Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Part I

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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-9

Once, Philip got off the bus in a Montana town perched above the flatlands he’d just passed through. In the far distance, black and purple rain clouds had been pasted into the otherwise empty sky. The vapor trails hung down like chromosomes. This all happened a long time ago and nobody knows it. Might as well have dreamed it.
Once, Philip had a crush on a crazy. Roger, the crazy, was in love with Madonna, and had mailed her furniture, naked photos of himself, and dog shit...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 10-16

Raymond arrives late, just as the training is getting underway, in a large conference room that looks like it might have once been a high school gymnasium. The roof seems too heavy for the walls, the whole structure in danger of buckling or collapsing in slow motion. Raymond squeezes in between a large white man in a crumpled suit jacket and a young, perky woman wearing boots and leg warmers under a denim skirt. Along with the nonjudgmental, almost conspiratorial smile the perky woman flashes him, the leg warmers and boots suggest that she is not a clinically trained Substance Abuse Counselor or an...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 16-25

Being a psychic alone hasn’t been paying Leon’s bills, and so he’s taken computer work. He’s paid to spread rumors in chat rooms, to get people talking. About Star Trek cell phone rings, for example. Have you heard about the new Star Trek cell rings? It’s changed the way he views chat room interactions, forever, he tells Philip. For one thing, there’s all kinds of bots out there, chatty little programs just jabbering away. Often, the only other people he can definitely identify as human are doing exactly what he is....

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Chapter 4

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pp. 25-34

Usually, it is night. A few restless hours and then at some dark and nameless hour Raymond’s eyes pop open for good. He checks the BBC news or Al Jazeera for the pictures that the American newspapers won’t show, pictures of a one-armed Iraqi girl, pictures of a little Iraqi boy with his face smashed so badly he lost an eye and has difficulty breathing by himself, pictures of a despondent father with his child’s corpse cradled in his arms, and after whipping himself into an enervating frenzy of horror, prints up a picture of a boy with his leg blown off by an American bomb, tapes it to the refrigerator, then rides...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 34-41

And so, everything has already happened. The doorbell rings and, beyond it, the dim buzzing of noon. A buzzing like summer, like swimming pools loaded with chlorine.
It’s Philip’s oldest friend standing on the front porch, here for their lunch date. Bob Miller looks worse than Philip’s ever seen him. Bob Miller has always been lanky and awkward. Now he’s gaunt and unshaven, with a lurid abscess on the back of his hand. The sunlight is unforgiving. After a warmish hug, Bob...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 41-53

After dropping Philip off at the airport, Raymond meets Ralph at Fairy Lane, between the windmills in Golden Gate Park. Ralph looks good, despite himself. Playing tennis has kept him trim, and he wears faded work shirts that emphasize the pale blue of his eyes. With his hair closely cropped to de-emphasize the bald spot, he’s successfully working a distinguished daddy thing, projecting an entirely false sense of self-assuredness, dignity, and financial security. Ralph thought he might find either a new leading man or a demanding...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 53-65

In Iowa, Philip’s just missed the shooter’s funeral. At the far end of a windy church parking lot, the shooter’s widow and the son are just climbing into the backseat of a maroon sedan, then disappearing down one of these crooked roads with their police escort. A sheriff’s deputy is perched nearby in a jeep, keeping watch over the shooter’s grave.
The dirt in the cemetery is spongy and dry. There are no flowers at the unmarked grave, no clues, nothing to interpret but some anonymous, freshly scratched earth....

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Chapter 8

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pp. 66-68

When Raymond gets home from outreaching, there’s a message from Howard on the machine. Howard loves to leave a message. He rambles on for several minutes about movie stars that Raymond’s never heard of, about political movements from the ’20s and ’30s, and about a cute boy he’s seen on the street, He’s gorgeous, he says with a sigh, and even his sigh has a New York accent. And butch, he adds, très butch, and then the machine cuts him off. The only other message is from Dhoji, but after she yells Philip Raymond pick up the phone! I know you guys are in there! she just waits a few seconds and hangs up. Raymond heads...

Part II

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pp. 69-70

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Chapter 1

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pp. 71-79

When Geordi took Felicia to the town in Mexico where his grandmother grew up, Felicia was surprised at how volcanic eruptions had produced such elegantly symmetrical forms and delicately shaded features in the landscape. Erosion had blurred the story as well. Where was she? Always the aftermath of something, always the middle of some process, always just now. Being a blonde in Mexico had exhausted her. Geordi kept going back past that house, where his grandmother grew up. It had been fixed up, and strangers lived there. Finally, Felicia dyed her hair black. Geordi looked at her sometimes like he didn’t...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 80-94

In the UC Berkeley Library, Geordi often loses all sense of time. The Main Stacks are windowless and subterranean. There are strange knobby trees outside and everywhere but he might as well be lost in this forest of words. Oh you wretches, you unfortunates, you pretenders to the truth, you falsifiers of knowledge—can you still bear to listen when it behooved you to be awake from the first? Geordi isn’t sure if the trance state he sometimes enters while contemplating his thesis qualifies as being awake or being asleep. The alphabet is like a kind of vegetation, like the bones of dead plants. Regimes of Meaning: Signs and Their Dynamic Fields Within...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 95-103

For the Roost article, Felicia would like to separate Melvin’s things as much as possible from his own ideas about his things, and approach them as an archeologist might. On the other hand, the question of Suspiria keeps nagging at her. She pops her head into the bedroom where Geordi is getting dressed. The only thing scarier than the last twelve minutes of this film is the first ninety-eight minutes, she says. Is that a logical sentence? Geordi looks at her, uncomprehending. Sorry, she says....

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Chapter 4

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pp. 104-110

There’s a stench of manure here and land that goes on flat as forever until it gets all tangled up and smashed looking in the vicinity of some river or creek. The same river or creek that runs past the East Liberty Home for Boys most likely. This is the Glick farm. Most days in Iowa, Philip pops a few Vicodin and makes a halfhearted visit to the home of the only one of the grieving families he hasn’t yet spoken with—the Glicks seem to have left town, but he knocks on the front door and stands a minute, then knocks on the side door and stands a minute—and then drives around aimlessly, hoping to spot the boy in the gray hoodie....

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Chapter 5

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pp. 110-118

How do you like the underground prison? the warden asks. Lonely enough to welcome even me? The warden will allow Scorpion to enjoy the sun, but for one day only. We’ll treat you like a human just today, he says. Geordi scribbles that sentence—We’ll treat you like a human just today—into his notebook. He’s pretty sure he’ll use it in a poem.
The warden says, I’ll be leaving this prison. You’ll grow old underground.
You can never go outside so I’ll tell you the truth, the warden says. I hate you for ruining my eye. Nothing else matters. I’ll drive you mad....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 119-126

The woods around the East Liberty Home for Boys are moist from the rain, rotten and wet like a lesion. In the daylight, however, the old ruin is barely terrifying. The flies are still buzzing in the old storage room, but it doesn’t smell like anything’s dead in there. Some melted wax around the swimming pool where the girl was sitting the other night, but no occult symbols or demonic incantations.
Upstairs, Philip scratches another mark beside the shooter’s son’s illegible scrawl. Another day in East Liberty....

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Chapter 7

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pp. 127-138

Ah heard yer workin on a new anthology, the email says, and since ah’ve always been a fan, I thought I’d let ya’all know that I have a story ah think’d be perfect fer the book. Jes let me know and ah’ll send it on yer way. All the best, Huey Beauregard.

Felicia’s position is precarious. Poised so reasonably within the flimsy, conscious crust of matter. A troop of children passes by her window, dressed up like skeletons, witches, fairies, serial killers, pop stars, and prostitutes....

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Chapter 8

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pp. 138-142

After driving through several deserted, caustic portions of small thuggish cities, industrial areas with poor lighting, and past more than one clearly marked entrance back onto I-80, Urszula pulls over again. Geordi doesn’t even bother to ask, but she tells him anyway—it’s supposedly to consult her map, a battered, stained crinkle of paper. This map has been the pretext for all kinds of sinister maneuvers and so Geordi, in a burst of initiative, opens the door and runs into the night....

Part III

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pp. 143-144

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Chapter 1

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pp. 145-156

Jared is taking Melvin on an endless journey through New York to see Ground Zero. A descent into the underground, warring tribes, and incomprehensible languages, all crushed beneath the mechanical functioning of an invisible empire—the subway’s an old movie.
It’s like an experience he’s already had, countless times, and yet he totally hasn’t.
Come on, Jared says. This is our stop.
Up above, Jared says, Stick with me. Trust me, you don’t wanna get lost around here....

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Chapter 2

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pp. 156-173

Always the framing. Leave out the modern building next door, the hybrid parked in the space out front. Ralph wants surfaces that convey desperate romance, the delicious follies of youth, the ravages of time. A suggestion of rubble and vacant lots, decrepit architecture halfway in ruins. He always wants the same things, if it’s horror or it’s porn.
We don’t need to get artsy here, Tony insists. It’s an action scene.
The owner of the liquor store, a former boyfriend of Tony’s, has offered them use of the store next Sunday afternoon, when he usually closes. The...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 173-183

Philip wakes with a start when the phone rings. It’s absolutely dark, but his cell says three a.m. It isn’t his cell that’s ringing, however, it’s the motel phone. It rings again, louder than would seem possible.
He gropes and manages to answer it, but there’s only silence. His motel room is kind of like a premature burial. A click and the dial tone. He lies awake then in what feels like an endless darkness....

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Chapter 4

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pp. 183-195

THE MORNING OF MELVIN’S DEPARTURE, Jared’s really nice to him and gives him a warm plate of fake bacon and toast. Melvin’s arranged a ride to California with a young bald guy wearing sunglasses and with crooked teeth. Jared doesn’t think that’s a smart idea.
Who knows what kind of things these people are into.
I have to go somewhere, Melvin says. I have to do something.
When the car comes around and honks and a young bald guy wearing sunglasses is driving, it takes Melvin a minute to realize he’s never met this guy...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 195-205

Felicia is chatting with Diane Middlemarch. Diane’s second novel, Mademoiselle Q., was widely praised for its unflinching look at “erotic devastation,” a description that Felicia prefers to the novel itself. But she respects Diane’s work, and Diane is a name. Diane has agreed to send her a short piece for the anthology, and after they gossip a bit about other contributors, it occurs to Felicia that Diane might be somehow connected to Huey Beauregard....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 205-211

Freddy’s Marine is reclining on Freddy’s sofa in a way so reminiscent of one of Ralph’s porns that Philip is momentarily disoriented. The guy’s shirtless and wearing a Santa hat, a garish centerpiece that distorts the focus of Freddy’s cramped and overwrought apartment. The overflowing bookshelves and gay trinkets and brass candleholders with weird inscriptions in foreign alphabets and ivory-handled letter openers and bell jars all seem to be in orbit around the musculature of his chest. Philip could swear he saw some war propaganda—some photo of our boys in Iraq—composed in exactly the same way. But now he can’t quite suspend his disbelief enough for even the basic social conventions....

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Chapter 7

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pp. 211-219

The sociopathic queer gang dons their ski masks, and bursts into the store, toy guns in hand.
For a moment, Ralph ceases to exist and becomes the role: a terrified, but not completely surprised clerk, still eating his sandwich mechanically. The clerk is thinking: The need for life to devour other life is the most evil principle with which you could build a world. He remembers his tooth infection, his dizziness, the suicidal thoughts that came with it. Face to face with death, the clerk is having a silent realization: He’s been living his life unnaturally, as if tranquilized. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 219-236

Drizzle alternates with fog. The city is hushed and muted; junkies are passed out on the sidewalks, dreaming. Everyone is sleepy, daydreaming, walking in their sleep. As November turns to December, everyone is dreaming the same sort of dream. They’re all dreaming they are dead.
It’s as if they’ve been hollowed out, as if they’ve been separated forever from the only thing they ever loved, before they even realized what it was.
There is music in the dream, but not time. Here is the dream: a barn on a dark road illuminated by electricity from the farthest reaches of space....

Part IV

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pp. 237-238

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Chapter 1

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pp. 239-245

NOT A TRAVELER SO MUCH AS A POD, inhabited by a cultural injunction to be miserable. People go off here and there for the holidays and Felicia finds herself one of them, flying Oakland to Long Beach. She’s trapped inside a vast machine, a psychological garbage chute of Botox ads, Christmas tree earrings, and before/after shots of celebrities who’ve had surgeries, addictions, or anorexia. But on her tiny TV screen, a documentary about santeria. Deities flowed into each other, wore each other’s masks, humans could either represent the deity or become the deity. She switches it off, takes off her earphones. She isn’t just inside the...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 245-248

IT’S CREEPY, WATCHING MELVIN’S tender little brain wrestling with a book. Lautréamont was right, Philip’s pretty sure. Turn back! The lethal fumes of this book shall dissolve his soul as water does sugar. Philip sometimes opens up some tome he digested twenty years ago, at Melvin’s age—The Soft Machine, Gravity’s Rainbow, A Thief’s Journal, or the book that Melvin’s reading now with all of Philip’s underlinings, from 1987 or 1988, still intact, Juan Goytisolo’s Landscapes After the Battle—and discovers, with a feeling of some dread, that thoughts that have become so much a part of what he considers himself, thoughts he’d imagined...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 249-252

A cup of coffee and a sandwich alone in the so-called arts district.
It feels like I’ve never been born, says the woman behind Felicia. That’s what I feel like today.
Sonya Brava said something like that to Felicia once, with an even more despondent tone of voice. Sonya the extrovert would collapse from time to time, exhausted from her constant performance as a clown, a writer, a human being, but sometimes Felicia wondered if the collapse was also a kind of overdramatization. Sonya would sit in her pajamas and talk about suicide in a detached and...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 252-264

The thing about Christmas is that it’s just making Melvin want to be raped more than ever. He’s got Ralph’s apartment to himself and nothing to do but watch it happening over and over again. He’s gotta admit, he’s pretty convincing. He keeps saying Jesus fuck in a way that seems totally real. The movie ends with the man and the woman dumping him out of their van. Melvin argued the last shot should have been the one where he’s naked in the bushes along the side of the road with that enigmatic smile on his face. You’re the muse, not the director, Ralph insisted....

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Chapter 5

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pp. 265-268

A voice is saying that the hotel room is boring. She lists a lot of reasons, starting with the pattern on the bedspread, which is so ugly it makes her faint. She suggests that maybe it would be okay to watch cable TV, just while they’re here. A man is saying that HBO is not one of the ingredients of a godly life. It’s basically porn. Shhh, says the woman’s voice. I don’t want you to wake him up. Somebody switches the channel, and a quiet voice is murmuring something that sounds like my Mormony soup....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 269-274

In LA, while Geordi grabs a coffee by the bookstore on Vermont, Felicia calls Charles Scott. She tells Charles again how much she loves the piece he sent her for Sexual Outlaws of the New Millennium. He apologizes again for having come on to her so aggressively ten years ago. He doesn’t really remember it, actually, just a drunken haze of lust that her name somehow still evokes. He’d love to see her, after all these years, but he’s in some state of deshabille. The explanation for this is long and witty and confusing, involving medications and unhealthy relationships to money. Not to mention he’s on deadline for the obituary he...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 275-280

Geordi misses Felicia terribly already; without her he would be so lost. He’s betraying her to spare her. Not horror, but maybe an overwrought idea of “Geordi,” of what Geordi might do. Despite the odd, bubblegum pleasure that motion brings him today, north through the city to the 5. Onto the 5 and up toward the Grapevine. He has never thought of himself as a traveler. A reader and a familiar road, certainly. And yet he thinks of this as a “trip,” which suggests meaningful signs, a distinct movement through various stages, a cohesive series of mental states, or a lesson. The actual relationship is only with himself—the....

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Chapter 8

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pp. 280-286

A voice is saying that second-generation robots aren’t capable of evil unless they are programmed to do evil. But with a third-generation robot, the real-time simulation is creating something like a memory of the past and an anticipation of the future, so that robots can examine their own actions and behave differently based on their insights. This model can be built to take into account some aspects of the robot’s own state: Is the battery charged? Is the engine running too hot? This is the beginning of self-awareness....

Part V

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pp. 287-288

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Chapter 1

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pp. 289-296

Danny sits in Freddy’s dim apartment facing west—the most masculine direction—over a wintery hustle down below on Divisadero, in a kind of bloody twilight, reading Freddy’s great work, so far, a book-length poem. Now that Danny’s fucked him, Freddy’s busy “composing.” Freddy can’t focus, he told Danny, until he’s been fucked. He’ll call for Danny at odd hours, desperate for inspiration. Danny respects people who make extreme demands from reality. Danny has theories about extreme demands from reality, but he keeps them to himself—it is in the nature he has chosen to keep things to himself. He’s read...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 296-307

Since Dhoji first appeared at Raymond and Philip’s door a decade ago, after sneaking out of Ricky’s house with a suitcase and two babies, her ascent has been relentless. She’s clawed her way up from Philip and Raymond’s futon, first to a studio by the MacArthur BART and then to a Section 8 apartment in creaky, flag-waving Alameda. She’s back in Oakland now in a three-bedroom house, all of it hers but the landlord’s clutter underneath. Ricky, meanwhile, has careened from one wreck to another. Wrecked trucks, a wrecked liver, wrecked sex dates, and a hand. He got careless with the skill saw, cut half...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 307-312

In Felicia’s favorite Can Xue story, there are three characters, but maybe only two. A man and a woman, lovers. The story’s full of time markers, but there’s no way to make sense of them. The man also has a male companion, or maybe he isn’t real, or maybe she isn’t either. One of them says, I’m the puzzle inside the puzzle! One of them tells self-deceiving stories. He is an antenna that she has drawn and he belonged to the night. The symbols on the walls were all alive. There are ghosts involved, or wandering souls, or the story might have obscure meanings that have totally escaped her. Two Unidentifiable Persons. It ends with...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 312-319

When Philip was young, or younger at least, a hustler he met on Polk Street gave him a copy of his metaphysical treatise: MAGIC WORDS. Philip keeps the manuscript in a drawer with a variety of other texts he’s acquired over the years, mostly from schizophrenics. Philip and Johnny would stand around on the same corner, and then one night Johnny invited him to sleep over. Johnny’s bleak subterranean apartment was nicer than the room Philip was staying in, although it was almost empty. Johnny told Philip that he was leaving in a few...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 319-325

The last time Tony hung out on Polk Street, Mark had just come from rugby practice. He was sweaty and wearing shorts, and they’d had a beer at one of these places that isn’t even gay anymore.
We had a beer at a straight bar on Polk Street, he tells Ralph.
They’re sitting in Tony’s car out front of the Good Vibrations. Women in scarves carry flimsy plastic bags, a man in polka dots, crazy women in shorts and slickers and floppy hats....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 326-330

The circus is coming to town, Tony tells them. Or rather, the circus has always already been in town, biding its time. Huey will have a reading. Well no, not exactly a reading: an event. Rock stars and literary giants shall be reading his work and photographs by the up-and-coming, super-edgy artist he’s collaborated with for his forthcoming Drowning Man Press book shall be on display, photographs inspired by the work of Huey Beauregard.
Roland Warner, the publisher of Drowning Man Press, is a counterculture legend; he started out as a hippie student of abnormal psychology in...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 330-333

Outside Huey’s big event for his Drowning Man Press book, Raymond will pass the time doing push-ups and reading the posters of missing animals and persons that are pasted onto every available surface of the city. A man Raymond’s age named Jerry has been missing for over a year. “Jerry has a medical condition and needs medication. He has a scar on his shin, and a reddish-colored blemish on the center of his forehead.” A thirteen-year-old girl with slick hair has been age-progressed to sixteen. Sometimes goes by Badass Tina or Baby Money or White Tina or Weasel Girl. One of the missing children...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 333-338

Back in Berkeley, over a late dinner after the reading, Geordi suggests that Huey’s lack of features brings him close to the Mutazalite concept of God. As it turns out, Felicia tells him, as shadowy as he is, Huey does have several consistent attributes. Felicia says that Jane Dunlove interviewed Huey for Poets & Writers and told her that Huey was crazy for fried squid. Oh yes, Huey absolutely loves fried squid, the masochistic writer Farrah Alexander confirmed by phone later in the afternoon; she’d had lunch with Huey just a few months ago at Le Bistro Monique after having chatted with Huey on the phone for years,...

Part VI

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pp. 339-340

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Chapter 1

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pp. 341-347

As Philip’s about to head over to Freddy’s, Melvin and DJ show up at the door. DJ’s looking a little worse for wear, grimy and bedraggled, his pants soaked through. On the Mission Street bus, coming over from the Excelsior, he wet his pants.
Yeah, I used to wet my pants, too, he reassures the boy. We all did, when we were little. Not a catastrophe. Just a minor accident. You didn’t bring a change of clothes?
Forgot it, says Melvin....

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Chapter 2

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pp. 347-353

The bar has a Celtic pagan-like world-tree etched into the window and so Melvin thought it might be a kind of mystical place, the sort of place where a kind of revelation about the meaning of everything might finally coincide with the most intense orgasm of his life. In fact, it’s just full of snooty people on the make. Ridiculous prices for drinks he’s never heard of, but at least Paul is buying. Someday Melvin might explore the world of people with career goals. Melvin has never met anyone who seems more like a sick rapist than Paul and would have thought that before the second beer he’d have been...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 353-357

If Freddy and his twin aren’t identical, they’re just close enough to be freaky. Freaky, like actors capable of playing each other, body doubles who’d perform each other’s nude scenes or dangerous stunts. Freaky in that their entire personalities then seem like costumes. Even freakier because they are “discordant” for sexual preference, as Franz Kallman would have said.
Freddy’s twin looks like a reticent, bearded, heterosexual Freddy.
Franz Kallman was one of many evil scientists obsessed with homosexual twins. A scientist in the Nazi eugenics program in the ’30s, Kallman studied...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 357-363

Rockin Rebecca’s memorial service is held at the mostly gay nondenominational church in the Castro. Felicia buys a copy of Rebecca’s novelette and then stands in the back, by the snack table, watching to see if Sarah will show up. Hard, unripened, dark red strawberries surrounded by equally stone-like cantaloupe slices and then a tray of cheese and crackers. Probably the body was sent back to the Midwest, where Rebecca’s Methodist minister father will bury her. This likelihood is suggested by the bio on the back of the novelette. There’s a synopsis on the last page: It’s an “enlightening, provocative, sexy and exciting...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 364-370

Okay, this question is for you. What can you do when you realize you’re not where you want to be?
For example, tigers once ranged widely across Asia: Turkey, Java, Siberia, Bali. But they’ve been eliminated from more than 90 percent of their historic range and there’s maybe only 3,000 to 4,000 of them left in the wild. Just one hundred years ago, there were more like 100,000.
Fossils of tigers have been found from about 1.7 million years ago roaming the volcanic crust. Pretty soon, they’ll only be in zoos.....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 371-377

My dear Felicia—

It was certainly great fun to hear that someone else knows the scoop on Huey Beauregard—however, as far as putting you in contact with Drew Malone, and further, soliciting from him the lurid details of the crimes his wife’s goddaughters are perpetrating against literature, I must be explicit in my refusal. Drew is a lifelong friend, who has been enduring a more than seasonal malaise. His constitution has been needlessly overtaxed by too many years negotiating...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 378-387

The city’s left-leaning free newspaper is located in a former industrial zone, now taken over by vast show houses filled with $3000 bidets. The conference room looks onto the backyard of a dingy apartment complex, where a young boy is attacking a bush with a plastic bat and cursing at it.
Something will break inside him or somewhere in space. He would like this.
Maybe it’s just a trend, young humans decimating vegetation, taking out their anger on “nature.” Can we still use that term without irony, I don’t know....

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Chapter 8

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pp. 387-392

Leon’s apartment is nothing like Felicia pictured it. There are no mystical insignia, curtains embroidered with stars and moons, no candelabra, no crystal balls, no tinkly bells. The energy of the space is defined by the soothing indifference of the aquarium fish to any human life that isn’t feeding them, and by the large-screen TV. A skinny woman named Thea with enormous teeth is reporting on a spa in Iceland where Hollywood types go to recover from their ailments. She speaks breathlessly of the magical rejuvenating properties of the sulfur baths,...

Part VII

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pp. 393-394

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Chapter 1

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pp. 395-416

Jail is nothing like Melvin imagined it, and yet it’s somehow exactly like he always knew it would be. Okay, he decides, he can work with that. He’s going to have to conquer Disgust. He’s going to have to learn to be free within his mind and just deal with the nasty food.
After Disgust, you have to conquer Boredom. You have to mark it off each and every day, he is told by his cellie—a tranny, Miss Bronzi D’Marco—so as not to go insane. But another, more persuasive resident—probably already insane—assures him that the only way to experience this sort of time is to lose...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 416-421

There’s one of Sonya Brava’s stories out of Muchacha Was a Sex Monster— Felicia’s favorite—where a middle-class Mexican-American woman goes to Cuba and has constant sex with a poor Cuban philosophy student. The story is Sonya at her least narrative. It’s all just descriptions of sex and philosophical discourse. It sounds awful, but Sonya made it work. In Sonya’s hands it became more than just softcore porn and Foucault....

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Chapter 3

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pp. 421-430

Philip has his father drop him at the hospital directly from the airport. He doesn’t want Bob Miller to be dead before he even gets there. The waiting room outside Intensive Care is big enough for a wedding, a class reunion, a valedictory address—and yet Philip feels miniaturized, a new specimen tossed into a muffled vivarium. Bob could easily already have died, while Philip was flying over Nevada or western Colorado, while he was changing planes in Denver. It takes Philip a stunned moment in this vast self-enclosed universe...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 431-434

IT’S LATE AFTERNOON, and Geordi is viciously blotting out paragraphs of his thesis with a black marker, when his aunt calls. Geordi’s granny is in the hospital. The neighbor girl found her.
Geordi leaves his thesis behind, throws a few things in a bag, some clothes, some weed, The 8-Fold Garden of Space and Time, the notebook from the tent, and drives straight toward Bakersfield.
Around Livermore he gets mired in rush-hour traffic.
It always startles him, the obvious fact that there are too many people. Too...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 435-438

Raymond wakes up in the middle of the night with the rats chewing and rustling out there in the dark. Everything is packed into boxes, ready to go. He gets up to ride his bike until daylight, out through the cold and drug-addled streets of the Mission and beyond into the colder and practically deserted streets of the Avenues. Out past the scary Catholic university where his father went to school and into the Richmond District Avenues, where it’s just Raymond and an occasional cop car and the ghostly blurs that keep pace with him for a moment before veering off toward the trees of Golden Gate Park. Maybe he should...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 439-443

Amos is waiting for Philip at the barricades with the full outfit: hat, suspenders, blue shirt. He looks different, but almost the same.
It’s July and so Iowa is squashed and sultry, shimmering with humidity.
They drive together, mostly in silence, several hours south, toward the lake where Amos’s mother killed herself. On the way, they stop at an abandoned house on top of a hill. An ugly prefab box plopped in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a small highway. Amos’s stepfather used to rent the place, and the garage beside it sits wide open, still stuffed full of the stepfather’s trash,...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 443-448

Melvin thought he’d have a chance to argue his case, to reconcile the official events of history with his own version, but nobody’s in court. Felicia has gone “abroad,” and Philip had to go back home for some emergency, the public defender tells him. They enter the plea of Guilty of Child Endangerment and Melvin is sentenced to time served plus two hundred hours of community service and he’s free.
Time served, over five months.
Outside again, in the city, it all comes rushing back. Maybe murdering time ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 448-450

The street is empty outside Sarah’s apartment. The night wears a billion shapes in the darkness. The darkness under a layer of fog obliterating starlight and the waning moon.
It’s often the middle of the night.
You are no stranger to that empty feeling. The chill and the despair. Somewhere, outside in the darkness, Sarah’s future bridegroom is creeping relentlessly toward her. Sarah suspects that evil has been defeated—for now. The angry mob. And yet Huey has abandoned her. His little broken sighs, little...

Part VIII

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pp. 451-452

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Chapter 1

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pp. 453-461

Dhoji’s been drinking when she calls with the news. After an endless series of phone calls with the old boyfriend in Wisconsin, he decided to come live with her. He’s been here for two days.
So how is he? asks Philip. Is he aga?
Don’t say that, Dhoji says. We’ve known each other since we are kids.
So what? says Philip.
I have a surprise, Dhoji says.
If you’re pregnant, I’m done with you....

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Chapter 2

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pp. 461-463

Gloria Carrera’s answering machine light is blinking when she gets home, just after dawn. She hates that.
Really, she’s just been gone overnight. She slept in the forest. She didn’t die there.
Now that Tony has flown off to New York. Now that he’s left her house again, she can breathe.
She doesn’t much care. Out in the forest, she mingled with the earth.
She fixes herself some sandwiches. Enough for lunch for the rest of the...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 464-467

Ted always needs just a little bump, not much, to get through the night shift. He needs to transform the night shift into the Penny Arcade Peep Show. Each booth an ancient film flickering a cryptic charade he both watches and acts in a luminous language of embodied symbol systems forever. He’s still feeling the bump as he emerges from the basement of the Nob Hill Theatre’s video arcade into an oddly cheery morning—is it Saturday again? The fog is burning off already. Down the hill to the Internet café....

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Chapter 4

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pp. 467-472

Howard cries for the hundredth time as he watches the big scene of Frank Capra’s final film, Pocketful of Miracles. And what’s wrong with being a sentimental old man? He always cries when bad people in movies do good things. When they find that spark of virtue in themselves and sacrifice something for America or for their families or just people in general. It always gets to him when the gangsters in this movie finally escort the bride and the groom to the waterfront for the sake of Bette Davis. Bette Davis is really an old bum named Apple Annie, but not even her daughter, Ann-Margret, knows that....

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Chapter 5

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pp. 473-476

The town’s name is nahuatl for “place with an abundance of sand.” The volcano looms above it. It’s pretty at first but then you kind of just forget about it. When Geordi was an undergrad in Boston, a city he decided was the most racist city in America, he read Pedro Paramo. There was no resemblance between the rhetoric in his Latin American literature class and on the streets of Boston. He went to another planet every Tuesday and Thursday for an hour and twenty-five minutes and then he returned to the dorm room where he was tormented by a guy named Connor, his clueless, sadistic roommate....

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Chapter 6

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pp. 476-483

In Marrakech, Melvin and Freddy sit around the Djemaa el Fnaa with this old Spanish writer, Juan Goytisolo. Freddy and the writer speak in Spanish or sometimes French mixed with English and so Melvin just sits there watching people scald themselves for money. He knows what Jared would say—funny, isn’t it, how everywhere you go, you end up with gay men. Next to their table, somebody’s drinking gasoline and then breathing some half-assed flame. Nobody’s been saved. Not once, no matter what they say. That makes Melvin feel better. Mr. Goytisolo tells a story in English about Che Guevara. Melvin...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 484-490

Alone with the mist. Alone with the evolving forms, the erosion. Alone with vapor and stars, the idea of stars, with the idea of atoms and time and nothingness. Alone with a mind so packed full of language and people, memories and ghosts, that it’s like her mind is a crowd and Felicia isn’t alone. But she is. Alone with the lichen spattered on volcanic rock, with ice, with blue and orange and blue. Alone with the idea of blue. Here at the end, nothing is settled. Everything’s in flux....

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Chapter 8

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pp. 491-496

The man’s voice is saying, Why is he putting toys down his pants? Why is there a little man in his butt?
It’s just a toy, the woman’s voice says. Maybe he’s hiding it.
DJ refuses to open his eyes, even as he is picked up off the bed, and then dropped again. The little man is blue and handsome and thinking very hard. He’s irresistible.
What did they do to him in California? the man’s voice asks.
DJ won’t open his eyes and he won’t cry and so his dad just keeps spanking...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 497-498

This novel first developed from my interest in the stories that surrounded me during a particular time, in a particular place. The goal was always to make a structure and a space that could contain voices other than my own. Nonetheless, it is a work of fiction and it is mine. While some of the stories are distorted versions of stories I’ve been told or have read, the characters are not meant to represent real people, even if they share the names of real people or have written the same sentences as real people....