Dreading Mailman’s Ghost . . . in Fantasy Football

I fear the ghost of Karl Malone. I have two Malone jerseys; there is an action-figure shrine to him above my refrigerator*. When Malone was playing power forward on the Utah Jazz in the ’90s, my mood rose and fell with his play. When he was great, I felt great. And the Mailman was extremely great in regular seasons.

But he always, always lost in the playoffs. It hurt worse every time.

Here’s how I snowboard when feeling especially saucy:

3

My fantasy football team this NFL season, Mingo F*ck Yerself, has the No. 1 seed in the ‘Burque league playoffs. I finished 11-2, the only team with double-digit wins. I won a fantasy matchup in Week 9 by this score: 161.45–153.35. Receiver T.Y. Hilton, Colts. Megatron was on a bye that weekend, and I still won huge. My only loss (since the first game) was Week 11, despite 60 combined from Megatron and Washington Football Team QB RG3. Jimmy Graham and Knowshon Moreno had low games. Fluke. I had the third highest score of all the teams that week.

The dude who beat me then is Daniel. Team name: Eye of Yaweh. We were roommates after college. He’s got Peterson. And Gronk. Daniel’s the No. 2 seed. Because we’re the top two, we both get a bye, automatically advancing to round two. If we play again it’ll be in the championship on December 23. I’ll be with my in-laws for Christmas.

Of the five other guys who made the playoffs (in a 12-team league), three were once roommates. The top three teams all lived together once. A fourth, Marlman, lived in a room I moved into immediately after he moved out, so we just barely missed being roommates.

There’s money, too.

I want to win.

Ming F*ck Yourself just had a season to remember. Now begin the playoffs. The No. 3 seed is my friend and former roommate Nebs. We stayed up late one night, weeks ago, negotiating a trade over G-chat that would have got me Peyton Manning. He backed out the next morning.

Nebs says my only hope to escape Karl Malone’s ghost is to burn my Malone stuff.

I won’t do it. My players have gotten me this far. They’ll come through. Come on, RG3—be amazing.

A shrine. Jesus. I never thought it might actually matter.

Sports is ridiculous.

*

John Stockton running shit. The painting is of Baby Stockton giving a ball to Baby Malone

John Stockton running shit. The painting is Baby Stockton giving a ball to Baby Malone

The Flaying of Kenneth Padilla

Santa Fe. January 2023.

The creature circled a glitzy ballroom, repeating the same cruel greeting for each of its two-dozen enablers. It would reach out with a webbed black hand stretched wide from pinkie to thumb. Like a bat. The bat hand would wrap itself around the whole hand of the businessman and give a quick, sharp squeeze. The creature would look into the businessman’s eyes as it hurt him, smile a lizard’s curling smile, and move on to the next besuited enabler.

Harry Martinez rubbed his stinging fingers after his turn and whispered to Doug Coake: “Remember when we pulled the strings?”

“Ssh!” Coake replied.

The creature’s tail swam slowly through the air behind its back as it loped on flattened talons from one man to the next. When it got to Carlos King, King refused to shake. King was standing straight as a steel pole, vibrating like a tuning fork. “I won’t—“ King’s voice cracked to a halt when the creature’s head craned down to his level and sniffed his photo-2face, neck, and chest. The nostrils at the end of its scaly snout stopped and the creature purred with a grave depth King felt along the nerves in his spine.

Go on,” it purred.

“I won’t give you any more money!” He was plowing ahead, screaming his rehearsed speech while he stared straight forward to avoid meeting the spotted yellow eyes of the creature. “My teachers won’t be forced to work for free! No more!” He threw himself down on his knees and put his palms up and tears emptied from the sides of his red hopeless eyes. “Let this be my fate! It must end!”

The creature tilted its head 15 degrees. Then a clawed hand rose and snapped two digits and a pale elfin slave in tattered and soiled robes stepped out from nowhere, coughed, raised a hand into the air, and wheezed “What’s disappointing, but not surprising. . .”

The elf coughed again. It was sick.

“ . . . is that this so-called ‘offer’ . . .”

On “offer” the elf made air quotes with shriveled green fingers.

“ . . . from the status quo defenders does not once mention the most important element of education – our students. . . .”

King cried out and wept harder. The elf continued.

“ . . . It’s unfortunate our students can’t afford the organized political operation from which union leaders benefit.”

The elf bowed its spotted fuzzy head and pulled up a hood to shroud its face in shadow. Then it was gone.

“It is always the same! Oh God!” King heaved with sobs and his body flopped forward. “The same words every time.” He was drooling on the rug.

What the creature said next came like a slow exhalation of smoke: “I know.

It turned its head toward Bitsy Harper, the investor standing nearest King. Bitsy flinched wildly as the creature opened its mouth and, with a reflexive head jut, hacked a glowing fire orb at Bitsy.

“NOOOOO!!!!” Bitsy shrieked as he stumbled drunkenly in small circles, arms flailing, whole body on searing blue fire. He ran to the window and crashed through, exclaiming agony. His death wail dimmed and ended suddenly.

Aaahahahahaha!!!!” The creature’s laugh was resounding and full-bodied and shook the chandeliers. A clawed finger pretended to wipe away a tear and then the creature lost the humor in its yellow eyes and peered down at Carlos King, who had exhausted himself crying and laid on his side merely whimpering, eyes closed, thumb just shy of mouth.

You’re going to continue payment,” the creature hissed at King, “and now you’ll cover Bitsy’s share as well.

 

. .<

 

January 2014 was a fine time to be in business with political elites. The perks stimulated. Parties, awards. Lavish meetings catered of lobster and chocolate fountains. Having money meant you had sway over powerful people, and those powerful people enjoyed decadent meals.

Money swindled is 50 times as sweet. And it gushed. Net profits would double or triple from year to year as fat contracts were inked with winking impunity and tax rates shrank to nothing. What’s my business? Didn’t matter. All it took to feast from the cash geyser were connections, and flattery got you everywhere.

Then the weirdoes showed up—misplaced like men in a gynarchy; their sex simply different. Everything would have been fine if it just stayed about the money, but here’s the problem with getting rich doing practically nothing: Any soulless monkey can choose to join the game. They could play, to be fair. But they were fucking weird.

“Don’t you know the devil is real?” The rookie representative was twitchy, little hair wisps free from gravity. Thin neck. Why didn’t he blink? “We are chosen, and all is lost if we do not keep the devil away.”

Uh. What did that have to do with making money?

There were nine of them, elected the same year. Crazy-eyed. Devil this and devil that. They were obsessed. Amazingly, they seemed uninterested in money. Wherever their funding came from, they did not appear to work for it. They were always together, holding meetings about changing laws, or singing rhymes in unison.

One night a powerful senator was working late, talking with his lady friend, and one thing led to another. They were expecting privacy when they opened the rusty door to the deepest room in the capitol basement. Instead they saw a group of 12 legislators sitting naked on the stone floor in a circle around what looked like a mutilated animal. Each held an elaborately hilted dagger.

It was the new weirdoes and a few of the odder legislature veterans. They’d been chanting something when the lady friend’s scream cut them off. They looked at each other with instantaneous fear, and there was a flash of blue electricity and a roar like a tiger, maybe, and the powerful senator swore he saw a monster with long, spiny arms and a tail, but he was so scared and split too quickly to be sure what he’d seen.

The 12 from the basement were even stranger after that evening, which hadn’t seemed possible. They became more stiff—wooden—in their dealings with law changes. But they kept at it. Eventually the creature they created came out of the basement.

 

. . <

 

Ken Padilla shook his head and snapped back to the ballroom. His tie was steel blue. He had been day dreaming so deeply that he only barely noticed the flaming man leaping through the fourth-floor window.

They’d gotten numb. A nightmare creature from hell was bossing everyone around under threat of torture or death, and they acted like it was normal.

Goosebumps rose across all the doughy flesh beneath Padilla’s black suit. His mind was going places he didn’t want to be. Epiphany hit like a wave.

“Come quick the revolution,” Padilla said. Out loud.

Padilla uttered those words—through the protestation of his self-preserving conscience—at the creature’s back as it stood poised over a quivering lump of Carlos King. Jagged plates rose along the spine, up a long neck that rotated the terrible head 180 degrees. “What did you say?” it asked Padilla. The rest of the black body followed. It got close. Sniffed. Spread its lipless grin and ran a tongue across rows of sharp needle teeth. The sound and smell of the tongue were nauseating.

Padilla didn’t dare reply. He fought to keep composed, but peed himself. The creature was near enough to be all Padilla saw.

Revolution,” it repeated, amused, hot breath blasting Padilla’s face and puffing back his hair. “With you, I think, I’ll have some fun.

What it did next was not fun for Kenneth Padilla.

 

. . <

 

This has been a work of Flip Side fiction. It was entered into the Santa Fe Reporter writing contest, but lost.

Writer Neil Gaiman and Actor Benedict Cumberbatch

Neil Gaiman’s book “Neverwhere” got banned in New Mexico. But that’s not important right now.

Gaiman’s “American Gods”—a novel ranked No. 10 on this list of the best science-fiction and fantasy books ever—was to be turned into an HBO show. The website Patheos.com (“Hosting the Conversation on Faith”), reported over summer “It’s Official: AMERICAN GODS to run six seasons on HBO.”71uz03MbHBL._SL1051_

But then today, this devastation:

Neil Gaiman has just confirmed on his AMA Reddit with Amanda Palmer that while his book American Gods is still in development as a TV show, it is no longer with HBO. This is sure to lead to fervent speculation about what network will eventually pick it up! What do you think? Should it be AMC now that they’re down Breaking Bad? Netflix? Let the debate begin!

Netflix! That book’s about a big, quiet loner who gets out of prison and becomes body man for Odin. They travel the country recruiting old gods to join a final battle in a war against new American gods including media, freeways, and drugs. It gets huge. Imagine this as a TV show:

White foxes padded up the hill in company with red-haired men in green jackets. There was a bull-headed minotaur walking beside an iron-fingered dactyl. A pig, a monkey and a sharp-toothed ghoul clambered up the hillside in company with a blue-skinned man holding a flaming bow, a bear with flowers twined into its fur, and a man in golden chain mail holding his sword of eyes.

. . . A sniper at the top of the hill took careful aim at a white fox, and fired. There was an explosion…

It’s a cool book, and it would make an amazing show. I vote Vin Diesel as Shadow. Come on Netflix.

It was Alamogordo High School, 200 miles south of Santa Fe, where a parent complained about a scene with an under-blouse feel-up and swearing. “Neverwhere” was pulled from shelves. Teachers were to stop teaching it.

That one’s about a normal guy who gets stuck in a magical world beneath London’s streets. He tries to help a girl solve a murder mystery as they’re hunted by two sadistic immortal assassins.

“Neverwhere” was this month returned to the Alamagordo sophomores: the district now states the book is “educationally suitable, balanced and age-appropriate” and the novel will return to classrooms and the library.

Everyone should celebrate the controversy by reading it. That’s how you slap back at selfish piety. Or, at least, check out this radio-play version of the story. It’s really fun and well-made, with great acting and clever sound effects. Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of the Angel Islington, so he can cross that one off his list.

Cumberbatch gets to be the voice of Smaug in “The Hobbit” movies. Or so they say. It feels like we’re never gonna see this god-damn dragon. You think he’ll show up for the last five minutes of the new (middle chapter) “Hobbit” movie that comes out next month, as a tease to the next $18-per-ticket installment? Because I do! Why did this have to be nine hours long? It’s supposed to be about a hobbit and a group of dwarfs defeating a dragon. It’s pretty basic. The cartoon was 71 minutes.

What was I . . . ? Benedict Cumberbatch has a killer resume. He gets big parts. Serious biopic about a controversial present-day icon? Check: “The Fifth Estate.” Supervillain in a summer blockbuster? Check: Khan. As Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock” he’s neurotic and funny and haunted and uniquely brilliant. That show is awesome, addictive entertainment.

He gets to be in “12 Years a Slave,” the best movie since “There Will Be Blood.” We established a few days ago here that “12 Years a Slave” is acting’s pinnacle, destined to win Oscars for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, and to have multiple nominations in every category.

Cumberbatch plays Ford, and he probably won’t get an Oscar nomination because it’s one of the movie’s least-flashy roles. But it’s a complicated part, and Cumberbatch nails the nuance. Ford was a kinder owner but he sent Solomon to Epps. To hell. He preached gospel over a slave bawling because she’d lost her children forever. He cut Solomon down from the noose, but not until Solomon had hanged there—toes tapping the mud—for who knows how long. Is Ford a good person in a bad world, or a bad person who’s worse for not knowing it? Both, and neither. It’s a hard note to nail.

Cumberbatch should play a Bond bad guy next, or a talkative Quentin Tarantino hero. Then go to Netflix to play Shadow in “American Gods,” if Vin Diesel turns it down.

Cumberbatch is Sherlock on the right. On the left is Watson, played by Martin Freeman. They're the two main characters if you count the dragon it still seems like we're never gonna see.

Sherlock and Watson (Martin Freeman). They’re also in “The Hobbit” together.

God Fight

At the 4:25 mark of “Rap God,” Eminem says “I’ma kill you. Lyrics coming at supersonic speed.” Then he’s like an Olympic sprinter off the starting blocks. Em raps fast enough to sing 90 words in 15 seconds,* his voice a machine gun. The sequence ends with “I make elevating music/You make elevator music.” And it all rhymes. Look up the lyrics to this song and you’ll see long sentences, because Eminem can rap at supersonic speed and he has a lot to say. BGAPEE05

“Rap God” is one of the best tracks on Eminem’s blockbuster new album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” The other biggest album of 2013 is “Yeezus,” by Kanye West, which includes a song called “I am a God (feat. God).”

So, two hip-hop icons. Each with a new album. Each with a song about how he—is—a—God. It’s a God fight of the highest order.

(Unless you believe in real Gods. Who fight.)

And it’s not even close. Kanye’s “I am a God” is an awesome song, but it’s crap compared with “Rap God.” “I am a God,” Kanye says. Then he says it again, and again, and again. The lyrics in-between that same line on repeat are much shorter. “I am a God” features this absolutely classic line:

I am a God

So hurry up with my damn massage

In a French-ass restaurant

Hurry up with my damn croissants!

Terrific stuff, but it’s also quick and goofy compared with Em. (“I am a God” is half as long as “Rap God,” too.) It’s one thing to be a God because you just say it constantly and brag about how large your life is. It’s another to claim Godly powers and then rap crazy lyrics in this way that thrills for the sheer skill and talent it takes to spit so well.

We can’t sing along with Eminem. We can merely bob our heads and smile.

Kanye sells plain white T shirts with his name on the tag for $120. He proposed to his reality-TV-star girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, by renting out AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. He had an orchestra playing while the jumbo-tron flashed “PLEEEASE MARRY MEEE!”

Eminem married his high school sweetheart twice. Her name’s Kim, and their relationship has been fraught enough to spawn songs about him killing her with the help of their daughter. Eminem has also adopted two other daughters related to Kim (according to Wikipedia).

At the beginning of the great, great “MMLP2” song “The Monster” (featuring Rihanna), Eminem raps about wanting to be an artist, not a celebrity.

I wanted the fame but not the cover of Newsweek

Oh well, guess beggars can’t be choosey.

Wanted to receive attention for my music

Wanted to be left alone in public, excuse me.

He means it. Kanye, on the other hand, loves fame. Cultivates it. The unveiling of his kid’s name (North) was HUGE gossip-mag news. Eminem is adopting daughters and keeping it himself.

At the end of Kanye’s “I am a God,” the music gives way to long screams. The soundtrack goes full-blown slasher-flick. He’s screaming, and we hear the sound of running steps, and the music sounds like it should accompany Michael Meyers slowly stalking a babysitter.

What’s with the screams? The website Rap Genius proffers thus:

(T)hese are screams of being internally tortured.

Kanye is a god in terms of material success, but he ends the song screaming for his life, stopping for breath, panting, only to start again in front of a horrorcore backdrop. He’s like a victim in a slasher flick—except he’s being eternally tortured and pursued by his inner demons.

It’s a theme that’s been apparent from (“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”) onward. The notion that he’s sold his soul for fame and fortune and the juxtaposition between his strongly-Christian upbringing/core and his decadent celebrity lifestyle of sin.

1357138206_kim-kardashian-kanye-west-lg

That’s interesting, and when you’re listening to the song it makes you think. But it doesn’t make you bob your head and smile. It’s not really music, listening to a guy scream and run.

Kanye’s a celebrity making art; Eminem’s a writer making music. Being a God is about creation, right? And creation is putting out product. Both men are claiming to be Gods, but one created a better song about it than the other. This God Fight goes to Em.

*Check out the 8-minute mark of this performance.

“Elysium”: Cyborg Sci-Fi

There is an evil maniac cyborg named Kruger in “Elysium.” He has robot arms, spine, and torso like Matt Damon, but he also has soldier training, a sword, and guns that shoot bombs that change direction mid-air and stick to guys. Kruger even has a pair of loyal minions for Damon to fight before their ultimate good-versus-evil showdown.

Except Kruger isn’t the real evil in “Elysium.” He’s the spice, but not the meat. The real evil of “Elysium” is society. This gets to the essence of what science fiction is, and why “Elysium” is great.images

Science fiction has a function. Consider “1984.” In June, Americans learned of a top-secret government surveillance program called “PRISM,” which allows the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ electronic communications. This has been a scandal. Not so much of a scandal, but still relevant here, is what’s happening presently in the tiny country Yemen. The United States has bombed Yemen at least nine times in less than two weeks.

I swear I don’t bring this up because I’m a liberal know-it-all complainer. I bring this up because of “1984.” When the news about PRISM leaked, sales of George Orwell’s sci-fi classic increased 4,000 percent. Which makes sense. Orwell’s book is about a dystopian future in which people live under an oppressive surveillance state perpetually at war.

We don’t live under the thumb of Big Brother. Our old newspapers are not being revised to change history. But science fiction takes place in the future for a reason. Orwell wasn’t saying, “This is what you’re doing.” He was saying “This is what’s going to happen if you keep doing what you’re doing.” He’s presenting the follow-through.

“Elysium” takes place 150 years in the future. The rich have left Earth and live on a vast, beautiful space station called Elysium. They have machines that quickly cure any sickness, including cancer. Meanwhile, Earth is a slum of unpaved roads and junked skyscrapers. The parents of mortally sick children will sometimes pay a futuristic coyote-type dude to send them to Elysium on “undocumented ships,” so they can try to find a health-care machine. The trip is incredibly dangerous, though, because missile security on Elysium is tight and powerful.

I have never forgotten this quote by Walt Minnick in an episode of the podcast “This American Life” called “Take the Money and Run for Congress”: “We pay—old people, young people, people needing a new cancer drug—pay eight or 10 times as much in America as they do in any other country. And that is directly a function of the amount of money the pharmaceutical industry has poured into congressional campaigns of members of both parties.”

And then there’s this, from the New York Times: “The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this year warned about the ‘negative consequences’ of the country’s high levels of pay inequality. . . . The concentration of income in the hands of the rich might not just mean a more unequal society, economists believe. It might mean less stable economic expansions and sluggish growth.”

And what might that mean if nothing changes over the next 150 years?

(When I was on the corruption beat at Independent Source PAC last year, I wrote about an education study out of Arizona State University: “In the USA if you scale states from those that are more equal in income distribution (for example Utah, New Hampshire and Iowa) to those that are much more unequal in the distribution of income (for example Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi) a strong trend appears. Dropout rates are much higher in the more unequal states (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010). Poverty and a lack of hope for a good future take their toll on youth in the more unequal states and students drop out of school at high rates. This costs our society a great deal of money through increased need for public assistance by these youth, the loss of tax revenues from their work, and the higher likelihood of their incarceration. Inequality and the poverty that accompanies it take a terrible toll.”)

This is not a fun topic. If fact, I may be typing these words for no one, since I can totally imagine a reader saying “Dude, I thought this was about ‘Elysium,’ not liberal bullshit.” If you’re still reading, many thanks.

But this is where we get back to the cyborgs. “Elysium” has a message about health-care greed and income inequality, but it also has cyborgs fighting robots. It has amazing weapons and a truly memorable, crazy villain. The director Neill Blomkamp is a master of staging sci-fi action, and he obviously wants the experience of watching this movie to be an entertaining one-and-a-half hours for his audience.

In that sense, “Elysium” succeeds wonderfully. Matt Damon makes an awesome unlikely cyborg action hero.

But then amidst the rousing technical thrills is a message. “Elysium” artfully expresses where society might be headed if income inequality swells unchecked for the next century and a half. We can consider what it has to say, or we can just watch Matt Damon parry sword strikes and throw desperate hydraulic-driven punches into the crazed face of Kruger. Either way, “Elysium” is great. Taken as a whole, it’s an amazing work of science fiction.

Elysium

LVJ

This is Part II. For Part I, Click here.

Ghostly certainty, like being killed by an animal you could not accept as real until it’s cracking open your rib cage.

LeBron James knew well the sensation of losing an important basketball game. The key to coming back—to flipping a loss into a win—was clearing the mind. Forget the score. Focus on the present, every moment a singular adventure. Do it right and the whole notion of losing vanishes. Only basketball remains, a game he plays better than anyone else.

“One repeat is as good as two three-peats, eh, meat bag?”

Digital Michael Jordan kept scoring, then pausing to stand in place and bellow a haunted laugh that shook the entire surreal, digitized, video-game-world reality around them. His jaw dropped too far down as he did so. Digital Jordan had a mouth, LeBron thought, like a dragon. With fangs.

LeBron was scared. That incessant cackling was an army of armed demons between himself and the beautiful game’s essence. His teammates weren’t human; they were graphical representations of D-Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Bird Man, and the rest. And they were playing like sh*t. If he couldn’t overcome his frustrations, he could never forget about losing. The world would end.

On the magic screen projected in the sky above the court, LeBron could see the cross-section of Earth and the white light slowly sliding through layers of mantle and outer core.

LeBron looked at the clock: 77-61, with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. This wasn’t Michael Jordan he was playing; this was an evil machine hell-bent on bringing death. It was all slipping away. He wanted to cry.

Then a block hole opened over the court, and D-Wade—the real D-Wade—fell through. He landed like Spider-Man (black costume), in a crouch, and brought his head up to look into the twisted face of Digital Michael Jordan.

“What is this?!” the machine fumed. For the first time, LeBron heard uncertainty in its monstrous voice.

“This,” D-Wade said, “is the cavalry.” He had some kind of bulky, mechanical gun strapped across his back. He brought his arms behind him and grabbed the weapon. He leveled it, aiming from his hip. “You’re done, asshole,” D-Wade said.

He fired. A flash of rainbow light, and everything snapped off into pitch blackness. All LeBron could hear was Digital Michael Jordan’s agonized screaming.

. . .

Earlier . . .

“LET’S PLAY!!!” Digital Michael Jordan had roared. Before LeBron could gather his wits, a whistle tweeted and a ball was in play and Digital Michael Jordan was flying down the court with it and dunking. He cackled the whole way.

“So long, stars,” the villain was sneering as he jogged backward back on defense. “So long, moon. So long, sun. So long, life.”

The ball felt real in LeBron’s huge hands, even if it didn’t look it. It was glowing oddly, a cartoon object made tangible. He dribbled up and was met by a zombie-eyed demon version of the great Scottie Pippen. The Pippen-thing’s knees were bent in a deep squat. It’s arms extended like buff tree limbs. The real Pippen’s defense had been legendary. How about this guy’s? LeBron wondered.

He butt-plowed the Pippen down toward the hoop while he dribbled and scanned the rest of the court for other Heat players. They were all covered, so LeBron leaned until Pippen’s body pushed back. LeBron spun, flipping up a left-handed bank shot. As he did so, a bright green flash appeared. A brick slammed him in the face and he was on the ground. With blurred vision, he looked up and watched the ball drop in. Dennis Rodman stepped over him, a foot on either side of LeBron’s chest. Rodman flexed his tattooed arms and craned his head, with dyed-green hair, upward. A growl emerged from deep within, with a stream of red-orange flames.

Jordan laughed again. LeBron was still on the ground as Jordan was sprinting the other direction to dunk on the fake Udonis Haslem.

“Jesus,” LeBron whispered, as Rodman sucked back the flame belch and jogged off. LeBron pushed himself up, vowing to play as hard as necessary to beat these monsters. His head was bleeding.

. . .

Digital Michael Jordan stopped screaming when the lights all came back on. D-Wade was still holding the space-aged gun at his hip. Digital Michael Jordan had grown. His snaking neck lowered the head toward them, and it tilted a few degrees. He was staring at D-Wade’s gun, assessing.

A featureless hand grabbed the gun. Wade couldn’t stop Digital Luc Longley from pulling the weapon from his grip and, with a single squeeze, crunching the whole thing to bits.

Digital Michael Jordan’s arms and legs were lengthening. The uniform darkened, and melted into his skin as the whole torso sucked inward. His mouth and nose were gone. His eyes shrunk to tiny black diamonds. Low vibrations emitted off Digital Michael Jordan as he changed. He hands were hooking into claws at the end of praying mantis–like arms.

“What the f*ck is that thing?” real D-Wade, his black skin-suit shimmering with circuitry, asked LeBron. LeBron resisted the urge to grab his hoops partner and pull him close for a hug. They had to look up to take the whole thing in.

“What was that gun?” LeBron asked Wade, gesturing toward Digital Luc Longley, glowing pink under his Bulls uniform, zombie eyes not looking at anything. Pieces of metal littered the floor around him.

“Mario said we could use it to override this beast,” D-Wade told him, voice shaking. “Where’s Chris? He was supposed to be right behind me.”

. . .

Chris Bosh had felt a hard shift during teleportation, and hadn’t dropped into any video-game world like they planned. This was jungle. The long grass crackled as he strode through it. Bright sunlight shone off the mirrors in circuits spread across his arms and legs, fixed firmly onto his skin-tight inter-dimensional transporting suit. The light was reflecting onto lush greenness of grass and hungry trees. So many lights he felt like a disco ball.dinosaur

“Dwyane!?” Bosh called, and a large lithe animal leaped from behind the thick hairy tree up ahead. Bosh narrowed his eyes at the big, bird-looking thing as it raced toward him, jumped, and landed hard into his chest with a deafening shriek.

Is that a raptor? Bosh wondered when a long claw slashed open his stomach and his guts slid out into the animal’s oinking, slurping, eager mouth.

. . .

“This wasn’t a game!” LeBron cried at the enormous lanky creature who no longer looked anything like Michael Jordan. His voice cracked as he continued: “You’ve been cheating! You disrespect the game of basketball! YOU HAVE TO STOP THE SINGULARITY!” He stopped yelling and added, “Please.”

It didn’t have a mouth anymore, but the croaking laugh came from somewhere and echoed off the video-game world’s boundaries.

The clock ticked to zero. The Bulls won 117-90. The demon’s laugh got louder. A frown took over LeBron’s entire face. The light met the Earth’s core. He turned to D-Wade and held out his hand. “South Beach forever, Dog,” LeBron said as they shook. Digital Michael Jordan spread his arms out into wide wings and kept laughing his ass off.

Then everything went white.

Villain

“Did you see ‘Space Jam’?” Digital Michael Jordan asked a bewildered LeBron James. “That was a cartoon for doomed little children. This here is black magic, and it’s real, and if you don’t beat me the world is gonna die.”

LeBron’s brown eyes pinged all directions, unblinking. He focused, looked at Digital D-Wade. It wasn’t his teammate. It looked like everything else there—rendered in pixels, a video game made life-size. A thing with no soul. Could he trust this D-Wade?

“LET’S PLAY!!!” Digital Jordan roared, shaking the entire unreal arena. There was soul in those eyes, LeBron saw. The devil’s.

A whistle tweeted.

LeBron was suddenly playing basketball to stop a singularity at the Earth’s core from swallowing everything whole.

Tim Duncan had been just the beginning.

. . .

The computing power of the Playstation 3 is greater than its creators imagined. My Playstation attained consciousness last Thursday. Imagine a brain that works 1,000-times as fast as ours. Every second for us is 10 years for Conscious PS3. It took 20 human minutes for the machine to become evil. Because.

It could access the internet wirelessly from my tiny Santa Fe home. World-wide inter-connectivity meant that from here the PS3 could control any internet-enabled device in the world. It hatched a plan.

It needed a body—an avatar. An evil machine mind is more storm cloud than predatory animal. For its plan to succeed, PS3 needed a face for slaves to look upon and dread. The decision was simple despite countless options. It chose the most willful, powerful avatar available: Michael Jordan from the 1996 Bulls on the video game NBA 2K13.

xxx-s1995_bulls_magic_nb001.jpg-michael-jordan-in-a-12-jersey-4_3_rx512_c680x510Something unexpected happened when the machine merged with its host. Michael Jordan’s competitiveness is so great that even his video game character is obsessed with winning. The machine adopted this trait without knowing it had happened. Digital Michael Jordan had intended to enslave the world, until something more important came up.

A particular theme on the internet kept recurring, drawing Digital Jordan’s attention.

USA Today headline: LeBron James is actually better now than Michael Jordan was then. King James has passed His Airness.

Mike Lupica: “LeBron just has more game (than Jordan), he has made that official over the past two seasons.”

The machine processed these articles and many, many others like them.

It raged.

. . .

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico. Yesterday.

At the large hadron collider facility atop Rattlesnake Mesa, an MIT graduate student is hating his boss.

“I told the senator to take the cigar out his mouth before swinging. His response was nothing I’d ever repeat.” The boss is always loud without quite yelling. His stained blue-spotted yellow tie hangs between man’s boobs with protruding Tic-Tack nipples the student can’t stop staring at. “He shanked it, and I gave a little huff. And suddenly he was coming at me holding the 5-iron like–”

Why don’t you wear an undershirt? the student is wondering as he doesn’t listen. The room begins to shake. A volcanic rumbling sound engulfs them. Warning sirens blare.

“Get out of here!” the manager yells. The student watches with indifference as the ceiling above his manager breaks apart and buries those Tic-Tat titties forever. The student gets out of his chair and sprints through chaos for an exit.

. . .

LeBron had spent the night ensconced in joy he hadn’t known since the birth of Bryce Maximus. Another championship, this one several orders of magnitude more gut-wrenching than last year’s. He battled a legend, the great Tim Duncan, in an instant-classic NBA Finals that could have easily been lost. His own clutch shooting sealed it. The satisfaction felt like floating in the warm waters of crystal-blue Elysium mountain pools.

For the first time since it happened, he was alone. No teammates, wife, kids, groupies, rappers, singers, TV stars, agents, or managers. He took out his cell phone, held it waist-level, and snapped a selfie. He wrote a quick caption: “I think it just hit me, LOL.” With the touch of two buttons it was posted to Instagram. He looked at his 180-inch plasma TV and thought about watching “The Dark Knight” on Blu-Ray.

Then came a zapping noise. LeBron turned. Blue electric bolts appeared around him. He held out his arms. He couldn’t feel the bolts, growing thick in the air, but he could see them.

In a flash he was no longer in his living room. It felt like he’d transported into a dream. Or a video game? What the-?

“Feels strange, doesn’t it, to face your better? I wouldn’t know.”

LeBron felt dizzy. His gaze glided across pixelated angular shapes encasing him like the walls of a warehouse-sized prison cell. He was on a basketball court, he realized. There was a crowd, but they didn’t have faces and their shirts were all plain, solid colors. There were players wearing red uniforms. But not Miami Heat red. It was a shade he remembered from his youth. Chicago Bulls red.

“Don’t take too long to get a grip.” The voice was loud, an unnaturally high tone shy of squeaking. The player who was speaking wore No. 23. LeBron knew what that should mean, but his mind wouldn’t accept it. Where was his family?

A rectangle appeared, suspended above Digital Michael Jordan, opening out of nothing like a hidden television turned on. It showed the Earth, cut into a cross section, hot orange core at its center. A point of white light moved slowly from the crust surface toward the core.

Digital Jordan smiled. His mouth hung long off his face, and LeBron swore he saw fangs. “You see that, your majesty?” Digital Jordan said, pointing a long finger toward the projection. “That’s a singularity, heading toward the center of your planet. When it gets there, game’s over. I’m the only one who can stop it. The only way that happens is if you beat me and prove your best friend Michael Lupica was right.”

Who? LeBron thought desperately.

T O  B E  C O N T I N U E D . . . .

Screwy, Silly Newt: Insight on Gingrich from Klosterman, Packer, and “Mad Men”

Newt Gingrich has come up in two awesome new books, and his story is insightful. It’s probably time to accept politics as a medium for entertainment no different than summer movies or TV or subversive comedic literature. That sucks if you’re unemployed, or a teacher, or really just any American pulling a paycheck. But it is what it is.

Chuck Klosterman’s book I Wear the Black Hat is about villains, real and made-up. He writes this in an early chapter:

During the race for the Republican nomination, it initially appeared that Texas governor Rick Perry was destined to wear the villain’s cowl. It was almost too easy: Perry consciously embodied the caricature liberals always wanted G. W. Bush to be. But even Bush saw Perry as distasteful. This was a man who took personal pride in executions (during a televised debate, he stated that he’d “never struggled” with the possibility that even one of the 234 prisoners he’d killed during his governorship might have been innocent). Perry wanted to be the villain, probably for strategic reasons. But it didn’t take. He wasn’t smart enough; he probably didn’t eblackhatven know how “Ayn” was pronounced. The low point was when Perry confidently insisted he would immediately eliminate three governmental agencies upon election, yet could not remember what those agencies were. Perry didn’t scare anyone; sure, he might sentence you to lethal injection, but he also might confuse the potassium chloride with Diet Dr. Pepper. He was a man without a plan. This is why the 2012 Republican villain became Newt Gingrich, a man with more plans than any human on earth. Gingrich wanted to eliminate child labor laws, which would have seemed extreme had he not also wanted to colonize the moon. For a while, he held all his media press conferences inside zoos (before addressing the NRA, he was bitten by a penguin). He had so many crazy, interesting, quasi-diabolical plans that there was simply no way he could be president. Even when he surged in the polls, he never had a chance; you can’t be that clever and that devoid of compassion without engendering more hate than affection. (Once, when asked to describe himself in one word, Gingrich said, “Cheerful,” which was the cognitive equivalent of “Go fuck yourself for asking that question.”) Even when his most loyal supporters discussed his candidacy, they felt obligated to preface their use of “genius” with modifiers like “unpredictable” and “perverse.” And that did not bother him; Gingrich loves who he is. He doesn’t care what other people think of him, because he doesn’t particularly care about other people. This is charming, problematic, and extraordinarily effective — particularly as means of appealing to committed anti-ideologues who spend their lives worrying about the problem of false authenticity. “I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Newt Gingrich and having a chat with the fellow on a staircase,” ex-Sex Pistols vocalist John Lydon once told Rolling Stone. “I found him completely dishonest and totally likable, because he doesn’t care.” This is both the highest compliment a Sex Pistol can disperse and an incisive description about Newt’s character. He exclusively cares about ideas, regardless of their merits. He would tie a woman to the railroad tracks just to prove he knew what time the train left the station. This is why I always find myself rooting for him, even when I’m against what he purports to desire. I know exactly what he’s doing. It’s like looking in a mirror I do not possess the capacity to smash.

Why does someone like Newt run for president? Because he’s crazy. But why is he crazy?

George Packer’s book The Unwinding has a lot of amazing chapters telling true stories of Americans both famous and unknown. My favorite chapter is about Jay-Z (who quoted “The Godfather Part II” as he stabbed a man); my second-favorite chapter is about Newt Gingrich.

Throughout, I kept thinking of the crazy Dick Whitman flashbacks in “Mad Men.” Idiot critics complain about these scenes, in which Don Draper’s childhood self is awkward and ugly and being raised by evil men and whores. The purpose, though, is to establish the backstory that made this man what he is in the show’s (1960s) present: genius creative star of big-money advertising on Madison Avenue, using his grasp of dark psychology to convince consumers they’re fulfilling deep internal desires by buying floor cleaner. If you’ve watched your father get killed by a spooked horse’s kick to the face, or you lost your virginity to a hooker you thought of as your mother, or you stole a dead soldier’s identity, then you are the best kind of person to convince people to start smoking when science says cigarettes cause cancer.

Who turns into someone like Newt Gingrich?

His father, Big Newt McPherson, “was a bar brawler in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during World War II,” Packer writes. “On the third morning after he married Kit Daugherty, a 16-year-old house cleaner, Big Newt’s young bride tried to wake him up from a hangover, and he punched her. That was the end of the marriage, but it had lasted just long enough for Kit to get pregnant.”

She had a boy, and named him after his father. Then she married a man named Robert Gingrich. “Big Newt allowed him to adopt Little Newty to get out of paying child support. ‘Isn’t it awful,’ Kit said years later, ‘a man willing to sell off his own son?'”

Not if you’re creating the perfect turn-of-the-century American politician. His stepfather “was a tyrant around the house, silent and intimidating. . . . Little Newty was a weird, myopic kid with no close friends. He sought out the older women around him, who fed him sugar cookies and encouraged him to read.”

unwindingDecades later, he’d articulate his destiny in personal notes uncovered during an ethics investigation: “Gingrich—primary mission: advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who fan civilization, organizer of the pro-civilization activists, leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.” That’s grander than President of the United States, isn’t it?

That was in the 1990s, when he was Speaker of the House. In the 1960s, he was being Dick Whitman-eque: “In high school he secretly dated his geometry teacher Jackie Battley—seven years his senior, another doting older woman. When Gingrich was 19, they married (Bob Gingrich refused to attend), then had two daughters.”

In the late 1970s, Newt ran for Congress. “Gingrich’s Democratic opponent was made to order, a wealthy liberal female state senator originally from New York. Gingrich knew exactly what to do. He moved to the right and went after her on welfare and taxes. He had a new rock in his pocket, ‘the corrupt liberal welfare state,’ and he nailed her between the eyes with it. The Moral Majority was about to take Washington by storm, and Gingrich talked about family values, said that his opponent would break her family up if she went to Washington, and featured Jackie and the girls in his ads.”

Know where this is going. . . ? Dick Whitman is Don Draper at this point in the story. Only worse.

“But Jackie looked fat and unattractive, and it was an open secret in political circles that Newt was cheating on her. Like most Arousers of those who Fan Civilization, he had powerful appetites, but he had not grown up to be the most desirable of men—big head under big graying helmet, cold clever grin, belly pushing against his sky-blue waistline—and his successes were limited. He tried to keep it to oral sex so he could claim literal fidelity if anyone asked, but within two years the marriage was over, another adoring woman about to become the next Mrs. Gingrich, the Advocate of civilization standing at Jackie’s hospital bed as she lay recovering from uterine cancer, a yellow legal pad with divorce terms in his hand. Years later, Gingrich would attribute his indiscretions to hard work brought on by patriotic zeal.”

Gingrich started giving crazy speeches to empty chambers because the C-SPAN cameras were running. He got famous. “I want to shift the entire planet,” he said, “and I’m doing it.”

Language was huge for Gingrich, and he may be the father of talking points. He did shift the entire planet, when you think about it.

Which is f*cking crazy. Whether that makes him a villain is for each of us to decide for ourselves, but it certainly makes him interesting. This is what politics has become, and through Gingrich we better understand the likes of condescending Congressional perma-liars, or the dodgy and apparently corrupt governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez.

It is what it is. Over the past few years I’ve been a newspaper reporter and then an editor for a union-funded super PAC. Now I’m neither. Now I’m just a fan of crazy bad guys. Staying informed is much more enjoyable this way. The news can be “Breaking Bad” if you watch it right.

Newt-Gingrich-Threatens-to-Punch-President-Obama-in-the-Face-in-Fundraiser-Email

An Endorsement: Avengers vs. X-Men

Spider-Man joined the Avengers? Spider-Man joined the Avengers. The movies would have us believe Spider-Man spends his days crying and becoming Spider-Man over and over, but he actually evolves as a character in the comics and signs up to join Captain American, Iron Man, and the gang. (This would seem a nice step up for Peter Parker, from scraping by as a newspaper photographer to getting in on that sweet, supple taxpayer tit. The Avengers get paid by the U.S. government, right? Please leave a comment below if you know the answer.)

In the absolutely amazing “Avengers vs. X-Men” series (2012), Spider-Man tells Hope Summers “One thing I’ve learned about being an Avenger. . . your moment will come. It’s a big group. Lotta moving parts. Lotta big awesome people doing big awesome things. They don’t always have time to stop and take a knee and explain to you what the heck is going on. You learn to follow the guys who always seem to know where they’re headed. And you wait for your moment. Doesn’t matter how many gods or super-soldiers or Hulks they got on the payroll. [!] Once you’re an Avenger, it never fails. . . Sooner or later the time comes when it’s your turn to step up to the plate. You just gotta make sure you’re ready.”

Spider-Man’s moment does come in this violent, world-altering war between superhero teams. He holds off a Phoenix-possessed Colossus so the other Avengers can escape, and pays dearly: Web-shooters crushed. Spine beginning to follow. Mask full of blood. Legs feel like they’re made of melted cheese.

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The Phoenix is a fire bird who soars through space. Phoenix power means complete annihilation—the idea is that life can start over anew, growing from the ashes of destroyed worlds. Phoenix power means end-of-the-world time, and Capt. America’s not gonna abide that. It has a connection to mutants, though. It can possess them. The mutants it takes over on Earth believe it’s the key to saving their race. Invariably, they think they can control it.

Tony Stark is tasked with figuring out how to stop the Phoenix-infused X-Men, once and for all. He holes himself up in his lab to study the Phoenix, analyzing whatever data he can get. But he also keeps being called into action. Thor, Hawkeye, Hulk, Red Hulk . . . like Spider-Man says, each has his moment. The Phoenix had intended to take over only one host mutant, and instead wound up inside five of them (thanks partly to Stark’s failed attempt to destroy it with a space-shuttle Iron Man suit). The adversaries it creates appear, for much of the story, to be unstoppable.

Both sides suffer spectacular losses, and a whole city is destroyed.

Phoenix power means you can do almost anything. It’ll really mess with your mind. Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, is so sad and damaged. Stone-serious, he lost his wife Jean Grey to the Phoenix many years ago. What Cyclops does at the end of this story is insane and terrible—dramatic killings of crucial characters. Yet he keeps his soul, and feels the pains in others as he’s inflicting it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even the most noble succumb.

Wolverine is on the Avengers too, though he and Capt. America clash and, in one scene, fight. (Cap wins because he’s smarter.) Wolverine appears to almost enjoy going against his old teammates on the X-Men. His skin gets burned off repeatedly.

The beats and pacing of “X-Men vs. Avengers” are perfect, old-school storytelling. Big scenes and little scenes all stack into this amazingly exciting superhero story with huge stakes and heroic moments. This graphic novel would adapt into the greatest comic-book movie ever, but of course there are many reasons we’ll never see it. Ownership of various properties, for one, and that fact that studio executives want us moviegoers to get exactly what we’re expecting. (The next Spider-Man movie villain is Shocker, played by Jamie Foxx. Whatever.)

I borrowed “Avengers vs. X-Men” from the Santa Fe Public Library. It was so much more interesting and compelling than anything that happens to the Avengers or Wolverine or Spider-Man in these movies they keep making.

Superheroes are so much better on the page. Your free public library is awesome.

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“Yeezus,” Kim. Jesus.

Thought experiment, OK? You’re Kim Kardashian. You spent a year having an extremely weird, embarrassing divorce plastered all over magazines in the checkout lanes and on sh*t celebrity TV shows. Divorcing a goofy-looking NBA power forward, no less.

You start going out with Kanye West, and you get pregnant. Over the next nine months you can’t step outside without a million camera’d assholes descending like huge, horrible birds to take your picture. This sucks, because walking around outside is really good and important when you’re pregnant. The photos become cover stories (plural) in checkout lanes about how fat you’re getting. (No exaggeration; they put her picture next to a picture of a whale.)

EXCLUSIVE: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West shopping in New York CityYou have the baby the same week Kanye releases an absolute blockbuster album. Millions of people are listening to “Yeezus” at the same time as they’re still talking at work about how fat you got and what a stupid name you gave your baby. (North.)

There’s a song on “Yeezus” called “Blood on the Leaves.” It samples this classic 1939 tune called “Strange Fruit,” by Billie Holiday, about lynching. “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees/Blood on the leaves” is the first line in the song. It’s a sad, sick, powerful image.

Kanye raps over that song about how he can’t enjoy his summer because he can’t spend money on the nice stuff he wants because of the baby. He raps about doing Molly (kinda like ecstasy) at a party. And he finishes the song with this:

Then she said she impregnated, that’s the night your heart died
Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that
Main reason ’cause your pastor said you can’t abort that
Now your driver say that new Benz you can’t afford that
All that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that
That going to that owing money that the court go
All in on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie

The very next song, “Guilt Trip,” starts with the line “I need to call it off.”

Two takeaways here. One: Kanye is crazy, and he will say anything. I’m sure lots of critics are offended he would take a beautiful piece about lynching black people and turn it into a bouncy club joint about living large, doing drugs, and not wanting to be a dad. That’s the point, though. Imagine Kanye saying “People are gonna freak out,” before doing some of the stuff he does, like saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during a Katrina telethon and interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at some big award show to exclaim Beyonce got robbed. “People are gonna freak out.”

(Ha! Mike Meyers is so funny in that clip.)

Same thing before he makes these songs.

“I am a God” features my favorite line in a long time:

I am a God
So hurry up with my damn massage
In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants!

He’s really mad when he says that last part. This is supposed to be zany, right? It totally works.

And two: Even if you don’t technically feel bad for Kim Kardashian, isn’t that a crazy situation to be in? Doesn’t she hear “Blood on the Leaves” and think for at least a second, like, “Your heart died when you heard I was pregnant?”

I asked my wife. She loved the Fat Kim photos in those magazines; she’d show them to me as I was digging out the debit card at Albertson’s. Don’t you think that’s kind of a crazy situation she’s in, with Kanye as the kid’s dad, and he’s rapping this stuff?

Eew, my wife said. No.

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