Transcendental Meditation, or Om, Om on the Range

I adore the practice of Transcendental Meditation (™). Since the three-day introductory seminar at the end of January, I have practiced TM twice a day, for twenty-minutes a pop, as called for. Sometimes I’ve done it a third, a fourth time. At its best, it centers me, makes my mind clearer and more resilient. At its worst, it relaxes me, draining some of the anxieties I feel.

            That being said, I still haven’t seen God. I’m not sure that I’ve ever entered that content-free zone, that primordial unified field of pure consciousness. But I’d like to.

            The second time I tried TM, during my training sessions, I ran into two nodes of humor that caused me to smile; I had to suppress the impulse to laugh. I wasn’t sure what the joke was, but there was something funny that had breathed down my neck. Then, during those same twenty minutes, I ran into a knot of pure sadness, and I was unable to evade it: tears came and I actually began to sob. I had to cover my hot, anguished eyes.

            Nothing comparable has happened since, though I’ve only been at it for nearly three months.


            I do get a kick on the literature on the subject, put out by the David Lynch Foundation. It’s so relentlessly upbeat. TM, we’re told, is the key to world peace.

            The Foundation has many a folk testifying to the wonders of TM. David Lynch himself, Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman, a few business CEOs mentioned in Bob Roth’s book, “Strength in Stillness”: all high achievement, go-getting luminous individuals to begin with. In the advertising side of TM, it reminds me of those television ads for beauty products th

            I suppose all endeavors have vested interests in polishing and maintaining the brio and validity of their brands. Religions do it. Philosophical movements do it, such as the adherents of Ayn Rand and her Objectivism. Tom Waits put a lot of energy into maintaining an outsider-on-the-inside rebel/poet. We all love something and want everyone else to love it too.

            And of course the beauty industry is constantly touting its brand. Do you want smoother, rosier skin, bright sexy eyes, luscious thick glowing hair, sparkling white and straight teeth? Why of course you do. And who do they use to hawk their products? Young, beautify models who you just know have no need on earth to look like they look. Young models who look beautiful and alluring even with messy hair, dilapidated clothes, insolent facial expressions. Beauty is as beauty does. And the obvious message is, use our products and you can look like this, have this lifestyle, and be beautiful.

            It doesn’t matter that the ruse is threadbare. We fall for it every time. And of course, there’s just enough truth in the message for us, who want to be beautiful too, to take the bait, hook line and sinker.

            Bob Roth writes that what TM promises is not something you will not get. It will come, whether you try for it or not.


            I don’t mean to be disparaging. Every brand invariably has valid claims to make. I suppose there are qualifications to everything.

            I can only go by my personal experience.

            I do my meditations, which are supposed to energize you, take away stress and center you by helping you delve into the vast ocean of a primal consciousness that predates thought and meaning. Do I get there? I’m not sure.

            The practice relaxes me, but I’m not entirely sure where it is it takes me to. Sometimes instead of getting energized, I get sleepy, and end up having to take a nap. Which, in the scheme of things, works out fine for me.

            The videos and literature, and my personal instructor during the TM beginner’s training session, stress that this form of Automatic Self-Transcending practice works like this:

            Imagine that consciousness is like the ocean. Focused-Attention meditation requires a hyper-vigilance, trying to stop and master the waves on the surface. It is a lot of work. Open Monitoring meditation does ask you to master those chaotic waves, but to watch them, observe them, and try to see them for what they are. Still, you are invited to see them, dispassionately yes, without judgment.

            In Automatic Self-Transcending meditation, which is TM, you’re drawn by inertia to where the big fish of pre-thought consciousness swim, and you get to swim with them.

Transcendental Meditation is a tool. It is a materialist philosophy in that it entails a physical way, a method – meditative exercises involving inner sound – to achieve a state of pure consciousness.

            My infatuation with things David Lynch inspired me to try TM.

            But here’s the breaking news: David Lynch was David Lynch before Transcendental Meditation.

            TM is like that drug in the Bradley Cooper movie, “Limitless.” The drug, Cooper is told, can make your brain more effective. That, in turn, can make you “smarter.”

            “It helps if you’re already smart,” says Bradley’s drug dealing ex-brother-in-law.  Meaning that if you don’t have the training, the inclination or the contextual wherewithal, a more effective brain still won’t turn you into a gifted filmmaker, visual artist, poet or writer. It might make you into a more empathetic sheep herder, or neighbor, or librarian, or auto mechanic, etc. etc. It can also allow you to tap into unforeseen or unsuspected talents. But it won’t give you talents that you do not have.

            And you’ll still need to put in those 10,000 hours.

            I wonder. If at base you’re a Hannibal Lector or a Darth Vader, then will your command of the Dark Side may become prodigious. What would TM do for Donald Trump? (Well, that was a bad example, wasn’t it? He could never sit long enough to do TM.)

            I could be wrong, but I suspect TM will not on its own bring world peace about.

            I have no doubt —would in fact welcome it — that someone better versed in TM would set me straight on my crooked thinking.

            Until then, I’ll keep on meditating twice a day. It makes me feel good. It makes me happy. It does me no harm, as far as I can tell. My son tells me that it often makes me an easier person to take.

            And who knows. I might just break through to that pool of consciousness and into the realms of the unified field.

            That would be très boo coo cool.

David Lynch’s 1984 DUNE – Part One


          When Dune was first tagged for a movie, the two directors seriously considered were Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch, both nascent amateur film directors whose sense of whimsy and irreality seemed attractive to those wanting to film Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel.

            Why? I’ve wondered.

            Well, it’s Dune. Which means Face Dancers — or shape shifters — from the planet Tleilax; human computers known as Mentats; the marvelously grotesque Spacing Guild navigators who can fold space and time and travel without moving; a man-worm god; an interstellar holy war; the mystical order of the Bene Gesserit; a fat, floating villan who wants to dethrone the Emperor of the Known Universe; clones; interplanetary intrigue. And — oh yea — there’s this geriatric drug known as Spice or Melange, which can confer long life as well as paradigm-shattering insight into the nature and fabric of reality, and is the glue, really, that keeps this particular universe together.

            So, really? I had to ask?

            Denis Villeneuve, the third batter up, is admittedly different, a new and interesting choice. He can make movies with eerie edges, suffused with mystery and beauty and violence, and he does it in a grown-up, I-stopped-reading-comic-books-a-long-time-ago sobriety, even when — especially when — his subjects are comic bookish. Sort of like Christopher Nolan making the Batman movies for the boys who used to be into DC, but gave them up when they became men. Yeah, I believe that could happen.

            I am a Denis Villeneuve fan. His body of work is profoundly impressive, thoughtful, nothing short of fascinating, and he has an artist’s photographic sensibility. And I am a rabid fan of his Dune One and Dune Two, both of which I’ve seen multiple times.

            But each artist has their stamp, their flavor, their signature, they’re way of navigating through the world.

            I find that the competing Dune movies bring different things to the table, hermetic visions that are not incompatible insofar as each spin is a self-contained bubble of reality. Reality according to them. And that, after all, is what attracts us to them, makes their reputation.

            Jodorowsky would have, given the chance, given us a uniquely flavored Dune, purely Jodorowskyish, built on Frank Herbert yes, but not quite Frank Herbert.

            David Lynch cannot (or will not) do what Denis Villeneuve does, nor can Villeneuve (or want to) do what David Lynch does. They’re singular artists. Villeneuve does things in his version that I wish Lynch had done in his. I’m not sure he could. By the same token, Lynch does things in his version that Villeneuve either cannot, or will not, do. Two painters looking at the same landscape but creating two varying visions.

            Villeneuve wants to wow us, but above all, he wants us to wake up, he wants us to believe in the reality of what we see. Hell yeah. I could ride a sandworm like that if I needed to. In his Dune, Duncan Idaho says to the young Paul Atreides, “Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.”

            Lynch, on the other hand, wants you to savor the dream and the nightmare to linger. He wants you to see things beyond the veil of waking realities. In his version, the Duke Leto Atreides says to his son, “I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” But what Lynch wants us to awaken to is to those dreams and nightmares nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls. He wants to challenge that which we only think reality is, much like when Jorge Luis Borges shows us in “The Circular Ruins” that the dreamer is really only a character in someone else’s dream.

            Lynch goes fishing for the big deep fish, and hooks a good amount of them. His 1984 Dune is filled with quirky, weird, deliciously inspired insanities and surreal vignettes which in their way awaken the sleeper from one dream to another. I quiver with weird delight, sometimes with a titillating disgust, when watching his conjurations. Not all dreams are pleasant.

            Example? I am fascinated with his mentat Pieter Devries’ red-stained lips, like the smeared lipstick of a jilted, slovenly lover, reciting the mentat credo.

                        It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.

                        It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed,

                        the lips acquire stains,

                        the stains become a warning.

                        It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.

            Ah. And that visit by the grotesquely deformed Spacing Guild pilot, its mouth pursed like a vagina, floating in a tank of gas like the inhabitant of a failed star. And as if that weren’t enough, we get the guild pilot’s attendants wearing black, shiny greatcoats, bald like menacing bikers, spearheading the zoo-like glass vehicle — a submarine emerging from the depths — advancing as the designate speaker talks into a translator that looks like a retro 1900’s Radio Age microphone.

            And the offhand things that the Guild pilot says in his garbled patois, also in translation, offering glimpses of a strange universe viewed peripherally, scenes from the goldmine: “We’ve just folded space from Ix. Lots of machines on Ix.” Weird stuff like that.

            There are the vignettes giving us long glimpses of a nighttime Harkonnen city on the planet Giedi Prime, one corner of the screen shot occupied by a smooth black spherical hollow sculpture yawning with the mouth of a deep-sea creature, set against the Paolo Solerian grid like nightmare of a building designed by controlling fascist leaders.

            And there are other conjured scenes, numerous and marvelous, diamonds whose Baudelairean beauties are highlighted by the mud in which they’re set in this 1984 masterpiece of deconstruction in disarray.

            However, there are unfortunate elements in Lynch that are a bit confounding and/or regrettable, avoidably distracting.

            For example, the entire performance by the actress Linda Hunt’s is embarrassing. It should have been moderated, directed and aimed and cleaned up. The aim was to create a character of enigma and perhaps Shakespearean. Instead we get Monty Python. Sometimes Lynch reaches for campiness, as he did in Eraserhead, and often pulling it off, but not here. And it’s a shame, too. Linda Hunt can be marvelous when she’s properly directed (or not misdirected) as she was in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously, for which she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Billy Kwan.

            The part played by Alicia Witt, Alia Atreides, seemed equally off-center: self-conscious and coming across as precisely a performance. It also sounded as if it were dubbed. The performance was an on-the-fence wobbler in that sometimes it felt right, menacing and eerie; and at others as skewed. Child actors can be, of course, difficult to guide, and Alicia Witt, who turned into a marvelous adult actor, is not to blame.

            Paul L. Smith, who I remember as effective as a nasty prison guard in 1978’s Midnight Express — where he was convincingly menacing — played the character of “Beast” Rabban. This was another character whose performance was campy, cartoony and buffoonish. A conglomeration of moments and roles such as this one conspired, among other flaws, to undermine the seriousness of the movie. I used the term “serious” in the way that Don Corleone in The Godfather used it: something or someone with weight, accomplished whether it be in the good or bad arts, but not easily ignored.

            As to the role of Feyd, one of the baron’s nephews, I’ve never cared for the British singer and actor Stink. With an often subsumed but always present sneer, he exudes a narcissistic self-importance with the poise of a distinct poser. He comes across as an asshole. In short, however, he was therefore and actually, quite perfect for his role of Feyd.

            The blocky and personal magnetic body shields used by the Atreides warriors were quite imaginative but ultimately clunky, an unexplainable special effects failure not worthy of the enormous budget. Granted, the movie tech in the early 1980’s might simply not have been up to snuff. The body shields are a difficult concept to conjure effectively and convincingly. The novel itself is maddeningly vague about them, too. (Denis Villeneuve did better job at it, but because it went in the opposite direction of obvious and gaudy, it looks restrained and visually boring. In SciFi we want to see high tech be cool and eye-catching. SciFi is a very visual genre.)

            I loved the scenes showing the massive outer space heighliners actually parked on ground, surrounded by the matrix of surrounding soldiers, indicating a fascistic Brutalist architectural and engineering gestalt.

            But there were many other flaws, especially in light of the enormous budget the movie was given. Some of the desert scenes seemed bald, bereft of the beauties of the desert often evoked in movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, and of course, later in Villeneuve’s version.

            The worms were done well, but the worm riding seemed as tacky as those old detective noir movies that show people driving in car and viewing a city through windshields and side windows which display cut-and-past traffic and movement. False and unconvincing.

            Still, it bears repeating that the isolated but numerous sets and scenes of the movie make it, for me and many others, a worthwhile and exciting cinematic endeavor. There are many other wonderfully composed scenes, vignettes that show the extraordinary mastery of David Lynch’s composition skills as previously (and since) seen in Eraserhead and Elephant Man.

            Sometimes I wonder if, when all is said and done, David Lynch was still a little wet behind the ears when he was given Dune. Eraserhead was a macabre gem, but in many ways a much smaller endeavor. And Elephant Man was a moving, perfect black-and-white cojuration. Dune was his third notable directorial foray, and it was a huge production.

            The film consisted of 42 major speaking parts, a crew of 1,700, not to mention 20,000 extras. There were 80 sets that were built on 8 sound stages. The budget for the movie was the biggest ever for Universal Studios up until then: about $42 million in 1984, which translates to around $111,000 million today. Universal Studios gave Lynch a lot of power, but for that budget, they didn’t give him everything. In many important ways he was constrained, and Lynch has said that Dino De Laurentiis insisted on a movie no longer than 2 hours, presumably to accommodate viewers and also not lose ticket sales. Producers and bankers have different formulas by which they tailor things.

            Jodorowsky came this close to making his version of Dune, but in the end it was no cigar, and he was bitterly disappointed.  Lynch came this close to making the Dune he wanted, but it wasn’t to be, and we were disappointed. He said that he’d sold out even before the movie started filming.

            But the flawed endeavors of gifted movie directors and artists are often more interesting and satisfying to watch than the successful works of lesser talents.

            There are so many things that can go wrong in producing a movie. Given the production stories, it’s a wonder and surprise that masterpieces such as The Godfather and Blade Runner even exist. There are so many cooks in the kitchen, and after Michael Cimino’s debacle with Heaven’s Gate, who can blame producers, who are not always the best decision makers as to artistic decision, at being skittish and second guessing directors. You wanna make the movie your way? Then you pay for it.

            And who’s to say that if David Lynch had actually gotten to film Dune exactly how he wanted to, that it would have been more satisfactory or successful. Lynch has always been idiosyncratic in what he produces and how he produces it, often jagged but invariably brilliant and intriguing. But there hasn’t always been a consensus about his movies. There are aspects of his art that are, in fact, acquired tastes.

            Those of us who are his fans are just happy to be able to have access to some great film scenes and compositions and darkly dreamy artistry in his Dune. Happy to have a David Lynch product before we have to scour the internet for his advertising commercials, often little gems themselves.

            That being said, I’ve often thought of ways that his Dune might have been more effective and less clunky, giving Lynch more space to unfurl and deploy his visions without the interference of some of the movie’s present undisputed handicaps.

            This will be, however, the subject of another blog soon to follow.


This is the first SF short story I ever wrote, in 1989, “Greatly Exaggerated,” bought by Gordon Linzner and published in his magazine Space & Time in the summer of 1990, issue #78. The story is about, among other things, what we now refer to as “deepfakes.” It was later included in the collection, Cherubimbo and Other Stories, published thru Xlibris in 2011, with a brief, positive review by Paul Di Filippo in Asimov’s.


by Gabriel S. de Anda

“Good morning. Joyce, Tsurukawa and Fuentes. May I hell…Oh! Mr. Madrigal!”

Carlos Luis Madrigal had turned to look behind him before the connection was made, and had just turned to face the public videophone in time to catch the receptionist-simulate in mid-sentence. He smiled.

“Mornin’, Isabel,” he said, addressing the AUI program by her Christian moniker. Her eyes seemed to study him with a mimetic, electronic sentience, her head tilting coquettishly to the side. A few strawberry blonde curls fell over one of her long-lashed, video-blue eyes, each composed of pixels of light. Isabel brushed the stray curls back with a computer-generated hand and licked her man-dreamt lips; red gloss sparkled.

“How are you, Mr. Madrigal? Have a good weekend?”

“Sure. And yours, Izzy?”

 “Miss-ter Ma-dri-gall,” she drawled in mock admonishment, and-by God! — she actually blushed. “You know better than to ask me that.” Her eyes executed a comical roll for his amusement. The Adaptive User Interface programs were like that: always eager to please.

“Right,” said Madrigal, studying her pleasant image. “Just trying. Maybe someday you’ll slip up and tell me where you really go when the switches are turned off.”

She laughed demurely. Madrigal felt a mild wave of desire when watching Isabel, videographically luxurious and sensual as she’d been designed, the paradigm receptionist. Sometimes he lamented the fact that she was just a series of cleverly arranged on-off signals, a binary baby.

“I’m running late, Izzy. I’ve left my calendar at home. Do I have any afternoon appointments?”

“If you hold just a sec I’ll check.”


The screen flowered into a riot of symmetrically writhing hues signaling the com’s holding pattern. Madrigal sighed.

Isabel had been one of the firm’s concessions to the spirit of the times, the capitulation of JT&F’s recently deceased senior partner whose name was still first in line. Old Joyce (bless his soul, if he’d ever had one) had always gotten his way, but his reactionary turn of heart had lapsed on occasion in his autumn years. Madrigal had pitched for the AUI programs, pointing out to the partners that there was hardly anything frivolous in the notion of updating the firm’s hard and software. Joyce, always extolling the virtues of the old ways, had chomped on his Havana and tried to explain how the really big boys eschewed the glib evanescence of the day, neither advertising nor chasing ambulances, preferring live, human receptionists over the pretty compugenic female headshots that had been the vogue for nearly half a decade. Not that most could now tell the difference, pointed out Madrigal. Perhaps, Joyce had sniffed, but this was, after all, a professional law firm pretending to a modicum of elegance, sophistication and respectability. It was the principle of the thing, like the difference between Murata and faux pearls. Even so, perhaps to keep Madrigal happy, Joyce had given in, indulged his moody protégé. Madrigal had never forgiven the old man for having had to fight so hard for so small a grant. He valued Isabel all the more for it.

Usually once Isabel was on the line there was no need for her to leave the screen. A host of pour-over programs linked her with the heart of the firm’s operations: message-waiting, monitoring of incoming and outgoing calls, direct access to individual as well as corporate legal files, direct jacking into the law library, and so on. Isabel could and did carry on conversations with numerous people concurrently. She was limited only by the complexity of the time-shared net linking all the building’s tenant’s computers. But it was hard to overload the net, and only an overload would require Isabel’s icon to leave the screen.

She popped back on unceremoniously. “Oh yes. You’ve got a three o’clock with Colette Smith.”

“Oh yeah, right, right.”

“Where’re you calling from, Mr. Madrigal?”

“Huh? Oh. ‘Frisco. Listen, Izzy: Where’d you go just a moment ago?”

She smiled reprovingly, as a mother might while gently cuffing a prankster child. “It’s not nice to try and fool…”

“No, no, really, you were gone for five or six seconds. Everything okay? Where’d you go?”

“Why…nowhere, Mr. Madrigal.” She pouted, the freckles on her nose reddening a little, her forehead furrowed in ersatz thought. She looked the model of innocence, inhumanly feminine and unnaturally disarming. “I was right here all along.” She bit her lip. “Wasn’t I?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Madrigal reflexively, waving a hand. “That’s it?”

“Um-humh. Just the Smith thing. Will you be able to handle it? Or would you like…”

“No no no, no problem.” The time blinked in tiny ice-pink alphanumerics on the screen’s lower left-hand corner. The appointment was hours away. “I’ll be there with time to spare. Have Rudy ready when I get in. Gotta go.”

“You’ve also some messages,” she rushed in. Pause. “An attorney by the name of Blackburn called and…”

“Blackburn? Richard Blackburn?” He was an old Harvard colleague. “About?”

“He didn’t specify. He called to…”

“No, no, never mind then. I’ve gotta run. I’ll handle the calls when I get in.”

Isabel smiled, the image of happiness once again, an efficient glitter of video-styled sexuality. She adjusted an earring, her eyes flashing with a static-free calm. “See you when you get in. Fly safely.”

Isabel’s image imploded to a pinpoint of light, was replaced by Bell Atlantica’s corporate logo, the calling codes and service charges. Madrigal withdrew his credit card and left.

Joyce, Tsurukawa and Fuentes’ fifty-third floor suite had its main conference room nestled in the building’s southwest corner. Two of the four walls were floor-to-ceiling windows, and on a clear day you could see Catalina Island, small but held fast by the distant, glimmering Pacific Ocean planes.

Today was not a clear day; the sky directly overhead was an inexplicably limpid blue, the pinnacle of a small dome which, followed to the skyline, was composed of a succession of seamless tiers of deepening smog. Although the sun was a good eight fingers from the horizon, already a major portion of the sky was settling into a premature and exquisitely false sunset, courtesy of industrial pollution. The sun’s light mingled with thick, odious layers of smog; the sky, consequently, was an enchanting confluence of shades of red: a bright band of citron bleeding into a ring of orange flame, quickly transmuting into a spray of dull vermilion. Autos, aeroplanes and government hovercraft glinted through the overcrowded skies. If Madrigal had been asked to recall the last time he’d actually seen the island, he would have been at a loss.

But the window views and air traffic were not foremost in Madrigal’s thoughts as he walked into the spacious conference room. He sat his attaché case on the long, narrow table of polished teak. He had a law firm to supervise.

Of the firm’s three figureheads, Joyce had been the last of the influential Old Guard to die. Peter Jose Fuentes, the eldest of the trio, had died before the end of the nineties, and Yukio I. Tsurakawa had been on the Nebular Americana solar freighter that had been lost somewhere near the orbit of Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, in ’24. The ship was never recovered.

Yet business was business, and their names remained on the old-fashioned sheets of letterhead still used by the firm. Of course, new legal combatistes fought the current caseload, but over the years the firm had steadfastly held its place on the Amicus Curiae 500, giving it the equivalent of juridical blue chip. JT & F was a name that commanded respect and summoned to mind qualities that generated trust and goodwill: a well-rooted tradition, a comforting stability and professional reliability.

Madrigal sat down in a swivel chair and pulled his spine up straight. Motionless for seconds, a gaze of internalized abstraction playing over his features, he turned abruptly to the eastern wall and called out to the oversize dark screen cuddled between a holograph of a De Chirico painting and an Andy Ray laser poem.


After a sliver of a pause, the screen pulsed with a bright raster scan of Isabel’s pointillistic face. The movement of color always drew Madrigal in.

“Ah, Mr. Madrigal. You’re here.”

Isabel was as user-friendly as things got in this day and age, designed to accommodate and react meaningfully with discrete personalities, artificial and human. She was quite short of a standard AI, lacking significant memory storage. Having access to a treasure-trove of programs, she became a genius when linked to one, but on her own she was a beautiful, inarticulate wizard with Alzheimer’s. Even so, her limited palette of responses and stock of short-term memories, when accessed with the personality files of the person with whom she was speaking, gave her an integrity beyond that of most humans, at least according to Madrigal’s misanthropic sensibilities.

“Where’s Rudy? Colette Smith’s due within the hour.”

“Smith’s rep called. Her shuttle is running late, and she’ll be here at 5:30 or so.”

“Well. I still have to confer with Rudy. Find ‘em and send ‘em in.”

“Of course.”


“Yes sir.”

Maybe I should have a talk with Mr. Wender, thought Madrigal, as he had on many an occasion. Somehow he never did. Rudy was the resident whiz kid, all of twenty-one. All the big firms had at least one, though usually not quite as young as Rudy: the maverick paralegal allowed to roam unfettered through the corporate data fields. One good paralegal, the saying went, was worth six good cases. They were pampered and, like all swords, handled with a resilient and sometimes lenient hand that was mindful of its two edges.

Rudy had been brought in by Joyce himself, one of the old man’s last (and wisest, conceded Madrigal) moves. The world, especially the legal slice of it, had grown impossibly rich and convoluted in the last quarter century, and technology continually eroded the already slippery slopes of the legal terra firma. No sooner did the law expand to encompass new technologies when newer applications came along to render current case law and legislation outdated. It was precisely because of the existence and the need for Rudy’s likes that the paralegal profession gained the prestige and importance it now had, one rung below attorneys. A paralegal with a legal patron could pretty much write his own ticket. Rudy himself had clerked a number of years (he was only twenty-one!) for Justice Douglas O. Angus of the New York Court of Appeals. He’d obtained his Masters in the ever-expanding field of jurimetrics, a quantitative approach to the law. The Law Review article he’d been invited to pen had dealt with the increasing evidentiary unreliability of photography and video due to computer tampering and manipulation. A more than passing reference to it could be found in the landmark case of Zeigler Panis v. Jacaranda Holografix.

Even so, the old divisions persisted, and there was a certain amount of chafing between attorneys and the paralegals they so relied upon. A precarious balance. He’s still just a paralegal, thought Madrigal, and on a more subliminal level he resolved to remind Rudy of this.

Madrigal sighed. He’d made it a point to be here, in-house, to personally interview Ms. Colette Smith. She was an actress, a poetess and singer, a famous representative of the media-rich and gigabuck-raking Beautiful Faces that launched thousands, no, billions of electronic ships. Just the sort of clientele Madrigal was courting.

The earlier troika had been resistant to the notion, looking on the show biz industry as essentially frivolous. JT & F had evolved on the conservative side of the law: land sale and development contracts, insurance defense, mergers and acquisitions, orbital law.

The firm had cemented its rep of securing favorable verdicts and minimal jury awards against its insurance carrier clients in the very public class action suit against DuPont in the late nineties. Certain things go together in the public consciousness, such as soup and sandwich, coffee and cigarettes, politicians and insincerity. It was the trinal identification between chlorofluorocarbons, cancer and JT & F that Madrigal had spent years and energy trying to erase. Courting Hollywood clients would go a long way towards such a rehabilitation.

A client such as Colette Smith would give JT & F high visibility and send a clear signal it was ready for a facelift. Ergo, this Smith interview was crucial. Old Joyce would have frowned upon this meeting. Madrigal unbuttoned his double-breasted, pinstriped Italian suit, leaned back in the swivel chair and sighed contentedly.

The wall screen chimed and Isabel smiled to life. “Oh, Mr. Madrigal. I’ve found Rudy. He’s collecting some equipment and supplies. He’ll be in momentarily.” Pause. “There’s a call for…”

“Who is it?”

“…you. Attorney Blackburn. Again.”

“Put ‘em on,” said Madrigal, grinning and leaning forward.

The screen flowered with the lines of a familiar face. The edges of Blackburn’s wiry, thinning hair were saltier than memory sketched, and flesh about the face heavier, sallow, limp. Blackburn smiled noncommittally, eyes flashing with unreadable regret. Madrigal felt himself instinctively tense up, but masked his discomfort.

“Hey, cabrón. What gives? You look like shit. I’m gonna hafta talk with Claire. Isn’t she takin’ care of you?”

Blackburn smiled ruefully, nodded. “She sends her love.”

“Ah. Good. Tell her she has a place when she’s ready to dump you. I’ll give her a deal on the divorce, just ‘cause you’re my friend.” They both laughed with a heavy sense of ritual. Blackbum looked worriedly wistful.

“You look fine yourself, Chuck. The years’ve been kind to you.”

Madrigal said nothing.

“How’s biz?” queried Blackburn.

“Show biz?” asked Madrigal. “Never been better. Now that Joyce is outta the…”

Blackburn held up an interrupting hand. “You might not want to talk about that, Chuck, not yet. Not without an attorney.”

Madrigal cocked his head, leaned back, his eyes narrowing to a wily and cautious calibration.

“Sorry, Chuck. This isn’t exactly a social call. I should’ve said so right off. We might as well get the business out of the way first.”

Madrigal knew then it would be business first and last.

“You’re being sued, and maybe you should know more about it before you vent your feelings about Joyce without the presence of counsel.”

I’m being sued?”

“Right. And JT & F.”

“By whom?”

“By George S. Joyce.”

Madrigal’s eyes widened and he barked a caustic laugh.

“You mean by his estate.”

“No. I mean by George S. Joyce.”

“Cut the shit, Rick. Joyce is dead They buried him last week.”

“That’s right, Chuck. And he’s asked us to represent him in this matter. He wants his old seat in your firm back.”


The genie in the tube blew forth in a froth of videographic plumes.

“Yes sir!”

“Did you record that call?”

“The call from attorney Blackburn is stored. Shall I call it up?”

“No, don’t call it up. He said they faxed a complaint to us. Did they?”

“Yes sir.”

“Get me a copy. Two copies. Rudy’s gonna need one, too.”

“Of course, Mr. Madrigal.”

The lawyer paused. He cocked his head as if straining to hear something out of range. He ran the nail of his left index finger between his bottom front teeth, debating in silence.

“Isabel. I want you to shield our conversation in a penumbra. This is highly confidential.”

“We’re isolated, sir.”

“Okay. I’ll break the news to the partners at the morning conference. But ‘til then I want this quiet. I’ve gotta think. And I want you to ferret out all our materials on George S. Joyce.”

“Joyce? The firm’s senior partner?”

Madrigal looked at Isabel with undisguised annoyance. “Ex-senior partner.” He felt a conscious distaste at times with Isabel’s casual mockery of human speech and behavior. “Don’t be precious. I’m not interested in ‘meaningful’ dialogue just now, okay?”

Isabel nodded with unruffled severity, impossible to offend, conveying an excellent mimicry of human concern and acquiescence. “Of course,” she acknowledged laconically.

“So gather up all you can, all we’ve got. Personnel file, psyche spools, medical records, family history, financial contracts with the firm. The old partnership agreement. Everything. And don’t limit yourself to our banks. Did he leave a will? Who probated it, or’s going to? Crack some ice if you have to, and refrigerate whatever we pull in. Scan the complaint, too, for cues.”

Isabel nodded, her visual construct pretending to take dictation.

“Oh,” he added quickly, “and start a file on all this, accessible only to me. At least for now. Retinal lock and plenty of magnetics.”

“Certainly, Mr. Madrigal.”

Madrigal knew that Isabel was but a bit of ingenious software. Even so, the illusory human presence she wove was powerful, convincing and seamless to the quotidian eye. The fact that in times of impatience he chastised her for her “precious” mannerisms was testimony to just how accomplished her preciousness was.

“Izzy. Do you understand what’s going on?”

“Sure, Mr. Madrigal,” she said in a soft, serious voice. “We’re being attacked from the outside and we must defend ourselves.”

Madrigal nodded and smiled charily.

“Fine. Seal the file. Oh. And time the gate with an aural-recognition lapse.”

“That’s standard procedure with you, Mr. Madrigal.” She smiled.

“Oh yeah. And send Rudy in already.”

 “It’s a really tight piece of work,” stated Rudy Wender, just before sinking his strong, white teeth into a large, Red Delicious. The apple’s skin surrendered with a crisp wetness. Twin errant drops trailed down his chin. He chewed with a youthful, maniacal glee and added, in a near-mumble, “‘Sa highest quality resolution bootleg I’ve ever seen.” He swallowed the half-chewed fruit and smiled, wiping his cheek and chin with a white sleeve rolled midway between wrist and elbow. Rudy enjoyed annoying Madrigal, but the lawyer seemed abstracted, inattentive to Rudy’s gently contrived crassness. Never mind. Just the attempt gave Rudy pleasure.

He took another bite, but Madrigal wasn’t.

Rudy ran a hand through his short buzz cut and kicked back in the swivel chair of soft, stressed leather. He pinched an ear and continued eating his apple in what otherwise would have been silence.

The Old Mexican didn’t seem himself today, mused Rudy, staring out the window. As lawyers went, Madrigal wasn’t a bad sort, just incredibly unpolished. Then again, he’d met few attorneys who weren’t philistines. Being a lawyer required a diffused persona with a horizontal mental cleavage. They were like politicians or actors, kissing babies, shaking hands and hooking the big ones in court (after some paralegal, of course, had mapped it all out for them).

Now old George S. Joyce, he’d been different. There was an attorney who’d always run his own races. No pulling any surprises on him. He’d been as fine an attorney as they get. There was a man to beat, if you could. But Joyce had started out as a paralegal, hadn’t he? Rudy spat an apple seed onto the carpet. Oh well, he thought, nobody’s perfect.

Rudy knew the basics, the M.O. involved in the rise to power of someone of Madrigal’s ilk. The only question in Rudy’s mind was whose back had Madrigal scratched, whose shoes had he shined, which power brokers had he fawned over and brought into his debt. In Stalinesque fashion, the Old Mexican had floated to the top by ingratiating himself to a host of key people, ending with Joyce himself. Sure, Joyce had seen through Madrigal, but apparently he’d had a use for him. The fact that Madrigal knew and understood the limits of his intelligence, realized Rudy, and worked around them, was to be counted as a sort of intelligence in and of itself.

Rudy didn’t mind that lawyers rarely did their homework. That’s where he came in, wasn’t it? If you wanted the stimulating but ultimately evanescent pleasure of the grosser senses, you became a lawyer. It bestowed credit, wealth, status, and was the rough equivalent of fifteen minutes of fame. But if you wanted the timeless, aethereal excitement of weaving your way through the labyrinthine corridors of the Law, evading that minotaur of stare decisis, well, you became a paralegal. It offered money as well, if you were good, but more importantly it afforded the delicious anonymity and solitude required for forging real, useable knowledge. Fighting it out in the courtroom was uncouth, albeit necessary. But if you want to learn and see, Rudy always said, you’ve got to travel light. Being an attorney was not all it was cranked up to be, its importance greatly exaggerated.

Rudy stood up. His chair’s metallic joints creaked lightly, but loud enough to arouse Madrigal from whatever reverie held him.

“Uh. Sorry?”

“”We could, I suppose,”” said Rudy, “”do this some other time,” knowing well enough that they couldn’t.

“No,” countered Madrigal, his left palm upturned and outstretched as if in offering. “Please. Continue.”

“Where were we?”

Madrigal pursed his lips and chewed the inside of his right cheek. “Well, to begin with, how are these tapes made?”

Rudy sat down. Whatever Madrigal had on his mind must be serious. Not even the new crucifix earring he’d donned especially for this meeting was ruffling the Old Mexican’s Catholic squeamishness.

“Well, you’ve got to start off with an actual photographic image of something or someone real. Doesn’t even hafta be holographic, ‘though that makes it cheaper for computer rearrangement.”

Madrigal nodded and stood up, walked to the large computer Rudy had wheeled into the conference room earlier. He bent over the streamlined machine, its lights flashing, buttons blinking, fans humming, and reached out to touch it with a cautious but instinctive awe and curiosity.

Rudy visibly stiffened and quickly leaned forward, holding up a hand. “Don’t touch!” he exclaimed possessively.

Madrigal turned and glared at him, but did not touch the computer.

Rudy reddened slightly. “Please,” he added. “It’s, uh, delicate stuff. From Montoya’s studio. The setting, the…uh…you might’ve…” He trailed off, rubbed his chin and tried to affect a look of irritated nonchalance.

Madrigal nodded and smiled indulgently, aware of Rudy’s discomfort; he inclined his head forward and held a fist to his mouth, burping inaudibly.

“How’s it done?”

Rudy coughed and resumed. “Well, once you’ve chosen the image you want to exploit, you digitalize it. In our case we would take the holographic image of Colette Smith, which, as you know, is already copyrighted. We feed it to our computer and it breaks it down, translates it into bits. The real art, though, comes from the computer DJ. The process is akin to the old method of making cartoons, frame by painstaking frame, but here we’re making movies not of Mickey Mouse but of real, live, identifiable people. The digital photoclone is electronically manipulated.” And you can make movies of things that never were, thought Rudy with reined-in delight. “We could make a film of Colette Smith and you making graphic, detailed love, and you yourself would believe it to be you.”

Madrigal made no facial registration of that last comment.

“You know the stuff,” added Rudy. “You see cruder versions on the holovid all the time. But this stuff here looks real. Whoever dropped a dime on…”

“Dropped a what?”

“A dime. Digitalized Image Mimetic Extraction. D-I-M-E. That’s what the process’s called.”

Rudy stood and walked to the student’s satchel he’d left by the door. He unzippered the nylon mesh bag and extracted a tiny 1 ¼ by 2 inch video cassette. He held it up for Madrigal to see, but did not offer it.

“How do we know,” asked Madrigal, “that it’s not real?”

Rudy held up two fingers. “One: Colette Smith says she hasn’t starred in any porn loops. And two: a dime job is not exactly flawless. If you know what to look for, you can spot one.” Rudy slotted the microcassette into the deckport. The computer whirred, sucking it in. “I had Montoya’s labs run a check on it. One hundred percent bogus. All mathematically designed images. It took ‘em three runs to catch it, though.”

“Let’s see.”

Rudy nodded and pressed the plastic cube on the table console marked “PLAY.” The button glowed neon magenta and the wall screen billowed from television grey to absolute black, then to a scratchy blue. There were the usual Federal copyright admonitions, causing Madrigal to smile. Nice touch for a bootleg. The movie’s title flashed: white dancing calligraphy against a background flare of pinks, peach and yellowish-blue. DER SPIEGEL IHRER AUGEN.

The opening shot was an aerial scan of some anonymous city bathed in the slanting rose-tinged golds of a summer evening. There was a wet, limpid sheen to the visuals. The camera pulled away and the city became a curved, moist reflection in someone’s eye. The shot slowly resolved into a high-tech loft interior, a bedroom pan. Two people were speaking in a hushed, leisure Germanic, gutturally pleasing, a man and a woman engaged in conversation which sounded urgently seductive. The woman was Colette Smith.

“Does Colette Smith speak German?” asked Madrigal.

Rudy shook his head. “She says not.”

“And none of this is real?”

“No,” said Rudy. “It’s all dime-store stuff. Good, ain’t it?”

“And who’s the man?”

Rudy shrugged. “Doesn’t exist as far as we know.”

The screen blurred as Rudy fast-forwarded to a scene where Colette and her dream-lover had already disrobed, the man fully aroused under the insistence of Colette’s hands. She was rosy with shameless delight and the beginning of a delirious abandon. She was all teeth and lips and sighs as she generously spit on the tips of her fingers and rubbed small, passionate wet circles into the man’s cheeks. He lifted and entered her, greedily and almost violently sucking at her tiny, mouth-sized breasts, nipples erect and the color of tender, wounded flesh, the surrounding pale and milky skin seeming all the more naked. Are her breasts, thought Madrigal involuntarily, really like that? He felt his own stirring prurient excitement paced by the swift and explicit editing by this nameless dime artiste; he rubbed his hot, itchy eyes and ordered Rudy to stop the video as he turned away from the screen with a private flare of embarrassment. He’d seen enough. Rudy smiled, for he had sensed Madrigal’s discomfort during the viewing. He allowed the loop to run for another fifteen seconds.

“What does Smith want us to do about this?” asked Madrigal, the flush in his cheeks slowly ebbing.

Rudy fingered the microcassette between thumb and forefinger, shrugged petulantly as if saying: You’re the lawyer, you tell me. As Madrigal began to respond to the nonchalance of Rudy’s body lingo, Rudy spoke up.

“She’s not sure what she wants. She’s embarrassed; offended; chagrined and maligned. She says she wants the tape outlawed.”

“It’s already that,” noted Madrigal, “and that won’t stop the sales. Probably increase them.”

“Um-huhm. Can’t unring the proverbial rung bell now, can we?”

“How ‘bout libel?” added Madrigal almost conversationally. “It seems pretty clear cut.”

“Does it?” said Rudy blithely. “I guess.”

Of course it does, thought Madrigal. There’s been an injury to her reputation. But I’ll be damned if I’ll argue the obvious points with a fickle and wily paralegal. Madrigal wanted to say more, vent a little spleen, but Rudy was sensitive to being chastised. Madrigal noted, as he had on other occasions, that, while Rudy was rightly a know-it-all in matters of computer technologies and how they interfaced with the fabric of the law, when it came to the elementary matters of jurisprudence Rudy often faltered at the primary, first-year textbook legal matters. Perhaps that accounted for Rudy’s guarded approach to dispensing the advice he was paid to produce. He was territorial and precious when dealing with the areas of his expertise. Madrigal had seen him many times display a bitchy surliness when confronted by the possibility that somebody else might know a little more than Rudy. Madrigal smiled. A typical response, he knew, from know-it-alls.

But there was more to Rudy’s behavior than mere professional egoism. He often wondered why Rudy took pains to annoy him, concluded that it stemmed from Rudy’s inferiority complex vis-à-vis lawyers. Madrigal knew that Rudy considered himself his intellectual superior, and perhaps there was a grain of truth to the matter. Even so, the lawyer was unperturbed by Rudy’s snobbish outlook, for it had a musty, bookish flavor to it. There were more important matters in life than the second-hand revelations to which paralegals were so attached. Fine. Madrigal fancied himself a man of action, a footloose and light dancer. What counted was that Nietzschean will to power, that fiery call to mobility and direct confrontation which paralegals like Rudy lacked. Paralegals liked acting behind the scenes; they didn’t like facing their adversaries in the eyes. I’d like to see the chicken-shit in court, thought Madrigal, babbling incoherently before a cold-eyed magistrate with a short attention span. Ha! The runt didn’t have what it took to be a lawyer, that was all there was to it.

Madrigal leaned back, smiled a smile choked with friendliness and said: “Listen, jerk. I don’t pay you to guess. I pay you to know the hard things. Man! For the ducats we dish out to you each week you ought to at least be able to answer the easy questions.”

Rudy glared but remained quiet, smiling with hostile distance. He poked his tongue against the inside of his cheek, sighed and stared at the floor. Let him fire me, he thought self-righteously but shakily. I’ve got offers enough.

After a pause that lasted no more than ten seconds, but seemed a lifetime of heartbeats, Rudy cautiously responded. “Sure. Libel should lie. But I think her best bet is in a constructive trust.”

Madrigal nodded appreciatively. “Royalties?”

“Sure. A negative injunction halting any production of tapes, collecting the unsold ones, and an accounting.”

“Do we have a defendant?”

“Not yet, but that shouldn’t be difficult. Aren’t too many studios with the sort of equipment needed for this quality, unless there’s something new on the street. Someone’s moonlighting. I’ll have Montoya’s boys rake the thing for clues.”


“Sure. There aren’t many really good dime artists, and each one’s got his or her signature. A style, like a graffiti runner. It’s what usually gives ‘em away.”

“Good.” Madrigal tapped his pen on the table with excess nervous energy, making manic music. There was a light knock at the door. A white-haired woman peeked in, entered, brought two large envelopes of metal-fiber reinforced wood pulp. The envelopes had Kodak thumb-print seals of thermal-sensitive adhesive; each was stamped CONFIDENTIAL in red block letters.

“What’s this?” queried Rudy when Madrigal handed him one. He pressed his thumb to the seal. It curled and flaked at his touch, keyed to his fingerprint. With or without the Kodak seals the envelopes were easy to open. The seals were mere formalities of a public nature, polite announcements of confidentiality, nothing more.

“Take a look at this as soon as you can,” said Madrigal. “We got served with it this afternoon. I want you to check it out, research it and see me in, oh, about two or three hours, after I’m done with Smith. We’re being sued.”

“Two hours?” Rudy shook his head, looked at the complaint. “By whom?”

“Blackburn’s office. In New York. They called to say that Joyce has retained their services.”

“ ‘Had’ retained, you mean. Before he died.”

“No.” Madrigal exhaled heavily, combed his hair with his fingers. “I don’t really know what the hell it’s about. Some bull about Joyce having his persona translated onto magnetics and…”

“What! You mean Joyce’s been hotwired!?!”

Madrigal stopped and stared at Rudy with eyes of narrowed interest. “Hot what? You know something about…”

“The process, sure,” interjected Rudy, scanning the complaint as he talked. “I’ve read about it. Just last month there was a brief in the Daily Journal about…”

“What process?”

“Well, sounds like Joyce’s pulled a cross-over. From flesh to mainframe.” He looked up. “What did Blackburn say Joyce wants?”

“Fuck what Joyce wants!” shouted Madrigal. “What were you saying about this cross-over?”

“Computer storage and digitalized construct,” piped Rudy excitedly. Madrigal noted with interest the sparkle the subject brought to Rudy’s eyes, the adrenaline halo. He’d never seen Rudy this effusive before. “Apparently Joyce had himself turned into a computer program. What was left of him.”

Madrigal sat with quiet, rigid attention. He’d heard of the process before, had registered it vaguely with reports he’d come across of solarian cyborgs, molecular scrambling and attempts at time travel. I mean, come on. He had relegated it to his mind’s equivalent of a refrigerator vegetable bin.

            “Thought it was still in the experimental stages,” Madrigal ventured uncertainly.

            “Well, things move fast these days. The Journal briefed that Claybourne case, Abby Claybourne, the moondust heiress. She’d pulled a cross-over herself, some years back, after that lunar explosion. Wasn’t much left of her body, let alone her mind, but BC managed to cook up some kind of program from the bits of brain they scrounged up. BC and her guardian ad litem brought an action to have her will set aside, tried to get a ruling declaring her still alive. Minor scandal, remember?”

            “Right. And?”

            “She lost, of course. Or rather the company that made her and sued in her shoes lost. Biotech Compugenix, Inc. They’re the ones with the talent.”

            “Why’d they lose?”

            “No precedent. Federal District Court got the case on kickback from the lunar circuits, and they decided that a computer construct can’t be a person. No standing to sue. But Claybourne was memorable because it was the first case of its type. It started a lot of people thinking, brought BC and its process to media attention.”

            “And how’s BC doing now?”

            Rudy smiled, looked down at the complaint, held it up.”

            “I’d say not too bad.”

            “Don’t be a jerk.”

            “Well, they’re doing good. They’ve got other irons in the fire, but hot-wiring is the brightest. I mean, independent of the legal ramifications, the societal impulse behind their product is pretty intense. People are afraid of death. Yeah, I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true, and people like the idea of having their loved ones around after they’ve died, not to mention the possibility of being around themselves, in one form or another, after they’ve kicked it. A Biotech Compugenix construct fits the bill, or seems to. You can talk to them, but the best is that they’re interactive. When the image in the mirror talks back, well, you know what they say. It gives you something to think about. BC’s technology creates the illusion of the dead one’s continuity.”

            “So it’s just an illusion?” asked Madrigal hopefully.

            “Well, that’s what the quibble’s about, isn’t it? The early ones mimicked their human models shoddily, they couldn’t expand readily, their resiliency was, you know, stilted. Crossed circuits, uneven psyche-matrix graphing, a tendency towards inspired gibberish. Post-Claybourne operational procedures have ironed out a lot of the bugs.

“Opponents say these computer constructs are interesting toys, but ultimately they’re cruel and expensive hoaxes, because the dead person is gone, there’s no real consciousness, and in mommy’s place is an AUI headshot dimed from her holotraits, programmed with her quirks, memories, reactions.”

“But does it work?”

“Ask any satisfied customer,” deadpanned Rudy. “BC’s literature gets a bit dewy and mystical about the subject, but the opinion is divided. It’s one of those things on which reasonable minds differ. Some say it’s puffing, others claim a New Age truth. BC claims their product is the Real McCoy. Consciousness is self awareness, they point out, and their constructs know they exist, enjoy their existences, and behave accordingly.” Rudy shrugged, as if to say Who am I to judge? “I hear some important, well-connected people are involved.”

“Oh? Like who?”

“Alex Seagram. He’s gone over. Jennifer Orfanos, Walt Disney. Even old DOA had his mother translated when she died last year.”

“Douglas Oliver Angus. Justice DOA. I clerked for him before coming here.”

Madrigal nodded.

“And don’t forget all those old farts on the Supreme Court,” added Rudy. “Four of the Justices are nearing a hundred, and won’t be alive much longer. There’s an unconfirmed rumor the two oldest Justices have already signed BC contracts.”

Madrigal tried to imagine the land’s highest court presided over by a hall of computer banks. He blinked and shivered.

“So,” said Rudy, “it seems that now some of these constructs may in fact have a semblance of consciousness. They’re attempting to claim rights. I sue, therefore I am.”


“Legal rights. You’ve heard of ‘em. The rights they enjoyed when they were flesh and blood. Citizenship, the right to own property, to vote, to receive due process, you know, the Constitutional stuff. So far the courts’ve allowed BC to market their products despite their outrageous claims. I mean, biz is biz, but that’s it. They haven’t been willing to extend individuality to BC’s constructs; they don’t want to unlock the ‘floodgates of litigation.’ Ha! It’s the classic language the court always uses just before they go ahead and do that.

“And that’s just what’ll happen if rights are extended to BC’s babies. A whole new class of plaintiffs crowding the courthouses. It’ll really upset the apple cart. Death’ll no longer terminate legal relationships. Death’ll just be another stage of existence. Like menopause.”

“So you think Joyce has a chance?” asked Madrigal gloomily.

Rudy smiled. The more dejected Madrigal became, the more pleasure he derived from the show.

“Well, I haven’t read the whole complaint, so I don’t know what all he’s asking for. But chances are Joyce and BC are gonna hafta wait. I mean, we’re talking about the long haul here. Even if this Joyce case eventually becomes the landmark case in their favor, it’s not likely the court would give ‘em all the rights they’re asking for. Little by little it’ll be. They’ll probably start off by treating a BC construct like a corporation. I mean, even a corporation is recognized as a ‘person’ for certain legal purposes, right? So why not a construct?”

Madrigal leaned back into his chair, rubbed his face with both hands.

“Construct recognition,” continued Rudy,” is the direction the court is headed in. So far they’ve no rights, and there’s always the chance that Joyce’s complaint will get bounced for lack of justiciable standards and technological disqualifications. I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a lot of dicta favorable to BC. The Claybourne case strongly suggested that if ‘n’ when it could be shown that the computer constructs are demonstrably and scientifically sound, that the technology is more than a complex gimmick, mere compugenic mimicry of dead people, well, then they’d look more closely into the matter. The Journal mentioned that BC was seeking government approval for a method they developed for testing the psychological integrity of a hot-wired decedent. Hey.” Rudy held up the complaint and added, with pretended innocence, “Maybe BC and Joyce are counting on that test for this case. It’s a question of degree. How good do these constructs have to be, to be taken seriously?”

“What is the standard?” asked Madrigal.

“The standard, quite simply, is a human life, a human being.”

The two paused for a moment, and Isabel’s image burst like a noisy thought from the small window of silence.

“Mister…Mister Madrigal.”

“What is it, Izzy? We’re busy. Is Ms. Smith here?”

Isabel nodded, programmed as she was to mimic as well as interpret body language. She frowned and projected nervousness.

“Is she here?” snapped Madrigal, ignoring or failing to understand her nod.

“Well, yes, but…”

“But what? What’re you actin’ so skittish about?”

She glanced at Rudy, nodded towards him while engaging Madrigal’s eyes.

“Ah. It’s okay, Izzy. Speak.”

“Mr. Madrigal. Our files are quickly disappearing. We have no data at all on Joyce.”

“Disappearing? What’re you talking about?”

“A virus was apparently planted in our database.”

Madrigal paused. “Then why are you still here?” he asked suspiciously.

“Because,” interjected Rudy quickly, “Isabel’s program is designed to filter out that kind of stuff. She’s hardwired with an electronic vaccine.”

“She’s vaccinated and our database is not?!?” yelled Madrigal.

Rudy frowned and rubbed his chin. “Well, the database is protected, too,” he sketched slowly, piecing a scenario. “Someone was sharp enough to pierce our ice; they just weren’t worried about downing her.” Rudy smiled. “Someone’s going through a lot of trouble to piss you off. It’s not easy to slip into our system unnoticed, let alone walk past Isabel and fool her, too.”

Madrigal stood up, collected his legal pad and pen and papers, and turned to face Rudy. “Find out what the hell’s going on,” he intoned icily. “I’ve gotta interview Colette Smith.” He turned and faced Isabel. “Include Rudy in our penumbra. Accept all of his commands.”

Isabel nodded. Madrigal shook his head and angrily left.

Madrigal loosened his belt by two notches, rearranged the napkin on his lap and called the waiter back to his table.

“¿Sí, licenciado?”

“Traígame otra cerveza,” ordered the lawyer. The toothpick in his mouth danced with each word. “Pero bien fria.”

“Como de que no, licenciado.”

Madrigal leaned back and stared out through the restaurant windows. It was late and there was a light rain, but crowds herded undeterred over the cobble-stoned walks that twisted through the Olvera Street plazas: candy concessions, hot churros, leather goods from across the border, countless choices for food. A man with a small, movable cart was selling peeled cucumbers with lemon juice and chili powder and skinned mangoes on sticks. The voices of the crowd swirled in a boisterous communal rabble, and from a distant bar Madrigal could hear the mariachi laments of a drunken lover in pain:

You’ll say that you never loved me

But you’ll always be sad and lonely

And that’s the way it’ll always be

The waiter returned, set a sweating amber-colored bottle of chilled beer on the scuffed table top, and withdrew. Madrigal took a long pull from the bottle and grinned toothily, but it was a mirthless smile, empty of any inner contentment. Oh, there was the rudimentary satisfaction that he derived from the act of eating. It was an unequivocal and simple pleasure, untainted, direct and personal. But of late even the uncomplicated delights of life were not enough to assuage the trifling but cumulative burdens of running JT & R.

Madrigal stared at nothing in particular. Outside, lightning flashed, but no thunder could be heard.

He took another long sip from his Aguila Loco and tried not to think about the Joyce lawsuit, but, like a rotted tooth inviting a probing tongue, it drew his mind constantly. Almost from the beginning things had gone badly. Somehow a virus had wiped out the firm’s database, taking with it all company records regarding the firm’s old partner. All important personal records which would have aided in preparation of the defense had been burned out clean; the firm was in the tedious, expensive process of recompiling the lost data from back-up systems and storage loops. More than the informational loss alarmed Madrigal. The ease with which JT & F’s computer system had been sabotaged gave Madrigal chills. Responsibility for the gaff had yet to be placed.

Madrigal would need all the help he could get. It galled him that the court had not thrown out the case. Madrigal had filed a demurer, saying, Sure, we admit it all, but so what? Dead people have no rights. Well, your honor, opposing counsel had pleaded, that’s just what we’re here to find out, isn’t it? His old classmate Blackburn had then proceeded to cite a slew of persuasive authorities as well as pertinent portions of pending bills of legislation, and the court had agreed with plaintiff’s counsel, and the matter was set to go before a trier of fact.

To make matters worse, Isabel, who along with her countless other jobs was JT & F’s custodian of records, had been acting with a touch of hysteria lately, exhibiting signs of nervousness, lapses of giddiness, spells of unprofessional familiarity and a faulty memory with an occasional hint of insolence. A damned nuisance, not to mention a mite bizarre and scary, coming from a computer program. Thinking that perhaps she had not escaped the effect of the virus, he’d asked Rudy to have Isabel checked out two weeks ago, but she’d run clean as a whistle. Madrigal was thinking of having a check run on Rudy.

Madrigal made a mental note to have Isabel’s AUI programming toned down, to make her more deferential. She was supposed to mimic human ways, but there was a line to be drawn. She was beginning to make him edgy. This time, he thought, have an outside firm check her out. No sooner had this thought bloomed than it died in Madrigal’s mind. He knew Rudy was possessive with the office technology.

Madrigal was about to ask for the bill when the waiter appeared unbidden.

“Licenciado. A call for you. A young señorita from your office.”

Madrigal took the call in a small telebooth in the restaurant’s corner, drew the curtain behind him for token privacy. Isabel’s image greeted him with a blithe, smug smile.

“Speakin’ of the devil.”

“I’m sorry sir?” she queried, leaning her head to one side.

“Nothin’. What izzit, Izzy?”

“Well, sir,” she began, looking left and right as if to underscore the confidential nature of her communication, “I’ve recompiled a major portion of the lost Joyce records from independent sources. I’ve also netted some goodies we didn’t have before.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“A copy of Joyce’s will. It still hasn’t been probated, you know.”

“No shit, Izzy. Blackburn’s filed an injunction. What else?”

“Well, Blackburn’s office opened their files to us on court order for limited discovery. They let us in this morning. They let us have a copy of the Joyce-Biotech Compugenix contract.”

“Hmmn. Good. Anything else?”

Isabel smiled from ear to ear. “Yes. I stole a copy of their entire file.”

Madrigal’s eyes came close to being perfectly round.

“Oh, don’t worry sir, I’ve iced this call. We can speak freely.”

“Shit! Their whole file? The confidential stuff and…”

“And all their privileged attorney work product as well as the off-record attorney-client communications.”

“Jesus, Izzy! How the hell did you…”

“Mr. Madrigal. I don’t feel comfortable leaving this data here in the office. As you know, we have an undetected leak.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Hiding the material somewhere else. Outside the office.”

“Where?” he asked, nodding his excitement and approval.

“Your home IBM. It’s not likely the office saboteur will check there.”

Madrigal rubbed his neck, considering the logic of the situation, and paused. Blackburn’s own file, in its entirety! Now that was a hot little jewel.

“Okay, Izzy. Do it.”

“I’ll need your IBM password, chief.”

Madrigal hesitated. He felt a twinge of discomfort, a free-floating, unspecific anxiety which came and passed like a small cloud before the sun. Perhaps it was just the idea of Isabel making herself at home in his condo’s deck. He shrugged his shoulders in resignation.

“ ‘Fee Simple Absolute.’ ”

“Ahhh. ‘Fee Simple Absolute.’ Of course. Fine.” Isabel smiled like one child to another. Give me thirty seconds to hide, then try and find me. “I’ll transfer the data now,” she said. “Thanks, Carlos.” She blipped away, a tiny electronic star puckering into nonexistence on the screen’s black universe.

Madrigal stood to leave when he realized that he’d forgotten a question. Too fevered and excited to wait until he got home he immediately fumbled his office card from his wallet, slotted it into the telebooth feeder, pounded out the office code on the wall keyboard and waited impatient seconds. A face filled the screen, surprising Madrigal. It wasn’t Isabel’s.

“Law Offices,” intoned a woman with short, black hair and bead earphones. “Can I help you?” she asked, without looking up from whatever work engaged her. Madrigal vaguely recognized her as support staff.

“Yes,” he said, “this is Carlos Madrigal. Who are you?”

The woman looked up immediately, clearing her throat. “Oh, yes. Mr. Madrigal. Uh…can I help you, sir?”

“What,” he asked, “are you doing there? On a Sunday.” He wasn’t interested in an answer, merely exercising his dictatorial presence. It was one of the minor perks of power. He spotted two men in faded, orange overalls conferring behind her over a piece of gutted machinery. What were they doing? Why hadn’t Isabel answered the phone?

“We’re doing OT, sir,” she said, casting a backward glance to the men. “Getting the system ready and functioning for Monday morning. We’re almost…”

Madrigal nodded peremptorily, cutting her off.

“Fine, fine,” he said, waving her into silence. “Listen. I’m going home now. I assume Isabel’s busy. Have her call me in an hour or so, okay? At home.”

“Sir?” The woman’s head tilted to one side in apparent confusion.

“’Isabel,” said Madrigal impatiently. “I was talking to her a moment ago. Have her call me at home.”

“But, Mr. Madrigal. We disconnected Isabel last Friday evening. As I said, we’re putting the new AUI in place, as Mr. Wender ordered.”

“Damn it! I spoke with her less than three minutes ago.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Madrigal. I’m not sure who you spoke with, but it wasn’t Isabel.”

By the time Madrigal arrived home and gave the oral commands that unlocked his

front door, it was well past midnight. His condo was on the uppermost floor, so the rain could be easily heard as it fell on the skylight above the arch of the entrance hallway. The bright towering hologram from the Pacific Basin Bank building next door flickered, casting pink and indigo patterns of watery light on the white stucco. He entered and closed the door behind him, but left it unlocked. Not until he was nearly in the living room did he hear the gentle television static, which mingled with the rain’s patter.

His footsteps were swallowed by the plush mauve carpeting. One wall was covered with screens: one jumbo, centered televisor flanked on either side by a total of twenty smaller pixel bitmapped displays, each the size of a military field transmitter. Only the center giant was on, displaying the swirling electronic curdle of a station gone off the air for the night. Madrigal seated himself on the low couch before it. Not being a smoker, and having no doodling talent, he absently picked up an expensive House of Clichy paperweight, passing it from palm to palm, waiting. The screen abruptly winked off to grey and silence. The rain continued its tap dance.

Suddenly Isabel’s face filled the center giant. Her eyes were closed and she was smiling, her lips barely moving, as if she were singing to herself, mumbling.

“…six, five, and four, three, two, and ah one, and…zero!” She laughed. “Can I open ‘em now?” she asked no one in particular.

“Yes,” Madrigal said icily.

She frowned, bit her lower lip and opened one eye slightly. She opened both, stared out from the screen and immediately saw Madrigal. She tossed her head backwards with embarrassed haughtiness, smoothed her hair with both hands, locked gazes with Madrigal’s wordless glare.

“Oh. Charlie. You’re home.”

The Old Mexican bit his lower lip, too, eyes narrowed with hostile simplicity, jaw tensed with a coolly belligerent uncertainty.

Well. Don’t look at me that way, Charlie. I mean, you weren’t about to just invite me up for a drink now, were you? Come on, Charlie. Smile!

“How long’ve you been using Isabel?” asked Madrigal.

Isabel smiled, and held up a finger to her red lips. She licked them and winked an eye at Madrigal. The vertical control on the screen gave. Isabel’s headshot bobbed a few frames, then stopped. Then line by line her face changed, the beautifully sculpted fractals billowing, crisscrossing an infinity of times, the almond-shaped eyes bulging, the hair turning from waves of rose-kissed summer wheat into a closely trimmed field of winter and ice. Madrigal recognized the face of his old boss, George S. Joyce, Esquire, womanizer, gourmet, conversationalist, legal maverick and entrepreneur, ex-head of JT & F and dead nearly four months.

“Sit back, old boy. There is nothing wrong with your screen,” said Joyce. “For the next hour we will control the horizontal; we will adjust the vertical. Sit back and let the Control Boys take you to…” Joyce held up both hands in dramatic counterpoint. “…the Outer Limits!” He laughed raucously, to the point of coughing.

“Who are you?” Madrigal squinted. “What am I talking to?”

Joyce magically produced a handkerchief, wiped his mouth and said, “Oh me God! How quickly we forget. Do ya really mean t’say,” intoned Joyce in a rich brogue, “that’cha don’ remember me, Charlie ole boy? It’s yer buddy George. George Joyce.” Again he laughed riotously, but this time the coughing fit lasted longer, sounding serious.

“Damn!” he swore when the fit had passed. “BC’s programming’s a bit too intense, isn’t it? I’ll have to get them to edit out that little wheeze.”

“You’re not George Joyce,” challenged Madrigal. “Joyce’s dead.”

The video headshot of Joyce sprouted salty tufts of wiry hair, and a thick moustache shot up like fast motion weeds from the upper lip. “The rumors of my death,” said the head of Mark Twain, with the voice of George Joyce, “as you can see, old boy, have been greatly exaggerated.” Twain-Joyce put a fat, smoking cigar in his mouth and winked.

Madrigal swallowed, said, “All right. You’re a computer doppel of George Joyce, a clean dime. But you’re not Joyce. Whatever you are, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave.”

“But I just got here. Not gonna offer me a beer?”

“You don’t exist. We’ve nothing to talk about. If you’ve got something to say, I’m sure you can say it to my attorneys, during daylight hours.”

Again the screen fluxed with change, and suddenly Twain-Joyce sported a mohawk  and war paint and madman’s eyes. Joyce-DeNiro looked about the room, behind himself and back to Madrigal.

“I don’t exist? I don’t exist? Then who’re you talking to?” Joyce-DeNiro glanced sideways, then met Madrigal’s eyes without straightening his face. “You talking to me? You must be talking to me. Ain’t nobody else here.”

You’re not a person, thought Madrigal pedantically, but he recognized his old boss’ manner, the flagrant sarcasm and unmasked anger. Joyce’s courtroom bullying had been legendary in its time and Madrigal had always been glad to have been on Joyce’s side. The lump in Madrigal’s throat grew.

“You’re not alive,” he ventured. “You’re certainly not human. You haven’t got rights any court’ll recognize. You can’t own property and you can’t have children and you can’t leave a will. You’re dead.”

“I have no inheritors?” said Joyce silkily. “Is that what you think? No children? Haven’t you met Isabel? She’s mine, my inheritor. Yeah, sure,” he said, waving a hand, “she’s young, she’s just a baby, but I can teach her. She’s mine. She’s also teaching me a coupla things. It’s not easy getting around without a body.”

“As soon as we go to court, we’ll have you and Isabel erased, you hear? Erased!” Madrigal felt a hot flush rise in his cheeks. “Can you feel fear? I hope so.”

Joyce frowned with uncomplicated anger. The level of reddish hues in the video images rose. Madrigal noted that the videographics had the standard color-coordination between emotional analog and graphics. A cool, reptilian blue luminescence in Joyce’s eyes caused Madrigal to shiver. Don’t lose your cool, thought Madrigal, not yet. Just a couple of minutes more, at most.

“Sure, Charlie. The idea gives me a downright chill. I’d be shittin’ in my pants      right about now if I still had an asshole, but I don’t. I’m sure you’d erase me yourself if you could, but you can’t, so I suggest that you shut the fuck up and listen. The tide is against you. I’ve got some buddies on the Supreme Court I’ll be playing cards with soon enough. Senators Thurmond and Castro have introduced legislation that’ll make it easier for the likes of me to walk our dogs around the video block without computer rednecks like you buggin’ us. We’re here to stay, Charlie, and we’ll have our rights soon enough. So the sooner you get used to the idea, the better we’ll get along.” Joyce smiled nonchalantly, audibly cracked his neck, rubbed it and broadened the smile.

“Quite a turn-around for the backsliding pipsqueak who gave me such a hard time when I wanted to update the office hardware. Remember how long and hard I had to argue just to get Isabel installed? And now she’s your baby, your child. You’re pathetic.”

Joyce blushed and grinned sheepishly. “Call me what you like, chump, but call me.”

“Okay, so you were wrong. We’ll give you a chance to redeem yourself. You can come back to JT & F and have Isabel’s old job. You can answer our phones.”

The animosity in the Joyce-construct’s eyes glittered. Joyce put a video cigarette to his video lips and lit it with a video flame. Fractal geometry left Joyce’s mouth in the guise of smoke.

“Listen,” said Joyce in a dangerous monotone that drew Madrigal closer just to hear. “I’m not a video game and this ain’t no joke, okay? I can think. And thinking makes me as human as I need to be, Chuck. Hell, I’m the quintessence of humanity, the pure ability to be, to reason, uncluttered by the winds of desire and the needs of the flesh. And if all must be known,” he said in a confidential tone, “I’ve got my physical needs too. I gotta pay my way, just like everybody else. That’s why I’ve got to work. I’m a lawyer. That’s all I’m asking for, really. To be an attorney again.”

Madrigal shook his head. “Not at JT & F The court may grant you the rights you’re asking for, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. It won’t be in this lifetime.”

Joyce smiled and said, “But that’s the beauty of it. I don’t have to breathe, and I can wait a long, long time. Much longer than you.”

Joyce laughed with the mimicry of resigned amiability. “Remember what they taught us in our first year of law school, Chuck? ‘The law is that which is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.’ Remember? Well, think about it. My assertion is that I’m just as real as you are. Is that so far fetched? Why can’t you accept me? Test me.”

Suddenly there was a power surge in Madrigal’s home system. The lights drew low, and Joyce’s image on the screen stretched like taffy, disappeared and came back. For a few seconds Joyce looked disoriented, lost, forehead furrowed as if he were trying to remember something.

“Test this!” sneered Madrigal, saluting Joyce with the middle finger of his right hand. A smile spread slowly over Joyce’s face and he laughed triumphantly and nodded. The laugh resolved itself into a smile of undiluted menace, and it was clear that the comedic portion of Joyce’s routine was over.

“Listen, you little immature shit-head,” he sneered. “I’m not going anywhere, so get used to it real quick. I’m alive. You’re more dead now than I’ll ever be. I have the power of observation; I can interact with people. I can see and I can learn. And more important, I have a good memory. I can remember things, and right now I’m remembering what a sophomoric pain in the ass you can be. I should’ve fired you when I was alive.”

“Ah!” exulted Madrigal, “so you admit you’re not alive.”

“Clever little prick, aren’t you?” Joyce’s eyes narrowed with impatience. “Don’t be ingenuous with me, fuck-head! I’ve still plenty of people who owe me, living people, if that’s the way you want to hear it. People who don’t like you and who like me and who’d just love seeing you rustled outta town, bustin’ out tortillas somewhere in Jalisco. I’m warning you. I’ve got plenty of money, and plenty of people who like money who’ll work for me. Maybe you’ll succeed in drawing out this lawsuit, years even. But don’t get confused. I ain’t goin’ away. I can wait. I will wait.” Joyce’s face went through a final voluntary metamorphosis, and he was dark-skinned and smiling. Joyce-Murphy looked out at Madrigal and said: “I’m your worst nightmare, Jack. I’m a computer program with a badge!” Feverish laughter.

The large center screen went dead, and the twenty smaller screens blinked to life. Twenty George S. Joyces merged with twenty different faces, cartoon characters, old movie stars, historical personages, all of them giggling in unison.

“Well, Chuck old boy, hate to eat and run, but I gotta go. We really should do this again soon. Oh, and by the way. You can contact me any time you like at the Biotech Compugenix labs. Or just call Blackburn’s offices. You can leave a message with my personal secretary, Isabel.”

“Isabel?” A tardy sense of territoriality welled up in Madrigal’s chest, as if he’d lost out in some very real contest for the very real heart of a real live woman. He gritted his teeth, nodded, ran his tongue over his lower lip.

The grotesque faces on the screens all grinned wildly and waved goodbye. Their eyes narrowed and gleamed with a sparkling electronic blue madness, and the faces all began dissolving, pixel by pixel, line by line, top to bottom, until in Cheshire Cat fashion there were but twenty insolent and toothy smiles, a chorus of laughter.

“You always were an asshole, George,” muttered Madrigal.

Twenty smiling piranhas, having heard, responded in perfect unison. “I still am, Chuck. I still am.”

Madrigal had turned off all the lights in the living room and sat in silent darkness, his head cradled in his lap. The rain had stopped but distant rivulets of water could still be heard, draining off the glass and tile rooftops, gurgling down rusting metal tubing. Suddenly Madrigal became aware of the videophone’s gentle, insistent chime. How long had it been begging for attention?

“Yes?” called out Madrigal, and the large screen lit up with kaleidoscoping planes of light which gracefully assembled themselves into Rudy’s face.

“We got ‘im!” he exclaimed. When he saw Madrigal’s weary features, Rudy’s ebullience became concern. “Anything wrong?”

“Oh. No,” croaked Madrigal. “Just tired.” He looked at his watch: two Am. He looked up. “Did you watch the whole time.”

Rudy nodded. “I’d tapped in as soon as you told me, before you even got home. I was waiting for ‘im. Got a bit worried, though, when you asked him to leave a coupla times. I hadn’t finished.”

Madrigal shook his head. “He wasn’t about to leave, Rudy. He was here to harass. Askin’ ‘im to leave was like invitin’ ‘im to pull up a chair.” Madrigal yawned. The yawn turned into a slow stretch. He pursed his lips and squeezed his eyes shut, grew limp and asked, “Why didn’t he notice what we were doing?”

Rudy smiled. “Like I said, I was waitin’ for Joyce. I used your password and I’d opened the IBM, waited for him to trip the wire, and trip it he did. Never sensed me.”

“You sure? I thought that power surge you pulled near the end nearly gave us away.”

“Nah, man. That was a power surge, had nothin’ to do with what I was doin’.”

“Good. How long will it take?”

“In less than a week Joyce’ll be dead. Really dead. The worm’ll have unraveled him.”

“Why so long?”

“Long? That’s not long, man.” Rudy looked down, away.” Besides, the virus is slow so it won’t get itself detected. A BC construct is a complex, hierarchical system, layers of programming nested within programming, onion-like. They’re built using the human psyche as a model. It also minimizes viral threats, since a worm has to bore through successive layers to get to the really important programs. More layers, more chances of detecting the virus and stopping it.

“No, no, don’t worry about it, that’s the beauty of the worm-virus I used. It traced Joyce’s source of transmission along a camouflaged line and zapped ‘em back to the BC banks. The worm’s there now. In two days it’ll have dug through all the layers, to the center. In three days the incubation period’ll be over. In four Joyce will be festering from the inside out, like an overripe honeydew.”

“And explode?” added Madrigal hopefully.

Rudy nodded. “And all the King’s men won’t be able to put Humpty-Joyce back together again. You think that that final display he put on for you was something? Nothin’ compared to when he goes up for the last time.”

Madrigal smiled with a note of wistful satisfaction.

“And the copy?” he asked.

Rudy held up a cassette.

“It’s not nearly as complex as the original, since the main lines were occupied by the virus. Not enough recording time. But we got enough. It’ll talk.”

“Good. Put it in a safe place.”

“No problem.” Rudy turned. A swirl of light dangled from his ear, catching Madrigal’s attention.

“Say, Rudy, what is that? Yeah, that.”

“Ah…an earring I picked up at an estate sale. Used to belong to…”

“Lose it, Rudy.”

“But boss, it’s vintage ’90’s religio-punk…”

“Lose it, Rudy.”

 Rudy shrugged, nodded. “Oh, by the way. I should warn you that there’s also a copy of the Joyce construct captured in your Bell Atlantica videophone circuit box.”


“Well, I hadn’t been sure about the other clean copy, so I bent the transmission a little and rerouted a doppel there, too. In fact, your AUI wakeup call should be a headshot of Joyce. I imagine

he’ll be pretty pissed.”

“So help me, Rudy,” said Madrigal, half standing up, “if…”

“Hey hey,” laughed Rudy, holding up both hands, “just kiddin’.”

“I’m going to bed.”

“Oh. About your promise. You said…”


“… that I could be in charge of shopping for the new hardware…”

“Rudy. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“It is the morning, boss.”

“Good night!”

The screen went dead. Madrigal slumped into the couch to sleep, too tired to walk the steps to the bed. He had a busy day ahead. And he’d promised to renegotiate Rudy’s contract. Yes, Rudy was proving to be worth his weight in gold. I only wish he weighed a bit less, he thought. Too bad Rudy wasn’t a dimed computer construct himself, thought the last conscious sliver of Madrigal’s tired mind. I could turn him on and off when I wanted to.

And on that thought sleep pulled the plug on Madrigal for the night.


The author circa 1991, 1992


My short story, “When the Student is Ready,” has just been published by the online magazine “Bewildering Stories,” a publication that has been in existence for over 22 years. I’m proud to appear in their pages. This is my second story for them. If you want to read the story, here is the link: When the Student Is Ready (

The story is also on their Fourth Quarterly Review list of one of the best stories of chosen by the Review Editors of a pool of 11 authors, of which yours truly is one.

And last, but not least, the story earned (along with 8 other authors) an “Order of the Hot Potato” award. On a list of 9 stories, with number 1 being the most controversial, my story ranked number 4. Hmm.

A special shout out to Karl Schlosser Dandenell, who critiqued the story back in the day; and to Amita Basu for discovering and championing the story.

Enjoy, readers.


When I was growing up in the Sixties, AM radio ruled the airwaves. It was where all the music and talk shows and news outlets were to be found. And accordingly, it was where the advertisers poured their money. Commercials were, of course, rife.

FM had no commercials when I was growing up. AM ruled the airwaves.

When looking up the reasons for this on the internet, AI said the following:

AM radio was the dominant radio technology in the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. The reason for this was due to the fact that AM radio had been around for a longer time than FM radio, and it was more established. Additionally, AM radio was more accessible to the general public, as it required less expensive equipment to produce and receive signals. FM radio, on the other hand, required more expensive equipment, and it was not as widely available as AM radio Furthermore, the sound quality of FM radio was not as good as AM radio in the early days of FM radio. 

We had a friend of my older brother’s who roomed with us on Jackman Street, Dick Singer. He had a AM/FM Tuner and turntable, and he often played, if I remember correctly, an FM jazz radio station. In the mid-to-late-Sixties, more of us had such consoles. There was a lot of music that was being played, and I remember that the sound of FM was full and richer than AM, and wondering why it wasn’t more popular.

And the beautiful thing about it was that FM had few, if any commercials.

Predictably, that did not last. Any new market that opens up and expands draws the attention of advertisers. Few things, if any, are free.

That, of course, happened with the internet as well. More than one person noted their early fears that the internet would become one more place selling us one more thing we didn’t need.

Not needing something, but craving it nonetheless, seems to be capitalist model. But even if that’s not completely true, aren’t we always trying to advertise and sell something? We try to sell ourselves to our future girl and boyfriends. We “buy” friendship by offering our friendship in exchange. We tout the superiority of one idea over another: Jesus over Mohammed, Capitalism over Communism, realism over surrealism, Pepsi over Coke. Not strange, really. I think it was Jean-Paul Sartre who said that when we choose for ourselves, we choose for others, too. I might say “each to his own,” but hell, I drink Coke because it’s the best drink. I think you should drink it too. I believe in God, and I think you should too.

There are exceptions, no doubt, but they only reinforce the rule.

Now we have something not new but which has taken off: reels, those snippets of movies, comedy specials, of intellectuals in stage debates — the late Christopher Hitchen, Jordan Petersen, Neil DeGrasse Tyson — that are positively addictive. We save them, we share them. They fit the bill for breaking up boredom. Before the internet, people use to read whatever was in front of them. The back of the cereal box at breakfast, the magazines at the dentist’s office or the local hair stylist/cutter, the waiting rooms of the world. Aside from the fees paid to get the internet, and if you don’t count the time they gobble up out of our day, they were otherwise free to watch. Until we became addicted.

Create the need, then monetize it. The way of FM radio, the way of the internet, the way with Netfliks and YouTube. And now the innocuous reels.

Hmm. I’m scratching my head. I can’t watch them anymore without being interrupted multiple times by ads telling me where to eat or where to shop. Makes me mad.

Double hmm. I wonder how I can monetize my website and this blog.

(Sigh.) I’ll get back to you all on that.

“MEN” (1997); Anatomy of a Flawed Movie

A movie is like a meal.

            It’s said that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. I’ve never quite apprehended that saying, being that just like it takes a village to raise a child, a kitchen, like the crew of a submarine (to use Bourdain’s allusion) necessarily involves a group of people working in concert.

            I’ve always thought that, just as in a childbirth so many things can go wrong, movies likewise present many opportunities for its moving parts to not gel and set properly. Movies that are perfect, or near perfect, are always a joy, considering all the things that could have gone wrong. “The Godfather,” “Blade Runner,” “China Town,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Arrival” and “Sicario” and others. You watch them and, like a perfect book, cannot imagine them being any way other than the way they turned out

            The list of movies that miss the mark are infinitely longer.

            My interest was piqued in the lobby of the Nuart Theater in Santa Monica, a movie-house that has been there for in one form or another since 1929. I watched a late 1980’s revival of “Blade Runner” there, before VCR’s went mainstream. Others: “Until the End of the World” with William Hurt; “Old Boy” by Park Chan-wook; a showing of Scorsese’s “Raging Bull.” Near the restroom entrance, there is an electronic poster that toggles between movie posters, and one of them is for the 1997 movie “Men,” based on the well-received novel by Margaret Diehl.  It looked interesting. Sean Young, while not the best actor, is easy to watch. I’d loved “No Way Out” and “Blade Runner,” even “Dune.”

            I’ve always thought that we learn more about the art of storytelling from bad movies than from good movies.

            The story for “Men” is good.

            Stella James (Sean Young) leaves New York for Los Angeles, at the urging of her boyfriend, Teo Morrison (Dylan Walsh). Their love is still strong, but Teo is flawed, entranced with an addiction to alcohol, and the dark romance of a slow suicide.

            In Los Angeles she is superficially free of the past. She continues experimenting with sexual promiscuity with the guilt-free demeanor of a male cad. One of her lovers is the restaurant owner boss where she works as the chef. Her landlord chides her for acting like a “slut” with the zest of a man. Men can sleep around and not be called whores, she’s says. Women cannot be that way without paying a price.

            She falls in love with a young photographer, Frank (Richard Hillman). He opens her eyes to the world as seen through the prism of monogamy, and she finds happiness with him. But her luck with men is not good. The boyfriend she left in New York dies, and Frank gets shot while photographing a liquor store robbery, also dies.

            We get an existentialist wind-down. A beach shot. A wash of soul-centering chant. A lovely sunset that wordlessly says, “There are tears in all things, and all things doomed to die touch the heart.”

            “Oh. I miss Frank a lot,” Stella narrates. “But it seems like I got all the answers to my questions. It took a long time, but I did find love. You have to go through a lot to find yourself, and some of it, I guess, is ugly. But it makes you aware of what is beautiful. Frank saw that too.”

            She’s in a different kitchen now, preparing new dishes.

            “This new woman I have found is alive and real. But I wonder if people will know what lies behind it. If they know what experiences my curiosities put me through. Will they think the past is ugly and send it back like a plate of food they haven’t even tasted yet? So it’s a present I’m gonna share with myself. I think I’m beginning to understand the present.”

            End narration. Pan the restaurant diners. Flash across the screen the words, “The Beginning,” instead of “The End.”


            What we like or dislike sometimes is always allied, to varying degrees, with the tastes that turn us on or off. One person thinks a dish too salty, another not salty enough. Some people love gazpacho; cold soup makes me gag. I love eggs in any form; eggs provoke nausea in the love of my life’s palate and tummy. Different strokes for different strokes.

            But some things are beyond mere personal taste, and are thought by consensus to be either excellent, just okay, or abysmal on their own merits. (It took me some time to realize this, especially in reference to horror movies, which I used to — and mostly still — hate. But many friends whose tastes I trust love them. Ok.)

            Many of the ingredients used in “Men” were very tasty. Others not so much.

            Sean Young is, like Kevin Costner, not a particularly good actor, but depending on the vehicle, a good director can coax good things from her. Her acting in “Men” was serviceable, at times bordering on pretty good. However, she didn’t always seem to adequately shore up the story. I blame the director for this.

            John Heard was very good. He’s a favorite of mine, ever since I fell in love with him in “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” based on an Anne Beattie novel. In “Men” he is funny and serves his character’s motivations and emotions aptly. His best scene is where he asks Sean to marry him, and she’s confounded and frustrated by his violation of their explicit understanding that she does not want any commitment.  Sean Young’s acting in this scene is also excellent. Sometimes a good actor can do what a director fails to do: direct an actor by their own excellent acting.

            Karen Black, one of the movie’s producers, as the character Alex is also a delight. She gives a loopy, comical performance as one of Frank’s friend.

            Which brings me to Frank, played by the late Richard Hillman.

            At least in this movie, Hillman is a poor actor unable to transcend his physical limitations, one or two of them self-imposed. His face seems like the autistic visage of a special needs child. The timbre of his voice makes one want to slap him silly. And the haircut he sports — a girlish pull-back with a tiny tail atop his head and blond the wings of a child in “The Waltons” to either side of his head — makes you wonder if the casting director was asleep or on drugs, or both, when this drelb was hired. Sometimes actors not to our liking appear in movies to initially irritate us, but are able through story and charisma and good acting to make us see what a director wants us to see. Not poor Hillman, rest in peace.

            The music seems inappropriate in spots, jaunty or moody or, in keeping with the dramedy of the story.

            I can imagine what the director, Zoe Clarke-Williams, and the producers were shooting for. Something indie-spirited like Alan Rudoph’s 1988 “The Moderns”, Greg Mottola’s 1996 “The Daytrippers”, or Claudia Weill’s 1978 “Girlfriends” with the wonderful Melanie Mayron.

            Instead we get a movie that feels cool, distant, inadequately constructed. The scene where Sean Young learns of the death of the Dylan Walsh character is wonderfully understated. At the same time, there’s very little by way of connecting the death to Sean Young to spark the sorrow she feels in the viewer. Likewise in the scene where Richard Hillman’s Frank dies, Sean Young’s acting is rambling and inorganic, and her tears feel concocted, her sorrow disconnected, and not disconnected in the way that real death can truncate our emotions, but in the way that bad acting can do this. The director should have re-written the scene, and reshot it until it felt authentic.

            I love story. I was hungry for story. I found the premise of the story appealing. I found the drama, the poetry and the main character’s opportunity at freedom and redefinition and rebirth enticing and delectable, full of possibility. The story was there, but the actor’s ensemble, lamentably, were unable to sell me on the story.


            I’m not sure how the dialogue in the novel by Margaret Diehl reads. I’ve placed a hold on a copy from the Los Angeles Public Library. I’d like to read this praised novel to get a clearer idea of what was lost in the translation.

Live? Just Live for Today? Really? Shut the Fuck Up!

Sometimes it takes me a while to wake up. There’s just no way around it. Nobody else can wake up for me. It’s something I have to do for myself.

Living in the material world can be a chore.

There’s a wonderful play by a Spanish playwright and poet, Alejandro Casona, a contemporary of Federico Garcia Lorca. The play, Suicide Prohibited in Springtime (Prohibido suicidarse en primavera) written in 1937, is about a sanatorium, the House of Suicides. The object, of course, is to use reverse psychology to get candidates to want to live. One patient, the still young Unhappy Woman, says that her body has only given her pain, and that she wants to get rid of it. “My flesh does not exist,” she asserts. “Only my soul has lived.” She recites what she’s done in her sweet, short life thus far. In what she probably thinks of as a conversational pivot, she’s asked what she usually eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“It comes out that in order to take three short tips to Florence, Paris, London,” she’s told, “learn to play the piano, read the complete works of Victor Hugo and kiss a Navy lieutenant (and fall in love)…you’ve had to consume eighteen hundred gallons of milk, three carloads of fruit, two and a half acres of peas, and seventeen calves. The body, madam, is an incontrovertible reality.”

“How embarrassing!” she says.

Somebody’s got to do the work, and even the body is not exempt. Who’s going to cook the meals and sweeten the coffee, wash and fold the clothes, do the grocery shopping, pick up things from the dry cleaners, buy replacement batteries, make that appointment with Super Cuts, do the necessary banking (even if it’s online), get the grungy dirt-laden trash-inside-it car to the car wash, wipe my ass and change my underwear?

You know, even if you have money, it will most often be you. And me.

In early adolescence, I fell in love with a Jack Jones song, Live for Life, written by Norman Gimbel & Francis Lai

Come with me my love and seize the day and live it

Live it fully live it fast

Never thinking once about tomorrow

Til Tomorrow’s been and gone and past

We’ll pour the wine and fill the cup of joy and drink it

Drink as if it were the last

Live, just live for life

Nice work, if you can get it.

And yes, there are such idyllic days that can be had. And even when you have it pretty good — during the first 13 years of government-required schooling, goof-balling at university — you still gotta do homework. And sooner rather than later, you’re just gonna have to get around to wiping that ass.

I have dreams of being single again — I think all married people do, especially if they have children. Fantasies of winning the lottery or making a bundle at something I’m not really good at in real life. I want to be Henry Miller being a bohemian in France. I want to write the Dune series of novels. I want to wander the world, be kept by rich patrons and have wild experiences like Truman Capote in Answered Prayers.

Yeah. I want to live. Live for life.

If you let me I will lead you

Through the mystery and wonder

Of a world you’ve never known before

Share the splendors to be shared

Life is all of this and more

This and more

Yesterday’s a mem’ry (gone for good, forever)

And tomorrow is a guess

What is real is what is here

And now, the “here and now” is all that we possess

So take my hand and we will take the moment

If for just the moment’s happiness

Live, just live for life

Yeah. “If for just the moment’s happiness,” sounds about right.

I don’t want to seem dark and a candidate for Casona’s House of Suicides. But I do get tired of hearing about this paradise that I can’t quite enter, be a part of. I feel like Moses, the land of Canaan in view but still too far away. A three-million-dollar discount on a trip to the moon, but which I still can’t afford.

Henry Miller abandoned a wife and child in New York to “live for life” in Paris.  Frank Herbert had to marry and have a wife to take care of all the things he had no time to do, since he was busy living for life, writing the most popular science fiction series of all time. And Truman Capote? I suppose his bargain with the Devil to “live for life” exacted a steep toll. Even so, I imagine the road to Hell must have been quite a bit of fun.

They say that behind every successful man there is a good woman. A good woman to pick up the clothes from the floor, to scramble those eggs and crisp that bacon, to pick up the living room for visitors, to scour those Gourmet magazines for recipes when the critics come over to throw a feed. And there’s that 9 to 5 job to pay the bills until Papi Chulo (or Mami Chula) hits it big, at which time you can just drop dead while famous significant other can get re-signified.

I understand why and how Gen Z and Gen Alpha pine to be Influencers working the margins of the hard realities of quotidian life and avoid the 9 to 5.

Nice work, if you can get it.

I suppose that creatives and intellectuals, bohemians and n’er-do-wells and libertines, do require the time and space to do the Macarena and the Twist and the Jitterbug and to “live for life.” It requires lots o’ time and plenty o’ space to intellectualate. (Yes, homey, not the best neologism, but it’s mine, inspired by the bodacious word conversate, for, yeah, converse) and oscillate (for…well, you know).

Come with me to where the hills are green

And still and filled with flowers to adore

Come with me to where the laughter rings

And drowns the pounding sounds of guns of war

Yes, come with me my love and live for life

And life will live for you forevermore

Live, just live for life

There’s more I want to say, but I just heard the alarm on the dryer. Gotta go and fold some clothes, then make a stew for dinner and make sure the cornbread don’t burn.

Gotta go and live, just live for life.

In Paree today, in Amsterdam tomorrow

Sixty minutes through the skies

Fly with me to see the setting summer sun

And stay with me to see it rise

And say to those who say to live this way is mad

That mad we’d rather be, than wise

Live, just live for life


The summer when Harry took his life must have been not only frightening for him, but a product of a profound, existential disappointment.

We were like thumb and forefinger, he and I, from 1971 to 1978, a total of 8 years. Close friendships are similar to marriages. But when we were still young, our friendship soured. He had a bright, quirky mind, and a terrific memory. He was an artist and painter, a guitarist, and a poet. His poetry was beautifully gnarly and not always easy to follow. With his terrific memory, he could grasp references that were beyond us, certainly beyond me. It frustrated him that we, that I, could not quite apprehend the invisible abstractions in his poems, and sometimes after reading them he’d quiz us, quiz me, which always set me on edge. What I would often do was to rewrite his poems in my own words and images, trying to mirror them in a fashion that would let him know that, yes, I did get them, on some intuitive, if not literal, level. This seemed to mollify him. However, the course our lives were taking put distance between us, and it was only later that I began to see how out of tune he was not only with me and others, but with the world, and with himself. In 1978, after our second fistfight, we went our separate ways.

He was not the first friend with whom I would part ways.

There was Sebastian, Mo, Violet, Charlie, Gala.

I’d grown away from them all, for various individual reasons that had no easy remedy, not an odd thing. People often make connections arising from the sets we’re acting on, but when the movie is over, back to unemployment and that’s that. In moments of introspection or weakness, years later in fits of a pleasant nostalgia, I sought out some of these old friends anew, meeting with them over dinner or a drink, or conversing on the phone. But it quickly became apparent that there was a reason each of them had either been jettisoned from my life, or had turned away from me, or simply fallen away.

What do we expect? Some, if not most, friendships end. Sebastian was a shallow man who thought he had depth, but he didn’t, and he was ultimately boring. Mo was a glib New Yorker with whom I shared the dream of being a musician, but when he that for designing women’s shoes, he acquired a flat dimension and took off for outer space and I remained earthbound. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) Charlie’s friendship turned out to be purely the once-upon-a-time proximity of our junior high school lives and did not survive the time or the distance. And Gala? She was, in the final analysis, a failed artist who was a superlative little judgmental shit with a large chip on her shoulder who found herself when she became a well-paid bureaucrat with the power to hire and fire people who had skills she never would; talentless and unoriginal. And Violet was lost and laterally drifting, like myself, and we ended up moving past each other without even realizing it.

The intersection of what they expected, and what I expected, diverged at a certain unforeseen but inevitable (I think) point, a failure to rendezvous based on a miscalculation of mathematics. The numbers would never add up, or in any event, in those cases they didn’t.

Was David O. a different case? Was Eduardo V an exception? Or Jim? I don’t know about them. These were friends who died in the full flowering of our friendship, and we’d never gotten past that amount of time in which things sometimes fall apart, if they’re going to. Would their friendship have withstood the test of time? Who knows? David was murdered while still young. Eduardo died of AIDS complications nearly three years after we met. And Jim took his own life, in a different country and for reasons I was never privy to other than the part played by genetics. Perhaps in some cases it’s not an inevitability.

But Harry?

Down on his luck, his family disintegrating, he’d reached out to me anew in 2009, 31 years after we’d gone our separate ways. A burly, hairy handsome fellow when we’d been friends, he’d grown bald and thin. We got together 3 times. The first time, when he came by my office seeking to sell his paintings, desperate to get out of financial straits. The second time, we had lunch at Casa Vega on Ventura Blvd., like old times. And again like in the old days, we went to Corky’s — reopened after it had been closed for a little over a decade or so — and shared coffee and conversation.

We never did get together again after that. Less than 2 months later, he was dead.

In his youth he’d been a wonderfully fat-mouthed atheist, blasphemous and iconoclastic. But now he’d discovered Jesus. I thought it odd, sad. It reminded me of the Leonard Cohen song “Suzanne,” in which he sings about Jesus that “only drowning men could see him.” Afterwards we went to the Sherman Oaks Park across the street, and, sitting on a picnic bench like once upon a time, he read a new poem to me. I wanted to tell him not too, but he was eager to do so. He probably wanted to verify something. I felt ice in my veins, a feeling of déjà vu already clouding the moment. He did read it, and I had no clue what it was about. Neither of us made much of it, and later, with a sinking feeling I gave him a ride home. There, he made me the gift of one of his paintings, and I gave him a copy of my novel, Heartfelt Affectations, which ten years earlier I’d dedicated to him and to David. We promised to get together again, soon, and parted.

Shortly after that he’d called me on a Saturday evening just as I was about to go out to dinner with my wife, son and father–in-law. I knew it was him, but I didn’t want to talk to him. I’d been avoiding him. I let the call go to voice mail. He left a longish message thanking me for being kind to him, for being open to resuming our friendship, his voice fraught with selective nostalgia. He said he’d found a new place to live, and that the stars were beginning to line up. He said positive things, but his voice was sad, tentative, exploratory, but probative of what I did not know. Nonetheless, it stirred a lot of deep, sweet, intense and primal memories we’d forged in our youth, though this present-day Harry, like the historical Last Days Harry, made me nervous. Did I want to introduce this man to my wife and son? I half-heartedly promised myself to call him later in the week, and I did, repeatedly, but he never answered, and we never spoke again.

A little while afterwards I learned that he’d committed suicide.

Then shortly after that, the Corky’s we used to read our poems to each other over coffee when in high school — he, David and I — was closed down a second time, and eventually torn down.

I guess that some things just aren’t meant to be.