excerpted from a novel in progress
In the many nefarious ways explaining how my delinquent accounts should appear to forever settle themselves in the eyes of the casual, unenlightened observer, I take no small measure exercising a stealthy rapprochement at the sign of any trouble remembering all these delinquencies at once, that I can, for this standing instance,
sit at my favorite shadow-cloaked table right here at the Three Happy Dragons Palace when the twilit hour deems this already modest establishment a minor void, where I wait, take stock of my dim summed surroundings, and groan
deepest, bellowing gggrrroooaaannngh
of the ages, mottled for its heaviest throttling, reaching into the darkest antiquity of humanity when something sucked in its first nascent lungful of air primordial because it could and almost died on the swampy spot from its proto-chest popping out in a flesh-bound soufflé achieved too fast. How that would have solved everything for me. Tidy. Obscure. For my languid waiter rushing out from the kitchen to attend my hungry call, I often have him consider
how terrible that moment must have been for your dilapidated, ancient progenitor resembling a defrauded monkfish more than Grecian marble busts with their clean, vacuous pupils gazing upon nothing, not even the insides of their own stagnant leer. Yet when I groan what is mine, I freely admit I have no vision, I am proceeding nowhere. My sight, for only this one Time, does not extend to the periphery of my comprehending All This where everything vanishes forever in a tiny cloud of illogical reason
ever that am I tracing, recounting, stalling,
waiting for my sight to return, which it will, yes, yes, and in my many travels when it does, I am subject to being asked questions of a constant, banal origin,
Why me? into perpetuity, how tiresome
when nothing comes of the asking, so another groan appears from the audience in the balcony to confer my hesitation, not as impressive as mine, of course, but one of a sustainable dismay not without merit. My waiter is at attention. I have arrived. The show is indeed over, my friend
because never do I transform, nor had any desire to transform, into countenance so fully, perfectly human which renders myself into your best possibility for meaningful interaction, or useless bargaining, as it were, despite what those peculiar monkfish authors of yours have kept writing about me, what those hollow artists presented me as to the museum slouch, to the inverted cinephile. Oh no, I have never taken shape with body parts that were not bulbous, twisted, jarring to the slightest degree. I have avoiding assuming the skulking form of a mere shadow or wraith. I seldom have cared for monstrous wings barbed with venomous spikes. I have never reconstructed my fearsome visage into profitable timeshares, junk bonds, or hidden offshore accounts, either; in which case,
should I attempt describing to the nervous waiter my unhappiness with bulbous body parts, etc., in general: do you experience a sinking feeling you went amiss without being aware of it? To where something was about to happen to you, yet it did not? To get a soft, plump feeling of unctuous inertia staying in its blissful place and hardly listening to your own less impressive groans? Everywhere it takes its care. No more, I say. I have grown exhausted staring at those bulbous body parts on your televisions growing flatter despite, at some point, my desire also requiring everything to be flat and smooth and unobtrusive. Is the bear an overgrown fish? Is a stone always standing on its head? Is systematic decay launched by the egalitarian asymptotes of a lone exhilaration of breath? All I am thinking removes these potholes in the blind road filled with watered ruin. The moon has been long dead in dance. Nothing happens while I am seated now,
he had told me, my colleague, my dear, dear altostratus Dreyfus, not far away from his impending deathbed, not quite yet,
confessing his shock and dismay that the only activity engaging his spare attention was the watching of movies. The future isn't what it used to be, I playfully reminded him, minding to myself the quote was a couple years in advance of its eventual utterance,
though from a movie he should not have wanted to watch before I let him die, not in the presence of a straight razor he kept nearby that whispered to him at night, not for the foreboding presence in the story of a hired detective’s obvious employer dressed in none-too-bulbous body parts― yet another weaker simulacrum of myself― dispelling the mystery of the mystery or why it had slowly come into the detective’s purview to himself being the person he had sought on the backs of the recent dead who failed recognizing him below the skin, not for the Coney Island of his mind he had visited during offseason, not for the tap dancing in the rain, not for something as sloppy as falsified paperwork covered up with a ballpoint pen, not for the love in southern Louisiana of an obscure cocktail or good spicy gumbo, not for the simple bounty of a rustified water pump or the ethereal scratching of poverty chickens, not for destitution or name, not for morphine or oysters on the half shell. For our friendship, he did want to watch a specific movie featuring the intentional destruction of art by the artist’s own hand,
taking in with somber recognition the busy emergency people on television then as they ran to and fro across a warehouse district, skittering and frittering and pittering against a nondescript building set ablaze in a magnificent pagoda of flames and billowing smoke thrusting an endless conical apparition into the already suffocating Los Angeles skyline, a building Dreyfus was well familiar with for one reason or another, as I was myself, and
one safely ensconced actor connected to these pyrotechnics, who had been bothered enough by his smart phone pinging constant pings of false grief from occasional friends, as well as serious consternation from his longstanding agent who, I can attest, would be suffering further acute acid reflux down the road. Thus did fully-functional appendaged Willem Dafoe come out of his cavernous walk-in omnidirectional shower, his blunter thumb sorting through this whole confusion while toweling off with the thirstiest cotton he had procured on the international market of towels. As he scrolled various news updates and social media posts and silently took in the situation,
he was not so amused. A serious man bereft of such amusement leads to droning stillness. Such droning stillness leads to wet towels wrapped around a body to fall off— in of itself not an inglorious end to his peculiar member— standing there restlessly naked as he had many times before. Does not a cool draft in a silent bathroom resemble a pang of self-recognition, a reminder of former transgressions, a chance for the past to settle itself down or, in that instant,
to sow the wind?[6)] Somewhere in that ruined building, Dafoe knew, were the charred, grease-painted remains of seven pseudo-kabuki actors he had worked with from To Live and Die in L.A., the last spiritual holdouts of a film he retained mixed feelings about, they who pined for a restoration of their cheated stardom when the critics had piled on like rabid gerbils. Fractured stories had reached him after he moved on from the whole thing: the troupe his disastrous Rick Masters assembled in support of his counterfeiting enterprise had never disassembled after post-production, sparsely attended underground performances in the experimental theater circuit circulating on VHS and other copies lurking around on pirated special edition laserdiscs for a more discerning L.A. clientele, attempts to break into the so-called legitimate art world, the stubborn shared belief in a Second Coming of some sort, how charming. Warehouses broken into. Face paint reapplied. An old RGB projector rolled in to screen their best moments against the wall inside, reminding them how they were much sexier back then. To Dafoe, the hearsay sounded exactly like it should have to him. Something had always been off with them during filming. Only once did he hear from them in the years following, a bungled reaching-out through his agent regarding a meta-porno tape starring racier outtakes of his Rick Masters filming himself, spliced with additional outtakes of the pseudo-kabukis to ramp up the quality some, plus an eager Wang Chung supplying the background music,
and was it not Wang Chung who had ridiculed Dafoe at the film’s red-carpet premiere at Pantages over said possible meta-porno ushered out by William Friedkin? How those two effete poseurs both claimed they would pay real money for ownership and exclusive distribution rights? Not before long did Friedkin, overhearing an escalating argument in front of the note-taking crowd, come over for the smoothing out of this disturbance, pulling aside Dafoe to assure him no such footage from the film existed, he was all but certain, maybe he would check into that later, okay then? Okay, Bill, sure— no, fuck that empty gesture. There was no comfort for Dafoe. A night of celebration ruined by Wang Chung. They took their stupid little joke too far,
he would explain in mea culpa maxima to his aggrieved, dyspeptic agent over the humble bounty of fried chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s, having donned a baseball cap signaling his undying support for those faraway Giants of Yomiuri instead of the local team, buffeted by As Seen on TV Hi-Def wraparound tactical sunglasses for additional protection,
all for the art of artlessness, the artlessness of excessive life. In Dafoe’s prismatically contagious mind, transgressions heaped upon transgressions in the bitter neon effluvia of those unfortunate people who should have never been hanging around the scene in the first place. How appropriate they were in this empty warehouse all to themselves, Dafoe assumed incorrectly then, going as far to give himself the suggestion they were on the run from something, locked themselves inside, and torched the place as any devoted Branch Davidian cornered would. Their fallen Svengali Rick Masters would have wanted the wholesale destruction so, picturing the air with its repellant motes hanging in the fading sunset which tore through holes in the corrugated metal. Resembling their authentic counterparts on the other side of the ocean, the pseudo-kabukis were nothing if not appropriately dramatic,
sayeth the noble example of a famous kabuki actor long ago deciding to publicly end his career by rowing a small boat out of the bay of Edo and into the yawning ocean, never seen again, a far truer exeunt,
and especially detrimental to certain major insurance carriers, as a numb, fully dressed Dafoe would calculate later the next morning through mostly impassive reports, given how seven dead actors destroyed in their process numerous valuable works of art in storage at that warehouse, many of them from the deemed Abstract Expressionist period featured in prominent displays across the country and internationally, including such exceptional paintings by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Rabo Karabekian, Nat Tate, and Dreyfus Lent,
forever associated in the collective memory of latter-day Angelenos with a deathly pallor that will hardly be obscured by my own continuing forked path knifing its way along to them, as nothing obscures life in this city, something which, I hesitate to confess, is beyond my control. Only the outcomes of those who prefer calling it home provide any interest to me after the fact, as do the circumstances by which some are afforded fame in one measure or another, and leave themselves waiting for the next turn,
if they wait long at all. Pay no mind, then, to Jack Hues and Nick Feldman, those magnanimous surviving members of Wang Chung, who were not adverse to a request for their performing a cover of Mozart’s “Requiem” in D minor, K. 626, for those seven dead actors at the request of relatives who, to be sure, had not been in close contact with any of the deceased over the years since To Live and Die in L.A. vanished into the good night, even if the duo were unnerved by the gesture of burying all seven together in the same plot with the same ceremony. Jack and Nick knew these people, in a way. Then the self-conviction lapsed. No, they had never met them. No way. Nor did they meet Willem Dafoe or William Peterson or anyone else connected to the production. Did the soundtrack is all. A glorious soundtrack it was, too. Often they mused how anyone with the sound of their soul watching the film could doubt the frenetic, high-charged, up-tempo theme destined to be played in lieu of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every Lakers home game and propel the Magical Earving Johnson to additional performances of the sacred triple-double? Could any other future anthem have orchestrated the corrupt wiles of Rick Masters, that counterfeiter, art immolator, and patron of the theatrical arts, with anything less than the synth-pop magisterium blowing a cocaine-trailed tunnel through the increasingly spongified brains of the audience? Maybe, Jack and Nick reconsidered, something was left to explore in those craggy depths,
including ancillary residual benefits,
as a convex screen television turned off in a modestly decorated den somewhere in a budget-minded enclave of Topanga Canyon.
How much pork lo mein do we have left, Jack asked.
Not much, Nick replied, peeking into the fridge. Dangerously low.
Shit, let’s do the gig,
Jack muttered in resignation, perhaps already conceding those garish walls of Time and Fate were closing in on Wang Chung— that is, what little they could see of them in their pure performance of something not exactly “Requiem,” the premature thrust of that familiar Introitus riding instead the synthetic peak of a single note they wanted to have hover in the air forever, wafting through the sunny breeze against rumblings of not-so-distant traffic, though not for much longer than a pained breath of the attending bereaved would allow
as the coffins containing seven pseudo-kabukis were lowered into the ground at Eden Memorial Park Cemetery for the grace of wooing eternal rest that I had not provided,
there stood performing the two grim progenitors of a Wang Chung they themselves had wrought long ago at my personal beckoning, dreaming with oversized synthesizer keyboards of all sentience at its end, the terminus scourged with primal fire as its terrible dawn swept across a digital plain, calculating without regard for the listeners in mourning how it may touch those stirring desires of something that once was in To Live and Die in L.A., not rejuvenation, not renaissance, but a former pulse taken anew, what had been forgotten amongst the audience who thought they already knew a beautiful energy so fantastic in the synaptic capabilities of a future humanity, both terrifying and wonderous, unimaginable yet casually accessed, projecting itself along a path of looped staccato beats and the occasional glittering sheen of arpeggios heavily filtered to find, at last, seven people laying in the earth, dead by their own hand, their own madness, and their own mediocrity, leaving this world without their art in tow, and achieving that which civilization in the cerebral algorithm could not: resignation, swift, brutal, final.
Hhhuuussshhh, my friends,
for the few family members of the pseudo-kabukis in attendance, unaware of a death that could no longer be by the design of those who had already experienced it, even with the inclusion of this New Wave interpretation of a beautiful musical lament, were too waylaid by despondence to understand their place between tragedy and comedy, so they silently sang together with Jack and Nick their most sincere Wang Chung to the confused fewer in attendance than expected, their homage to former dance hall days filled with a greater need that manifested itself in various bulbous body parts, to a former decade of carefree abandon and perhaps misunderstanding the world around them to such a degree that their ignorance could attain the supreme knowledge of this life regardless, a world fed by nothing but a great need amongst
I, you, and everyone we knew,
including a distracted, unmarried cousin who had flown in from upstate New York and nervously requested “Let’s Go” afterwards, sensing that Jack and Nick, not ready to pack up their keyboards yet, would be bored enough to graciously say, Anything for a fan,
though later at the wake blithely immune to Jack contemplating an elaborate joke he and his bandmate had played on themselves for the sake of imaginary theatrical comrades, which they were decidedly not. The singer-cum-voice modulator hovered over the act and legacy of these questionable dead actors while Nick binged Champales at the pay bar, ruminating for nostalgia’s sake with attendees about their To Live and Die in L.A. soundtrack, admittedly some of their best work, he beamed proud, which the entertainment community here adored without reservation. The entire soundtrack achieving an instrumental zeitgeist of The America Belonging to Ronald Reagan notwithstanding, he felt Wang Chung was due well before their juggernaut “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” his typical public posturing, despite quieter misgivings about that chart-topper being a callous sell-out of earlier, more seductive material from Points on the Curve. Yet Jack’s morbid stubbornness returning to the stony ground,
in some faraway shadow of a bulldozed building that had held their favorite recording studio,
cheapened these accomplishments of Wang Chung for Nick, waking up alone the following morning to nurse a brutal Champale hangover, resolving to grab Jack in a valiant attempt of reclaiming lost dignity, and instead sob uncontrollably to his own headache,
We’re the lousiest frauds,
while Jack would be likely re-heating in the micro-oven his fourteenth egg roll in three days,
didn’t I tell you we never should’ve thrown in with those orientalist kooks— now look at us. A goddamn pop band? Us? That was Tangerine Fucking Dream reclaiming the funeral circuit,
ad nauseum. Not that I let this angry conversation happen, however tempting it was for me to have the scenario play out, given a choice availability of semi-dull carving knives in the kitchen where Jack’s imagination tended to escape Nick’s endless permutated whining. In a generous turn of the page, a preferable option I allowed their self-pity to inhabit:
As he woke up alone one morning to nurse a stubborn hangover of unknown origin, Jack went after that impenetrable peak in his hairspout with more gusto than usual in an attempt to forget that the grandeur of Wang Chung had been wasted on, among other crafted assortments, a cat-and-mouse deluxe drive-in feature with little revealed about the inner workings of the human mind or about the mysterious gestures of self-defeat telegraphed a mile away welcomed by the antagonist. Only a city
where people are used and re-used in a never-ending cycle of grift and blackmail and mistaken identity and a couple clever lesbians waiting until the corrupt charade plays itself out to cash in. Such silly men,
who somehow had never been hunted down by the valiant authorities of lawful behavior before, much less connected to a mass casualty event with the ravaging of valuable artwork thrown in for punctuation,
found their resolve begin to deteriorate with expanded coverage of the so-dubbed Great L.A. Warehouse Fire, the pseudo-kabukis themselves, multiple exposés on their cult-like adherence to a possible meta-porn tape featuring Willem Dafoe as a godhead substitute, and various Dafoe podcast interviews in follow-up,
as Jack readied a blistering public rebuke through a lawyer friend while oblivious to Nick’s ethical pragmaticism winning out in a secret back-channel,
unbeknownst to those within the law enforcement community wondering aloud in front of reporters whether it was time for those individuals who call themselves Wang Chung to come forward and start explaining things. Those charred remains of seven pseudo-kabuki actors cried out for justice, they claimed (meanwhile neglecting the art world’s considerable pain over the torched paintings), and Dafoe sitting down to talk would be agreeable, diplomatically added the new District Attorney’s raised index finger,
warmed up by presiding over thirty-six hours of tense back-and-forth negotiations, leaving the two forlorn holdouts of a recognizable goddamn pop band to turn themselves in for questioning, under dubious pretense of a misdemeanor charge for not securing the usual permits to conduct a live performance at a public cemetery,
yet Jack and Nick proved no canaries, their suspect informational delights not obtained by simple philanthropical patronage or loose confederacy with exuberant gadflies. Obfuscation and misdirection came naturally with their professional backgrounds and previous experience in the music industry, along with an erratically successful public education steeped in networking through the mutual admiration of various contraband. Not before long were Jack and Nick’s gaudy tell-all’s going in conflicting directions, however, and with enough sprinkled truth accidentally corresponding to plot developments from To Live and Die in L.A., their interrogators about to crack a vast conspiracy wide open, they wished, salivating over prospects of establishing the connection between Dafoe meta-porno, Hollywood luminaries, and multiple corpses from old unsolved cases, all topped off by Wang Chung singing not only Wang Chung at a funeral but the incautious melody of their own eventual legal demise, a tune scattered among the ashes of those pseudo-kabukis who followed Rick Masters to his fearsome, cyclical end. The lack of satisfaction in moving this ship of fools along soon preyed upon all parties involved. Much remained unknown with these passing coincidences, bizarre occurrences, deviant insertions, gross confabulations. And these would never make sense to agencies outside the dream-laden fishbowl that was Greater Los Angeles,
where no one put faith in any of the other fish drifting around the edges. If their artifice wanted you to take a swim in what they called the rain, you hide in a den and let them think later you did. If they asked you to swim along together, you follow a few feet behind them. You could stay both wet and dry that way,
Jack’s lawyer wanted him to believe, eyeballing a senior detective now hanging on his client’s every word about an art world cocaine ring and the warehouse fire being quote-unquote payback for unsettled accounts― which he did believe, Jack said, because of this favor he had to do way back when,
Far-out old artist guy, the vocalist finally confessed in his most tender breath-voice, that beholden name carried upon the same relentless exhalation I have made my redundant waiter listen to well past the kitchen closing, only for his sweaty, timid distress asking my coarser face,
Welcome back sir, what you have.
 The Prophecy (1995, Dir. Gregory Widen). Assuredly, among cinematic incarnations, a most handsome shape of the preposterous lot. Viggo, you do amuse me, but pray not by the fingertips when your hands are slippery with the blood of seraphim.
 Angel Heart (1987, Dir. Alan Parker). The sad, strange case of Harry Angel? No, more like the sad, strange case of people who never see their evident retribution coming, even after speaking its name. The blood to be cleaned away by a mysterious younger version of him, a retroactive insurance policy collecting on itself and depositing the earnings in a vacant tenement building no city can bulldoze. No surprise to Dreyfus the Deft, then, that Harry is the man he himself seeks. It is different work, as he is reminded of by the ironic employer— for the ironic employer we always work for when it is clear we should not, this one being arguably the worst ironic employer imaginable because of his false obviousness beyond all doubt of what Harry is seeing. The money is good, sure, so what is it to him? Chicken feet got a little meat to them— should you know where to bite. So many tiny bones to gnaw on. And eggs. Crawfish. Telephone numbers. A series of (un)lucky coincidences signed by proxy. Oh my, this was a movie designed for a razor, Dreyfus understood well, independent of foreseeing his own encroaching mortality play out with Harry jumping Toots at the door of his apartment and out it comes, in many respects. No, not quite yet, Harry just roughs him up, and with incentive after Toots pulls out his own straight razor (How fast, Dreyfus admires) and slashes Harry’s hand (Skilled move, Dreyfus further praises, since Harry has the jump on him as well as size— the element of surprise is forever meaningless), and with Harry getting that bit of info from Toots he did not get earlier at the Red Rooster, it is all good because he is talking now. Prior to filming the scene, Mickey O’Rourke had considered what it would be like to hold the open razor while taking his cigarette in his fingers. It is slipping because of the blood from his wound, but O’Rourke does it fine and smiles, which is probably why Harry does not remember later cutting off Toot’s semi-functional appendage and shoving it into his mouth until he suffocates, leaving only a long-delayed flashback in his wake and ours. Pretty picture. Almost resembling a Masonic symbol lost in its own subset hieroglyphics. Harry is indeed building things in his beautiful, destructive wake. But he does not keep the razor. Then the movie ends in grossly predictable fashion (for myself, at least— do I need to explain?), and Dreyfus wanders out without feeling the breeze on his face and without presaging his own death. Drop the razor and leave it behind for other people to find. Do not care about it. Look for yourself without realizing it and someone is going to laugh maniacally at you. Roll credits / long, dark elevator ride to the final abode (if only I could laugh in parenthesis, too). Who told him he should go see this film? It was probably Vivi. She wanted him to feel bad that night. Well, it sort of worked.
Stopping at the Frolic Room for a nightcap, with her in his head now as he eavesdropped a braggadocio’s vain attempt upon a disinterred woman next to him at the bar, he considered why the ironic employer did not hold the razor himself, despite his politeness and decorum and cultural sensitivity to his surroundings. Harry did it when he did not do it, though he did do it because he did not. Picking up a razor not his is his original error, especially when done in the guise of enjoying oneself with it. Had he enjoyed holding his own razor? No, not likely. There is no enjoyment to be had with it in the dark, unless shaving another person in the dark. Shaving each other. Because this was well before the sad, strange case of Harry Angel. Before dismemberment and the unsurprising deaths of involved parties who were overdue on payment.
The hand wielding the razor not his is never aware of it. Most unlikely, Dreyfus determined, his shot glass hitting the counter. The cut on Harry’s hand the easiest stigmata in recorded history, more so than that other one. Pondering the dying words of a useless man talking with his semi-functional appendage.
 Lust for Life (1956, Dir. Vicente Minnelli). Kirk Douglas, that epoch of frail nobility, a man pushed far past himself by other men who are never frail. The straight razor his Van Gogh carries as a gift has already been place in his hand by the audience well before this film starts, leaving no surprise as he threatens boorish roommate Gaugin while also being inordinately fascinated with hanging lamps. As Dreyfus watched this in a small arthouse theater near Venice Beach, it occurred to him he had no brother to play the role of Theo (for some reason, the notion of having a sister was ludicrous), hence he had no legal benefactor, whether he wanted one or not. The rest he found contrived. A bit. Art is the best imitator of life, the movie says— with some tweaking of the message involved. Meaning Art is death as well. Or Art is the death of something, though Van Gogh’s willingness to place himself, however tenuously, in his impasto world was not compelling enough to Dreyfus despite Douglas’ usual best efforts. Still, Van Gogh’s infamous self-mutilation as signifier of his insanity: what may be Dreyfus’ own? Maybe with practice and no longer suppressing his romantic impulse, invented or otherwise. Who would play his Gaugin? Always a spectacle in confronting the secret villain one believes was their friend, I had reminded him on occasion, for sharing the spectacle or killing it. The disguise of its utilitarian harm, that razor of Dreyfus forever folded in half, safely kept from harm. The fiction of its destructive power (how everyone persists getting it wrong about the man cutting his entire ear off), tempered by the self-deluded kindness of Douglas’ portrayal. Greatness lies in Van Gogh’s razor, not his paintbrushes. The razor is in every cornstalk, every lilac, every vertiginous star that never existed but in his torment. All the colors made a yellow province instead by brother Theo. All the letters that were never sent.
Would the implied greatness of Van Gogh, of his paintings recede with the passing eons, as went his suffering with him? Dreyfus remembered the museum in Amsterdam dedicated wholly to that suffering. Is that what Dreyfus wanted for himself? A veritable church, one built on a razor, and made to look easy.
 To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, Dir. William Friedkin). Dreyfus had once come back in his receding mental archives to a newspaper article about a typically disturbed man of ill repute battling― he claimed, the article claimed, the Pope claimed― terminal brain cancer who wanted to see this significant crime drama prior to its official theatrical release. He wanted very much to let everyone know he was dying soon and, having lived in Los Angeles his entire life, fancied its title was suggesting at face value all the answers he had spent this entire life searching for in the city were waiting for him. He could not meet his maker otherwise. A forlorn tale of pathos, or at least slightly sadder than what I am used to hearing under usual circumstances. Then again, neither the studio nor his simple lie of fragile mortality obliged. In retreat, he watched the movie alone in an Encino cineplex two weeks after opening day instead, after the commotion of public interest simmered down to a negligible afterthought.
With rare occasion of a few days to spare, I made my usual unexpected visit to see how the endeavor had worked out for this demented fellow. Did you find those necessary answers from that movie, I asked him, my interrogation ripe with a plush, earnest concern I could best feign. Yes, I did, in a way, he explained in a timid voice. Following a significant pause, he added he was disappointed, unrelated to the matter of the empty shell his misguided presence had occupied in this misguided world up until then, stemming instead from his unrequited desires, the movie's exaggerated promise of full-length pornography featuring its main antagonist, Rick Masters, as played by Willem Dafoe, as well as any lurid quality it could potentially muster, given how Dafoe's art immolating character begins to film it himself in the movie with his sophisticate girlfriend before the scene transitions away elsewhere in Los Angeles. More than anything, he sighed, his ellipsis trailing into that safest of oblivions where his beloved Dafoe was no doubt smiling back.
Say no more, I told him. And I made so.
In renewed light of his notoriety for this false claim, frivolous lawsuits, and other unremarkable scam attempts to curry the public’s sympathies over the years which followed, a brief obituary of sorts for this small man of no real consequence to anyone was buried amidst those other interwebbed features of the Entertainment section in the digitalis extremis Los Angeles Times, buoyed by a novice column editor’s somewhat erroneous (read: satirical) decision to run a photo still from the movie of Dafoe naked but with his then-youthful ass mostly cropped out, including details of the man’s eventual death by natural causes (ahem, please forgive my degenerating lack of hand-eye coordination) used as an insert caption, led more than a few individuals in the prodigious entertainment community, including his busy agent, to superimpose a previously forgotten man with a previously forgotten action drama on top of, and I quote, a creative fan’s lurid obsession with a non-existent porno film all 1980’s cinema enthusiasts wished had happened. Because the death of other lessers must amuse those about to leave this poor world themselves no less poor.
 Antichrist (2009, Dir. Lars von Trier). What would Dreyfus the Dignified have made of this underwhelming debacle of a misnomer? A tinge of regret I cannot say with certainty, not that I am beyond mere casual speculation, only I am well versed in the limits of Dreyfus’ cinematic taste buds, those having been scraped down over the years of our working relationship to an alluvial paste. With a film like this to weigh, how I do miss his irregular moral guidance appearing when his admirers thought none was to be found in him, yet a spark to rise in my titular self.
 Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Dir. Sergio Leone). Cheyenne asks for his razor to be brought to him by Jill so he can see the train coming up outside as the railroad is being built by laborers. Before he gets to shave, he cuts himself (accidentally?) on the cheekbone or thereabouts the moment he hears Harmonica’s shot killing Frank in the final showdown off to the side. He changes his mind about shaving, but he is already slowly dying from a gunshot wound to the belly that he has not told the widow about. He reacts instead to the cut as if it is a novelty, as if it had never occurred to him that he could cut himself shaving, all the while his own death creeping steadily onward. Perhaps by no coincidence this is when he feels the need to dispense sage gunslinger wisdom to her as parting words: Just pretend like it never happened. The cut magically disappears when he steps outside. He dies a few minutes later while seated on the ground.
Any harmful particle intrudes, becomes a weight absorbed, Dreyfus understood, and is aging.
 Gangs of New York (2002, Dir. Martin Scorsese). For certain do I know Dreyfus would never make it past the opening scene: ruffian priest father deliberately cuts himself with razor before going to mangy battle against other ruffians not led by a priest, hands razor to young son who then motions to wipe it on his pants, only for father to stop him by instructing, The blood stays on the blade. So it does, hovering as a riddle to the boy until he becomes a man ready to cut himself as his father once did, just to learn a trivial lesson about history’s soiled shirt collar.
I do not care much for riddles, despite what my magnificent longevity may suggest. I have all the time in the world so that I am afforded no Time for myself. How is that for a riddle, my doomed wunderkinds?
Previous Lentian men were not particularly aggrieved to cast their own fathers in such mysterious, ritual terms, and Dreyfus the Dour was no different insofar as whether he thought about his father at all. This movie could have provided a fine reminder for me to ask him. Having no father myself, technically speaking, I am always curious about such matters of the heart put in stasis until much too late to resuscitate them. As this movie tries complicating notions of who a father is and how false fathers are strangely seductive in a dragon’s wing kind of way (until they are easily uncomplicated by thoughts of revenge returning), no telling where Dreyfus’ mind would have travelled amongst the other men in his life who had meant little to his sense of destiny.
 Apocalypse Now (1979, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola). The faces of men listening to Kurtz’s recorded audio diatribes, including his dream of a snail moving along the edge of a straight razor and surviving, ranks among Dreyfus’ greatest low-key disturbances while seated. This harrowing voice becomes the pretense for Willard to accept the mission to assassinate him, not merely out of spiritual lethargy or having little say in the matter, but a voice that calls out to him, and that need much later to confront him, as narration after the fact explains, always seeking to confess and justify his intentions as he moves headlong towards certain death along with his unsuspecting cohorts on the boat who will die without listening to Kurtz’s voice themselves. Sublimity, the jungle is thine.
The dream of the snail may also explain Kurtz’s compulsion for the beheadings beyond the anecdotes he will give Willard later about that delightful baby arms incident and his mostly memorable epiphany about horror and moral terror, both good for a modest chuckle from yours truly. While one may survive having their arm chopped off, decapitation is the clear zero-sum gain of them all that Kurtz envisions regarding the impossibility of the snail traveling the razor’s edge. Perhaps Kurtz continues his beheading spree waiting for the one who will survive his gesture— in this case, Willard, whom he shares an affinity with that is rooted in their native Ohioan territory. To be sure, Willard is never threatened with decapitation despite the sacrifice of Chef plunked into his lap just to remind him of certain realities of his present situation, but the physical and psychological torture meant to re-create Kurtz’s own decapitation (of sorts) when he understands his own futility and the U.S. military’s in Vietnam. Kurtz conducts this gesture under the premise that Willard has already begun it by expectation of his line of work, as Dreyfus succinctly noted in the opening when Willard cuts his hand shattering a mirror and his slow recognition of what he has done to himself. Willard, however, will not complete Kurtz’s gesture without help. Does Kurtz do so thinking that Willard will take his place at the radio and continue the diatribes. He looks somewhat surprised at that moment of his command being officially terminated, turning from the radio to find Willard there, then acquiescing to Willard’s brutal hacking away at the darkness where he assumes Kurtz’s body is. Not once does the audience hear Willard again after the final voice-over about his intentions. He never calls in the airstrike to Almighty. Thus the snail returns home to civilization on the Nung River, cut in two lengthwise: the bloodied warrior Willard carrying Kurtz’s word-body, and his dazed newborn Lance. Cue the rarest tear from Dreyfus’ left eye.
 Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). Mr. Blonde never shows the razor until he does. He never alludes to it, threatens anyone with it, and then it’s out. No reservations with the gun. But he keeps the razor his little secret, perched on high from a stack of crates no one sees him climb.
Newandyke’s tough luck, then. Same for Nash’s, but different reasons: “Stuck in the Middle with You” is K-Billy’s choice background tune as though establishing his ethereal bearing to rampant violent crime in Los Angeles through the radio, thereby sealing his de facto role as accomplice, whether inspirational or otherwise. If not for that, the warehouse is quiet, save Mr. Blonde’s banter. Newandyke slowly leaking out, remaining Mr. Orange in the mind of the other gangsters, only so important. Nash sweating. Trying to barter for time. Mr. Blonde has a taste for making these deals. There is always enough of it. No clock exists in his head. He does a little dance with the razor to make his point.
Really, this movie keeps persisting its various pointless conversations. With severed ear, as Mr. Blonde shows after he is finished, he cannot help talking himself under. So many ears to talk to under better circumstances. Mr. Blonde has waited for this one, out of them all, to work the razor, and have his conversation with Nash, one policeman out of many, not much to offer in the way of anything other than his pain masked in duct tape.
Dreyfus did not care much for what followed next. This surprised him. Or it did not surprise him. Or maybe he did like it, did not want to admit it, he wanted to get the whole scene over with so he could move this glorified one-act play along to its inevitable conclusion. Even with the camera moving off too conspicuously on the scene with Mr. Blonde doing his homoerotic lap dance, disturbing his sensibilities to the point where the association with what he had seen at the 24-hour strip club blended and merged into a predictable and unwholesome union he found unbearably tedious. He would have fallen asleep right then if not for the gunfire snapping him back to attention.
Later, when talking to a police officer after the hubbub subsided, Dreyfus recounted honestly how he had not seen the two parties in question exchanging terse words over some imaginary dispute needing to be settled right there. Nor did he see the gun coming out, a common and dusty .38 with a previous story awaiting ballistics. That well-worn axiom of these violent delights, etc., he reminded himself. Someone had their ecstasy along with Mr. Blonde. While drinking away the rest of the evening at home, as he was forced to construct his own ending to the movie he had already ascertained based on the typical male stupidity of the opening dialogue at the restaurant, only then did the disturbance reach Dreyfus the Downtrodden. We’re just gonna sit here and bleed. He was not pleased with the development.
This bothersome, foolish trajectory had more to do with why Dreyfus was in the theater to begin with, ranked in the following order of highest priority first: a razor no longer wiling its time away in his medicine cabinet, a Los Angeles with no sense of artistic comportment, an instinctual short-circuiting of his seeking out the kind of mundane dialogue he would never have with people (or, at least, wanted to have). These are the conversations other people have when they have nothing left, he mused while watching the news broadcast of an arrest finally made, a bewildered looking man who told a reporter on the way to get booked at the precinct that he did not know his victim but had his sensibilities offended by some epithet directed at him. Otherwise, he was a regular at that theater, preferred action movies, and the title of the film had led him astray, he groused.
 Bram Stroker’s Dracula (1992, Dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Not the final movie he intended to watch before dying but, since it was out there and he had no premonition from me of his death like some unfortunate acquaintances of mine, it would have to suffice him.
That said, a mere device of infrequent levity, this one. After acquiescing to the Count’s brazen advances— so shameful they crack a mirror on the bedroom wall— Harker’s handing over the razor for a morning shave to someone who had nearly impaled him with a sword over a dinnertime insult could be surest indication of a secret death wish to avoid marriage back in merry old Londontown. Instead, the forgiving Count playfully gives him a good nick on the throat, turning away from him for an indulgent lick in full view of the audience. Blood can be vintage comedy in the right hands, Dreyfus thought, until it reflects that garish Jesus character and spoils the punchline.
He stood up and left the theater to complain to management for the first and last time in his life.
Forrest Roth is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Marshall University in West Virginia. He is the author of a novel, Gary Oldman Is a Building You Must Walk Through (2017), and a prose collection, Skeletal Lights from Afar (2022), both from What Books Press. “New Wave Kyrie…” is taken from a novel in progress, with other excerpts appearing in Black Sun Lit and the Triple chapbook series (Ravenna Press). Links can be found at forrestroth.blogspot.com.