed with me. Then they shooed away the curious crowd in the hallway, and then they left, too.

At the door, my interpreter turned back to me. I noticed she held a sort of transparent envelope in her hand, with a paper enclosed in it. A very old, very yellowed sheet of paper. It was the medical chart from the top of my cryo-tube.

In her tentative English, the woman at the door said:

“Try to rest awhile, Mister... Mister...” she consulted the chart.

“Mister... Devlin.”

I managed something like a smile. I didn’t want them to think I was brain damaged, and couldn’t understand anything. Besides, this infusion treatment of theirs, whatever it was, was starting to work. I was starting to feel pretty good. Damn good, in fact. Like she said, better than ever.

She left, sliding the door shut behind her. After another ten minutes, I had enough strength to turn my head. And there it was, right there on the other side of my bed from the humming infusion machine: My tube, wide open, a few wisps of Freon still rising from it. It was faded-green with oxidation, and covered with dust.

If someone was putting me on, they were doing a hell of a job of it.

It wasn’t a put-on. I knew it wasn’t. I’d been asleep a long, long time. No way the infusion treatment was a fake. I was starting to feel ten years younger. I was starting to feel like I could run a marathon, once I got my joints moving again.

And they said my cancer would be cured. And I believed it. I could almost feel it.

Ingratitude set in fast, though. I was glad I was back, glad I was cured, but...

...All these women. No men to be seen anywhere. Not a good sign.

On the other hand, there was an encouraging sign:

All the women had been wearing skirts.

4.

The infusion machine must have had some sort of tranquilizing effect, because even though I could feel energy starting to surge through me, I still fell into a deep sleep within a few minutes of the two women leaving the room. When I woke up, the machine was gone from my room, the tube was gone from my room, and daylight was seeping in through closed Venetian blinds.

I felt great, incredibly refreshed and energized. I couldn’t stay in bed. I got up, feeling only a slight creak in my joints as I stood—less then I did, mornings, in my pre-frozen days. I was naked, but when I glanced around the plain, white-walled room, I saw a robe had been laid out for me on a small chair near my bed. I put it on.

Then I went to the window, and opened the blind.

I was on the upper floor of a three-story building, in a sprawling desert city of cylindrical buildings, none of which was higher then six stories. The architecture was rounded and curving, the colors soft pastels. It looked like a city of huge mushrooms.

There were car-sized vehicles in the street below me, shoehorn-shaped things that hurtled along a few inches above the pavement. Hovercrafts of some sort. There were pedestrians, too; lots of them.

All women.

I looked everywhere. Yes, it was true. Every person I could see was a woman. A tall, strapping woman with long hair, wearing a long skirt. Well, no, that wasn’t right—there was a woman wearing a short skirt. A woman in her late teens or early twenties, wearing a skirt that went down only a few inches below her waist, showing her legs to fine advantage. Her very good legs. I suddenly realized how very, very much better I was feeling.

“Hello, world,” I said. I didn’t sound as hoarse as I would have thought.

Just then the door slid open behind me, and the two women from the previous night came in.

“Mister... Devlin,” said the English speaker. She was a tall, olive-skinned woman who gave the impression of being about fifty, though her tanned face was free of wrinkles. She had thick, curly reddish-brown hair. She still had my chart. Her companion, the foreign-speaking woman, looked to be younger. She, too, was tall, and had long hair, but hers was straight and blond. Her face was stern and a bit suspicious. She spoke.​

What the hell was that language? I’d been all over the world with my business, spoke some Japanese myself, but I couldn’t place it. It sounded a little like German, a little like Spanish, a little like Latin. More then anything, like some elaborate form of Pig Latin.

“Mister... Devlin. May I call you...” said the English speaker, looking at the chart. “May I call you...”

“Call me Biff.” They both jumped. It was the first time they had heard me speak. “That’s what my friends call me,” I added. This always worked when I was introduced to new clients.

“Fine,” said the Interpreter. “Biff. Biff, how do you feel?”

“You were right,” I said. “I feel great, never better. Sure wish we’d had treatments like that back in my day. So, uhm... How long have I...”

“My name is Dr. Teele,” said the Interpreter quickly. Uh-oh. She didn’t want to get into that matter just yet. “This is Dr. Piper.” The blond woman nodded at me a little.

“Well, thank you for saving my life,” I said to Dr. Teele.

“I can’t make credit... make credit...?”

“Take credit?” I offered.

“Take credit, yes, I can’t take credit for that. Dr. Piper is the physician. I am a Doctor of language, and of... of history.”

“Ancient history?” I asked, with a smile.

“You’d better sit down... sir. Biff. I’m here so that we can communicate with you. American... well, what you would have called English, our language, it has changed since you were suspended.”

“Yes, and how long ago was that?”

She paused a minute, then decided to take the plunge.

“About a thousand years.”

5.

“This isn’t Phoenix,” I said. “I don’t recognize these mountains.”

“Yes, this city was called Tucson before you went to sleep,” said Dr. Teele.

We were on the roof of the building—the hospital, it turned out, though apparently sickness had grown so rare that it was more like a spa. There was a running track on the roof, and we were strolling around it together.

“What’s it called now?”

“Agavia.”

I didn’t ask her what this meant. I had a feeling I wouldn’t like the answer.

An especially tall black woman walked behind us, her long skirt fluttering in the warm breeze. Dr. Teele didn’t say so, but she was plainly a security guard. She also didn’t say why we were walking on the roof of the building, but she didn’t have to—it was the only place I could get some fresh air without being stared at.

“How did I get here?”

“The vault with your tube was discovered at an archaeological dig in the ruins of Phoenix. Because I specialize in late 20th-and early 21st Century studies, I was called in from Berkeley to consult.”

Berkeley was still Berkeley, I thought. Of course.

“What about all the other people in the vault?” I asked.

“The coolant systems had failed hundreds of years ago on all of the other tubes except yours and one other person’s. They’d all thawed out and mummified.”

“One other person survived?”

Dr. Teele seemed uncomfortable. “Yes, there was one other... recovery.”

“Can I ask who?”

“A woman from the same time period as you. Her name is Dawn Hacker.”

“Oh, Christ,” I blurted. “Of course! I know Dawn Hacker. She was on a bunch of women’s boards with my wife. I should have known nothing could kill her but a stake of holly through the heart!”

I immediately wished I hadn’t said it, but to my surprise, Dr. Teele smiled. “Yes,” she said. “She... she remembers you too.”

“So you’ve met her?”

“Oh, yes,” said Dr. Teele. Then she sighed, and said, “She’s been assisting me, helping me learn conversational Old American, at my department in Berkeley for nearly five years.”

I whirled on her. “Five years? You mean you found us five years ago? And you only got around to waking me up...?”

“Mister... Biff,” she said. “You might as well understand right now that you are a... I guess you would have called it a hot potato, politically. I wanted to revive you from the start, but there’s been a lot of resistance to the idea. It’s taken me years to persuade the authorities of its scientific value.”

“But Dawn, you were able to thaw out five years ago.”

“Well, Biff, you likely must have noticed... ”

“Indeed I have,” I said. “So let’s quit dancing around the big question. Where are all the men?”

“They’re around,” said Dr. Teele.

I had been in business long enough to know a prepared answer when I heard one.

“Are they?” I asked. “Where?”

“I think maybe we should go in now,” said Dr. Teele. “You need your rest.”

The big security guard came striding up. She was prepared to enforce this. I wasn’t going to get any more answers right now.

So in I went. I did what the women told me to. Some things never change.

6.

They gave me a really horrible-tasting dinner, and then a bunch of doctors and researchers poked and prodded me, and waved hand scanners over me. Most of them, especially the older ones, wore the long skirts; a few of the younger ones wore mini-skirts. Most of them, young or old, were really good-looking, if you liked the earth-mother type. Which I didn’t, but hey...

Dr. Piper pointed a scanner at my abdomen briefly, looked at the readout, then, through Dr. Teele, told me in so many words that I now had the pancreas of a twenty-year-old health food nut.

Through all of this ordeal, Dr. Teele sat watching me, giving me enigmatic smiles. I think she felt a bit sorry for me.

I certainly felt sorry for myself. I was thinking about an old movie I had seen on television on the late show, back when I was a kid, a thousand years and several decades ago. I’ve forgotten the title, but it was about a spaceship that lands on a distant planet, which the crew—all men, of course—discovers is entirely inhabited by women. These women all go instantly boy-crazy, of course, and start trying like hell to seduce these spacemen. It seemed to me like a pretty good deal.

Despite Dr. Teele’s oh-so-casual response to my big question, as far as I could tell I now found myself in the same situation. Except that these women didn’t look at me as an exotic new prospect from the romantic past. They looked at me, and touched me, as if I was a frog that had been submerged in formaldehyde.

7.

The next day, I took exercise again on the roof with Dr. Teele. Again, the big black Amazon walked a few paces behind us on the track.

“Do you have a first name?” I asked Dr. Teele.

“Yes, my name is Marjorie.”

“I like that name,” I said. “Any chance I could call you that?” I was turning on my charm, such as it was. I figured what the hell, maybe these women didn’t have any resistance to male charm. It was worth a try.

“Certainly,” said Dr. Marjorie Teele, with a smile.

“All right then, Marjorie,” I said, as casually as I could. “Let’s try it again. Where are all the men?”

She sighed. “As I told you yesterday, they’re around.”

“Are you sure you weren’t fibbing to me about that, Marjorie?” She looked blankly at me. “Are you sure you ladies haven’t mastered the art of Virgin Birth?”

“No, Biff, pregnancies occur the same way they always have.”

“But it looks like... well, it looks like women run the show.”

“Run the show?” The idiom hadn’t survived, apparently.

“It looks like women are in charge of things. Like they rule society, make the decisions.”

“Oh... yes, I suppose that’s true.”

I stepped off the track, and walked to the rail on the edge of the building. Dr. Teele followed me. The big black Amazon stood on the track, watching.

We stared out for awhile at the cityscape of Tucson/Agavia.

“So, are the men slaves?” I asked at last.

“No,” said Dr. Teele. “Males are not slaves. They are very devoted and very well-loved husbands and fathers.”

In other words, slaves, I thought.

“When will I get to meet them?”

“Not yet,” said Dr. Teele.

“Why not?”

“You aren’t ready.”

I turned to face her. “I want to see a man, any man, right now!”

“Well, you can’t, not just yet.” Dr. Teele said. “I’m sorry.”

“You keep us in stud pens or labor camps or something, don’t you, Godammit? Just admit it.” I said it too loud, too aggressively, and the Amazon started toward us. But Dr. Teele held up her hand, and the big woman stopped.

“No,” snapped Dr. Teele. “Labor camps and slavery were products of your era, not of ours.”

I made myself calm down. This wouldn’t get me anywhere. I looked back out at the city, and the barren mountains beyond it. Finally I spoke.

“Is it this way all over the world, or only here?”

“All over the world, Biff,” she said, gently now.

“So, the world is perfect now, I suppose? No more war, and all that? No more violence, no more prejudice?”

“Of course not,” said Dr. Teele. “I wish that was true, but there’s still plenty of war and violence... ”

“Like what?”

“Well, there’s unrest in the Middle East, of course,” she said. “And there’s a war going on right now in southern Europe—the Sapphist Front is trying to take control of New Lesbos. And there’s been terrorism on the Moon lately, too, in Diana Dome. Hecatian purists insist that it’s a holy city to Moon Goddess worshippers.”

“Women run the moon, too?”

She smiled at me. “Doesn’t that, at least, seem fair?”

8.

Late that evening, I tried to escape. It was pathetic really. Another large, burly woman was posted outside my door at night, and I had already noticed that the night shift didn’t take the detail as seriously as the big Amazon that followed me around during the day. She’d leave to go to the bathroom every few hours, apparently assuming I was asleep, and be gone for four or five minutes. So that night, after another appalling dinner, I lay in bed and waited until I heard her pad down the hall. I cracked open the door, and saw that the corridor was empty.

I made it, without being spotted, to a big spiral staircase that wound its way down the center of the building, ending in a big round lobby at the ground level, three floors down. I crept to the foot of these stairs, but as soon as I got there, I realized I was going to be spotted, and indeed I was—a nurse at the front desk looked up from her screen, looked back down, then did a big double take.

She hit a button on her desk, and began to yammer into it in her language.

“Shit,” I said, and bolted for the door. As I opened it, I could hear my guard yelling at me she charged down the stairs behind me.

As soon as I ran out onto the street, into the cool night air and the light of a moon full of squabbling women, it occurred to me that this was without a doubt the stupidest thing I could possibly do. It was the panicked response of an animal. Marjorie had already told me that the authorities hadn’t wanted her to thaw me out at all; this would certainly prove them right, prove that I was a dangerous beast and couldn’t be trusted. I was in strange world where I didn’t speak the language, where I had no resources, and where I was immediately recognizable as out of place—as a monster, in fact. I was going to be recaptured, no question about it, and very possibly put to death. The only remotely smart course of action at this point would have been to give up peacefully, and apologize.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make myself go passive and throw myself on the mercy of a bunch of women. I’d slept for a millennium and outlasted cancer, and after all that I just couldn’t beg these bitches for my life. I kept running.

But to no avail. I was a fugitive for less than two minutes, as it turned out. I crossed the broad, empty street and dodged between two of the shoehorn-shaped vehicles that were parked along its side. The streetlights were really bright; I needed some kind of cover. I turned into a wide concourse between two of the mushroom-shaped buildings. Immediately I came face to face with three pedestrians, all women of course, all around forty, with long hair and long skirts. They shrieked when they saw me, but they didn’t scatter—they charged me. I turned and ran the other way, and there was the night-shift Amazon coming toward me fast, her skirt billowing behind her.

“Leave me alone!” I screamed, and took a swing at her—something I’d never done in my earlier life, I might add. My sad little punch missed her nose altogether, and I stumbled. She grabbed my arm, twisted it behind my back, and hurled me down to the pavement. I flailed with my free arm, but the other three women ran up and helped restrain me. More women emerged from doorways all around, alerted by the scuffle, and descended on me.

I started to scream at them. “Where are the men? Bitches! What did you bitches do to all the men?”

9.

I was sure they were going to tear me apart, but they didn’t. They just held me fast, talking excitedly in their Pig Latin-ish lingo, until more guards from the hospital arrived. I was taken back to my room and put in restraints, and the door was locked. About half an hour later, Dr. Teele came in. She had a book in her hand.

“That was unwise,” she said.

“I know.”

“Where were you planning to go?”

“I know, I know, it was stupid. Screw you.”

“Screw me... what does that..?”

“Never mind,” I said. “Ask your buddy Dawn Hacker; she’ll tell you. So I suppose now you’re going to stuff me and put me in a museum or something?”

“The council wouldn’t mind that, I admit,” she said. “But we have laws against that sort of thing. We’ve awakened you, and now we have to keep you. I’m not the most popular person in the world right now.”

“Well, look at this way, Marjorie,” I said. “You’re still more popular than me.”

“Listen, we have to come to an understanding, you and I,” she said. “I was wrong not to explain to you the situation with... with the males from the start.”

“I agree,” I said. “So tell me.”

“I brought you something to read,” she said, and took off my restraints. “I had this flown in from my library at Berkeley. It’s a very old book. It’s in your language.” She handed it to me.

It was indeed a very old book—it had already been at least a couple of decades old, I bet, when I got frozen. Once brightly colored, it was faded with age and with some sort of thin coating that had been placed on the pages to preserve them. The title was Fish Are Astounding! and the cover also bore the legend “A Read and Learn Book.”

“It’s for children,” I said petulantly.

“I know,” said Dr. Teele. “I’m not trying to... to... econdesendu...”

“Condescend to me?”

“Thank you, yes. I’m not trying to do that. But we don’t have much time, and this is the only piece of literature on this topic that I have in your language.”

“On what topic? Fish?”

“Just read it,” she said, “And then we’ll talk.”

So I did. There was a cloth marker in the volume, and I opened to that page. And there was a picture of large, snaggle-toothed, football-shaped black fish with spiny fins and a long, antennae-like projection from its head. From its belly there dangled, almost unnoticeably, a tiny, tadpole-like appendage.

This is what the text underneath said:

“Did you know that when you look at this picture, you’re looking at two fish, not one? This big girl in the center of the page is a female anglerfish, a predator of the deepest parts of the ocean. She hunts by attracting smaller fish to the glowing lure that extends from her head. But her mate is also in the picture—he’s the little fellow, less than three inches long, hanging from her underside! When a male angler is very young, he grabs onto his mate’s body with his mouth, and hitches a ride. Eventually his jaws grow right into her skin, and he feeds directly from her bloodstream for the rest of his life. As time goes by, most of his non-reproductive organs degenerate, including his sensory and digestive systems and his brain, and he depends on his mate completely for survival and nourishment.”

I read the paragraph through twice. Then I looked up at Dr. Teele. I cleared my throat, which had gone sort of dry. I wanted to crack a joke, say something, but Dr. Teele put up her hand and stopped me.

And then she pulled up her skirt.

And there it was—or, rather, there he was, hanging down from the front of her right leg, just below her hip. A shriveled pinkish GI Joe body with melted-down arms and legs, a buttcrack grown shut and a bald, eyeless head, mouth fused to her skin. Only one part of him was plainly not vestigial, and that part was very well developed indeed.

“Biff,” said Dr. Teele, “I’d like you to meet my husband.”

I fainted.

10.

When I came to, Dr. Teele was sitting next to my bed. Her skirt was down. Mercifully. She handed me a cup of water, and I drank it.

When I was finished, I spoke.

“I took college biology,” I said. “I was asleep for a thousand years, give or take, right? Evolution...”

“...Couldn’t have made such a big change in just a thousand years? You’re right, it couldn’t.”

“Then how...?”

“Human genetic science stepped in. Hundreds of years ago. I can you give the whole history if you want to hear it. It was a deliberate conspiracy, and I can’t say that the females necessarily behaved with perfect justice toward the males, although they had been pushed far. I can only say that this... this is the way things are now, and the way they’ve been for a very long time. It’s the only way that any of us have ever known.”

“Which makes me very out of place.”

“I’m afraid so,” she said. “None of us are quite sure what to do with you.”

I wasn’t listening. A new question had just occurred to me.

“Jesus, does Dawn Hacker know about this?”

“Dawn’s had a husband of her own for more than three years,” said Dr. Teele. “They have two daughters.”

11.

I asked for paper and a writing utensil, and was surprised when they gave them to me. I lay awake all last night, writing this account. This morning, I asked Marjorie to take a proposal to the authorities—that I be frozen again, for another thousand years at least, and try my evolutionary luck with the next Millennium. A copy of this manuscript could be attached to the outside of the tube, to help future generations decide if they want to try their luck with me. Less than an hour later, Marjorie came back, smiling at me a little sadly.

​She said they’d be happy to oblige.

#MVMoorhead #ShortStory #SciFi #DockyardPress

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Latest Novels from Dockyard Press: Belfas Neo-Noir, Chicago Working Class Crime, & Zombies At Christmas — 7 December 2020

Today we announce the release of three books by authors new to Dockyard Press: The Night before Christmas of the Living Dead, a holiday-themed zombie thriller by M.V. Moorhead; The Heavyweight Champion of Nothing, a Chicago novel of working-class disillusionment—and burglary—by Zak Mucha; and Shot, by Gerard Brennan, the first in a new Northern Irish crime series featuring Shannon McNulty, a former London cop gone home to contend with the murder of her gangster uncle and the disappearance of a politician’s daughter. All titles are available as e-books through our in-house store, and in paperback at all discerning bookshops.

#GerardBrennan #MVMoorhead #ZakMucha #DockyardPress #DockyardPressBookShop

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Cicada Summer — 19 August 2020

by M.V. Moorhead

In the summer of 1970, for me the summer between second and third grade, my mother had an operation that left her bedridden for several weeks. I was sent to stay with my Aunt Marion in Washington, DC, for the month of June.

It was a cicada summer that year in DC, a summer of sexual maturity for the Periodical Cicadas—after seventeen summers as underground larvae they had risen, to fill the trees with their vast choral love-music, and to make the birds fat.

Standing on the balcony of Aunt Marion’s apartment one afternoon, I saw a starling grab a cicada in mid-air. Possibly my earliest clear memory of death. Then I went home to Pennsylvania, where I finished out the summer, and finished out grade school, and finished out high school. Then I went to Penn State for a while, but left to get married, and then I got divorced. And then I got accepted as a transfer student at Georgetown, and landed back in DC—not Richard Nixon’s DC; now it was Ronald Reagan’s—seventeen years later, in 1987. That’s when I met Stan Zelinski.

He was drunk when I met him, and in danger of losing his life. I had gone to work, a couple of nights a week, as an usher at a movie theatre on Wisconsin Avenue. One of my fellow ushers was Trent, a big aggressively friendly Georgetown undergrad, and a frat boy. Trent talked me into showing up at a frat party one Friday night after work.

Loud music, smoke and none of the decadence I’d seen in the movies. Oh well.

Less than an hour, and I was about to leave, when I happened to notice a kid of eighteen or nineteen, a yuppie-type with full cheeks and brown eyes, talking to a fleshy, buxom blond girl of about the same age in a blue blouse too small for her.

She was doing the talking, actually—talking and talking away to this kid, and dancing while she talked, with a beer in her hand. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it looked like the usual: what’s your major, what’re you going to do this summer? The kid wasn’t saying much. He was smiling at her, his eyes lowered. It looked like they were lowered in shyness. It was a charming expression.

Then he grabbed her bouncing tits, one with each hand.

For me, it was like a stretched-out moment in a car accident—I knew he was going to do it a split second before he did.

She yelled and pushed him away, and he fell on his ass. One of the other frat guys also saw it happen, and told several others, including Trent, and they dragged him out the door. I wandered out after them, and followed them around the side of the house. By the time I got there, they had already bloodied his nose.

“Want us to lose our fuckin’ charter, you little fuck?” Trent was saying, as he flung the kid to the ground. He raised a foot over the kid’s head.

“Hey, Trent. Cool it.”

They all looked at me.

​“You see what this piece of shit freshman did?”

“Yeah, I saw it, and he deserves everything you gave him. But go any farther, he’ll end up in the hospital. Or worse. And then you’re screwed. There goes your summer.”

I said I’d take care of him. They said to make sure he never came near the place again. I helped the kid up, and walked him off into the milling streets of Georgetown. Bloody and mumbling though he was, we attracted surprisingly little notice from passersby.

“What’s your name?”

“Stan. Who would’ve thought frat boys would take it so hard?”

“Yeah, who would’ve thought. Where do you live?”

“Brlffnglb. Hllllb...” He dropped to his knees and vomited. Then he told me which dorm he was in.

“Shit, that’s far. OK, let’s get you there.”

“You can stay over, if you want. My roommate’s gone for the summer. Thank God. Are you gay?”

“No.”

He sang a few bars of some song in a foreign language. Odd, he didn't look or sound foreign. Then he stopped, dropped and vomited again, several times. A trio of girls laughed at us as they gave us a wide berth on the sidewalk.

I got him up and kept him going. He started singing again, in English this time. “‘When I get excited, my little China Girl says, ‘Oh baby, just you shut your mouth’...”

“Bowie,” I said. “If you like Bowie, you can’t be too evil.”

“I like China Girls. China Girls.”

“Oh yeah, and that was a real lotus blossom you were putting your smooth move on back there.”

I cleaned him up in the dorm bathroom, then helped him back to his room. It was cluttered on his side, empty on his roommate’s side.

“Like I said, you can stay over, if you want. Are you gay? It doesn’t matter, you can stay. Are you gay?”

“No, I’m not gay. And if I was, I wouldn’t be interested in your drunken ass.”

“Haw. I’m drunk.”

“That’s like saying Madonna’s got an ego.”

“Haw.”

I laid down on his roommate’s sheetless bed.

“You’re the best friend I ever had,” he slurred, face down across the room.

“I don’t doubt it.”

Within a few days, we really had become friends. It turned out his name was Stan Zelinski, like I said, and like me, he was a Pennsylvanian. He was from the other side of the state, though, from Philadelphia.

By the middle of May, he had moved in with me. I lived in a one-room cellar, with adjoining bathroom but no kitchen, in the bowels of a rowhouse not far from the steep stone staircase the priest plunges down at the end of The Exorcist. I had shared it that year with a guy named Danny, our futons homophobically at opposite ends of the room. But Danny was moving in with his girlfriend Gretchen in Bethesda, and even a cellar in Georgetown was more than I could afford on my own.

Stan had decided to stay in DC for the summer, so the fit was perfect. He even bought Danny’s disgusting futon for thirty bucks.

By the first week in June, I’d gotten Stan a job, too. Trent had left the movie theatre for a summer job in Florida, and Stan took over for him.

That’s where he met Grace Khanket, which ruined his whole summer. You see, it also turned out that when Stan Zelinski drunkenly told me that he liked “China Girls,” he hadn’t just been raving. He worshipped and coveted Asian—or, as we still said in those days, “Oriental”—women.

He had been an exchange student his senior year in high school, to Thailand. He’d fallen in love with every third girl he met, and also with the food, and the weather, and the land. And also with the language—he’d picked it up easily, and soon discovered that he was the rare and lucky American with a gift for Asian tongues. It was a prodigal gift, really—he was fluent in Thai and Lao already, and had a smattering of Japanese, Cantonese and Vietnamese.

He hoped that a Georgetown degree in Japanese would get him a lucrative career in international business with a Far East specialization. But the a priori behind this ambition was the hope of a string of delectable Asian girlfriends, culminating in a delectable but bringable-home-to-Mom Asian fiancée.

“You’ll have to meet this chick, Grace, who works down at the theatre,” I said.

Grace Khanket, who worked the concession stand, was a tiny, maddeningly beautiful Thai-American girl who dressed in black and wore Lois Lane spectacles.

She was a freshman, too, at George Washington University, but she didn’t live in the dorms; she was local, and lived with her large family across the river in Arlington, near the restaurant they ran.

The minute Stan saw her, the first night he worked, he knew why he had been put on earth. I introduced them, and as soon as she wasn’t looking, Stan turned back to me with his eyes bugging out and his teeth clenched, an expression of something like rage, as if I should have known, should have known upon meeting him that he needed to be introduced to her at once, shouldn’t have delayed this meeting all these weeks.

Though she was really a reserved, even slightly dour young woman, Grace chatted with him pleasantly enough that night. Between shows, when he tried some Thai on her, she paid him the compliment of saying that his pronunciation was better than hers. This was true, too; even a nonspeaker could tell that—Grace’s Thai, while flawlessly confident, was delivered in a honking Yank shopping-mall accent.

Stan was transported. After work he and I got burgers at Roy Rogers, then walked toward home, through the mugginess of a June night in DC. When we reached The Exorcist stairway, we sat on the top step and ate, and looked out across the black Potomac at Virginia.

“The Devil Went Down to Georgetown,” I said.

“I’ve met her,” said Stan. “I’ve met her already. I figured it would be years. I figured I’d be twenty-five, thirty maybe, and I’d meet her over there somewhere.”

“Who’s her?”

“Her. The One. The Perfect One for Me. The perfect balance of sexiness and class. I feel cheated, almost.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I had anticipated years as a single man, years to date dozens of women of all races, mostly Oriental but all races, to savor all that life has to offer. That’s out of the question now.”

“You’re drunk even when you’re sober.”

“I wonder if she masturbates.”

“What?”

“I wonder. Do you think she masturbates?”

“Why am I having this conversation?”

“Seriously. It’s too incredible to imagine. To witness that would be like finding the Secret Elephant Graveyard.”

“I know what you’re getting at there, but you might want to find a different image before you say that to Grace.”

“Seriously, though, I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“Maybe, say, a movie first, or some dinner?”

“A mere formality. Does she have a boyfriend? I’ll do a fucking header down these steps if she has a boyfriend. Not that it matters; we’re getting married anyway.”

“I don’t think she has a boyfriend.”

“Thank God.”

“But you still don’t have much a shot with her.”

“Bullshit, why not?”

“I heard her say she doesn’t like American guys.”

“She only likes Oriental guys?”

“No, she likes them even less. She gets into English guys. That guy from Room With a View, Something Something Hyphenated, she gets into him. You know, she’s an English Lit major, which tells you...”

“Excuse me, excuse me,” said Stan. He was looking up. “What the hell is that noise?”

I listened. I hadn’t been paying attention, but he was right. There was a high, insistent whirring, symphonically loud, pealing from the treetops all around us.

“It’s the cicadas,” I said. “They’re out this summer.”

“Cicadas. Okay, as long as I know that.”

“City boy.”

“You ever see that movie when you were a kid, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, where the spaceships attack Washington? That’s what it sounds like to me. I thought maybe aliens were down at the Mall, blowing up the Capitol and the White House.”

“No such luck. Nope, just horny bugs.”

II.

We’re not talking here about the big, clumsy, dull-black annual cicadas, or “locusts,” as they’re sometimes called. Like the name implies, those show up every year, looking like giant houseflies, to startle us with their loud, ungainly buzzing. That summer in DC was the season of their more glamorous cousins, the Periodical Cicadas or “Seventeen-Year Locusts”—smaller, sleeker, shiny black, with cherry-red eyes and lacy wings that hum rather than buzz.

Periodical Cicadas remain underground, around trees, feeding on the fluids of the root, for seventeen years, before emerging as yellowish-brown nymphs to crawl up the sides of the trunk. They shed their exoskeletons, leaving them behind, split-back and still clinging to the bark, and take to the air and the upper branches for a few feverish weeks of singing, mating and laying eggs. They don’t sting or bite, but they’re still technically regarded as pests, because the females inflict tiny wounds on trees with their ovipositors, the organs with which they plant their eggs. These “oviposition wounds” can be so numerous that it’s inadvisable to plant young trees too close to a Periodical Cicada season.

Periodical Cicadas are also a classic example of “predator satiation,” an evolutionary adaptation in which the survival chances of individuals are increased by the abundance of prey available to predators. So the cicada I saw the starling snatch that day when I was a kid was just doing its Darwinian duty to its species.

III.

For a couple of weeks, it looked like I was right about Stan Zelinksi’s chances with Grace Khanket. She wasn’t unfriendly to him, and they had long, lively, sometimes even contentious conversations, Stan leaning against the concession stand in the longueurs between showtimes. But she was icy—aloof to his suggestions that they do something together outside of work. They were the same age, but she saw him as a pesky kid with a crush, and herself as a sophisticated woman.

Then one day, seemingly all at once, her manner toward him changed. I never knew how exactly—neither did Stan—but he’d broken through with her. Their conversations became softer, less animated, more intimate, less inclusive of the others that worked at the theatre. They started taking breaks together.

A few evenings later, on a Friday in late June, Grace agreed to go for a drink with Stan after work. He came back from this date to our wretched little cellar, beaming.

“Did you score?”

“Please. It’s not like that, I told you.”

“So you didn’t.”

“Please.”

“OK, so how’d it go?”

“We kissed.”

“Really?”

“Yep. For like half an hour.”

“Incredible.”

“That’s not all. I’m meeting her family.”

“What?”

“I’m meeting her family. This Sunday.”

“You’re going to her house?”

“Nah. I’m going down to the Mall. Some Asian cultural festival this weekend. I saw something about it on the bulletin board. Turns out her family is going to have a food booth there. She wants me to come down there Sunday and meet everybody.”

“I have to say, I never thought you’d get this far. I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be. It’s fate.”

IV.

Maybe what happened that Sunday was fate, too. That was certainly Stan Zelinski’s disgusted opinion, after his big date on the Mall that beautiful Sunday, between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. He came back around dusk, and I asked him once again:

“How’d it go?”

“I don’t know. Not good.”

“I was going to order some Domino’s. You want to go in on it?”

“No, I’m definitely full.”

“Well, tell me what happened.”

He flung himself on his futon, and stared at the ceiling for a while. Then:

“OK, I get there. She’s there, gives me a kiss. A kiss. On the lips. Right in front of her old man, who she then introduces me to.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. Her Dad is very friendly, but he seems nervous, like he thinks I’ll kill him or something. Her Mom is not friendly. At all. But there are a bunch of brothers and sisters around, and working the booth is Gramma.”

“What’s she like?”

“Just what you’d expect. Several thousand years old, and about the size of a fireplug.”

“Wispy gray hair, wire-rimmed-glasses?”

“You’ve met her. She doesn’t like me either, I don’t think, but Grace is obviously her favorite, and I’m Grace’s guest, so she hands me a Styrofoam plate. Shrimp. I say thanks, and she just nods. So she doesn’t speak English, I gather. This, I think, is my opening. So I eat the shrimp, and man are they good.”

“Spicy?”

“Pretty spicy, yeah, more so than the crap you get in the restaurants here. But I’m a vet, right? So I just wolf them down. Then I say thank you to her, and tell her it was great, in Thai. And she gives me a look, the old lady. Not a smile, exactly, just a startled look like I may not be completely worthless. And she hands me another plate, this one with chicken in some kind of black sauce. Absolutely delicious. So at this point Gramma starts talking to me, slowly at first, but then she’s talking faster and faster.”

“What about?”

“About food, mostly, at first. The kind of food they made back in her village in the old country. She’s giving me more food while she talks—a plate of this and a plate of that, and it’s all great. I’m actually starting to get full. She’s talking faster and faster, testing me I think, and I’m keeping up, pretty much, talking back almost as fast. Pretty soon she’s talking about Grace, what a special girl she is and everything, and I’m agreeing all over the place of course. And then Grace’s parents are listening in, they can’t believe it.”

“Nice going.”

“And then it happened.”

“Uh-oh. What?”

He rolled on his side and faced me.

“The old lady hands me a plate of your bugs. Those cicadas.”

“Oh, Jesus. No way.”

“Oh yeah. Nicely wok-steamed, in some kind of light sauce. All golden-brown.”

“Oh, shit...”

“You see the position I’m in? I can’t turn them down. But I figure, anyway, hey, this’ll cinch the deal with Gramma, thus with Grace. So I dig in.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“Nope. I just started crunching them up. There were all these little Americanized Thai kids with their skateboards standing around, and they’re all going, ‘Whoa, Dude, that’s sick.’ But I ate the whole fucking plate.”

“How were they?”

“Not bad. Not real good, either.”

“Like chicken?”

“No. Sort of like shrimp, I guess. But not as good.”

“Oh, shit. You threw up, didn’t you? That’s where all this is heading?”

“Nope. Like I said, I’m full. But after I was finished, I’m thinking, I’ll be Grace’s hero now. I turn to her, and she’s looking at me with this look of revulsion. She was looking at me just like the kids were. She couldn’t believe I’d eaten them.”

“Wasn’t she pleased? I mean, you must have made a great impression with Gramma.”

“Oh, Gramma thinks I kick ass. So do her parents, I think. That’s just it. I don’t think that I was supposed to make a good impression. I think I was supposed to piss them off.”

“Ah. You should’ve showed up in a leather jacket, on a motorcycle.”

“Exactly. Shit, man, I really fucked up. Grace walked me back to the Metro, reluctantly, and she didn’t want me to kiss her goodbye. She shied away and laughed when I went to kiss her. She was too grossed-out by what I’d been eating.”

“After she kissed you in front of her parents.”

“She kissed me in front of her parents, but she wouldn’t kiss me when we were alone.”

“Well, at least you got a good meal out of it.”

“You’re a fucking riot.”

V.

That was that. At the theatre the following night, Grace was back to chilly reserve toward Stan. Even their earlier conversational rapport was gone. After a week he couldn’t take it any more. He quit the movie theatre, and took a job waiting tables at a Chinese restaurant a few blocks away.

By mid-July, the cicadas had gone quiet.

Stan and I lived together for a few more months, but then we both got better-paying jobs which allowed us to move into better digs, mine in Adams Morgan, his elsewhere in Georgetown. We saw less and less of each other after that, and within a few years we had both left DC. I still get an email from him now and then.

He did spend one semester in Osaka, but that was it for his Far East dream. After graduation he got a very good position with a firm in Texas, and married a woman he met there. He sent me their wedding picture. His wife was blond and fleshy and looked not at all unlike the woman he violated the night I met him.

Predictably enough, Grace ended up—according to Stan—marrying a Thai doctor she met at a cousin’s wedding. They had four kids, and still live in Arlington.

I moved west, and I got married, too. The other day it occurred to me that next summer will be cicada time again in DC. The descendants of the very bugs that Stan Zelinksi ate that day on the Mall, in a misguided attempt to win Grace Khanket’s heart, will be singing in the trees, trying to win hearts for themselves.

I wish I could get there, just to walk the streets, and hear the music. After all, how many seventeenth summers do I have left, before the Big Starling catches me?

#MVMoorhead #ShortStory #DockyardPress

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Why Removing Confederate Statues Isn't Erasing History — 6 July 2020

by M.V. Moorhead

About two months ago, while driving through a rather remote and isolated part of Arizona, I pulled over to read a roadside historical marker. It referred to the Camp Grant Massacre, which happened nearby in April of 1871.

Ever heard of it? I had not, and neither had a friend of mine who worked for decades at a Native American museum. Briefly: A mob of more than a hundred Anglos, Mexican-Americans and Tohono O’odhams, led by Tucson mayor William Oury, raided a settlement near the Camp Grant outpost and murdered more than a hundred Apaches, most of them women and children; others were captured and enslaved in Mexico. It was a national story at the time and led to a shift in sympathy toward the plight of the Apache, although the killers were acquitted at trial in Tucson.

I didn’t learn all of this from the marker, of course; it inspired me to read up a bit on the incident. The marker is a simple stone slab with a metal plaque and plain, functional, unemotional text. If anybody suggested removing it for any ideological reason, or for any reason other than the information was determined to be inaccurate and needed updating, I would object. Despite its lonely location, it’s possible that more people learn about the Camp Grant Massacre every year from this little marker than hear about it in a high school history class. To remove it truly would be “erasing history.”

That’s what I keep hearing from folks opposed to the recent push to remove public statues dedicated to historical figures deemed offensive, especially Confederates—that the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park or town square, or changing the name of a military base from Bragg or Hood to something, you know, not derived from an enemy of the U.S.—is a foolish and oppressive attempt to “erase history,” like what Stalin did (and, ironically, what eventually happened to Stalin). In some cases, this is even followed by a sage quoting of Santayana’s, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Very respectfully…that’s crap. Is the “erasing history” crowd actually suggesting that a statue of Lee, majestic on his horse in a city park or outside a courthouse or capitol building, is intended to prevent another Civil War?

A statue isn’t a history book. It isn’t a museum; it isn’t even that modest historical marker in Middle-of-Nowhere Arizona. A statue isn’t principally informational in purpose. A statue is—at least usually—intended as a celebration of its subject. People don’t normally erect statues of historical figures they don’t like and admire.

And a historical figure needn’t be perfect, or even close to perfect, to be liked and admired. But it seems to me that they shouldn’t be actual insurrectionists who betrayed their country in the cause of preserving white supremacy and legal enslavement.

This seems so obvious that it’s difficult for me to believe that the “erasing history” complainers don’t know it, deep down. “They’re trying to erase history!” is just a catchphrase, one that they hope you won’t think about too hard.

If you did, it might occur to you that after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russians tore down statues of Lenin. Were they wrong? When Baghdad fell, Iraqis tore down statues of Saddam Hussein. Were they wrong? If you don’t think so, then why is it wrong to get rid of statues of Confederate bigwigs?

Well, I’ve heard it argued that a statue of Lee, for instance, is intended not as a tribute to the Confederacy, but to honor Lee’s supposed military brilliance, or the supposed great gentility of his character. Even setting aside the historians who suggest that both of these traits may have been overrated, you’re going to have to do better than that. Rommel, I understand, is widely regarded as a fine general by military historians, but there aren’t many Rommel Parks or Rommel Memorial Boulevards around the United States (though I’m unsure how much the current administration would mind if there were).

There is, indeed, important history to be found in the Confederate statuary that sprang up so many places around this country in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but it isn’t, on the whole, a history that the people who want the statues left alone prefer to emphasize. The real, subtle historical significance of those statues is in the calculated and tireless efforts of the Daughters of the Confederacy and other “heritage” organizations to sponsor such memorials, and through them to gradually make the Confederacy and its leaders respectable, even revered and tragically gallant in their romantic “lost cause.”

To give this campaign its due, it’s been far longer-lasting than the Confederacy, far more strategically sophisticated, and far more successful. I experienced it, even as a kid in the North—more than one of my elementary and high-school history teachers passed on the received wisdom that “the War wasn’t really about slavery,” but rather about “economics” or “States’ Rights.” Many years later, it occurred to me that the embrace of these abstractions may have less to do with shame over slavery and more with a desire to debunk the idea that black people could be important enough to fight a war over.

Renouncing the rehabilitation of the Confederacy is an easy call, at least for me. When you move past the Confederacy toward memorials to other notable Americans who were slaveholders or had other aspects of their lives now understood to be reprehensible, I admit that the issue can become more complex.

There were calls this past week to remove statues of Thomas Jefferson from New York’s city hall and from the University of Missouri; another statue of Jefferson was removed from a park in Decatur, Georgia at the donor’s request, for its own safety. Statues of George Washington and Francis Scott Key were pulled down in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, respectively. And a creepy statue of Teddy Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York, depicting him flanked by and towering over Native American and African-American figures, is reportedly slated to be removed.

This is another issue. Jefferson, at least, should get to stay, in my opinion; despite the despicable, hypocritical aspects of his private life—not to mention his and the other Founders’ failure to abolish slavery at the beginning of this nation—his documents and the vision they articulate have been essential to the progress of civil rights and the ideal of human equality not only here but around the world.

But you know what? That’s easy for me to say. If Jefferson statues have to go, as part of starting to make things right in this country, so be it. A statue or two more or less isn’t the hill I want to die on, if the spirit inspired by Jefferson’s words in those documents is furthered by removing them.

In any case, while I have zero problem with the removal of Confederate statues—and I say this as the great-grandson of a Confederate soldier from Mississippi, albeit one who, family legend claims, deserted and went to Indiana in search of his POW brother—I would also make the “Don’t Erase History” crowd a counterproposal: Leave the statues, but add signage describing the barbaric institution for which they traitorously and ignominiously fought. Or, maybe, add statues of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Barack Obama next to each one; taller, and looking down with a smirk.

#MVMoorhead #DockyardPress

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Black Lives Matter — 12 June 2020

by M.V. Moorhead

Except for a comment or two on posts by other people, over the last week and a half I haven’t said a word in any public forum about the murder of George Floyd, or any of the events that have followed. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I’m unable to find words to express my horror and fury and disgust at this atrocity, nor at the fact that it’s very far from an isolated case. Any combination of outraged adjectives seems feeble, both for this individual incident and for the monolithic, deadly reality of deep-seated racism in our justice system.

Second, even if I could find adequate eloquence, I always feel presumptuous in railing against an injustice of which I’m unlikely to be the direct victim. Who cares what some random 58-year-old white dude thinks about racist police brutality?

But I realize that this won’t do. Nobody cares or needs to care what I think on this issue, but it’s nonetheless incumbent right now for all of us—maybe especially us 58-year-old white guys—to say what we think anyway. Modesty and sheepishness and circumspection are not virtues at a time like this. So, lest anyone suppose that my silence has implied either indifference or sympathy with the perpetrators, let me keep it simple:

Black Lives Matter.

I use this now-stock phrase because there is nothing whatsoever about it that a reasonable person should find offensive. Nobody, as far as I know, has suggested in using it that Only Black Lives Matter, or that Black Lives Matter More. Yet many white people, including plenty of people I knew back in high school, seem to find this plaintive phrase infuriating.

Many of these same folks, who seemed to feel no pressing need denounce Floyd’s killing, were swift in their finger-wagging indignation over the looting and other violence connected to some of the past week’s protests. Wrong as this violence (at least some of it probably the work of agents-provocateur) unquestionably is, the hand-wringing response to it by many white people who didn’t seem overly upset by the killing itself suggests the need of a reminder like the phrase Black Lives Matter.

Here's what I hope isn’t true: I hope the elaborate revulsion that some of my fellow white folks evince when they hear “Black Lives Matter” isn’t a reaction to the reflexive internal response “No They Don’t.” Or, “Yeah, But Not That Much.” Not as much as broken store windows or stolen jewelry or re-thinking our own sense of self-justification. But I have to wonder.

In any case, here’s what I think, in the broadest possible terms, about how we should proceed. Black people and other disadvantaged minorities in our country have been trying to engage white society about their plights since at least the end of the Civil War. The vast majority of this engagement, ranging in approach from advocacy to being “a credit to one’s race” to nonviolent resistance to militancy to taking a knee, has been peaceful and dignified on the nonwhite side; white folks have often responded, however, with near-psychotic violence or, on a good day, with patronizing condescension or angry evasion.

Every civil right that white Americans take utterly for granted, down to the most basic, had to be won by black folks, virtually inch by inch in some parts of the country, school by school, drinking fountain by drinking fountain, lunch counter by lunch counter, public swimming pool by public swimming pool, in slow, stubbornly entrenched battle. Black folks have had white allies along the way in this struggle, of course, some of them important, but overall, their victories, which benefit all of us, are their own.

But now it’s time for us white folks to step up. We love things being All About Us; here’s our chance. Black activism can lead the way on changing laws and policies and what sort of language or practices aren’t socially acceptable. But sooner or later this work, essential though it is, runs into the wall of hardwired, often not fully conscious racism. Racist police violence can and should be combatted by protests and changes in policy and training; it can’t be truly eliminated until white folks will no longer tolerate it. And that’s not likely to happen until we are willing to admit that, whether we approved of it or not, we have tolerated it.

I wish I had suggestions more specific than “step up,” but I really don’t. I need guidance on this myself. Ideally, I think, the change would begin within law enforcement culture, with a shift in aspiration from being a thuggish enforcer of an archaic social order to a proud public servant of all people equally. Plenty of cops already see themselves this way; it’s time we asked them to assert themselves as leaders in their profession.

But we can’t wait for this optimistic scenario. The rest of us need to learn to speak up, challenging casual racism on the part of family members, friends, co-workers. And if we witness one of these mortifying incidents of public bullying of black folks by a fellow white person, we need to try to summon the courage to stick up for the black person. It isn’t right that our voices will carry more weight with the bully than the black person’s, but it’s often the case.

Much more often, though, I think that we need to work on mastering the fine and noble art of Shutting the Fuck Up. When we hear or read a racial opinion or observation that we perceive as critical of our own position, we should take a few minutes to think it over before we leap to our own defense or reflexively self-justify. And when I say we should take a few minutes to think it over, I mean we should take a few years.

Also, we should take the earliest opportunity to run the toxic garbage currently polluting the White House, the Senate and many other governing bodies around the nation out of power on a rail. This won’t get rid of racism, obviously, but it can strike a gratifying blow against overt, unapologetic racism.

Black activism can change policy; it can’t cure racism. We can only do that for ourselves, and only if we want to. We should want to.

#MVMoorhead #BlackLivesMatter #DockyardPress

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