Currently Reading: Jesus' Son and a missing (American) president

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is as far removed from the Christian tradition as anything. It’s a collection of short-stories linked by a troubled narrator who is an addict. In one story, the narrator hitches a ride in a car he somehow knew before-hand was going to crash- supernatural prescience? Too much drugs?

There was a time in the 90s and all the way to the early 2000s when all I looked forward to on Christmas eve was to drink alcohol at friend’s houses. I started on my street and finished off at my best friend Eric’s before staggering back home and putting out the food 30 minutes before mid-night. Things changed when we all became adults. My parents had always been a team- left to their own devices, they would have coped happily whispering sweet-nothings to each other without having to worry about keeping up tradition for their adult children. Alcohol and the company of friends made the night more bearable.

But things swung back to how they were when the kids started to come- there was Matt and several years of Christmases when all the gifts under the tree were his; then Yanna but all too briefly because Al & Binky already lived abroad; then Toni and Jay’s kids.

Christmas is really about the children, no doubt about it. When Chini grows up, I think finally, I can have that Christmas I’ve always only recently, been thinking of having- to be alone, somewhere cold (or hot it wouldn't really matter), happily coping with just memories, and drinking tons of alcohol because this time, I’m actually happy at the thought that the holidays- unburdened by glossy memories of the past- is finally mine and mine alone..(does this make sense?).

THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING , by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. I remember one Christmas break when I read The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy and it affected me so deeply that I was in some weird funk for weeks. So never again, and this time, something you’d read with a popcorn in hand. I think this is the first novel of James Patterson’s that I’ve read- everything else I’ve probably watched as a movie. This is the kind of fiction that has brought this man over $750 million.

THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. I remember one Christmas break when I read The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy and it affected me so deeply that I was in some weird funk for weeks. So never again, and this time, something you’d read with a popcorn in hand. I think this is the first novel of James Patterson’s that I’ve read- everything else I’ve probably watched as a movie. This is the kind of fiction that has brought this man over $750 million.

Repost: Where were you when the rapture happened?

September 4th, 2011
Remember Google+??? I remember wasting half a day at work, sneaking between open browser pages, looking up for a way to get invited. I eventually got an invite from my best friend and again spent half a day at work building it up.

So much fun, like being asked to spruce up an entire empty floor of some building with your, well, crap. Of course it was crap. What else could it possibly be, just a bunch of cutesy posed pictures (made up some faces on my Mac and edited out my jowl lines, my tired, baggy computer screen scarred eyes) random video links (wohoo! Hollywood Tuna)  and ephemeral flotsam and jetsam. Just the digitized short-hand really of the generation. 

A generation that's gone and disappeared.

And I certainly played well into the night when I got home. It was Cindy's mother's birthday and I had a very handy and dignified excuse- who the hell got drunk on a Monday???? I loaded a box of lemon-cheesecake cupcakes that my daughter Chloe baked for her grand-nana into Cindy's battered Holden.

'Put real lemon there dad, like they did on Top Chef.' Chloe just turned 9 and was trying to run away from her childhood faster than her stints at her school's cross-country races. "I'm sure your grand-nana would appreciate the lemon better on her gin and tonic sweetie..'

'Oh dad!' Mock adult disgust and falling over me for a kiss, her lips bitingly cold on my cheek. 'Where's your jacket hun, it's gonna get real cold.' And out of nowhere, she whips out my worn leather bomber jacket which she puts over some top and leggings on semi-adult legs. And it's my turn for mock-anger, 'oi!' I grunt before Cindy steps in as she's wont to, the only true time it seems for genuine affection, lightning quick snatches of it, before everything falls into the abyss of second mortgages, an immature job as she has always called it and too much Facebook instead of getting our freaks on. 

Like can we do it now, right here on the driveway as she sidles up to me, locking her hips against mine, my hands settling comfortably on the rise of her buttocks.

'Yeah, tell Elaine you're down with the flu, really down with it' I bite her lower lip gently and she bites back, her face a blur, the scent of something richly sweet like dark chocolate on her breath. 

'Uhmm..when we come back, promise...promise..'

Those were my wife's last words to me.

They pause down the driveway just before plunging into the darkened street as a light, misty rain falls. The car's interior light opens and I see Chloe, rummaging for her stuff at the back as usual. She tries to see me through the window, squeezes her eyes into slits, probably couldn't but waves nonetheless at what she believes to be her father still watching her drive away.

I was and it is the last and most painful memory of my daughter.

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How it happened, I really don't know. There was no rumbling, no fireworks in the sky, no choir of angels announcing the ascension of the blessed and the eternal isolation of the damned.

I went back to my Google + account and thought, what a refreshing change. Empty; just me and digital quietude. I puttered around in the kitchen, made chapati and cumin meatballs in a Japanese curry sauce. 

I think it was about 10:30 pm but I'm just guessing. I remember looking out the lounge sliding doors, through the smear of condensation and the fog outside. The street lamp just outside the gate was on and it looked to me 'sadly luminous'. I remember that description, sadly luminous and I did feel, like a sudden cascade of cold water had fallen over me and a seemingly infinite, weepy sort of sadness.

And the funny thing was that I never did know what I was sad about at that moment....

(he sends a text message that remains unsent, sitting in his draftbox. There is no mobile service, just a slight, unnerving humming at the end of the line. Television services stop at 3am, radio follows soon after. And yet there is still power even as public lights burn on throughout the day and night. The internet still functions to some degree and when he checks for some clues online, one thing is chillingly clear- status updates on Facebook have ceased just before 10:30pm, GMT. He doesn't sleep for 48 hours straight and walks all the way to his mother in law's house in the suburb of St. Heliers, marveling at a cityscape captured frozen in its tracks even as the day rolls by. Cars are packed at Elaine's expansive driveway. Inside Cindy's Holden is his bomber jacket and he cries and cries clutching it, because it smells of him and not of Chloe..)

Snapchat

When Chini was little, she was fascinated with the app. Each time he came to visit and by the time he left, there would be a cache of photos of the two of them- all funny and endearing in that way that one looks at photos two or three decades later and thinking, 'my, how life had changed, how kids have grown'. And all of them- over 15,000 and taken with predictable regularity- preserved on the Cloud probably forever and ever. And of course, Chini clever as she was, soon learned on her own to take photos of herself without help and without prompting. Every child did, such were the days.

And then the technology leap-frogged in a way people didn't expect. One day, the app inventor thought that maybe it was time to take it to the next level. People had been flirting with hyper-realistic and enhanced images all the time that two-dimensionality had become boring and banal. 

Step out of the frame, the app inventor said, and at first, it was like a baby giraffe struggling to get up on its long, spindly legs. The materials that passed for skin either didn't have enough coagulation or enough adhesion. And the colours and textures- suede was easy enough (3,000 shades!), but crocodile skin with its lattice of armour-like osteoderms, or the smooth firmness of watermelon with the familiar flat styrations of green- how to replicate an endless variety as limitless as one's imagination?

The answer was the Cellular Codex that was secretly being used by the Chinese for the good part of a decade to 3D print practically anything they wanted. 

All it took was the threat of outing the Chinese government for printing agricultural and livestock products passed off as traditionally grown and reared to feed nearly half its population to acquire the technology- the app inventor assured them that he wasn't interested in using it to create stuff that could be eaten (there was virtually no research anyway on how safe it was, but it was probably proof enough that 900 million people eating the damned stuff were still up and about). The app inventor just wanted to create stuff that people could wear in a different way.

He remembered the year the beta came out, two weeks before Halloween. The costume shops were abandoned. Racks upon racks of latex masks, cardboard witches hats and superhero costumes were left unsold at department store aisles. All it took was choosing what you wanted to be, putting your head inside what looked like a vintage salon hard dryer and pressing the button on the app.

Looking back, the first generation of the app now seemed crude; the kooky disguises, the cartoon faces, the fantastical facial accoutrements of mythical creatures and beasts. It had quickly evolved of course into something else once people got bored of the mundane and the app inventor couldn't agree more. At this point, he was the richest person on earth and was building a home on the moon and couldn't care less about the raging social debates or the millions of electronic clucking that his people filtered and monitored every day. 

And so it came to be that governments had to regulate and legislate. No using the app when passing through airports and borders. CCTV had to evolve and be equipped with sensors that looked into and identified people on a DNA level. A black market sprung up (with the Chinese leading the pack) where the printing was bio-regenerating and it wasn't even that expensive. He got sick once and it was his kidney. The doctor's words were inoperable, acute and dialysis. But the doctor was also a mate and whispered 3BR (3D Bio-Regeneration). Sure, it would cancel his insurance permanently, but it was either believing traditional medicine and facing less than satisfactory results, or choosing this technological miracle- there seemed to be no other more appropriate word for it. 

Besides, he was never traditional to begin with. No family. Nothing to lose. 

And that was 30 years ago when he was 51. Today on some days, he could believe that he was 81. He would close his eyes for a few minutes and let his mind wander down the long dark corridors of the past, his path lit up by memories that were probably the only real things he had. Awake and looking at the mirror he sometimes struggled to believe the reflection; it was his face at 43 (which even then, could pass for 35 and a good one at that) and that's where it stayed. Indefinitely. 

Some people had gone too far and suffered horrific consequences; like you can't regenerate the entirety of your skin for example, or that brain cells were tricky, but that didn't stop people from trying. True beauty is on the inside he would remind himself and he stuck to this, as internal organs were regenerated keeping him at least in a state of statis. The science wasn't sure- it was too far mired in a social and ethical maelstrom as large (and permanent) as Jupiter's red spot.

But he couldn't care less as he had deliberately shied away from the internet and finally could say he had found the peace and rhythm he wanted- the (very) long ebb and flow of days spent reading, writing and drawing. He was 14 or 15 again, without a care in the world or a friend to his name and the truth was that you don't miss what you've never known or experienced. At least this was the state of his mind- most friends and family were either truly old or dead anyway.

He was alone and in this aloneness, the world seemed as clear and crisp as a sunny winter's day.

He dreaded it though when Chini came to visit and she always did with the regularity and devotion of his visits when she was a child. He dreaded it because he came face to face with the reminder that he could have chosen differently, and that now, looking at his reflection, he no longer had the heart nor the courage to change it. But Chini didn't judge, even as she was an Organic- untouched by the app, raised well by her parents who wisely resisted the technology, and now at 40, looking like them in every way, an amalgam of his sister's and brother-in-law's fine features as well as bearing the patina of her own journey in life as an architect and a mother to four accomplished children.

And yes, they go through their photos on some days- all 15,000 of them- with a glass of wine each and catching up on gossip, with updates on every one in the family.

But they have never taken another picture of them together.

That was the past and that man in the photos was no more.