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21 January 2021 to 3 February 2005 · tagged fiction
[I woke up this morning with this almost-fully-formed idea in my mind for what I guess would have been a trailer for the upcoming season of Last Week Tonight.]  

We open on a close-up of a newspaper with the banner headline  


and the subhead  

President-Elect Announces National Socially-Distanced Hot Dog Cookout  

The newspaper then doubles and flies into both sides of a split-screen.  

On the left side, the person holding it puts it down, and we see that it's John Oliver. He nods and goes the refrigerator and gets out a package of hot dogs. As he puts it on the counter, we see that the brand is "Hebrew Multinational". He rummages around in the fridge looking for buns.  

On the right side, the person puts the paper down, but the camera follows the paper in a POV manner, and thus we see only a pair of small but chubby and slightly orange hands. The hands go to the fridge. It is mostly empty, except that the door shelves are completely full of Diet Coke bottles (all of which have been partially drunk to different levels), the bottom shelf has some crumpled Big Mac wrappers, and the vegetable drawer has the discarded lettuce from a few dozen burgers. And on a middle shelf there is a single lonely package labeled "MyPillow Tofu Pups". This is crossed out in sharpie and "TrumP SteAks" is written over it. The hands hesitate for several seconds before drooping resignedly and taking out the tofu pups.  

On the left, John Oliver's voice says, delightedly, "I'll make some buns!", and he opens a pantry to get out a bag of white flour, and then a cabinet to get a mixing bowl.  

On the right a defeated voice just mutters, limply, "buns...". The hands open a pantry-like door, but there's nothing inside except 3 crusty bottles of unrefrigerated ketchup and a single bag of white flour. (If you look closely, this says "power" on it instead of "flour".)  

Both sides then show quick montages of dough-making activities.  

John Oliver mixes water into the flour with quick motions of a wooden spoon until it starts to stick together, and then dumps it out on a cutting board and kneads it with earnest but tentative motions.  

The hands dump some flour directly on the formica countertop, pour a blurp of Diet Coke on it, and then poke at it desultorily.  

John Oliver, reading aloud from a recipe, says "Allow dough to rise." Animated clocks appear in the corners of both sides, the cameras both zoom in on the blobs of dough/flour, and the clocks spin through an hour or two without any visual change in either blob. The clocks disappear and the cameras zoom back out.  

On the left, John Oliver frowns, and goes over to a computer sitting on a table by a bright window with floral drapes. He clicks to a site labeled, in large letters  


and the subhead  

Saving America's Bakin'  

Somewhere below this is a picture showing the exact close-up we were just watching of Oliver's non-rising dough, with the caption "Buns won't rise?" and a big cheery "GET HELP!" button.  

On the right, the hands go over to an old DOS computer next to a slightly grimy window. At the blinking prompt they haltingly begin to type. It goes like this, with an audible thud at each Enter.  

**account blocked**  

**account blocked**  


welcome to

Enter your embarrassing question:


Awkwardly, with frequent backspacing, the hands type  


Both cameras then do focus-pulls out the windows, and we see that there are taco trucks outside on both street corners.  

The one on the left is painted in colorful, tie-dye-like swirls, and labeled "Bernie's Tacos For All". Bernie is sitting next to it, in his mittened meme image from the Inauguration. Happy puffs of cooking smoke emerge from a pipe on the top. The truck has a long line of excited looking customers of jubilantly varying ages and races and shapes, all of them masked and properly spaced apart. The first two people in line are a woman in a purple coat wearing Converse sneakers, and a woman in a yellow coat with a red hair-wrap.  

The one on the right is painted military-surplus green, and labeled "Rudy's Taco's and Landscaping", with the extra apostrophe. There are no customers. The only sign of life is a tarry black substance slowly dripping from one corner of the truck onto the ground.  

Focus pulls inside as John Oliver clicks "GET HELP!" and the hands hit Enter again, and then back outside to the trucks again.  

A siren on the top of Bernie's truck starts flashing, triggered by the GET HELP!, and a little plume of glitter spews out of the smoke pipe. A door in the back of the truck opens, and two figures emerge, their details obscured in the shadow of the truck. They start to walk purposefully towards the house, and we thus lose sight of them as they move out of the frame of the window.  

Rudy's truck doesn't react. After the figures move out of view on the left we hold on both scenes for a few more moments, and then a black drone carrying a package buzzes over the Rudy's truck towards the hands' door with an ominous, sputtery noise.  

Both sides of the screen now cut to front doors from inside.  

John Oliver opens his door, and standing there are John Cena and Adam Driver. Both are masked, but shirtless. Cena carries a big bag labeled "Self-Rising Multigrain Flour". Driver carries a package labeled "Vader BratWorst", containing absurdly large sausages.  

The hands open their door. There is nobody there. After a pause the camera pans downward, and sitting on the doormat (which, if you can quickly read upside-down, you will realize says "UNWELCOME") is a cookbook titled "Making America Gluten Again".  

The left side then shows a dreamy montage of proper bread-making. At one point we see a close-up of Oliver's hands again awkwardly kneading the dough, and then Driver's hands slide in on top of his in an electrifying homage to the Moore/Swayze ceramic scene in Ghost. After a few moments Cena's hands also join. The clock appears again, and the dough rises...emphatically.  

The right side shows the hands occasionally poking at the same blob of flour and Diet Coke. The clocks appears here again in sync with the left side, but the blob of course still does not rise or otherwise change.  

On the left we see John Oliver putting a large pan of bun-shapes into the oven. While they bake in appetizing time-lapse, the right shows the hands going into the next room. This is completely full of MyPillow boxes, stacked haphazardly, in a wide range of sizes and shapes. The hands push aside a couple of the stacks in the front and from behind them extract a single tiny MyPillow box the shape of a hot-dog bun.  

Both sides cut back to the kitchen counters.  

John Oliver has a row of six beautiful hot-dog buns, somehow complete with grill lines, neatly spread open. He puts steaming, shiny hot dogs into the first five, and then an outlandishly oversized sausage into the sixth.  

The hands fumble with the small MyPillow box, but eventually manage to get it open and take out a single slightly-mushed white-bread bun, which they place down next to the flour/soda sludge. They put one lumpy tofu-pup into it. They angrily shake a ketchup bottle over this, then open and squeeze it. A large blop of red ketchup, speckled with blue and white spots of mold, splats out across the middle of the pup, bits of it getting on the counter and onto the edge of the flour/soda sludge.  

On the left, John Oliver is holding two ketchup-shaped bottles. One is labeled "Joy", the other "Relief". He holds them both over the row of hot dogs, and with an elegant two-handed flourish, squeezes them across the row. Through CGI magic, this extrudes a beautiful, perfectly sine-waved, rainbow-striated ribbon of condiments onto each hot-dog. He puts down the bottle and picks up one hot dog in each hand. From out of the frame on one side, Driver's hands come in and take a hot dog each. From the other side, Cena's hands come in and take the last two. Oliver salutes the camera with his left-hand dog as he bites into the right-hand one. He chews with obvious enjoyment.  

On the right, the right hand picks up the forlorn tofu pup, raises it slightly, and then falters. The left hand joins, and two-handedly they lift it up past the camera and out of the frame. After a few seconds they put it down again with a small bite taken out of the end. A couple moments later there is a small coughing noise, and very small bit of chewed tofu-pup lands on the counter in between the tofu pup and the flour/soda sludge.  

The screens fade to white, the split dissolving. The words  

Last Week Tonight
A New Season

appear, centered. Driver, in Vader costume, leaps into view and slashes the "A New Season" line with his light saber, which turns it into a slightly smoking "A New Administration". After he disappears, one of the small chubby hands appears holding a sharpie. It crosses out "Administration" and writes in "SeAsun". The other hand joins it, and together they attempt to break the sharpie in half, but after several ineffectual, obviously-straining attempts, give up, throw it out of view, and themselves retreat.  

That is all.
C1: Remove all four strings, wind four (or five) layers of ordinary plastic wrap around the fingerboard, and re-string. Theocracies are inevitably undone by meteorology.  

C5: Isolate this cellist stage left (see diagram), in a bidirectionally soundproof enclosure with visibility only towards the house. Performer should follow the score as normal, with timing cues from audience reaction. If you are sure of your own worth, you will be less reluctant to criticize others.  

C8: Adjust to Morat tuning (modern) in movements 2 and 5. Never mistake hope for authority.  

Va2: Performer should be contact-miked at the base of the throat (concealed under clothing if possible), and should whisper as indicated in the score. This channel should be mixed at the volume of the loudest single viola. America is not the only nation in which the market has failed God.  

Va3: Perform standing, hooded. Air is the element that does not dream of airlessness.  

1Vn2: Affix round mirror of 3" diameter to center rear of instrument body. The light is warmer here, but we feel tired and unsafe.  

1Vn9: Each time an audience member coughs, stand and announce the next number (counting down from 50). After zero is reached, stop playing and stand for the remainder of the piece. If you interrupt a story, you assume responsibility for its conclusion.  

2Vn3: Do not doubt yourself. You are born with wisdom, and lose it only through fear.  

2Vn6: Insert nine glass marbles, as large as will fit through sound holes. Do not allow other people's envy to become your beacon.  

2Vn7: Sit with bare feet in a tray of sand. Learn to say your name without speaking, without opening any doors.  

FH1 & 3: Where marked in score, turn to face each other and join mouths of horns together. Charity is a distraction.  

T2: Marching. Not forgetting the gift.  

X1: Satellite radio. If music is not a language, then neither is Dutch.  

X2: Manual typewriter (bell removed). Kind words are bought with foreign blood.  

X3: Mild regret. There is no excuse for independence, but sometimes the alternatives take longer than lives.  

X4: LG5275, ringers "Personal 2", "Personal 4" and "Young Cranes", volume "Medium High". The number should be listed in the program. Cities should be built by the children that will have to be born there.  

X5: Shoe horn, dry soil. White is both the color of dust and the weight of famine.  

Conductor: In addition to normal movements, a rook on an edge row or rank may turn at open corner squares and continue along the next rank or row. Circumnavigation is not why the Earth is round. "Round" is not what I mean, but math is the only real secret I have left.  

Composer: The gap between morality and ethics is best understood as compassion. In the truest portraits, the voice of the brush is not the paint but the canvas.  

Mezzanine right: Provide materials and instructions for paper airplanes to be thrown towards orchestra left. If you teach a baby to fly, she will leave the earth to us.  

Orchestra center: One hour before show time, soak each seat cushion in warm honey. Keep to yourself. The nights are long and dense with lies.  

Outer lobby: Line floor with pre-1986 magazine cigarette advertisements. Power is a metal, but forgiveness is a shape, patience is a hammer, and clarity is a vice.  

Ladies toilet: Scented towels, but no running water. It doesn't matter what other people learn.  

Front sidewalk: During intermission, oil and set alight. Unlike the sun, the moon must be invited, and sometimes we forget.  

Nearest seacoast: Speak quietly to the water when there is nothing left to say.  

Two weeks prior: Cancel, wait one hour, then retract the cancelation. It is good to grasp young that promises are made of skin.  

Afterwards: All dissent is interred in the syntax of its assumptions. Only by moving outside of politics, formally, can one accurately articulate the constraints of historical inertia. Sumerian music utilized four extra keys we now deny. It is possible to make paper out of water and salt, but governments are at best compromises between expedience and flight. They tell us that all the new planets are equally flawed. Climates without seasons breed corruption among well-meaning idolators as readily as larvae among new-fallen fruit. Attach hinges with black tape. That is no longer the lowest note once we've thought of another. There was a town here, but then you came and told us the story of how the stars were brought to you and you clothed them in orange silk and perfect poetry, and our children left to follow their souls and our parents left to follow our children and now there is no home here but the way the air shifts to stay behind us when we fall upon our palms and our fables and the marble rises towards what our tongues were before we sold them to you for a dream of silence and the tempo of sky.
She touches three keys with the same fingers she must have run through your hair, and then we are away and I will never have to see you again.  

She stands by windows onto ten worlds, watching a hundred billion people dodge through each other's enmities, and we duel quietly with our convictions about what she hopes to see among them.  

It is only through the invisible mercy of infinitesimal machines that she can breathe in this air and my company.  

You have no idea how much more courage it took to come out here alone with what I know and brought with me than to land on these rocks where we know nothing and owe nothing.  

In the logs it is at first Minerva, and only self-consciously do we leave off the catalog number; and then later Beta, when discovered implications begin to eclipse portaged expectations; and in my mind it is half of the time Home, and half of the time only Without You.
Before Tiger renders some large amount of it obsolete, I want to make some notes about my customized iTunes configuration. The actual Applescript code is too obscure and specific to be very enlightening, but possibly a brief description of the overall flow would be of interest to others.  

First some notes about use. At this point iTunes controls virtually all of my music listening. The bulk of my music is still acquired by purchasing physical CDs, but these are ripped into iTunes immediately (AAC, 128kbps). At home our main stereo is hooked to an Airport Express so both B and I can beam music to it from our Powerbooks. We both also have small speakers on our desks, and there's another set by the bed that we can plug iPods into when we want. I still do use the CD changer in my car, but both of us also use our iPods in our cars, and I use either the Powerbook or the iPod at work.  

My music collection is far larger than my Powerbook or iPod can accommodate, so my encoded selection rotates as new and revived interests push other things out of the active 20GB. Much of the time I use iTunes in Browse mode, listening to individual whole albums in the same way I would have pre-shuffle-era. But increasingly, and especially during periods when my listening isn't so dominated by new releases, I also use iTunes' Party Shuffle mode, fed by a Smart Playlist that filters out non-music genres, cuts out tracks that are too short (<1:30) or too long (>5:22) for my shuffle attention-span, and via another playlist reference excludes anything that has been played recently (i.e., in the last two weeks, or the last 10 hours of music, whichever list is shorter). If I'm in an especially random mood, I have an Applescript that goes through the upcoming Party Shuffle selections and eliminates repetition of artists.  

Organizationally, I normalize all incoming music to one of four genre tags: J-Pop, Metal, Noise and Rock, where "Rock" means simply "everything else". For sorting purposes I flip all artist names to "Last, First" and delete leading "The"s. Sound Check, Sound Enhancer and Crossfade Playback are all off. I show the little arrow links, but have tweaked the preference file so that they search within my library first, instead of jumping to the iTMS.  

I use Synergy heavily. The Play/Pause button sits alone in my menu bar, but I have keyboard shortcuts for Previous, Play/Pause, Next, Volume Up and Volume Down, and I like Synergy's own Floater better than the version it produces through Growl. The rest of my customization is run by an Applescript triggered by Synergy as a Track Change Item.  

The script in turn does several things:  

1. Updates my IM status message to include the track info for whatever is playing.  

2. Uploads the track info and artwork for the current track to this website, with the proper HTML encoding for Unicode characters.  

3. Maintains a single-track playlist called "last started" which contains the most recent track that iTunes began playing.  

4. Checks, any time iTunes switches to the "stopped" state, to see if the track in "last started" is the same as the last track in "Recently Played" (which iTunes adds tracks to when they finish), and if so, if that track falls in the middle of an album. If all these things are true, the script restarts playback on the next track of that album. This is a complicated but fairly effective way of compensating for iTunes' predilection to lose track of what it was playing if you're poking around in your Library or the iTMS while you're listening to something else. The began/finished double-check is necessary to prevent this part of the script from effectively disabling the Stop button entirely, which my first iteration of it did.  

5. Automatically updates the rating for the track. Although on very rare occassions I do rate tracks manually, for the most part I find that it is more effective to treat the rating as a temporary variable representing my actual behavior towards the track, instead of an attempt to measure my subjective assessment directly. In my case, the rules are approximately these (I've left out some of the more logistical obscurities):  

a. New songs enter the system rated 0, which means simply "unplayed".  

b. If a song plays all the way through, and it is currently rated 0 or 1, its rating is increased to 2.  

c. If a song is played again while it is still on the Recently Played playlist (which with my Party Shuffle configuration would only happen through my deliberate action), its rating is increased. It takes only one repetition to promote a track from 2 to 3, but two to go from 3 to 4, and three to go from 4 to 5. So 5, my highest rating, means that I've played the song all the way through at least seven times in relatively close succession.  

d. If a song plays for at least :03, but less than half its length, its rating is decreased by 1. It takes only one skip to demote a track from 5 to 4, 4 to 3 or 3 to 2, but two to go from 2 to 1. Since promotion goes from 0 directly to 2, the rating 1 is reached only by demotion, which allows it to serve as an unambiguous indicator of disfavor.  

e. If a set of songs from an album plays all the way through in order, and then the subsequent track on the album starts but doesn't finish, and nothing else from that album is played, I am considered to have skipped all the unplayed songs on the album (where "unplayed" means they don't occur in the previous or next 10 entries in the track history, to catch the case where I interrupt an album but return to it). This rule is screwed up if I single out the last song on the album, since there's no subsequent track to check for, so I try not to do that.  

f. At the end of a calendar month, any song with a rating of 3 or lower that hasn't been played since the previous calendar month has its rating decreased by 1, and any track whose rating would be reduced to 0 by this is left at 1 but added to a "to be deleted" playlist, which at the moment I still review manually. The missing detail here, obviously, is that I need to keep track of both a track's current rating and its historical maximum. A track that never got above 3 can be deleted when it gets back to 0, but a track that was ever rated 4 or higher should be down-converted to a lower bitrate encoding instead of being deleted entirely. Hopefully the new Automator framework in Tiger will expose programmatic control of encoder parameters, which the Applescript interface to iTunes 4.7.1 does not.  

6. Feeds the track's first two artworks (on the assumption that these are the front and back cover) via ImageEngine to Manatics' Handler plug-in, set at 15%, which applies a mostly transparent mask of my scanned-fingerprints to simulate package wear. The script skips this step if the track or its album are repeated without any non-album tracks intervening, figuring that in physical use this would have meant I didn't need to touch the LP sleeve or CD case.  

7. Checks the Comment section for the track, which I maintain in a semi-structured format, for my private rights coding. Any track marked "Bought" came from a legally purchased CD or download, and so requires no further compensation to be issued. A track marked "Preview" is one I have acquired without the artist being compensated, but which only exists temporarily in my library while I decide whether to purchase it. By default no compensation is issued for these tracks during the first week after they are added to the library. Each time one is played more than a week after download, the script asks whether to convert their status to "Honor". Tracks marked "Honor" are ones for which I owe the artist separate compensation from any involved in acquiring the data itself.  

For handling the bookkeeping of this separate compensation, the script (actually a combination of Applescript and perl/MySQL) maintains an external database of compensatable artists. By default each full album is worth $4, and individual non-album tracks are worth $0.20 (the system provides support for different values per-album and per-track, and for different system defaults based on acquisition date, but at the moment I'm not actually using those features). I prorate these amounts over the first four times I play the material, so if I play a whole album once, but only once, my accounting considers the artist to be owed only 1/4 of the value, currently $1. The database keeps track of the total amount I owe each artist, the amount they have been paid already, and the amount that has been transferred into a compensation escrow account.  

For artists who accept electronic payment via Paypal or credit cards, the database records the relevant payment info. A separate nightly perl script issues electronic payments (via CapitolOne's excellent web-services "micropayment" (sic) interface) where possible (batched until the amount exceeds $1.75), and for artists without electronic payment info, totals the corresponding amounts and transfers the overall total to the money-market escrow account I have for this purpose. The escrow account isn't automated yet, but I usually kludge around this, when I get new payment info for an artist, by simply moving the money back out of escrow, resetting the amount paid/escrowed to $0, and rerunning the original script. At the end of each month I mail physical checks to artists for whom I have physical addresses but not electronic, and rebalance the escrow account accordingly. I don't currently have a way to split this compensation across the performer and the publisher for material where the two are different. The best I can do is include track info with all my payments and rely on the artist in turn to pay for material they acquired from elsewhere.  

8. Finally, and I admit that this last bit is a little geeky, the script files some extra metadata that I use periodically to generate some reports of personal interest. It notes a) where I was when I played a track, b) if it's a running day, whether the track was played before or after my run, c) whether the previous track's info got any hits on my website before being replaced by the current one, d) whether the track starts or ends exactly on a minute boundary according to the NIST atomic clock, e) how many years old the track is (that is, current year minus release year), f) whether the track is an alternate version of an original album track, and g) if the track comes from a release that consisted on CD of multiple discs. For portability reasons this metadata is written into a semicolon-delimited self-addressed email, and re-extracted by a different Applescript run by a Mail rule and appended to an Excel file that I then output in PDF form for archiving.  

Clearly there's a lot more that could be done to make my iTunes usage actually conform to my personal listening habits, rather than me just letting the technology control my life the way it usually does, but eventually you've got to strike some kind of balance.
We looked for you in this nearest water
until there was nothing in our hands but your salt
and though we tell parables of your fears
that we only ever believe as a kinder doubt than truth  

we miss you in this city you left behind
in precious figures and previous shores.
I trust this finds you all well, and I'm flattered and humbled that so many of you were so quick to not respond when I asked if anybody wanted to not know how the trip went. I like to think that in essence we are ambassadors and scientists at once, and you are our patrons in everything but the monetary and emotional and canonical senses.  

I hope none of you will be offended by this format, but as you well know if you've traveled abroad in the past few years, the cost of importing envelopes has become simply prohibitive. I set my camera to its highest optimization before we left, so hopefully even with so many pictures the page will only be a little bit slow to load, and I truly believe you'll agree that it's worth a few minutes of modem squawk to get a direct secondhand glimpse of what most of us have only ever read about seeing in book reviews excerpted on radio programmes.  

This, obviously, is what we have traveled so far to see, and we are dumbfounded by our great luck in spotting such an archetypal example on our very first day of searching, almost within the first hour. Clearly this is not as large as they come (for scale, the penguin visible in the upper left is about four inches tall, and 250 yards upwind), but the thrill of encountering one in person, in the wild, is obviously qualitative, not quantitative. We wished all of you could have been there, although there would only have been room for one more on the way out, and two on the way back.  

We tracked it for almost an eighth of an hour, but eventually we were driven back into the helicopter by the mosquitos and locusts and bears. Locusts smell terrible. They don't tell you that in the guide books. I guess if they did, nobody would come. Anyway, here Enrico and Ivanzo are comparing scalp wounds. They all look appalling at this altitude, of course, but in the end the only one that even required prayer is the sort of Datsun-shaped one on Enrico's left arm. His left arm, I mean, which you can just see below us on the ground as we hover trying to hear what he's yelling up to us. It's hard enough to understand their language without the bears.  

The ecological situation in the entire basin is dire almost beyond ellipsis. When Perry and Walters were here just two weeks ago, we would not have been able to see the delta at all from this angle. Today it lies almost half a mile below sea level. It's hard to stay silent, much less unscented. Confronted with this much depreciation it's almost impossible to believe that geotaxic problems are really caused by anthropedogogical errors of scale. This is a failure of culture, not of infraculture, and you can't just come here and presume to fix what is broken. We tried that in the Vanjj and the Oyulta and Costa Azulpelo, and this time we've promised not to repeat our mistakes twice. So we still write the letters, as our conscience demands, but we mail them only to ourselves, at a rural post office so small that three of them fit into a building that used to be mosque, and then a Fotomat, and then the National Museum of Ministries.  

How fittingly ironic, then, that the defining moment of the trip would hardly be about zoography at all. After all the miles, and all the hours with tweezers and echinacea, it's not until we are back on the mainland sitting comfortably in a local theme-pub, surrounded by gleaming lucite and lavender thrushes, that the true significance of what we've seen begins to rise back up my throat. Like only an elite few before us, we have gone on a journey to the edge of despair and we have brought it back with us alive. Surely any of you would have done the same in our place, and yet just as surely, sometimes when it's amazing a thing is done at all, you have to do it yourself.  

All too soon, though, it is time to go. We've made lifelong friends, some of them our lives and some of them theirs, and one or the other of us will never forget. This enchanted country has touched us, somewhere deep inside, possibly our RNA, although we won't know for certain until we can get home and have the tests done. But as so many members of the government take a moment from checking their parachutes to smile at us and wish us well just before the plane reaches international airspace, I feel like we have accomplished something after all. Our therapists didn't believe us then, and they probably won't take us on again now, but I think we've had the last word. I write it on a scrap of inflight magazine, and let the thin, sighing wind carry it out the door and away.


One will learn to hate the sideways the squares of there fold
as if the wind is waiting upstairs until
the last edge of the paint evades us  

one will buy hats to hide in this town
and never admit to arrive
in a stand of torn screens and autumn warding  

and will the certain fields to know why to come
and flatten with compass pull
and one makes morals of lines
to wrap like fleeing hearths around you  


but lift now from paper and walk the near edge of the world  

under the creased thirst of wept awnings and their older names
one steps from galleries of sawdust and caramel into uncharted air  

paint how along each lane there has beckoned you
and laden one's undoing with cougars inscribed on rockets  

and how one and there are in a mural of banished distance
wearing enmities and flour and weariness and salt
and resting brightly on the place where knowing alights  

there is a present tense of away that never falls on canvas maps
and only one and there are lulling it to see  

and the way these streets brush into leaves and foyers
is the way there is shading into you  

and how far can it be if you can walk there  

[White Oak]  

and then one has memorized boards enough and tendered excuses
that the year comes through the chair rungs and into our house
and we have made welcoming angles of our tables and ourselves  

each truce of there is a spark of lengthening cords
set into one in the sillworn history of crowded dreams
one has painted the weight of these doors apart and then together  

trusted the empty roads to remember why you've come
and imparted you with gravity's flair
and one makes bedrooms of signs
to have swayed like earths below you  

and one day there carried them.  

As I must assume you are already well aware, this story, or at least this draft, hardly qualifies as a mystery at all. Two things happen that might or might not have been the result of crimes, but the explanation for one materializes without any energy having been spent looking for it, and the other is rendered decisively moot at a point where there still seem to be several possibilities. Even curiosity is not invested in any single character for very long, so a reader with the hypothetical determination to try to interpolate a puzzle will do it without a consistent proxy within the story, which is usually even less satisfying than it sounds. I am often limited in the amount of procedural guidance I am able to offer within the field, anyway, and in this case my expertise is largely immaterial.  

But this is not your characters' fault, admittedly, and so perhaps should neither be yours. If the internal and collective dynamics among a set of people are sufficiently compelling and perhaps occasionally shocking, it is possible for the reader to have a sense of purpose where the narrative itself does not. If you opt to develop this project further, I have a few stray thoughts that may or may not be helpful, and may well be partially contradictory, so take them as you may.  

- Although it quickly becomes clear that your meticulous timeline is not a resolution device, it helps give the scene-structure something of an observant photographer's patient isolation of moments.  

- By shifting your narrative origin backwards in time, you could straightforwardly bring most of the flashbacks into the present, which I'm inclined to recommend. Admittedly this forces much of the now-present into the future tense, a technical flourish of which you're more than capable but maybe less than wise.  

- Combining your two major sets of characters might, in one time-consuming but ultimately tractable step, enrich their composite personality complexities. It would also eliminate the results of their deferred meeting, leaving your ending awkwardly unmotivated, but arguably it merely leaves the motivationlessness of the ending more directly exposed.  

- Your imposition of a moral climate is well organized, but remember that entropy is not exactly the same thing as amorality.  

- Serializing uncertainties sometimes allows them to unexplain and then complete each other, which can provide context for any number of dissatisfactions.  

- Some of our conversations, which in general I think you have fairly rendered here, may to modern readers be less interesting than the implied exchanges before and/or after them. Remember that syntheses translate less readily than theses.  

- I suggest that your own emotional loyalty undergoes two minor shifts and two major ones, and even if you disagree it might be a worthwhile exercise to identify the inflection points I mean.  

- Anywhere you find yourself paraphrasing history, see if you can't think of a way in which the context can be embedded into the responses themselves. I don't mean to obtusely surface your background into dialog, I mean to calculate the projection of the history onto the individual, and then let the silhouette represent the occlusion.  

- Ask your sister about method. Debating this between ourselves is only going to compound our ignorance. It may be more productive to pose the question in reverse.  

That's all I want to say for now. I have my usual reluctance to navigate when I'm being asked to steer. If I recall correctly, this Tuesday is your turn to choose a water and a Line.
Stochastic in our causes, patriots in a republic of disingenuity, discarders of our angels, prophets of the silently unwound, we cede imbalance to inertia and the slow wind to the quickening hours. Give us reticence to the measure of our tolled waiting, and open ways that we may be escaped by the enchantments we helped tether. And we kneel in parted seas, shelter us with black clouds and the sinuous disenfranchisement of sand. When we stray from the islands of your tenuous grace, lead us to half-hatched disarray and limn our scars in the exhalations of convulsive repose. Give us panic for wakefulness, and tiny hatreds for eyes. Place our souls in the thick throats of lost doves, and our doubts in the deepest vaults of your sightless candor. Lead us to webs of dread and the shut exits of last year's mice, and let their thinset tremors smooth us as we diminish. We are the unmoved and the yet to know; we are the hollows of the bled and the disintegrated confidence of our practice. We are always here, and we are nowhere found.  

So we are undone.
The man in the seat in front of them has the body proportions of an overfed infant, the mannerisms of a sleep-deprived eight-year-old and the mustache of an octogenarian Groucho Marx impersonator on his deathbed. He is drinking, compulsively, from a battered cardboard coffee cup that has been empty at least since the station, and may have been brought empty from home for not the first time. A chewed plastic straw intended for bubble-tea sticks far out of it, pushing along the side of his face into the frame of his glasses as he gulps determinedly at nothing. Periodically he sets the cup down in the aisle beside his seat to put on or take off a layer of clothing, which he does in multiple small, furtive movements, reclaiming the cup in between each, the way one might reassemble a broken cassette player while riding a bicycle. When not drinking from the cup, he holds it in front of his face with his left hand, and alternately presses his right one against his mouth in a fist, knuckles out, and then opens it to bat lightly at the cup with the tips of his fingers, as if trying to dislodge aphids from the rim without killing them.  

He wears heavy, yellowing work-boots worn nearly through on the outside of the heels, and sits with his feet splayed sideways like a limp doll's. Dressing and undressing reveals a white T-shirt with the logo of a car wash I've never heard of, under a green cardigan that seems to be acrylic abused to the texture of terry-cloth, under a plasticky black jacket with a powder-blue anime horse on the back, under a red hooded cotton sweatshirt with the insignia of a high-school junior-varsity hockey team called the Waltham Hawks. When he takes off his hat, a dense ring of hair on the sides of his head fans out around a perfect bald dome like a disarrayed crown of soap-stiffened black felt jammed too far down onto an old volleyball varnished pearlescently pink. He carries thick stacks of colored paper in two thin plastic shopping bags, and also an empty vinyl courier bag on a long and tightly-twisted shoulder-strap.  

They exchange relieved glances when he gets off the bus less than a mile into the route. They have identically trim legs in identically snug tan corduroy pants with back-pocket flaps like birthday-card envelopes, and I am surprised to be surprised when I look up and discover that they do seem to be twins. Their earrings are different, and their hats, and the one on the aisle is wearing athletic shoes in which you wouldn't actually run.  

In the seat behind them, I am listening to a Japanese metal band playing American Christmas songs at triple speed, and daydreaming about new shoes I didn't wear today, and waiting for the bus to drive slowly off the end of the world.
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