Eastwatch

“Eastwatch” begins right where last week’s wild episode left off: Bronn and Jaime pulling themselves from the water, lucky to be alive. And once again the hour starts with some great lines from Bronn.

“Dragons are where our partnership ends,” he tells Jaime. “I’m not going to be around when those things start spitting fire on King’s Landing.”

Jaime points out that what we saw in “The Spoils of War” was just one-third of Dany’s dragon-power, which does not bode well for the Lannisters or those that serve them. Time to start thinking seriously about surrender.

Tyrion takes a somber stroll through the ashy ruins of the Battle of the Loot Train, a look on his face like, What have we done?

As one of the least-violent characters — strangled former paramores and dead fathers aside — this is clearly not Tyrion’s preferred method of victory. But his own capriciousness led directly to the carnage. His stratagems thus far have been abysmal, and a Dragon Queen can only remain docile for so long.

Dany then offers her POWs an ultimatum: Bend the knee and join me, or refuse and become Drogon’s next overcooked snack.

But Randall and Diccon are defiant. Once again we hear this nativist rationale for loyalty. We already have a queen, one who, unlike Daenarys Stormborn, was actually born in Westeros. Our knees will remain unbent.

When Diccon steps forward, Tyrion does everything he can to keep the peace. Send them to the wall, throw them in a cell, anything but more fire. But Dany has no time for such machinations. And with one word, our man Samwell becomes the sole proprietor of House Tolly.

Jaime then returns to King’s Landing to give Cersei the bad news. I want to point out something I missed last week. Apparently the Tyrell gold did arrive safely at the capital, because Cersei proposes to use it to hire mercenaries to replace their decimated army.

It’s futile, Jamie tells her. The Dothraki are the best fighters he’s ever seen (!), Drogon and his brothers have enough fire to torch the entire Kingdom ten times over, and Qyburn’s Scorpion was ineffectual. Unless we find a way out of this war, we’ll join our enemies in Hell.

He also breaks the news that poor Joffrey was killed by Olenna, and Cersei’s main reaction is disappointment in missing an opportunity to give Olenna a more torturous death.

Jon then meets Drogon face-to-face, and something interesting happens. When he extends a hand to caress the “gorgeous beast,” the dragon takes to him.

Drogon now knows something Jon and Dany do not: Jon Snow is a Targaryen. I’ve always wondered exactly how intelligent the dragons are, and after this subtle exchange it’s safe to say they’re at least as smart as men, if not more so. When I think of Jon Snow riding a dragon it makes me giddy so let’s move on.

Dany prys for an answer to Davos’s claim that Jon was stabbed in the heart, but Jon doesn’t bite. It’s just not who he is; he’s not going to waste a single breath building himself up. Might Dany find out the truth when she sees the scars on his bare chest? Or is that just wishful thinking?

Two seasons ago Dany ordered Jorah Mormont to find a cure for his greyscale, and in “Eastwatch” we get his long-awaited (third) return.

It’s a nice victory for Jorah, whose entire being can be summed up by his allegiance to Dany. Unfortunately, that loyalty could end up getting him killed.

Brandon Stark then slips inside the head of a raven for a scouting trip north. The sequence is incredible — the literal bird’s-eye view of ravens soaring over Eastwatch to discover the slow-moving horde of dead.

‘He’s gonna know, he’s gonna know, he’s gonna know,’ I trembled to myself, and in maybe the coolest moment of the episode, sure enough, the Night King snaps his head at Bran and rips him from his warg-state. Too damn cool.

“Ravens. We need to send ravens,” Bran concludes after briefly warging into Captain Obvious.

The dead are coming. And they’re going to kill you.

We then move to the Citadel for an excruciating display of Game of Thrones Groupthink. The Bay of Pigs. Pearl Harbor. The media’s premature anointment of Hillary Clinton in 2016. What do these things have in common?

They were the unfortunate consequence of groupthink, the phenomenon in which a desire for harmony results in irrational decision-making.

Sam does his best to foil that conformity, making the case that the Citadel is uniquely positioned to combat the looming threat, but the wall of dysfunction is impenetrable, as solid as a mile-high wall of ice.

Tyrion and Varys lament the ghastly fate of the Tollys over a glass of red. I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen Varys drink. He reacts to it like it’s a cup full of ball sweat.

Varys has been mostly sidelined since joining Team Dany. How long will that last, and does he have something up those sleeves?

Jon then receives a scroll with good news and bad. His brother and sister are alive and well, but the Army of the Dead is closing in.

This prompts Tyrion to concoct an elaborate plan, which begs the question why anyone is still listening to him: Kidnap a zombie from the north and bring it to King’s Landing to convince Cersei, perhaps the most cynical person in all of Westeros, that the Walkers are real. Hmm, what could go wrong?

Jon tells the others that the Freefolk will be useful because “they know the real north better than anyone.” The real north. Two seasons ago this would have been blasphemous coming from the Lord of Winterfell.

Remember Jon arguing with Ygritte after she called him a “southerner”? Things really have changed.

When Jon announces his intentions to lead the raid north, notice the slight verklemptness from Dany. She clearly doesn’t want him to go. She’s “grown used to him,” which is GoT euphemism for she wants to sit on his beard and ride it like a dragon.

Back in Winterfell Arya and Sansa have a disagreement about the proper role of a leader. Arya falls into the more Machiavellian camp (with Cersei and Lady Olenna), while Sansa is more democratic. She believes in reaching consensus through open dialogue and coalition-building.

An entire college course could be taught from this scene alone, and it serves to illustrate the major differences between the characters. Might it be the source of conflict moving forward, or will the Sisters Stark get on the same page?

Ser Davos and Tyrion arrive at King’s Landing for Phase 1 of the ‘Kidnap a Zombie Plan,’ and, with a little help from Bronn, Tyrion finds himself face to face with his brother.

After a brief digression on dear old dad, the seed is successfully planted, and Jaime lets Tyrion live.

Over in Fleabottom, Davos reunites with Gendry, who we last saw escaping Dragonstone in a rowboat after Lady Melisandre went at his gonads with some leaches.

Great line here from Davos: “Nothing fucks you harder than time.” Indeed, Davos. Will I really be 31 in November? Did I really just find a grey pubic hair? And did I really just type that out?

This guy fucks . . . even harder than time.

Gendry is ready to go, armed with a Thor-like hammer and a new buzz cut. However, before they can make their getaway they are confronted on the beach by two Gold Cloaks.

Davos is clearly a seasoned smuggler, armed with bribes and fermented crabs (the apparent Viagra of Westeros). But when Tyrion returns to the boat and is instantly recognized — dwarfish and scarred as he is — it gives us a chance to see Gendry in action. And he doesn’t disappoint.

He disposes of the King’s Guards with two swift hammer blows to the head, adding another two bodies to the number of Lannisters Tyrion’s helped kill.

When Jaime comes clean to Cersei about meeting Tyrion, we find out that she already knew. “Do you think anything of importance happens in this city without me knowing?” she asks her stunned brother (who frankly seems to be at the end of his rope — will he even survive the season?)

“If we want to beat her we have to be clever. We have to fight her like father would have.” Well, the way her father fought was The Red Wedding. Will Cersei feign a truce, and then strike Dany when her guard is down?

Cersei then reveals her own secret: She’s pregnant with Jaime’s child. But does anyone really believe this kid will be born?

Recall this scene from season five in which a fortune-telling witch predicts Cersei’s future.

“The King will have twenty children, and you will have three,” she tells the young Cersei. Given how accurate her prophecy has been thus far, this could mean Cersei dies before birthing a fourth child.

When Davos and Gendry arrive at Dragonstone Gendry immediately reveals his true identity to Jon Snow.

Their fathers fought together and so should they. Gendry volunteers to join the raid north, despite Davos’s protestations. “Nobody mind me. I’ve only lived to a ripe old age,” he tells the younger men. Consider me the President of the Davos Fan Club.

The problem with the Citadel Maesters, the issue Sam has been attempting to combat all season, is that they don’t think they have anything to learn.

But Sam is capable of this same arrogance in his interactions with Gilly, and it causes him to miss — at least for now — a key piece of information.

What could a barely literate Wildling have to teach him anyway? “Maynard says here that he issued an annulment for a Prince Rygur [sic] and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony on Dorne.”

Wait. What was that?

Jon’s father (Dany’s brother) annulled his marriage to Ellia Martell (the homie Oberyn’s sister) and married Lyanna Stark (Arya and Sansa’s aunt).

The Bastard of Winterfell is no bastard at all. He’s half-Stark and half-Targaryen and his parents were in fact married, which makes him more high-born than anyone in Westeros.

Hopefully it will don on Sam next week what Gilly was telling him because it would be great to see him deliver the news himself.

Last week we learned just how capable Arya Stark has become. This  week we learn just how cocky she’s become. She underestimates Littlefinger, which is the exact thing that got her father killed. Arya breaks into his room and discovers a raven scroll (I totally called this by the way).

On the scroll is the letter Sansa was forced to write to her brother and mother back in season one, during the War of the Five Kings.

A summation: King Robert is dead. Father tried to steal the throne from Joffrey. Come to King’s Landing and swear fealty to him. The Lannisters are treating me well. Signed, Sansa.

What exactly Littlefinger is up to with this ploy is anyone’s guess (is he trying to turn Arya against Sansa?), but it’s clearly going to get someone killed — Sansa, Arya, or maybe even Baelish himself (and perhaps as soon as next week).

The episode ends at Eastwatch by the Sea, where Lord Commander Tormund has (somehow) managed to imprison The Hound, Beric Dondarrion, and Thoros of Myr.

The trio were heading north (to take on the Army of the Dead by themselves apparently) and will now join Jon’s raid. This is truly the all-star team, seven of the best fighters in the Seven Kingdoms.

The question now is how many will return? I’m thinking at least three of these dudes are dead. There’s also a lot of potential here for our favorite characters becoming zombies.

I want to conclude with a few predictions. First, I believe Dany, Cersei, Jaime and Littlefinger will die before the final episode of the series. (There are eight episodes remaining.)

Further, it will be revealed that Jon (and maybe even Tyrion) are Targaryens. And, finally, Tyrion will end up on the Iron Throne as the winner of The Game of Thrones.

The final scene, eight episodes from now, will be Tyrion hopping up into the Throne, awkwardly smiling over at Bronn, and cut to black.

Valar Morghulis,

Aaron of House Laflin

The Spoils of War

This week’s episode of Game of Thrones, the fourth installment of its seventh season, was called “The Spoils of War.” And it was a perfect title for what may have been the best Thrones episode of all-time.

The hour opens with Jaime and Bronn divvying up the spoils from last week’s assault on Highgarden. One of the night’s best lines comes from Bronn when he notices something bothering Jaime. “Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls before saying goodbye?” he asks.

The writing here is superb, and the line sounds perfect coming from Bronn (or, more accurate, the voice and accent of actor Jerome Flynn).

Bronn has always been exceptionally clever, and he totally nails it here. As we know, Lady Olenna’s final prick to the Lannister gonads was confessing to the violent murder of King Joffrey, Jaime and Cersei’s first-born incestual son. And it’s clearly had the desired effect on Jaime.

Last week I prayed to the old gods and the new for more Bronn, and this week they delivered unto me. Though it’s true what they say: Beware what you wish for. . . especially when wishing for a cutthroat killer proficient in all forms of war.

Bronn has been a true Lannister man since we first met him back in season one, volunteering to fight in Tyrion’s Trial by Combat at the Vale. Once Thrones ends I want a spin-off called Bronn’s Songs where he fights dudes and sings funny songs about sex.

“The Spoils of War” also gives us another wonderfully creepy conversation between Cersei and Iron Bank Tycho. The topic at hand? Money and power — what else?

Cool line here from Tycho: “I am neither kind, nor a lord, your grace. I am merely an instrument of the institution I represent.”

And as an instrument of the Iron Bank, he’s already sniffing for the next investment.

Cersei tells him she aims only for total control of Westeros — you know, just your every day global domination. Tycho’s reaction? He sees potential. These maniacs talk about war like they’re discussing the menu at Applebee’s.

Did you notice the exchange about The Golden Company? Cersei says she may include them in her next move. Tycho responds that he knows them well. The Iron Bank uses them as muscle when a debtor gets too “deep in arrears.”

We’ve not heard of The Golden Company of Essos before, but I have a prediction on them later.

My favorite scene of the night was between Bran and Littlefinger. It was, in my opinion, the best part of an amazing episode and featured maybe the most intriguing five seconds in Game of Thrones history.

First, notice how Weiss and Benioff made brilliant use of the ‘Previously On’ trailer, reminding us that Littlefinger absolutely knows who the dagger belonged to.

When Bran asks him the same, he seems to be testing Littlefinger’s honesty more than anything. The scheming Littlefinger fails the test, telling Bran that he hasn’t a clue where the dagger came from, even though he knows it was Tyrion’s.

Bran barely listens as Littlefinger rattles on about his love for Catlyn Stark, and how it makes him loyal to the Stark children. And then comes the key exchange:

“To go through all of that and make your way home again only to find such chaos in the world, I can only imagine,” Littlefinger rambles.

“Chaos is a ladder,” Bran interrupts with eerie calmness and a cold stare.

This of course is a direct quote from the season three monologue Littlefinger delivered to Varys as the two men discussed the future of the realm and admired the Iron Throne.

But the real payoff of the scene is the look on Littlefinger’s face, which translates roughly to “ohhh shit.” This is next level stuff, and if Bran didn’t have more important things to do, it could spell potential doom for Baelish.

Could Bran know everything Littlefinger ever said to anyone? Does he know Littlefinger killed Jon Aryn and sent a false letter to Catlyn Stark blaming it on the Lannisters?

This is a total game-changer. Bran (who I’m now referring to as ‘The Professor X of Game of Thrones’) is essentially a God-like figure at this point, and he reminds me why I’m an atheist.

I’ve never seen the appeal in an all-knowing, all-seeing entity watching over us. It’s creepy. It’s frightening. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want anyone seeing the things I do in private (especially those involving cantaloupes and magic eight balls). I’m sure Littlefinger would agree with me.

It’s nice to see Bran finally flex his muscles a bit, but I’m anxious to see the full scope of his power. He permanently handicapped Hodor from the future. What else can (and will) he do?

The subsequent scene between Bran and Meera Reed was heart-breaking. Meera is emotionally scarred, exhausted, and forever changed. And she’ll never get the credit she deserves.

Moreover, Bran’s transformation means he can’t even properly thank her. “I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark,” he tells her. “But I remember so much else now.” This is incredibly sad.

“You died in that cave,” Meera tells him, trembling. And it’s true. Bran is not Bran. He’s the Three Eyed Raven, something entirely different.

Also take note of the explicit reminder that Hodor, Jogen and Summer died north of the wall. Is it possible that we see these characters again as foot soldiers in the Army of the Dead? And will Zombie Hodor be the thing that finally blows my mind completely away?

The other thing that stands out from these two scenes is the wonderful character development. When we first met Bran he was a long-haired boy who liked to climb trees. Now he’s mixing it up with Littlefinger and has been altered so much that he’s no longer capable of emoting on a human level. It doesn’t get any more developed than that.

Next we get Arya’s Odysseus-like return to Winterfell. She too has developed into something unrecognizable, at least to her sister. The two share a nice moment in front of their father’s tomb and an awkward laugh about Arya’s hit list.

I loved them referring to their own stories, which have been long and unpleasant, but are not yet finished. That’s right, Sansa. There’s still a season eight for all that.

Bran then takes the dagger Littlefinger gave him and re-gifts it to Arya. “It  would be wasted on a cripple,” he says. This is another subtle line that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to hold much significance.

But we know just how wasted a Valeryian steel dagger would be if it stayed in Bran’s possession. Did you notice the look on his face when he hands it to Arya? He almost shivers, as though he’s already seen what comes of it. Might we see Arya kill a few White Walkers with it? Maybe even the Night King himself?

The faux-battle between Arya and Brienne was fantastic. For the first time we get to see Arya’s fully-developed hand-to-hand combat skills. She reminded me a lot of the homie Oberyn Martell, the way she moved around the bigger Brienne and ducked her deadly advances like Neo from The Matrix.

When Brienne asks Arya who taught her to fight like that, Arya cutely responds with “No one.” I guess this was the Thrones version of the Abbot and Costello routine “Who’s on First.”

Another cute little moment came when Jon and Davos are discussing their troop levels. “How many soldiers do we have? 10,000? Less?” Jon says. “Fewer,” Davos responds, correcting Jon’s grammar in the same way Stannis did while he and his were holed up in Castle Black. Davos is an educated man now (there’s more of that character development).

At Dragonstone, I’m not sure what there’s more of: Dragon glass or sexual tension. Man oh man. These two pretty much have to get together at this point, right? At the very least to further the endangered Targaryen bloodline.

I wonder how exactly this will go down. Will it be like in Joe Dirt when he has sex with his sister before he realizes they’re related, but once they find out they say ‘fuck it’ and just embrace the incest?

It’s hard to say what the general view of incest is in Westeros. Jaime and Cersei’s coupling seems to suggest it’s negative, but perhaps an aunt-nephew affair would be more socially acceptable.

After Jon shows Dany the massive amount of dragon stone on her beach, the two glance over hieroglyphics and cave drawings left by the Children that basically prove the existence of the White Walkers.

But Dany is still hung up on that damned bent-knee. She’ll fight, but only after Jon hits the deck. “Isn’t the survival of your people more important than your pride?” she asks him, which is basically the exact line Jon delivered to Mance Rayder back in season five when he was trying to get Mance to bow to Stannis.

The situations are clearly different, but it’s interesting that Jon now finds himself on the other end of the argument, having to reconcile the varying interests at play.

Wait. Do you guys hear that?

I think it might be a Dothraki battlecry. The epic Battle of the Loot Train was kicked off by some amazing shots of a stampeding Dothraki horde, and man are these dudes cool. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen Bronn and Jaime be truly frightened. And that was before Drogon came over the hill.

As Donald Trump would say, Dany reigned down fire and fury. By the end of this thing the Lannister Army is completely decimated, their spoils lost, and the status of their leaders unknown.

Which makes me believe that Cersei will be unable to pay her debt to the Iron Bank, possibly making her the target of a Golden Company collection effort (and resulting in a permanent change to the family motto:”A Lannister usually pays his debts”).

(I asked a knowledgeable friend about The Golden Company. His response was long and detailed so I’ll leave it out here. Let’s just say: This could be interesting.)

They’re calling Qyburn’s weapon The Scorpion, and Bronn uses it to near success on Drogon. Though we seem to have a bit of a Riccan Stark problem. Why are you flying in a straight line, Dany? Has no one on this show ever heard of the zig-zag?

The Scorpion is like an anti-aircraft bazooka. Did you ever see Charlie Wilson’s War? The entire premise of the movie was about getting the right weapon into the hands of the Mujaheddin, one capable of bringing down Russian helicopters.

It’s the same thing here. Drogon is advanced weaponry. But the Scorpion at least gives you a chance. Something tells me we’ll be seeing another one soon.

Earlier in the episode Dany scolds Tyrion that perhaps he doesn’t want to harm his family after all. In the final scenes of the episode we see that this is true, at least in the sense that Tyrion doesn’t want to see Jaime harmed.

“Flee, you idiot,” he says from his bird’s eye view of the battle. Instead, Jaime charges directly at Dany, possibly thinking that a dragon’s fire doesn’t work on extremely dapper one-armed men.

This is complicated for Tyrion. He despises his sister, but loves his brother. When the Dothraki soldier remarked that Tyrion’s “people can’t fight” it seemed like Tyrion was covered with regret.

It made me think of Tywin Lannister and how unproud he would be of his son. Tywin is probably in Hell somewhere saying I told you so right now.

I might be overthinking this, but I think it’s worth mentioning. When does Bran, and his ability to alter the past/future, come into play? Bronn saving Jaime made me think of Bran; it almost seemed divined by a higher power.

Maybe in the original timeline Jaime is burnt to a crisp, but because he has a role still to play, he’s saved by Bran. Again, it may not be true in this specific example, but this is the kind of thing we should watch out for.

Valar Morghulis,

Aaron of House Laflin

The Queen’s Justice

When I saw that tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, the third of its seventh season, was called “The Queen’s Justice,” I assumed the queen in question was Daenarys Targaryen. But on Sunday it was Cersei Lannister who got her revenge.

The hour opens with Jon Snow and Ser Davos arriving at Dragonstone. To greet them at the shore is Tyrion, Missandei, and about two dozen armed Dothraki.

Is it just me or does Missandei seem especially upbeat? She has that just-got-laid pep to her step. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Thrones scenes, when Missandei, Greyworm, and Tyrion get drunk and tell jokes. Missandei laughing might just be the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

Jon introduces The Onion Knight to The Imp, and Tyrion immediately brings up the Battle of Blackwater Bay, at which Davos was defeated and his son killed (and let’s be honest, killed by Tyrion’s wildfire). But there are larger matters at hand.

Jon and Davos are also quickly acquainted with Dany’s dragons, who soar through the cloudy skies of Dragonstone like they own it. As he helps Jon off the floor Tyrion tells him, “I would say you get used to it, but you never really do.”

Recall the first time Tyrion saw Drogon, in season five, as he and Jorah Mormont floated through Old Valyria on their way to an encounter with the Stonemen.

Seeing dragons for the first time is indeed jarring. But I wonder what Dany and Tyrion’s reactions will be when they lay eyes on the Night King for the first time.

He looks like Hellraiser and The Grim Reaper from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey had a love child
Hi, my name is Pinhead
And my name is Death, and together we make the villain all of you are ignoring

I asserted last week that Dany was a smaller character than Jon Snow, and this week she proved it. She’s a petulant child whining about what’s hers, to steal Jon’s rather blunt analogy. Her entire intellectual energy is focused on taking the Iron Throne, but this aim only holds meaning in so far as the Night King is defeated.

However, as Tyrion points out later in the episode, what Jon is asking of Dany is not entirely reasonable, even though we know it to be right. White Walkers, you say? Marching this way with an army of zombies, eh?

Umm. Chains please!

It’s frustrating as viewers because we both like Dany and know that she’s wrong. And her blind spot could be life-threatening to all the other characters we care about. In this sense, Dany is a counter-force to Jon’s noble quest, which gives the entire situation an unnerving feeling and produces a slight anxiety in the viewer.

Some will complain that the long-awaited meeting between fire and ice was anticlimactic. But I like that the meeting was unproductive, and even ended in ambiguity as to whether Jon was a guest or a prisoner. It slows the action and teases the idea that these two fan-favorites might not end up as friends.

The most important meeting now is between Jon and his brother Brandon Stark (aka the Three Eyed Raven, and boy is he ever). When it comes to uniting Daenarys and Jon — melding fire with ice — Bran is the key.

If Jon and Dany learn of their familial connection the entire dynamic between them changes. Not one remaining Targaryen, but two. It would no longer matter if they don’t personally know each other, or that they haven’t shared the same experiences. Blood alone would likely bond them.

I loved Davos’s line about “all those hard sons of bitches” at Castle Black choosing Jon as their commander. Davos once made similar arguments in favor of Stannis, but now he serves as Jon’s top spokesman and I really enjoy it. To me, Davos feels really underrated as a character.

Apparently Jon thinks adding a story about coming back from the dead to his whole army-of-zombies-coming-this-way shpiel would have been a bit much, because he stops Davos from sharing his entire background. 

*

Theon Greyjoy has been the brunt of a lot of humiliation through six seasons, and “The Queen’s Justice” brought more of the same for our third favorite eunuch.

His uncle refers to him as “a twat” at one point in the episode, and another large group of Greyjoy sailors think him a sniveling coward. Poor Theon: the very fact of his existence proves his cowardice.

But I wonder, What larger purpose will Theon end up serving? Surely he’s still around for a reason other than continued shame and emasculation.

Back in the capital city, Euron honors that time-honored Westerosi tradition of parading women through the streets of King’s Landing to be harassed, assaulted, and spit on by the cabbage-hurtling subjects of the Crown.

Euron again pushes Cersei for a marriage, but she makes her acceptance contingent on winning the war. So we know what Euron is fighting for, but for now Cersei remains with her brother Jaime — and has tired of hiding their incestual relationship from others.

It’s pretty clear that Cersei is a masochist, sexually aroused by inflicting pain on others. Her plan for Ellaria Sand is downright barbaric.

She aims to keep Ellaria alive, force-feeding her if necessary, so that she has to watch her daughter die and slowly decompose down to nothing but bones. Cersei then returns to her chambers and jumps the bones of her brother. It’s a pretty intense amalgam of sex and violence.

Cersei then welcomes Tycho Nestoris from the Iron Bank of Braavos, and displays her more tactical mind in lobbying for continued support from the powerful financial institution. By the end of the hour, her strategy becomes clear. But she’s manifesting an important ally here: gold.

As when he negotiated with Mace Tyrell in season five, Nestoris refuses the offer of wine, something that aggravates the alcoholic in Cersei. And as he did with Stannis in season four, he makes clear that repayment of their loans is what interests him most.

Being her father’s daughter, Cersei manages to convince Tycho of the stability of her position. Make yourself at home, the sheets are clean. You’ll be repaid in a fortnight.

By the way, Kanye West clearly predicted this scene in his song about a different kind of gold digging.

“She was supposed to buy your shorty Tyc[h]o with your money. She went to the doctor, got lipo with your money.”

My favorite line from Cersei came in her attempt to discredit Daenarys. “She considers herself more a revolutionary than a monarch.” Translation: Dany means to upset the status quo that helped make you rich. Supporting her contradicts your own self-interest.

It reminds me so much of the political maneuvering in our own world. Think of the Iron Bank as Wall Street. If you support me, Candidate X, over her, Candidate Y, then I promise not to crack down on your immoral money-making schemes.

Daenarys Targaryen, on the other hand, is a revolutionary. She will extend the regulations of Dodd-Frank, reinstitute Glass-Steagall, and attempt to prosecute the fraud that led to the 2008 crash. Now give me your unlimited campaign contribution, because a Lannister always pays her debts.

*

Frustrated by his inability to convince Dany of the looming threat from the north, Jon turns to Tyrion for advice.

How does he convince people he doesn’t know to fight against an enemy they’ve never seen?

“People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large — White Walkers, the Night King, an Army of the Dead,” Tyrion tells him.

(Same goes for global warming, Kim Jong Un, and nuclear proliferation, which might be the analogs to our own world. Too big to even bother with. Better to go on battling the foes we know best.)

Tyrion shrewdly suggests that Jon ask Dany for something more pragmatic, and this leads to a deal for the island’s dragon glass. Dany will allow Jon to mine the material from Dragonstone, but for now the problem of the White Walkers is tabled. We’ll put Dany down as skeptical.

As Tyrion humorously points out, they don’t even have an established mode of talking about the White Walkers. He says this passingly, but it seems to me it’s a huge problem. Once again it comes down to the effective transfer of ideas, and an accepted nomenclature is essential to tackling any large political issue.

“A wise man once said, ‘You should never believe a thing simply because you want to believe it,'” Tyrion tells his queen. Which wise man was that? Dany retorts.

Bertrand Russell said something similar about Christianity. Perhaps he’s who Tyrion had in mind.

Faith-based belief has been a major theme in Game of Thrones. Some see it as a virtue (Melisandre, The Brotherhood), others do not (Varys, Tyrion, Cersei). But Dany has faith only in herself. Belief in her own destiny has driven her forward.

With Jon away, Sansa is busy making sure Winterfell has stocked enough food, and that its soldiers have leather on their armor. And Littlefinger is still busy chirping in her ear. Imagine everything is possible, he tells her, because that way nothing is unexpected.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I’m mostly ambivalent about Baelish at this point, which I suppose is sort of the point with him. He’s a potential source of both betrayal and assistance, but for now I don’t find him all that interesting. But as always, he’s someone to look out for. Something in those preserved raven scrolls perhaps?

Bran Stark arrives at Winterfell, and it’s quickly evident how much he’s changed. He acts as if he’s lost some part of his humanity. Recall Jojen and Meera Reed warning him in season four that if he wargs for too long he may forget himself.

Bran’s emotionless reaction to Sansa’s joy is a bit heartbreaking. This is probably meant to relay the sacrifice the characters have made. Bran lost his ability to walk in an act that helped spark the war. Now he’s sacrificed the opportunity to be Lord of Winterfell and maybe even the propensity to love.

Bran displays his power to Sansa by conjuring the memory of her horrible wedding night with Ramsey Bolton. Sansa is clearly frightened by the display, and I don’t blame her.

She hasn’t seen her brother in what six years? And he shows up devoid of emotion and dredging up her most vulnerable moments? To Sansa, her brother is both strange, and a stranger.

They also dropped the interesting reminder that Bran’s is a skill that must be refined. His being at Winterfell, and near the Heart tree in the godswood, will likely aid in that pursuit. I’m eager to see what he can do.

*

I loved how the Archmaester of the Citadel, while examining Jorah’s seemingly cured greyscale infection, used the word ‘debris’ as a verb. Sam debrided Jorah’s greyscale and applied a healing unguant. Some fantastic medieval dialogue there.

Jorah makes it known that he means to return to Dany’s side, the only real option he has. He then shakes Sam’s hand and hopes that their paths cross again. These two together has been a delight, so I hope for the same.

Soo can Tyrion ride a goddamn dragon already?

When Dany and her council discuss retaliatory strategy, I thought for a split second she was going to order Tyrion to mount up. “I wouldn’t be alone,” she begins. “I would have . . . Drogon, Visaryon, and Rhaegal.”

Dammit.

Since Dany is clearly heeding most of Tyrion’s advice, even mimicking his exact words at times, it would be fair to say the strategic battle is being fought between Cersei Lannister and her younger brother, Tyrion.

But in just two episodes, Cersei has managed to destroy all three of Dany’s allies. You want Casterlyrock? Fine, take it. I’ll march down to Highgarden and destroy the Tyrells.

The camera shots of the Lannister Army’s arrival, as witnessed by Lady Olenna from her sun-soaked balcony, were simply stunning. Thrones is artistic in so many ways, and the aesthetics of it have always been impressive.

When I saw actor Jerome Flynn’s name in the opening credits I was excited Bronn would be in the episode. Unfortunately, all we got was a few seconds of him trotting into Highgarden on a horse. Bronn is probably in my top five favorite characters of all-time. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him.

The line of the night goes to Lady Olenna Tyrell. In the final conversation of her life, the sharp tongued matriarch of the once powerful house tells Jaime, “He really was a cunt wasn’t he?” referring to the late King Joffrey Baratheon, Jaime’s first-born son.

Olenna calls Cersei a monster and a disease, and predicts that she’ll get Jaime killed. Jaime doesn’t rule it out, and even admits that he’s not exactly in control.

And then Lady Olenna drops a bomb. After swallowing the poison Jaime brought her, the merciless death he talked Cersei into allowing, she reveals that it was her and not Tyrion who killed Joffrey. This has some interesting ramifications.

For one, Olenna wins a last battle of sorts against Cersei, who never would have allowed her to die so easily had she known Olenna was responsible for the season three regicide of her precious son.

And second, Cersei has always believed in Tyrion’s guilt, but Jaime never has. Olenna’s death-chair confession proves him right, and his sister wrong.

Valar Morghulis,

Aaron of House Laflin

Stormborn

Game of Thrones was back at it Sunday night with “Stormborn,” the second episode of its seventh and penultimate season.

Let me say first that I really hope the conclusion of the series is not rushed in any way. I could see this thing getting away from them and feeling overloaded down the stretch.

I have no clue why there are only five more eps this season, and just six after that. (Some of those episodes, including this year’s finale, which supposedly runs at 81 minutes, are longer than normal installments.) But still, roughly 12 hours left to wrap this whole thing up? Seems insufficient, no?

Anyway, to the recap. “Stormborn” was another beautiful episode, wonderfully written and acted to absolute perfection.

The hour opens at Dragonstone with Tyrion and Varys reminiscing about the thunderous night of Dany’s birth. This reminds us Dany is younger than her underlings, a dwarf and a eunuch who have seen a lot.

But Dany quickly reminds us who’s boss by questioning Varys’s loyalty. How can she trust a man who switches teams so readily? It was Dany’s father, the Mad King, at one point; Robert Baratheon and Tywin Lannister after that.

But per usual, Varys’s response is both eloquent and decisive. No man (or woman) deserves blind allegiance. He’s been on a search for the best leader, which is all he ever could have done. Like finding a good mate, you have to survive the pretenders.

Last week I suggested that Samwell Tolly and Jorah Mormont might be the catalyst for a meeting between Daenerys and Jon Snow. As it turns out, Lady Melisandre shows up at Dragonstone and immediately proposes an invitation be sent to Winterfell.

“Summon Jon Snow,” she tells Dany. “Let him stand before you and tell you the things that have happened to him. The things that he has seen with his own eyes.”

Melisandre has been a pretty spectacular character. She’s been villainous (see: the burnt remains of Princess Shereen), but also heroic (see: the reanimation of Jon Snow). And here we have another heady move that is, or at least seems to be, in the service of good.

Driven by her Lord of Light, Melisandre has both harmed and helped. But overall she’s been a net positive. Just don’t tell that to Brienne of Tarth or Ser Davos Seaworth.

With that said, self-interest is by no means a non-factor here, both with Melisandre and Varys, and even with Tyrion. The main players are placing their bets, and thus far Daenarys and her dragons have the biggest pile of chips before them.

Melisandre also makes mention of a prophecy, that of the Prince that was promised. I’ve yet to read the books, but I’ve had enough conversations with people who have to know that this prophecy factors prominently.

It’s been asserted that Jon is the promised messiah, but thanks to the translating skills of Missandei, we learn in “Stormborn” that it could very well be a woman who fulfills the prophecy. How’s that for some gender-equality?

The other thing that stood out for me about the opening scenes, believe it or not, was the costume design. I thought it was breathtaking. All the characters looked so cool. The dark blues and blacks meshed perfectly with the storm raging outside, and the one brewing inside Dany herself.

We’ve seen Dany mostly in the sun, in bright warm climates. But here we see her in an entirely different light (or at least less of it). It’s a nice transition for Emilia Clarke, whose white-blonde wig and fair skin stand out even more in the stormy darkness that makes up the Dragonstone background.

One thing I don’t like was Dany’s initial attitude toward Jon Snow. We’ve seen this obsession with the bent knee before, and as Varys reminds us, it didn’t work out well for Stannis (or Mance Rayder for that matter).

It also reminds us that, at least for now, Dany is a smaller character than Jon Snow. She’s still playing party politics, locked in this pointless power struggle that reveals the worst in men, while Jon is taking concerted steps to prepare for the existential threat baring down on them all.

But what if Jon is unable to convince Dany that her entire frame of mind needs to be refocused onto something she’s never witnessed herself? Could the Dragon Queen turn evil? Are we entirely sure she’s good? Let’s not forget who her dad and brother were. I don’t know how much he’s involved at this point, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past George R.R. Martin to turn Dany into a villain.

I love how Tyrion encodes his letter to Jon. “All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes,” he writes, in a throwback to the very first episode when Tyrion says the same while both men avoid their families and the party taking place inside Winterfell.

There were a few other, more subtle self-references in the episode as well. I’ll get to those later.

Meanwhile, Queen Cersei is desperate, slightly delusional, and as bloodthirsty as ever. By her own admission, she has little to lose. She’s withstood a murdered father and three dead children. Her spirit was broken by the High Sparrow. A brother for a lover is all she has left. Well, that and power.

In terms of the war to come Cersei is entirely unaware and therefore entirely useless. What I want to know is: When do we get to see the bitch die? Her death would probably go down as a Top 5 moment in Thrones history. But who will get it done? Arya? Drogon perhaps? What about Jaime? And before you answer, have you read Othello?

I recall thinking last episode that if Cersei isn’t careful she’ll lose Jaime. Maybe it’s the Kingslayer who ends up putting this mad woman out of her misery.

Either way, Cersei is damaged goods. And on top of everything else, her hair game is not what it used to be. She reminded me of President Trump in this episode: Just saying whatever comes to mind in an effort to garner support, uncaring about truth or objectivity, and all while donning a terrible blonde wig.

Her speech, and Jaime’s subsequent shpiel to Randall Tolly, is highly misleading and borders on propaganda. Olenna Tyrell did not bring the Dothraki to Westeros. That’s offensive to Dany’s hard work throughout the series. Olenna Tyrell is vengeful because Cersei murdered her grandchildren, a fact conveniently left out of Cersei’s campaign material.

The Lannister argument, as predicted by Tyrion later in the episode, is nationalistic in nature and basically boils down to, The foreigners are coming! The foreigners are coming! But such rhetoric, as we know all too well, can be highly effective.

The scenes between Samwell and Jorah have been my favorite. The pairing is one of many unlikely meetings in “Stormborn”: Olenna and Daenerys; Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand; Jaime and Randall Tolly. The world is shrinking. And here’s where I worry. This has been a fairly intricate tale they’ve woven so far. It would be unfortunate if that suddenly collapsed into an overwhelming mess of action.

*

The Arch Maester first informs Jorah that his greyscale is beyond the skills of the Citadel, but later he tells Sam that the procedure is simply too dangerous and thus prohibited.

But given how simple the procedure proves to be, the Arch Maester is either being dishonest or lazy. It may be dangerous, but it’s certainly not beyond the skills of the maesters.

Jorah is on the brink of being banished yet again, but Sam has other ideas. “You’re not dying today, Sir Jorah,” Sam tells him and then puts on his scrubs and prepares for surgery.

Given how contagious the greyscale is, however, Sam’s decision not to wear a mask seems questionable. It would be like a doctor treating an Ebola patient without covering his nose and mouth first. But it’s probably for the same reason no one North of the wall ever seems to wear a hat. Covering a main actor’s face kind of defeats the purpose.

The agonized but muffled reaction of Jorah as Sam scrapes away the infected area of his chest was dynamite acting. Without dialogue, Iain Glen’s grunting whimpers perfectly captured the intensity of the situation. If successful, I assume the surgery will leave Jorah’s body looking the way Shereen Baratheon’s face once did. Thankfully his handsome mug remains unscathed.

Back in King’s Landing, Qyburn has commissioned the city’s artileters and blacksmiths to forge a gigantic bolt action torpedo gun. As it ripped through the dusty old skull of Balerion the Dread, it reminded me of the weapon Bard uses in The Hobbit to take down the dragon Smaug. Seems to me it would be put to better use killing giant zombies, but what do I know?

Four seasons ago Robb Stark had the idea to seize Casterlyrock, but was murdered before he had the chance to execute it. In “Stormborn” Tyrion reveals a plan to do the very same in an effort to weaken the Lannisters. That Tyrion is himself a Lannister is the cherry on top. This was a wonderfully written scene of Dany building a consensus among a group of powerful and independent women.

Ellaria Sand is clearly the Dick Cheney of Dany’s small council, eager to go to war and resentful of anyone unwilling to do so. Lady Olenna channeled her inner Machiavelli, telling Dany that fear is what brings the masses to heel. “It’s better to be feared than loved, if you can’t be both,” Machiavelli wrote in The Prince.

Olenna’s advice to Dany? Ignore clever men like Tyrion and embrace the dragon within. It’s interesting to me that Dany’s male advisors — Tyrion and Varys — are the calming influences, pushing for peaceful means of operation, whereas the ladies of the small council — Yara, Ellaria, and Lady Olenna — are hankering for war.

“Stormborn” was also a sexy episode. Last week I predicted a consummation between Greyworm and his boo Missandei, and Thrones did not fail to deliver. I felt sad for Greyworm, but I also envied him.

The scene was beautifully done. It was intimate and sensual, and different. And I’m not one to complain about naked Missandei. I think Nathalie Emmanuel might be the perfect human woman, but I’m gonna stop right there before things get weird. (Did you see the dimples on her lower back? DID YOU?!?)

Greyworm’s story about fear being eradicated in young Unsullied boys was really cool, though overshadowed by boobs and the subsequent sex scene. Greyworm and Missandei are afraid to lose love. And as long as their hearts beat, there’s no real way to face and overcome this particular fear. Love is unlike any other force.

Down at the Crossroads, Arya has a reunion with her old buddy Hot Pie (spoiler alert: he’s a lot more pie than he is hot). Hot Pie has always been a bit of a goofball, but he’s been clutch at two different times. Back in season four he tipped off Brienne and Pod about Arya’s whereabouts. And here he does Arya another great service by steering her North. You’re going to King’s Landing? Why? And he’s right isn’t he? It almost feels like Arya is on a suicide mission. Telling Lannisters you aim to kill the queen? With a simple gesture, comedic relief Hot Pie may have saved Arya’s life.

I also love the moment Hot Pie asks Arya what’s happened to her? At this point in the show the best thing about our characters is that they’ve been through it. Arya remains silent, but we answer the question for her by rolling through our memory of her journey. The Hound. The Faceless Men. Going blind.

It’s just a nice way to communicate with the audience. What’s happened to Arya? We know. Arya knows. Only poor Hot Pie is left in the dark.

Back in Winterfell Jon is in the familiar position of advocating for the least popular course of action. It’s frustrating to watch because once again we know Jon is in the right. But the last time Jon was both right and unpopular he ended up being knifed to death by members of the Night’s Watch.

When Jon announces his plan to accept Dany’s invitation, and travel to Dragonstone with Ser Davos, Lord Royce declares that Targaryens are not to be trusted. The irony here of course is that Jon himself is a Targaryen. Knowledge is power, folks.

One scene later, Jon meets Littlefinger in the catacombs of Winterfell. At the mention of his sister, Jon wraps his hand around Baelish’s throat and threatens to kill him. As they stand below Ned Stark’s tomb, the act is a direct reference to season one, when Ned himself choked Littlefinger outside the latter’s brothel in King’s Landing.

Recall that Baelish brought Catlyn to his brothel because it was the safest place for her to wait for Ned in the early days of the Lannister-Stark feud.

“The Starks,” Littlefinger says, rubbing his neck once Ned finally relents. “Quick tempers. Slow minds.” I guess now we know the former can still be true, but the latter is definitely false.

A few concluding thoughts. Last week I gave Euron Greyjoy Coolest One-Liner. Well, this week he gets the exact opposite award. “Give your uncle a kiss!” has to be the lamest line in recent Thrones History. It just about ruined the entire battle scene that followed.

But Euron is definitely fierce, there’s no denying that. Remember that Yara was sailing Ellaria to Dorne in order to mobilize her troops and prepare for the siege on King’s Landing. So this could potentially disrupt Dany and Tyrion’s entire plan, right?

Further, I can’t say I’m sad to see the Sandsnakes go. They were beyond obnoxious, and their time had come. Plus it looks like the hot one is still alive, so we’re all set.

By the way, did you notice the author of the first book the Arch Maester pulls down in the Citadel library? It’s Sheviathun (sp), the same name Bron helps Tyrion pronounce back in season two as they prepare for the Battle of the Blackwater. Another nice little touch of meta by the writers.

And finally, Dany’s leadership so far has been nearly impeccable. She’s handled all sorts of turmoil with both grace and sagacity. I just wonder if she can sustain it.

Her first test will be listening to Jon Snow, because her reaction to what he has to say could very well determine the fate of all men. It sure would be nice if she learned Jon is her nephew before he arrives at Dragonstone. Where are you, Bran Stark?

Another phenomenonal episode in the books.

Valar Morghulis,

Aaron of House Laflin

The Embalming of Councilman Tone’s Wife

This story contains content that may be too intense for some readers. Reader discretion is advised. 

I met a man with an iron voice and a beautiful wife. I named him Barry Tone, after his thunderous roll and mousey face. I knew I’d propose to his old lady the instant she came rolling through the door, bare feet first. Her hair was a waterfall of red, her skin fair as milk, her eyes twitching orbs of brown and bloodshot pink.

Barry was an important man with an important job. He knew people and people knew him. The owner of Vasser Creek Funeral Home and my boss, Mr. Fathingham, acted like John Lennon had waltzed through the door with a cure for cancer. I was surprised he never accosted Tone for an autograph and a hug.

Tone was shaped like a dinner roll. His fat yellow face sat on round Hunchbackian shoulders. Arms like fire hydrants. He looked always on the verge of a cry, which made him extremely fun to talk to. Plus I wanted to fist his wife while wearing my new brass knuckles.

Tone was really speaking my lingo. Must have read a bunch of bull on the interweb, or known a fellow degenerate maybe. Someone he confided in on matters of life and death. Someone he could trust with a dark secret. A man capable of rage.

I once met a mortician who cussed his grandma out on her death bed. He didn’t like her attitude toward the collected works of Agatha Christie. But most of us are sweet gentle souls with the kinds of haircuts your fathers wear. And the same-smelling socks.

“You’re gonna make sure your eye caps hold, right?” Councilman Tone asked. I heard Fathingham tell him he’d see to this and to that and his promises sounded like glass plates  on a hardwood floor. Listening to a politician talk about his dead wife is not as fun as you think.

It’s less. Much less.

“How’s your suturing, Fathingham? I want her looking good as new,” Tone said. My boss shook like a bobble head and spoke like a slave. “Yessuh, Missuh Tone,” he brayed.

Tone had a habit of itching his hairy knuckles. He reminded me of someone I once knew who liked crack cocaine more than sex and love. That someone being Uncle Alex on my mother’s side, before the meningitis took him from the world.

Tone was the most morbid thing I’d encountered in months. He was like a handicapped child trying to pin a tail on a donkey. He kept fluttering those fat white lips of his, like I didn’t know my own craft. Like I wasn’t a direct descendant of the world’s first undertakers, men and boys who watched their loved ones rot under a hard sun with nary a chemical to fight back.

“I don’t want her face to have that sunken, sallow look,” Tone said.

I told him not to worry, everything would be just fine, but because I’m so ugly it only made him worry more. I kept noticing him staring at my mole, which sits boldly on my chin and resembles the face of a small hamster. And he seemed especially turned off by my sharp brown teeth. I smiled big and asked him how a woman could possibly be sallow around me.

Anyway, what’s he expect when he comes into the darkness? You think Brad Pitt and George Clooney are down here emptying people’s insides? It’s just me and Desmond in the basement and Des’ is even worse than me. Those big rubbery bug-eyes, black as tar; a nose like rolling hills over scorched earth; his lips dry, cracked and swollen; hair curling out of long crusted ears; chin being consumed by sagging cheeks like he was being sucked in on himself. Des’ even had a nice thick scar on his neck, across his Adam’s apple like roadkill over a bump in the road.

I asked Des once how he got the scar. He said, “Watermelons don’t grow caterpillars in the middle of their wish-bones, but Don Cheadle will pet your Siamese cat while the Three Musketeers eat cherry pie with killer whales in their mustaches and Madonna’s number one hit single “Crazy For You” on the tips of their boots.”

I never asked Des about his scar again.

We always joked that it’s a good thing they’re already dead when they come through the door, because one look at old Des’ is enough to send a man to the grave.

“They called me Man-dusa at my last job,” Des said. I asked if he let them all live, and he grunted something profane and indecipherable. Des will be the best man at my wedding, I’m sure of it. He’s the perfect friend: loyal, homicidal, and with the best drugs.

Point is: it’s not my job to convince the living that our processes are full-proof, or that mistakes never happen when you’re trying to make some dead dyke look like Julia Roberts

As for Fathingham, I caught him checking his breath in his palm and stealing a quick glance in the cracked mirror on the wall. He reminded me of an ape at the zoo who’d learned how to mimic humans, and I expected him to start hurling feces at any moment. He kept adjusting his tie at the neck and grinding his teeth. He was like a broken toy no one had the heart to throw away. I loved him very much.

Barry’s wife was called Patricia, but I decided to name her Veronica because I refused to allow someone with such a hideous name make my balls tingle. She reminded me of a girl I once knew named Monica Matthouse. Monica was the baton twirler for the high school marching band and on weekends she’d let the D-line sodomize her with her favorite glitter stick. You could tell Veronica used to be straight heat. Her breasts gave off fossil fuel and spoke dozens of languages. Her long smooth neck made you want to ski down it. And her thighs were fleshy beds of Paradise where many a man went to die.

Being honest, I only say “used to be” for your comfort. Because for my wrinkled dollar, Veronica was still hot — despite her, you know, lack of a working heartbeat. I told Des this must have been how Helen of Troy looked and he said, “The only woman ever worth starting a war over was Diana Ross.” I asked him what about Lena Dunham and he scoffed and put his ear buds in.

“I want your A-game on this one, Spence,”  Mr. Fathingham said, his eyes narrowing into me like hot green lasers. He pulled a dirty blue rag from his pocket and tamped the back of his neck with it. His face was busy and severe: sunken brows like Kamikaze pilots, brown eyes like roaring hot comets; pointy nose constantly twitching, he resembled some kind of smacked-out bunny rabbit; coffee-stench breath oozed constantly over paper thin lips and almost everything he spoke sounded like a Greek tragedy.

“I’m sure you heard the news, Spencey,” he said. “City councilman’s wife, mother of three murdered. They don’t know who did it. He’s still on the lam. There’s rumor it was a man wearing a bright orange shirt and possibly traveling on rollerblades.” He put a greasy palm on my shoulder. “No humping the cactus on this one, Spencer J.”

We looked down to my waist to find that I had a hard-on. It was stiff and throbbing in my jean-shorts. All that talk about dead mothers, it simply couldn’t be helped. I wanted to be good at my job. But I also wanted to choke myself with a belt while listening to the speeches of Benito Mussolini, so who really knows?

Since Fathingham was being such a Susan, I only took three Percs instead of my usual seven and went to work.

First I had to eliminate the towering stack of docs on my desk, which was really just a flimsy plastic table I commandeered from the last company picnic. It once held cookies and jars of relish. It had seen better days, like the all of us.

It’s always smart not to embalm the wrong person. These nursing homes, you’d be shocked. Little white women called Akbar Ramadan. Fat Chinamen called Peggy Sue. You haven’t lived until you try to explain to the family of a Holocaust survivor why you accidentally embalmed their mee-maw.

Normally I’d disinfect with my own batch of yellow suds, but Fathingham was hard up so I had to play it cool, like a nipple in the wind, and use something FDA-approved.

Veronica’s face looked like she’d been recently finger-banged by Freddy Krueger. I needed it to look like she was dreaming of slow dancing with a young Paul Newman.

I molded her cheeks and forehead until her face was no longer a crime scene. I gave her a just-sleeping look, and snuck in a smirck in the deep left recess of her lips. Morphed it from the face a woman makes when she’s been murdered by a man that says ‘I always knew this is how it would end, you rat bastards’ to a dignified look of serenity that’ll allow her family to believe she’s resting in peace rather than being repeatedly mouth-raped by a gaggle of absurdly-hung demons.

I felt a little like Tone had challenged my honor so I pulled Veronica’s eye caps extra tight and whistled while I twerked. Her eyes were vaults of forgotten memory. Her face a graveyard of dreams deferred.

I dug the ridges deep into her eyeballs while Des poured the vodka. Fathingham only rolled his eyes, knowing that to be a force no man could stop. We clinked our glasses to the ‘Perpetuity of Death’ and tried hard to control our half-chubs.

“You know what would be fun?” Des asked and I instinctively took three strides back. “I’d love to run an intervention on the Grim Reaper,” he said. “He’s clearly addicted to death.”

I asked Des how he figured and he said, “Well, more than five million gallons of embalming fluid are used every year. And that’s just in these United States.”

Des asked me what I thought and I told him it sounded like my kind of ball, but suggested that we first take away the Reaper’s scythe. “Yeah,” Des said. “And pull back his hood too so we can get a good look at all his emotions.” I asked Des if he thought the Angel of Death was a big crier and he said, “Everyone cries, Spence. Even the heartless.”

Veronica needed makeup badly, and about ten thousand stitches. Bruises lined her body in yellow- green like vomit on the sand and deep blue-purple like nebulae. On the top of her feet, on the back of her calves, on her shoulder blades, around her neck, all in hematomic cakes of black and blue and yellow.

There were cuts and scrapes and half a dozen lacerations that dug deep into her hard muscle. One on her stomach from left love handle up to her left arm pit had dried a grape purple color and split further if we moved her too fast. Another in the center of her left palm was four inches long and half an inch deep. A decaying rottenness trickled from its bubbling crevice. Another scorcher on her right forearm, six inches long like a dried ravine of muddy water, looked like the work of a rabid dog. Three or four more lined her shoulder and resembled lighter burns.

I thought about using a sharpie to write “Felix the Feline was here” across Veronica’s stomach, but Fathingham’s voice in my head told me not to. I grabbed my injector gun and swung it around my finger like I was an Old Westerner. But when Fathingham frowned at me I felt more like a neutered koala bear with nowhere to stick his furry member. I’m a mess with the injector so I called Gregory for assistance and he showed up wearing a pink leotard. “Fathingham will have you killed,” I told him, so he went to the bathroom and changed into a black leotard.

Gregory was a maestro with the needle. He could get from the jaw to the gums to the nostril to the septum to the other nostril and back to the gums in 4.7 seconds, no kidding. The day we got the stopwatch out Fathingham told us he was moving to Sweden where people like us didn’t exist. Des told him he better go to Saturn instead because freaks like us were everywhere. I’ve always been surprised Gregory never became famous. A man with so much talent deserved his 15 minutes, even if it made everyone sick and scarred them for life.

Next I grabbed a fistful of cotton and stuffed it into Veronica’s anus and hairy vagina with the urgency of a constipated arm wrestler. Four fingers in PLLOINK. Four fingers out FLLERP. Four fingers in PLLOINK. Four fingers out FLLERP. I stuffed and stuffed and stuffed like she was a chewed-up babydoll. I’ve seen rectal leakage in every hue of the rainbow. From ROY to G to BIV, and all of it smelling like the loss of hope.

Fathingham ordered the cotton special, from the red dirts of Carolina. “The blood of bourgeois Confederates gives it that extra fluff,” he’d say. I told him the civil war had just begun and he giggled like a small boy in the company of a priest.

It had been almost two years since Mrs. Tabernacle. Fathingham got sued after a thick brown discharge gushed from both her nostrils during a heavily-attended showing. Most people found it horrifying, but I’ve never seen Des laugh so hard. There was a bit of a stampede out the door and several small children were injured in the melee. Gregory kept calling it the Muddy Geyser of Geezer and I thought Fathingham would spontaneously combust.

The first time I heard the term arterial embalming, at the age of 12, I thought I’d faint. I found an old encyclopedia — this was in the early 70s — and masturbated to the word and its definition on the page:

arterial embalming: the art and science of SPPLURGE preserving human remains SPPLATCH by treating them with chemicals SPLONKK to forestall decomposition SPLEEEEGE.

It was like someone asking you to prom. It was finding purpose. It was Dolly Parton inviting you to show her your very best motorboat. It was destiny cradling me into her cushy bosom and caressing me gently. It gave my spittle the power of a Russian rocket and made my hands feel like the hammer of Thor.

I took a rubber cannula into each hand and jammed one into Veronica’s carotid artery and the other into her jugular. Her body jolted off the table up toward the ceiling causing the best of her to jiggle and dance. If I didn’t work at Vasser Creek I’d be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, I’m sure of it.

It was time to drain Veronica’s blood and replace it with my special cocktail of embalming fluid. Des held a knife to my neck once, demanding I give up the recipe, but I never did so now he respects me enough to leave his weapons at home.

“Blood out, Vasser Creek in,” Des said, slapping me on the back. He was referring to our unofficial company motto, the one Fathingham claimed he hated but secretly had patented. “What did the vampire say to the embalmer, Des?” I asked. He grunted something solid out of his esophagus. “Ready, set, go!” I said. “Get it? Emptying people of their blood?”

I wanted Veronica’s heart so I drained it until it was no more than a dried prune I could fit into my shirt-pocket. I pumped into her arteries like no one’s business and the sound of wedding bells rang out in my head. The solution I used was mostly water-less because Veronica must have had some kind of ailment. But her body was toned and held up nicely. Her vascular system plumped to life like a Rockette’s dance line.

Veronica’s blue veins bulged from her face. I tucked myself under my belt to hide my excitement and thanked Poseidon for plumbers and architects. Where would I be without a highly-functioning sewer system? The federal penitentiary at Terra Haute, that’s where.

Rigor mortis had already set in, so I had to give Veronica a nice massage. I told Des how “I don’t be ticklin’ or nothin'” and he threatened to shit his breakfast onto my chest. I told him no thanks and started on Veronica’s inner thighs.

To remove Veronica’s unflushed piss and shit I used an aspirator vacuum, modified to suck stars from the sky. Its 20 inch needle and sharp tip made me proud to be a human. I longed for times more medieval, when a man could be proud of his sadism, instead of being forced to conceal it so that others could pretend the world was something it wasn’t.

I fanned Veronica’s guts until salsa, chips and nacho cheese dripped onto the floor in a wet pile of Mexicana. If fanning guts was an Olympic sport I’d be your Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Des told Gregory he’d give him 20 bucks if he licked the crap off the aspirator. Gregory did it with a smile on his face and used most of the money on mouthwash and tic-tacs.

Gregory was the kind of guy who took everything he could get. It’s how he survived with such a terrible brain. Twenty dollars for a tongue full of feces was a no-brainer in his universe. Gregory was probably the dumbest man I ever met, but I respected him more than anyone. He had the IQ of a mattress, but he was an artist all the same.

“Who would kill such a babe?” Gregory asked. Des and me told him there was speculation that it was a very tall man wearing a Viking’s helmet and Velcro shoes.

“What is the meaning of this!” Fathingham shouted suddenly.

“Stand back, sir,” said a man in a tan trench coat. Three piggies stood behind him, oinking and slobbering all over their pale blue uniforms. “My name is Detective Raymond G. Buntley and I’ve come for the Councilman.”

“This is an outrage!” Fathingham said.

“Why I oughta — ,” Councilman Tone began.

“We know it was you, Tone,” Buntley said. “We found the rollerblades in your garage, right next to the Spiderman suit.”

One of the piggies spun Tone around and slapped cuffs onto his wrists. “Ever been downtown, Tone?” he asked.

“Can it, McCallister. Tone’s a councilman. He works downtown?” Buntley said.

“Oh. Right,” McCallister said. “Yeah well, you ever been bent over by a former hot dog eating champ?”

And just like that, Councilman Tone was gone. I did my best magic for his wife. I’d fallen in love with her — mostly for her compliant attitude about my every touch. Girls never let me touch if they’re living. But the dead do not protest. The recently nixed are nothing but docile.

I let Veronica’s blood flow for one last special occasion. She got dressed up, like women love to do, in her finest garments, her sexiest shoes, and her biggest hat.

Des’ and I discussed hairdos. He was for an updo, me for the bouffant. We compromised and Veronica ended up with a nice bob cut.

Veronica and me had our day in the sun, and there will always be the dirty memories. Tone’s people hauled her away to some cold cemetery and I never saw her again. But she still has my heart, just as I had hers, squishing through my fingers like raw chicken as her shit splattered onto my boots below.

Dragonstone

Game of Thrones returned Sunday night in truly magnificent form. I did watch the episode “under the influence,” but I think “Dragonstone” was easily one of the series’ best installments yet. After six years of practice, Weiss and Benioff really know how to start a season.

Arya’s Revenge

I love me a cold open. Recall the Hound’s cold open return in Season 6: him lugging a massive log on his own to help Ray build his sept in the hills and finally resolving the cliffhanger of his fight with Brienne.

I rewatched this scene four or five times before moving on with the episode. It was so perfect it almost gave me tears. Revenge is apparently a dish best served inside a non-Dornish Arbor Gold wine while wearing the face of the man who killed your mother. Arya Stark has been reciting her ” hit list” for about five seasons now, and with the skills she earned in the House of Black and White she’s finally starting to shorten it.

The start of the scene was just disorienting enough for the viewer to be tricked along with the men of House Fray. My initial thought was that it was a flashback, perhaps taking place in the immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding as some sort of celebratory jerkfest at the destruction of Robb and Catlyn Stark.

But when David Bradley, who played the scene to absolute perfection, started sounding more like Maisie Williams than old man Frey, I knew this was something much more epic than a mere flashback. Here’s the key line, pristinely written and expertly delivered:

“Yes…cheer. Brave men…all of you. Butchered a woman pregnant with her baby. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home.”

This is fantastic writing. Even using the term “her baby” instead of “a baby” shows how meticulous of a monologue this was. The preparation of the writers mirrors that of Arya herself, and makes the demise of House Fray one of the most powerful scenes in this show’s history.

There’s also the wonderful imagery of the wolf and the sheep:

“But you didn’t slaughter every one of the Starks. No no, that was your mistake. You should have ripped them all out, root and stem. Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.”

I love how Arya kept a few of the Frey women alive so they would be able to tell the story. This is a bit of a trope (just ask Quintin Tarantino), but it’s so delicious, who really cares? It reminded me of the series’ very first episode, “Winter is Coming”, when the White Walkers let one Brother of the Night’s Watch flee south after they massacred a troop of Wildlings in front of him.

Unfortunately, the boy’s tale was not taken seriously and, seven seasons later, the Seven Kingdoms remains woefully unprepared for the looming threat.

Bran Arrives at Castle Black

Given his new position as the “Three Eyed Raven,” Bran Stark might just be the most formidable mind in the GoT universe. He proved his identity to (Lord Commander?) Eddison Tollett by revealing his knowledge of past events at which he wasn’t even present. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Castle Black has a new Stark, and Bran is sure to play a central role in the coming fight. The guy has a freaking flux capacitor in his brain for crying out loud. Could he go back in time and prevent the creation of the Walkers in the first place? We shall see.

And can I just say, Mira Reed is a goddamn hero! Like her father before her, an important Stark man owes her his life. She pulled old boy, in a sled, across what? hundreds of miles of frozen tundra? She’s a total boss, and it’s minor heroic characters like her that make this show so dynamic (Hodor…sniff…sniffsniff).

The War to Come

You guys. . . the army of the dead has giants! Effing mothereffing giants! I never considered the possibility before and it is truly frightening. As if the Night King wasn’t ghastly enough, now he has zombie giants marching at his back. The men and women of Westeros really need to get their shit together.

Speaking of, Jon Snow has settled in as the King of the North post-Battle of the Bastards. And, as it stands, he might be the single most important political figure in Westeros. Snow is seemingly the only person beginning to seriously prepare for what’s coming (plus his bloodline might be the stuff of an essential military alliance).  And thanks to the inimitable Lyanna Mormont, this preparation will absolutely include the training of not just men and boys, but women and girls as well. It’s all hands on deck because, as Jon points out, 50% of the population just won’t cut it.

“I don’t need your permission to defend the North!” Lyanna declares, bitch slapping Lord Glover and ending once and for all the debate about women in the military.

Salt King Euron Greyjoy is Thirsty

The one-liner of the night might go to Euron Greyjoy. During his failed courting of Cersei Lannister, he tells her, “Here I am — with a thousand ships and two good hands.” Again, take note of how perfect this writing is. Not only is this a clear sexual advance, but it also serves as a direct jab (so to speak) at Jaime Lannister and his lack of “two good hands.” Brilliant stuff.

By the way, is it just me or does Euron resemble a less good-looking Liev Shrieber?

Euron Greyjoy
Sabertooth

(To any ladies reading this, I too have two good hands, though, admittedly, not that many ships. 😉)

“Dragonstone” was largely an episode about men attempting to court women. Euron and Cersei; Baelish and Sansa; Tormund Giantsbane and Brienne (lolololol). This runs the full spectrum of Thrones romance from hilarious to downright frightening.

I spit out my Arbor Gold laughing when Tormund told Pod he was a lucky man because Brienne knocked him to the dirt. Could you imagine the warrior-child these two would make? Here’s to hoping they get together before it’s too late.

Sansa Calls for Democracy

The current dynamic between Sansa and Littlefinger is really interesting. Recall that Baelish basically forced Sansa into sex slavery with a raving lunatic — and this after she saved his life by lying to the leaders of the Vale after he murdered her aunt. As Brienne points out, Littlefinger is lucky to be alive.

(Brienne is clearly unaware that Peter Baelish is the MacGuffin of this entire story and thus can’t be killed off just yet. Recall that he killed Jon Aryn and sent the letter to Ned Stark that pinned it on the Lannisters, kicking off the show’s action. And he murdered King Joffrey, sparking Cersei’s rage and Tyrion’s journey to the Dragon Queen’s side. His ambition is a giant motor churning the plot along.)

While talking to Jon, Sansa tells him that she learned a lot from Cersei. One thing she’s certainly learned is how to make Littlefinger squirm. It’s like he’s right back in King’s Landing taking shit from the Lannisters. “No need to cease the last word, Lord Baelish,” she tells him. “I’ll assume it was something clever.” Sansa knows what Baelish wants (her wolfskin panties in his mouth), and in this universe knowing what others want is a significant power.

Sansa has blossomed (through great personal struggle) into one of the show’s most intriguing characters. I especially loved her appeal to Jon Snow for open and democratic debate on matters of the North. Sansa knows, unlike almost every other character on the show, that authoritarianism is counterproductive and unsustainable.

The Hound Still Hates Fire

I absolutely love that The Brotherhood is aware of the Army of the Dead. It will be really cool to see them join the fight. Having the ability to see things in the flames is apparently a major asset. Such an asset, in fact, that Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr get Clegane to go near fire. After the episode I stared into the fire on my stovetop for an hour straight but all I noticed was how dirty my oven is.

The Hound, however, sees the Night King marching south and for the first time in seven seasons actually seems to believe in something. This, along with his clear guilt about the dead girl and her father who he left to die, mark an interesting character arc for The Hound. Arya was wrong when she called him “the worst shit.”

Ed Sheeran. . .Sigh

Which brings me to Ed Sheeran. Now I’m a huge fan of Ed’s, and I personally know women who would sit on his voice’s face. But it’s safe to say this ginger should stick to his day job. I’m not up in arms about his appearance as many seem to be, but I think the argument that his casting breaks the continuity of escapism for the viewer has at least a few legs.

His presence makes you hyper-aware that the other two Lannister soldiers are qualified actors. When Ed Sheeran is at the campfire I can’t imagine he’s usually the one with his mouth shut. In other words, it’s obvious they were hiding him once the singing stopped. It contradicts the very spirit of what Thrones is, and it’s never a good idea to compromise the spirit of a thing. The U.S. Constitution, for example.

It was an interesting idea that fell flat. No big deal really. There was one interesting thing about the song Sheeran was singing though. The last line he belts out was: “A woman’s hands are warm.” And then, right on cue, Arya (a woman) rides up, her hands warm with the blood of House Frey. Again, the attention to detail is impressive.

Sam Cleans Toilets

Last we saw the Thenn- and White Walker-killing warrior Samwell Tolly he had arrived in Old Towne, Baby Sam and Gilly in tow, to become the new maester of the Night’s Watch. And apparently the Citadel is much like a Sumo wrestling dojo, because they immediately put Sam on toilet and laundry duty.

The fast paced montage of Sam feeding the maesters and cleaning up after them was a real work of art. Clamping books and rattling chains, farts and gagging and soup dripping. These are the sounds of Sam’s sacrifice.

But Sam is a good lad. He’s knuckling down and getting the job done, all while learning as much as he can about the White Walkers (per Stannis’s directive). Specifically, Sam is interested in obsidian (also known as dragon glass).

In a reminder that the show’s action is coming to a close, Sam learns something we as viewers already knew — that it was The Children who created the White Walkers by stabbing obsidian into men’s hearts.

As addressed by Jon Snow earlier in the episode, and as verified by Sam himself during his Season Four descent south, dragon glass also has the power to kill White Walkers. As Snow demands, it must be found, mined, and weaponized as soon as humanly possible.

Jorah Mormont was twice banished before winning back Danerys’s heart. Last seen he was ordered by the same to find a cure for his greyscale. We learn in “Dragonstone” that said order has taken him to Old Towne. Will the maesters of the Citadel be able to stave off his greyscale — Princess Shireen of House Baratheon taught us that this is indeed possible — or will he slowly go Stoneman in his dark cell?

Will he and Sam talk more? We see Sam preparing to send a raven to Jon informing him of the plethora of obsidian to be found at Dragonstone. Will Sam pass along information he learns from Jorah? Perhaps important information that helps facilitate a meeting between Jon and Dany? A lot needs to happen here, and it should be immensely entertaining to see how it goes down.

One last thing on Old Towne. It’s interesting to me that the Citadel, supposedly Westeros’s greatest place of higher learning, is home to some of its most skeptical (and ignorant) inhabitants in terms of the White Walkers.

It’s incredibly difficult to confirm certain realities in the Thrones universe. People (and information) travel hard and slow.

I’m currently reading David McCullough’s 1776 and one thing he talks about is how slow information travelled from Boston to London in the late 18th century. It wasn’t until a month after Lexington and Concord that King George learned of the war’s outbreak.

The characters in GoT face the same exact problem. The speedy and effective spread of information is vital to the survival of the Realm. At this point, too much skepticism could be life-threatening. But thank the old gods and the new for message-carrying ravens.

Dany Finally Comes Home

After arduous journey, from being pimped out to a Dothraki horde to dealing with insurrection in Mereen, Danerys Targaryen has finally arrived in Westeros. She’s got three dragons and an army of Unsullied and Second Sons. She found the best possible man in Westeros to be her Hand of the Queen in Tyrion Lannister (and as a bonus added Varys as another key advisor). And she’s just landed at Dragonstone, which is about to become the most geologically important land in the entire kingdom. When it comes to the game of the thrones, I know where my money’s at.

It’s cool to see Dany stand where Stannis once did, and to see more of the castle he once occupied. We only ever saw the war room and the dungeons when Stannis was in the house, which sort of says a lot about Stannis doesn’t it? But Dany is finally in position to carry out her plan to take the Iron Throne. The main questions I have are these: 1) Will we get to see Tyrion ride a dragon and 2) Will we get to see Missande ride a Greyworm.

Valar Morghulis,

Aaron of House Laflin

The Artistry of Lebron James

Athletes are not often included in discussions about art, and this usually presents no great miscarriage of creative justice. But when it comes to the oeuvre of LeBron James, we are remiss in excluding sportsmen from such talks. LeBron James is no mere athlete; he is an ar-teest, in the same vein as folks like Prince and Pablo Picasso. The ball is LeBron’s brush, the court his canvas.

If art is, as Merriam Webster has it, the expression of human creativity and imagination, typically rendered in visual form and appreciated primarily for its beauty and emotional power, then what LeBron does on a near-nightly basis certainly qualifies.

No one currently living better illustrates the raw beauty and power of human physicality. His talents are enough to move grown men to tears, and often have. His exploits can defy belief, especially for those of us in close tune with our own physical limitations. For example, I recently pulled my back out while yawning, which gives me a profound appreciation of LeBron chasing down Avery Bradley, like a lion of the Saranghetti hunting down its prey, and pinning his shot to the backboard with his left hand. LeBron is a freak of a human specimen who I believe signifies the continuing evolution of mankind. But I suppose that’s for another day.

If ballet dancers are to be considered artists, and their elegant contortions of the body are certainly aesthetically pleasing, then the demonstrations of LeBron James should likewise be given artistic credence. Despite weighing 245 pounds, LeBron moves with the nimble grace of a butterfly.

But LeBron isn’t just physically impressive, his abilities not purely mechanical. The intricacies of his game are largely a result of exceptional creativity and imagination. He is very much the Picasso of the Hardwood. It seems every night LeBron comes up with a new way to zip a cross-court pass to a readying shooter. And if you’re not careful you can get one in the gut like Richard Jefferson did in Game 2. Whether it’s behind the back or between small spaces LeBron’s passing is inventive and daring, and perhaps the most beautiful aspect of a dynamic and multi-faceted talent .

This is not just a man among boys, it’s an advanced species among mere mortals. He’s operating at a frequency somewhere miles above the average NBA player’s head, and this can have embarrassing consequences for those brave enough to step onto the same floor. A 70-29 first half score isn’t ugly, it’s beautiful. It is the work of an artist.

From the time he was 11 years old LeBron has been the best player in every gym he’s ever occupied. Can you imagine being the best guy in the room, always? He makes professional basketball players, some of the greatest athletes to ever live, look like members of a high school JV team. They are so much slower, weaker, smaller, dumber, and less technically skilled than LeBron that they either end up injured or looking like a troop of slapstick comics trying to work out their silly routines.

He’s two steps ahead and two feet above the other nine players on the court, and he’s dictating almost every play on both ends of the floor. I can often detect boredom in LeBron’s body language, and a hyperawareness of his own superiority that can lead to what we perceive as bad play. Which is why when LeBron competes it can sometimes look like he’s also practicing. “Now I think I’ll work on my post-up fadeaway against defenders 6’7″ and up.”

The improvisation of LeBron’s passing. The heady defensive awareness, as if he’s receiving  clues from a psychic about what will happen next. The elegant force of his rebounding. The endless bag of tricks on offense. All of it effected with the cool confidence of a man used to being the best.

Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a stark reminder of the artistry of LeBron James. Good art can often create or even destroy worlds; or, in this particular case, the city of Boston.

I don’t think it outlandish to think about LeBron in the same way we think about great painters and gifted writers of prose. Men like Dickens and Van Gogh used their hands and heads to produce lasting works of art, and, in the case of Van Gogh, literally bled in the process.

A thousand years from now they’ll still be talking (and scratching their futuristic heads) about the accomplishments of LeBron James, though hopefully no extricated ear lobes.

I can only speak for myself, but looking at the paintings of Picasso invokes in me a similar feeling of awe and humility as seeing LeBron James anticipate an errant pass and, in what seems like an instant, slam it home on the other end. Both reactions come from the same place within me, and both produce that slight head shake of disbelief.

The Italian painter Michelangelo Pistoletto once said that, “Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on.”

As the main “sponsor of thought” in the sport of basketball today, LeBron James is a bona fide artist and should be recognized as such. His work appears not in galleries and museums, but in modern day cathedrals of athletic competition.

When Lebron’s career finally comes to an end — and I’m holding out hope that anti-aging science will advance far enough in the coming years so that LeBron will be around to take all three of Lavar Ball’s children to the woodshed — we would be highly remiss in thinking of him as merely a basketball player. He is far more than that.

Just ask the Boston Celtics.

Smotherman Speaks His Mind

After spending the previous six months living in a room with soft walls, Matthias Smotherman was finally given the floor. Matthias had thought long and hard about what he might say if given such an opportunity and feared squandering it more anything in the world – though his apprehensions about zombie clowns who kept dog-sized spiders as pets and whose MO was burying people alive was a close second.

Smotherman cleared his throat and thought about everything Professor Stacy M. Cradlesting had taught him in Intro to Public Speaking, which he’d taken at the community college with the racially insensitive mascot and the janitor who wrote the prize-winning poetry but couldn’t mop a floor if his continued virility had depended on it.

First on Smotherman’s agenda was Blonde Girls Who Get Under Your Skin, Like a Cyst or a Really Bad Ingrown Hair, and Reside There Indefinitely, No Matter The Strength With Which You Scrub. Smotherman had become convinced, after long and careful thought effected in a solitude so deep it made your bones sing, that blonde-haired women possessed some kind of psychosexual superhuman ability that, when wielded in its most merciless form, had the power to control minds. Smotherman liked to compare it to the trick used by Jedis to convince Storm Troopers to look the other way, only this force left a man sucking his own thumb in dirty underwear.

Smotherman had, and was more than willing to divulge, field research to support his theoretical claims about blonde women. To wit, the third grade. Smotherman’s about to win the class spelling bee when Melanie Hughes blows him a kiss from behind Mrs. Eaton’s back and he ends up spelling ‘accuse’ with two k’s and a z and losing the bee to Brian Gaspetti, a decent speller and all, but also a boy who never saw a booger he didn’t eat. Melanie’s hair was gold like the sun, and its shine made your stomach feel like a washing machine with sneakers in it.

Because he knew passive aggressiveness was frowned upon in this place, Smotherman went ahead and identified the subject of his opening gambit. It was Sarah J. Sapperstein, Smotherman’s ex-girlfriend and unofficial arch nemesis. Smotherman then admitted, mostly for effect, that, despite hating Sarah’s “rotten stinking guts” (for reasons that would be inappropriate and logistically impossible to  elaborate on in a public forum), if he were to discover Sarah in his bed, fleshy tush in the air, he’d be physically incapable of rebuffing such lascivious (and borderline illegal) advances from a girl with such bright blonde hair. Smotherman used to tell prospective employers when they asked him his weaknesses, “Blondes. Beautiful bosomy blondes.”

Smotherman believed that, though anecdotal, this admission said much about what slaves we all were to our own subconscious desires and how much of what we do seems to be driven by some unseen and possibly cosmic force that (potentially) derived its powers from the very fiber of spacetime (and also how Sarah Sapperstein, nay Smotherman, would most likely be his bride someday).

This last contention made Mr. Salmon T. Reed laugh and laugh and laugh — laugh so hard that he fell right out of his wheelchair and required the assistance of three beefy black men to get him back situated — which wouldn’t have mattered all that much but for the fact that Mr. S. T. Reed hadn’t emitted so much as a yawn in 17 years 4 months 23 days and 11 hours. Looking out, Smotherman saw a smorgasbord of stunned faces ogling back at him. It was becoming clear that by simply speaking his mind Smotherman was making the world a better place.

Smotherman next wanted to address, if no one minded too terribly, the topic of standing in line in America. Though seemingly inconsequential — Smotherman was, for example, fully aware of global jihad — it was nonetheless a large part of American society and thus merited discussion. Smotherman’s chief contention on the matter was that there existed a fundamental flaw in the commonly accepted attitude toward standing in line; namely that everyone needed to be so damn close to each other. Do people really think that if they hump your leg and breathe down your neck it’ll expedite their effort to imbibe excess amounts of guacamole? It’s total madness, Smotherman said with a swinging fist, and then surveyed the audience anxiously because he knew that ‘madness’ was a technical term that carried with it heavy psychological implications and thus its nonchalant employment was in very poor taste. Professor Cradlesting had always stressed the utility of knowing one’s audience and how the true greats — Lincoln and Churchill and Cicero — could adapt to their audience in real time. But the books never talked about if there’s nothing much to react to — no chapter on slobbery chins and spacey eyes that stared a million miles past you, no advice on titillating the chemically comatose, no section on how best to captivate men who’d met their demons and now couldn’t stop fretting about how gnarly they were.

Smotherman wanted to live in a world where people stood exactly six feet apart while in line, and was enthusiastically amenable to some sort of legal (or perhaps even corporal) punishment for eager-beavers who failed to adhere to the Six Foot Protocol (known otherwise as the SFP). However, Smotherman knew — and acknowledged as much to his audience — that there was a better chance of ISIS establishing its own clown college.

Then, despite beginning to feel an itch at the back of his throat that he’d be unable to eradicate due to the unfortunate absence of something cold and wet, Smotherman transitioned, like a regular Charismatic Dictator, into what he called his Friends Dilemma. Smotherman was kind enough to preface this portion of his speech with a warning that “shit was about to get real, ya’ll” (in case any prudes in the audience wanted to excuse themselves to a campfire sing-along or a Bible-study group). The question was this: If given the chance, Smotherman asked rhetorically (because he was now on a roll and would rather pass a pumpkin through his pee-hole than relinquish his spot at the proverbial podium), who would you rather sleep with — Rachel, Monica, or Phoebe? It was Smotherman’s contention that although Rachel was the most traditionally attractive of the group, Phoebe was very likely the most sexually enlightened and thus carried with her the prospect of “some pretty wild romping indeed.” As for Monica, she was, in Smotherman’s words, “a bit too clean” for his taste.

At this point, several women in the audience began to blush (or grow angry, Smotherman couldn’t exactly tell and didn’t have time to determine) and a fat man in the back (Cody Q. Hitchfield as a point of fact) shared a loud and very wet-sounding fart that seemed to  rattled the building’s very foundation.

(Hitchfield often bragged about being the only human to ever live who never held in a bodily function. He could often be heard regaling anyone who would listen with his most daring exploits, including the day he burped so loud the judge held him in contempt of court.)

This brought Smotherman to his views on Haircut Places Allowing People To Check-In Online Rather Than Adhering to the Time-Honored System of First Come-First Serve. Once again, Smotherman posed a series of rhetorical questions. Was the world not already a terrible and ugly place? Did we really need to create a situation in which a young American man could walk into the barbershop and find, to his great but ultimately false satisfaction, an empty waiting area, only to be forced to wait 45 minutes for his turn because six different people arrived at the shop after him but were given first dibs because they had, before getting their big dumb asses to the shop, typed their name and phone number into an Internet portal that probably didn’t even apprise them of the possibility that they’d technically be ditching folks who did not take similar precautions prior to arriving at the actual location where the actual scissors were?

Well, did we?

After a long and audibly displeasing series of throat-clearing in which Smotherman regurgitated and then swallowed at least two golf-ball-sized phlegm wads, he moved to the admittedly esoteric topic of Selfish and Solipsistic Teammates Stealing – And Proceeding to Use Far Too Much Of – Your Irish Spring Body-Wash While You Were in the Gym Icing Your Achy Knees After Practice. Smotherman couldn’t be sure how well anyone could relate to this particular point of contention, but he knew it had the unfortunate potential of ruining possibly fruitful relationships and, more importantly, overall team chemistry. A man’s Hygienic Implementations, Smotherman believed, should be immune to thieving acts of inconsideration, or else the very balance and order of society could be obliterated. Having said as much, Smotherman felt a weight drop from his chest and was excited that he’d once again be able to see his nipples (which until that moment had been entirely concealed by said weight and had begun to chaff something awful).

Noticing that he was starting to lose some attention of his audience, Smotherman moved to the much more universal topic of Being Unable, For the Life of You, To Think of a Retaliatory Prank After Your Friend Sends You a Fake Email Wherein He Pretends To Be Head Cheerleader and Local Hottie Samantha Weston Asking You On a Date, Which Results in You Making a Total Ass of Yourself In Front of No Less Than a Dozen Classmates When You Confidently Saunter Up To Samantha At Her Locker and Tell Her That You Are Looking Forward to Saturday Night And Would She Like to Pick the Movie? Smotherman then asked each member of the audience to write their best prank ideas on the notecard provided beneath their chairs so that he, Smotherman, would be able to formulate a timely response the next time someone decided to eff with his emotions.

The ideas received ranged from delusional to homicidal and were of almost no help at all. Miss Rebecca D. Chambers, who could often be heard mumbling about her late husband the rubberband tycoon, apparently thought “Smotherman’s funny friend deserved an AIDS-coated cock in the ass.”

Throughout his speech, Smotherman made proper, but conservative use of various hand gestures he’d been enthusiastically taught by Professor Cradlesting, who Smotherman had recently heard contracted a rare form of leukemia that would almost certainly render the man entirely speechless. However, Smotherman took comfort in the idea that Stacy M. Cradlesting, Community College Professor Extraordinaire, would always be able to articulate his grief and frustration with the world through that great and universal hand gesture Middle Finger Up, Other Fingers Down.

Feeling confident and well-respected for the first time in his adult life, Smotherman launched fervently into his views on Being Unable to Ever Muster The Motivation To Learn How To Change a Tire, and the related topic of Not Feeling Exactly Like a Man When You Take Your Car To The Shop and Can’t Even Tell the Guy If Your Jeep is a V6 or a V8. Smotherman was of the opinion that they should make shop classes mandatory in high school because knowing a thing or two about your own vehicle was far more valuable in today’s society than knowing, for example, that the circumference of a circle could be found by multiplying the radius of said circle by pie and then multiplying the product by two. Some knowledge is power, and some knowledge is just powder, Smotherman tossed out his new very clever saying and invited his audience to help it go viral.

Smotherman then thought it prudent to address the uniquely American situation of Stupid Credit Card Chip Readers Causing Unbearable Moments of Awkward Silence As You Can Do Nothing But Stare At The Odd Girl Working Behind The Counter At CVS And Hope That Society Would See The Error of Its Ways And Go Back To Letting People Swipe. At this particular juncture in his speech, Smotherman noticed a bevy of head-nods and shakes that he interpreted to mean that the folks in his audience could not possibly have agreed more. These were, as they say, his people. They had exactly the kind of ears and hearts and minds (and prescriptive regiments) Smotherman needed to make his voice properly and adequately heard. Smotherman had, for much of his life, felt like a man whispering at a rock concert. But now — now he felt like a yelping barbarian at the head of a mad horde.

A SECTION OF THIS STORY HAS BEEN REDACTED BECAUSE IT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO INVOKE EXTREME DISCOMFORT IN THE READER, WHO MAY THEN DIRECT SAID DISCOMFORT AT THE AUTHOR

At this, two men and a woman in gleaming coats of white began flailing their limbs and repeating the word OK as if they’d gone momentarily illiterate and could only articulate one letter at a time.

“Let’s hear it for Smotherman, can we?” said Dr. Wayne G. Modgloff, whose orange hair and freckles Smotherman had always found to be extremely unsettling. “Very good, Mr. Smotherman. Very good,” said Dr. Vanessa K. Schwartz, who Smotherman suspected of being lonely, spoiled and possibly bulimic. “Truly thought-provoking stuff,” said Dr. Arasmis O. Knotweiler, a man Smotherman had no respect for at all due to his constant and possibly pathological need to slurp his coffee like a brain-damaged donkey.

While he still could, Smotherman made sure to thank his audience for their somewhat undivided time and attention (and also any peculiar glances, eye-rolls, exasperated sighs, and farts they might have provided) and then thoroughly enjoyed — perhaps more than any man had ever enjoyed anything — every last clap within the seated ovation with which they rewarded him. Smotherman was then ushered from the front of the room, thinking already about what he might say if they ever gave him a floor again.

Wounded Animals Wail Softly

Alastair was blacked out, lying on the hardwood floor on his bad right shoulder which ached deep and wide. He was wrapped in an American flag, like a tree in its bark, with nothing else on except white socks with dirt-blackened soles that perfectly outlined the different sections of his feet.

**

Alastair had cheated, but still managed the audacity to feel betrayed when Claire moved on so fast. “It was like lightning,” Alastair told the calendar hanging in his kitchen. “Speaking of lightning,” the calendar began to say, but then Alastair flipped it to November even though it was April because he liked the red and orange leaves with the cartoon faces better than the duck holding an umbrella.

In Alastair’s bleary mind, Claire was much more disloyal than he. “OK OK, I cheated, sure, but then I bled for six years while she had the goddamn nerve to go get engaged,” Alastair told his toaster, which anymore only worked in one of its four slots. He pressed down the lever and with the metallic reverb of the register the toaster said, “People don’t bleed like you, Alastair.”

Claire, and her fiance Drake, who spent a brief time after college as an Abercrombie model and looked like a young Rob Lowe, had invited Alastair to the wedding, but he was too low to show his awkwardly-bearded face. Too low, too lacking in the hygienic normalities of polite society, too angry. And Alastair’s anger was the kind that made others feel instantly uncomfortable, could be detected in his eyes and face and shoulders, and heard in every syllable he muttered. Each word he spoke sounding like a monologue in a Quentin Tarantino film.

“What’s that thing they do at weddings?” Alastair asked a drawer full of forks and knives. “You guys know, when the officiant asks the audience if there are any objections.” But these were not the kinds of forks and knives to have ever seen a wedding — many of them had begun to rust and stain and even bend — so they offered no response other than to glimmer beneath the fluorescent kitchen lights and hope like hell they survived another meal.

Alastair thought about all the stuff he might do at that particular moment, instead of forever holding his peace. “I’d bring props and pie-charts and graphs, make a real show of it,” Alastair told his garbage disposal, and then flipped the switch and pretended that the garbage disposal, who spoke only broken English, liked the sound of that. Alastair’s garbage disposal was his most trusted confidant. But he imagined that his cutting board thought the garbage disposal had become nothing more than a Yes Man.

Alastair wondered if weddings had watch-lists like they do at airports. “Because if they did I’d be at the very top of the list, man.” Alastair liked calling his crock pot ‘man’, and his crock pot didn’t seem to mind, though its gender was certainly debatable. “I wouldn’t be allowed within a hundred yards of that church,” Alastair said to the box of Frosted Flakes in his hand, the smile on Tony’s face saying, “Yep, they know you’re crrrrazy.”

“They’d have dudes with ear pieces and bad buzz cuts on all the rooftops.” When he began his suspicious approach, Alastair was certain, men in black suits would jump out of bushes and cars with government license plates and haul him away to some hospice for the chronically butthurt. 

On the night of the wedding, Alastair stayed home and watched old episodes of Frasier. “That Daphne sure reminds me of my Claire,” he told his lamp, which seemed to listen with its light. “Oh what do you know,” Alastair grimaced at the couch he sat on after it pointed out all the ways Daphne was different from Claire — hairstyle, occupation, English accent, and family background being foremost on the couch’s long and well-articulated list.

“And just what the hell are you looking at?” Alastair said.

“A walking, talking vagina apparently,” the wall said, sounding, in Alastair’s angsty mind, very much like Gilbert Gottfried.

“Like you know what a vagina looks like,” Alastair laughed. “All the paint in the world couldn’t cover your ugly.”

“I know what your mother’s vagina looked like when it was getting stuffed full of your deadbeat dad, you little shit,” the wall said. “When did they start making pussies with mustaches anyway?”

Alastair took off both the slippers he was wearing and frisbeed them at the wall, which laughed maniacally after they thudded to the ground unceremoniously. “See that’s your problem, pussy-lips. You don’t think before you act. That’s why she left you. You’re a goddamn imbecile.”

“Smarter’n you,” Alastair mumbled. 

“A point of levity, if I might?” the ceiling spoke up. “She did not leave the boy because of his imbecility. She left because, how might I phrase this, he is a no-good dirty scoundrel who couldn’t stop himself from humping that floozie. . .what was her name?”

“Leeanne,” Alastair admitted.

“Indeed. Leeanne the Floozie. There we have it. Alastair’s imbecility, while highly pertinent to many issues that arose in his brief and undeserved time with sweet sweet Claire, was merely tertiary to the girl’s ultimate exodus.”

“Great. So he’s dumb and dishonest,” said the wall.

“Precisely,” said the ceiling.

“Hey, Professor. Who asked you anyway?” Alastair said, his head pushed back and staring directly above him. 

“Just drink some water and get some sun, Al,” a potted plant said. “You’ve got to learn to grow.”

“I like who I am,” Alastair said.

The wall laughed, and so did the ceiling, which made the entire room shake momentarily. 

“You became obsolete, Al,” the broken VCR said. “So she replaced you with Drake. He’s a better version of you is all. It happens to the best of us.”

“Shut your outdated ass up, Victor,” Alastair responded. “The only reason you’re still here is because mom is clearly doing her best to get on a reality show about hoarders.”

“Now Al, is that any way to speak about the only person who loves you?” the knob on the front door asked.

“Love? I don’t believe I know what that is, Chuck Knoblock,” Alastair said.

“Here we go,” said the wall.

“Woe is him,” said the ceiling.

“Should we watch Sleepless in Seattle then?” said the VCR. 

“You should probably turn another leaf,” the doorknob suggested, and then twitched himself to the right and then back to the left.

“You were reckless and uncaring is what you were,” a coaster resting on the living room table said. “Drake, on the other hand, always does the responsible thing.”

“Oh so it’s responsible to steal another man’s girlfriend is it?” Alastair said.

“Now Alastair,” the coaster calmly said. “We all know that’s not what happened. Don’t go proving the ceiling’s theory about your duplicity.”

“It’s no mere theory, Coco,” said the ceiling.

“A fact stronger than my foundation,” said the wall. 

“What’s the deal with men who cry anyway?” a Seinfeld season 3 DVD box asked in a squeaky voice. “Do you think the cavemen cried?”

“Surely the earliest human beings,” began the ceiling, “were as capable of emoting as –.”

“I wasn’t crying,” Alastair snapped.

“It’s like he forgets we’re here,” said the wall.

“Or believes us to be incapable of auditory and visual perception,” said the ceiling. 

“If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son,” the CD player chimed in melodically.

“Don’t listen to these guys, Al,” the floor vent said. “Just let it all out, little buddy.”

“I not gonna drink myself here, hombre,” a bottle of Hornito’s tequila said. Alastair quickly grabbed it off the table and, in one sloppy motion, took a long hard slug. “There. Now shut your greasy hole, wetback,” he said.

“So you’re not just a pussy, you’re a racist pussy,” said the wall. 

“Rather vindictive too,” said the ceiling.

“Meaner than pesticide,” said the potted plant. 

“I think American History X is lying around here somewhere,” said the VCR.

“I swear to all that’s holy, I’ll go get Sledgehammer out of the shed,” Alastair said. “Don’t think I won’t, you lousy wastes of space.”

“Kettle, meet the pot,” said the coaster.

“Don’t twist yourself into a bunch, Al,” the doorknob said. 

“A dumb, dishonest and delusional racist pussy. Wow. Some pot of stew you are, Ally,” said the wall.

“A virtual melting pot of weakness and ineptitude,” said the ceiling.  

“What’s the deal with derogatory slurs anyway?” the Seinfeld DVD box asked. 

“He’s got 99 problems,” the CD player said. “And a bitch named Claire is every single one!”

“Call her a bitch again and I’ll feed you nothing but Nickleback and Limp Bizkit for the next year,” Alastair said.

“Now there’s healthy release and then there’s unhealthy release,” the vent said.

“In Al’s defense, a little dirt never hurt anyone,” the potted plant said.

“I’ve got a documentary on the Dust Bowl that would beg to differ,” the VCR said. 

“Vamos, muchacho,” the tequila bottle said and Alastair took another long pull, grimacing and swallowing hard. “Mas, amigo. Mucho mas,” the tequila said and Alastair reached again for the bottle.

**

Once Alastair got nice and liquored up on the cheap, stale tequila, an idea came to him. “This is rock-bottom,” he said to the remote, pressing all its buttons like an ornery kid in an elevator. “But rock-bottom is meant to be reached,” he said, pressing his thumb hard on the volume-down button as he drooled all over himself.

Alastair went to the dining room and dug out the wedding invitation Claire had sent, a beautiful fire-brick red with white lace wrapped around its edges, and wiped his ass with it. “Sorry about this,” he told the invitation before and after.

“This is an outrage,” the invitation started to say, but Alastair scrunched it up into a ball, muffling its very refined voice, and tossed it down the deaf and dumb trash can.

“Pathetic,” said the wall.

“Not at all constructive,” said the vent.

“Now mud. Mud is a different story,” said the potted plant. 

“Asqueroso,” said the tequila bottle.

“No going back on that,” said the coaster.

“Now I’ve seen it all,” said the VCR.

“I’m like fuck critics you can kiss my whole asshole,” said the CD player. 

“Wounded animals wail softly,” said the ceiling. 

Then Alastair got completely naked (but for two mismatching tube socks that slyly talked their way into staying on) and wrapped himself in the tattered American flag his uncle brought back from Vietnam after the flag told him, in a raspy and broken voice, that it would be OK to wear him like a blanket, but just this once. Then he blacked out on his mother’s hardwood kitchen floor which had looked up to him and patted itself like, Come park it here, Al.

**

In the morning, Alastair’s dear mother didn’t nudge him awake, just made his favorite breakfast as he slept – scrambled eggs, orange wedges and syrup-logged waffles, some of Alastair’s greatest enemies.

Baby Hitler Must Die

The Doc Brown, for that is what I’ve named her, has successfully brought me back, and, after much consternation and about all the philosophical theorizing a human brain can handle, I’ve decided just to do it. I’m going to kill Baby Hitler.

In all my life I never imagined I’d murder a baby. There have been times, to be sure, where I considered what the precise repercussions might be to smacking a random and incorrigible supermarket child — how angry its mother, and, for that matter, local police, might be if I were to, say, mow the brat down with my metal cart — but nothing like this. If I’m being candid, killing arachnids gives me great pause. I find myself wondering if they can experience fear and, if so, how absolutely dreadful it must be to be squashed dead by a giant ballet flat.

The thought of strangling the life from an infant child makes me, well, it makes me extraordinarily nauseous. It is a new kind of nauseous I’ve never experienced before. It’s not the kind one feels during a bout with the flu, or after deboarding a particularly corkscrewy amusement ride, or even that overwhelming sickness that ignites, and then burns and burns and never seems to stop burning at the thought of your lover lying with another (especially another as dashing as Clint Ferris the accountant, but never mind all that); it is, rather, a newer, rarer kind of revulsion that manifests itself in a spot so deep and buried that you feel it mostly in your butthole.

As I’ve intonated, I’ve decided to use my hands only, rather than any device or implement of violence. I’m not planning on enjoying this, after all, and a weapon (why do I keep thinking about hammers?) would imply that at least some level of homicidal satisfaction was being wrought from the act. Hitler may be an anti-semitic mass murderer who, through means hard to fathom in their barbaric disregard for even the most basic level of humanity, instigated the worst world conflict in the history of mankind (or will instigate I should say), but he’s still a human. And a baby human at that. Logistically speaking, it poses a certain kind of challenge is all.

In my dreams, Baby Hitler still has the Groucho Marx mustache. It’s the damndest thing. He rocks a waste-filled diaper and rattles a blue beanie with despotic ferocity, but he still, somehow, has that awful ‘stache. This is probably just my subconscious mind trying to make this whole murdering a baby business a bit easier for me … for us … for it. By reminding me that this baby, this creature, has inside of him the biological tools necessary to sprout hair from his face, it reminds me that he’s also capable of much more and much worse.

Sometimes, in my most delirious dreams, Baby Hitler has a luger automatic pistol aimed at my nose, which makes my killing the little Nazi bastard a pure and simple case of self-defense. Other times the Baby Hitler of my dreams is just a baby, a sniffling, slobbering, leaking mass of fat and drool who does little more than shit and blink and yearn for his mother’s hard teet. It is during this latter version of the dream that I wake up, wet and wondering why I didn’t just become a school teacher, feeling like something valuable has been taken from me.

I must say: Aryans really are quite good looking, aren’t they? The blonde hair, the blue eyes. It sure would have been nice if, instead of attempting to exterminate all the Jews from the earth and implement a new world order in which they were seen as subhuman, Hitler had decided instead to open a modeling agency. Nice indeed. Then he could have put his raving obsession with people who look to be created in a lab where only folks with flawless genes work to good use. “Toss your hair, Ernst?” “Let us see those big beautiful blues, Mathilda?” “Mein kampf…is with your inability, Bruno, to give me a look that properly emotes sadness while also adequately capturing what I might call a boundless joy for the baser proclivities of human lust and desire.”

The Adolf Agency of Austria surely would have been a success. Hitler’s passion/charisma/zealotry aimed at pin-ups instead of Poles would have been a real life-saver, in the most literal sense of the term; that is, the sense in which the ovens are never turned on, the concentration camps never opened, the tanks never commissioned, the Luftwaffian bombs never dropped. But, so it goes. Baby Hitler must die.

**

Now that I’m here, in Braunau am Inn, Austria-Hungary, in the year One Thousand Eight-Hundred and Eighty-Nine, I’ll need an “in”. I don’t suppose Mr. and Mrs. Future Fuhrer are going to give me a tour of their home, and, once I’ve seen each nook and cranny, hand me some alone time with their infant son. However, I do aim to take full and very explicit advantage of the supposed and legendarily Bohemian attitudes of these parts.

I’ve decided to pose as: Efficient Housekeeper/ Trustworthy Babysitter. It will be a difficult ruse to sustain though, especially if the Hitlers ask me to clean any actual toilets or hand wash any dirty drawers. I haven’t washed my own jeans in over a year, and the thing, the blob, growing under my kitchen sink has taken to calling itself The Mayor.

Note to Time Traveling Self #1: If you have to clean a few commodes in order to save 40 million lives, you can do that. It’s called Sacrifice for the Greater Good, babe. Suck it up and remember why you’re there, uh, here.

The house, the setting of my dreams come true, is a sun-faded yellow that clashes wildly with its own red roof. Four crooked windows puncture its face. Large looming trees hover all around it. It’s quaint, but ugly; it’s the kind of place in which you’d expect a serial killer to have lived, if not the globally ambitious leader of a systematic human extinction movement.

Approaching the house I begin to feel ill. I’m here to murder a human being and my near-empty stomach doesn’t seem to like the idea. Could we at least do this after a decent meal, it seems to cry out with its bubbling gasses. The slicing pinch of the cramps reminds me of the time, it was the fall of 2189, when Avery Carracoza and I made a bet about who could eat the most Plonk Bars, and Ave, he just wouldn’t quit, like he was eating for his life even though we only wagered a measly 50 Ricanes and a pair of Wosh Barrel Dineclydes.

Note to Time Traveling Self #2: The leg o’ mutton sleeves might have been a poor choice. Not entirely conducive to scrubbing floors or changing dirty dipes, or, for that matter, standing entirely still in a stuffy Austrian home without the luxury of AC.

Note to Time Traveling Self #3: Go back, er, forward to 1901 should do it and invent the air conditioner. No no no, stay focused. “I didn’t invent the time machine to win at gambling,” I’ve come to save lives by murdering a baby. Thanks, Doc.

As I knock on the door, I can already hear his wailing through the walls, like my target knows why I’ve come and is trying to thwart my plot by warning his oblivious parents. Thankfully, they do not speak German-gibberish. Deaf ears only catch Hitler’s desperate sobs.

After three full minutes, and several more forceful knocks (one of which was delivered with an emphatic kick and has left me slightly hobbled), the door finally swings open. A stout man with a dense face stands square before me. The white whiskers of his thick mustache reach out to his ears. The hair on his head is buzzed short, barely there at all, revealing a round hard-looking skull, the skull of a man used to holding his head high. He wears a black frock coat with large gold buttons parading its front and a matching black vest and black ascot tie. The lumpy skin of the man’s formidable forehead sinks out over tiny brown eyes that seem to stare right through me to the gravel-road behind. There’s an unnerving emptiness to his face, an aura that denotes some kind of psychological despair that’s been neglected for far too long.

“Yes?” he says. The seed of a mass killer, I think, and try hard not to divert my gaze. “Hullo, sir,” I say. “My name is Magdalena Krause, and I’m looking for work. Might you need a housekeeper or a babysitter perhaps?” “How’d you know we had a child, Miss Krause?” he says. “Why, the screams, sir. I could hear them a hundred yards off.” “Oh right,” he says. “Forgive me. I’ve grown so accustomed to little Adolf’s incessant shrieking I don’t think my ears register it any longer.” “Who is it, Al?” a woman’s voice shouts from the back of the house. “My wife,” the man tells me and then shakes his head slightly. “Unfortunately for me, her shouting cannot be ignored.”

I’m beginning to sweat beneath this heavy tarp of Austrian heat. My floral walking dress glums to my butt cheeks like it’s been applied with some sort of illegally potent adhesive. I smile as best I can. “Well, come in. You can meet my Klara,” he says and I step over the threshold to Adolf Hitler’s childhood home.

**

Alois Hitler leads me to the back of the house, which is so empty it barely looks inhabited. But for a single painting, the taupe-colored walls are stark naked. It’s a poorly rendered landscape of an empty wheatfield, lush and golden and blurry in random little pocks throughout; a tall black tree stands menacingly in the background as if it’s been tasked as some sort of overseer to the growth.

We step out to the back porch. “Klara honey, this is, I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your name,” Alois says. “Magdalena Krause, sir.” “Yes of course. This is Magdalena. She’s come seeking housework.” A petite woman with a plain pink face sits in a wooden rocking chair, tilting back and forth gently as Adolf Hitler sleeps quietly in her lap. She looks barely old enough to have conceived the monster. Her light brown hair clings tight to her round head and curls in a roped mound across her hairline. Long ears, each punctured by a round black earring, sag down fair cheeks. Her face is not entirely unpretty. Pale blue eyes beam up at me. They seem to tremble in her face like two flickering lights about to go out.

For a brief moment I forget to breathe. Put simply, this woman looks like Adolf Hitler in drag. It makes my knees feel like cooked spaghetti and a cramp cuts over my hipbone with such dull force I nearly wince. Baby Hitler has a full head of crow-black hair. Prominent bangs drape his forehead like a curtain. His eyes: the same pale blue as his mother. Once again I’m fully conscious of all the spots on my body currently coated in sweat — my belly button, behind my ears, the tips of my fingers, my slightly (but only slightly!) hairy shins.

Note to Time Traveling Self #4: Do not, as so many Weimar Republican Germans were, be taken in by the cold blue ice of Hitler’s eyes.

Note to Time Traveling Self #5: I know for a fact that if I killed 11 million people through the most gruesome means possible my mother would still love me. Standing here now, in this weird and foreign place, I get the distinct feeling that my mother and Adolf Hitler’s mother have this in common. Love is the most powerful force on Earth. It transcends all, up to and including the worst things men get up to.

Addendum to Note to Time Traveling Self #5: Upon completion of important mission for humanity, try hand at poetry. Poetry could be yet another gift to humanity, though probably not.

“We’ve no use for a housekeeper, Alois, and no money to spare,” Hitler’s mother says. “But she’s offered to help look after Adolf,” he whines and then turns to me. “We’ve been contemplating a date night. I can’t recall the last time we had an afternoon to ourselves.”

“Well, does she speak?” Klara says, ripping me abruptly from my reverie about murdering her baby and making poetry out of it. “Oh yes, ma’am. I could work for cheap. Whatever you can pay. I’m great with children,” I sell myself. “Have you any of your own?” she asks. Splintering off her thin Hitlerian lips this sounds like an immense accusation. “No ma’am. But three nieces and a nephew. His name is actually Alois as well,” I lie, hoping to ingratiate myself with these Producers of Pure and Unadulterated Evil. “Isn’t that nice?” Alois says to his wife after a lull filled only by the slight whistle of Baby Hitler’s working nostrils. She stares at me still, unconsciously rubbing her thumb in a circular motion over Baby Hitler’s tiny wrist bone. “Name like that, he must be a real looker,” Alois attempts a joke. “He is a handsome young man,” I say. At this, Baby Hitler shifts atop his mother’s milk-white thighs and, as the three of us look on in horror (my brand of it being entirely different from the kind of desperate hope they exhibit as tired parents) he settles once again into sleep. “I must put Addy in his crib,” Klara says and gingerly rises from her seat and into the house.

“So. Are you new to the Inn?” Alois asks. You could say that. “Oh yes, sir,” I say. “Berlin before that.” He studies me, as a school teacher studies a troubled young student who has failed to realize her vast potential. “I don’t detect much of an accent on your tongue,” he says. This is harder than I thought it would be. Why didn’t I just bring a heavily loaded .44 Shrapsaw and take out all three of them in a quick hot flash? What was I thinking with this whole housekeeper business? I’m easily world’s dumbest time traveler. And not because I’m the world’s only time traveler. Thankfully, Klara Hitler returns to the back porch, saving me from the question of my shoddy accent.

Note to Time Traveling Self #6: Recall in classic basic color film, Inglorious Basterds, that the detection of a shaky accent got people killed. Then again, these folks are no Gestapo. It’s not the role they play. They’re much more chicken than egg.

“So what do you think, hon? Should we bring Magdalena back, say, tomorrow afternoon, and make our way to town for a beer or three?” Alois looks over to me as he says this, checking to see if I find him amusing. I force another smile, which isn’t exactly easy because I’m also holding in a wet (and potentially messy) fart and dying to pick my sweaty wedge.

“Can you handle a screaming baby?” Klara inquires. “My Addy can be quite animated, quite feisty. Does that scare you?” At this I have no trouble at all forming an ear-to-ear smile. “No ma’am,” I say quickly. “Babies cry. It comes with the territory.” Hitler’s parents look at me with scrunched, confused faces. “Isn’t her manner of speaking quite odd, dear?” Alois says. “Says the oddest man in Upper Austria,” Klara shoots back, saving me once again and unknowingly making the violent demise of her own child all the more likely. “Oh no you don’t. Erich Schmid is the oddest man in Austria. Everyone knows that,” Alois says. “Guy I work with at the Bureau. He thinks they’ll put people on the moon one day. I try to tell him it’ll never happen, moon’s too far away. Plus they’d never be able to –.” “Leave it be, Al,” Klara says. “The poor girl didn’t come to hear you talk about the moon.” She’s got that right. “So then, does tomorrow afternoon, say 12:30, work for you, Miss Krause?” Alois says. “Absolutely,” I say. Works even better for 7 million Jews, dick-cheese. “So it’s settled!” Alois shouts excitedly. “Ssshh,” Klara says. “If you wake that boy I’ll have your head.” Klara’s eyes no longer seem blue, but more black than anything. Once again, my legs feel gelatinous and my stomach churns like heavy machinery in need of grease.

Alois Hitler escorts me back to the front door and thanks me for coming. Just as he clamps it shut I hear the groggy raucous of Baby Hitler swell up once again.

**

I didn’t feel like waiting an entire day so I strapped Doc Brown to my head and wrapped the Chronos bracelets around my ankles and jumped back toward the future by about 12 hours. I was way wrong in assuming that because the leap was so short I wouldn’t need to take a full dose of Carbonoxiprone so when I came-to, I hurled about 6 gallons of neon-green bile onto an Austrian ant hill.

Note to Time Traveling Self #7: There’s a Butterfly Effect, but is there an Anthill Effect? Safe to say the future of humanity won’t be seriously altered by my disgusting destruction of this innocent colony of insects. Nonetheless, I feel terrible as I watch capsized ants struggle and then drown in my overwhelming pool of phlegm.

Today is the day. The Austrian skies have had a most severe mood swing. The bright and cloudless bloom of yesterday has been replaced by a thundering brimstone of black and gray. Yes, today is the day.

Once again I knock at the ugly yellow door of Adolf Hitler’s childhood home, only this time it opens almost instantly. “Hullo!” Alois says, his fence-post arms outstretched like he aimed to give me a hug. “Come in, come in.” “Thank you, sir,” I say and step in from the rain.

“Klara! She’s here!” he shouts and Klara Hitler ducks out of the back bedroom, a look on her face that was the exact opposite of her husband’s joviality, like she was hoping I wouldn’t make it due to rain, or that maybe she was so exhausted she had imagined me the day before. “Al, stop shouting,” she says. Alois looks to me. “I’m very thirsty,” he says. “Perhaps we shouldn’t with the rain, dear,” Klara says. “Nonsense. They still serve beer on rainy days,” he says and then turns again to me. “It would take a lot more than a few raindrops to keep Austria from its suds, am I right?” “I hear that,” I say. Alois glares at me with a look like he’s just found a pube in his sauerkraut. “Well I would hope you can hear me, dear, you’re only two feet away,” he says. “Everyone in the Inn can hear you, Al,” Klara says. Al smirks dumbly and then scratches at his wide smashed nose. His movements are simian and grotesque. “Now are you sure you’re okay with this?” Klara asks. “Absolutely,” I tell her, trying hard to conceal my pre-crime nervousness. “Okay well we’ll only be down the road. If anything should happen don’t hesitate to call. We’ll be at the Gugg Lounge on Salzburger. The number is by the phone,” she says and points to an odd cylindrical-shaped contraption on the table; it’s a long black cone wrapped in gold brass atop a wooden base, and I’m glad calling won’t be necessary because I’m not entirely sure I could operate such a monstrosity. I’m instantly thankful to come from where I come from. Some people claim to have old souls, desire to live in a time before their own. But not me. Mine is a young soul, and it is only with great reluctance that I leave my own place and time.

“You know, I’m not getting any less thirsty here,” Al says, finally spouting a joke even he doesn’t seem to find funny as he beads his eyes and aims them at the ceiling. “OK then!” Klara says. “I’ve bottled some milk if he gets hungry and his favorite blanket is here on the sofa. Best to wrap him up in it when he wakes. I’ve left your pay on the table and whatever you do don’t sing to him. Addy hates being sung to.” What baby doesn’t? “She gets it, hon. Shall we do this thing?” Alois says, smacking his stomach with both hands. Klara smirks at me and then instantly frowns at me. Nodding my head, and trying hard not to psychically reveal my nefarious intentions, I return the smile, keep the frown.

Alois ushers his reluctant wife out the door and the Producers are gone. The stage is now mine.

**

I breathe in the stiff air and twist my eyes, in a panorama, around the whole of the house. Here’s where it started. Here’s where nothing will have started. I pick the single dusty forint coin off the table, a fine souvenir it will make, and toss it down my pocket. I walk anxiously to the back bedroom, feeling the massive weight of history in every stride I take. A badly whiddled crib sits in the direct center of a drab-brown room.

I lean over a sleeping Baby Hitler.

Hello you little Nazi cunt. Today you’re gonna die. Yes you are. Ahh yes you are. And do you know whyy you’re gonna die, you little shit bird? Huh? Do you? Do you Baby Hitler? It’s because you’re the worst, that’s why. The absolute undisputed worst. And I’m not gonna let you throw my great great great great great great great great grandfather, Gerhard, into a hot box of poisonous gas. No I’m not. No I’m not, Baby Shitler.

Baby Hitler’s sticky eyes peel open. He veers up at me, trying to compute the unfamiliar face. He clicks his lips and twirls his wrists and his face begins to betray a fear and confusion that makes me proud.

I can see it all right there in his eyes. It’s unmistakable. His entire horrible destiny is right there, sitting tight in pale blue eyes. Human destruction and suffering on an other-worldly scale, a scale unthinkable but to the most evil souls to ever inhabit the earth, distilled into two fibrous bodies of muscle and inky pigmentation.

As I reach out and down into Baby Hitler’s crib he instantly begins to protest. He tries to roll, but can’t throw his weight. He coughs, then spits, then produces something unique and feral, a rumbling from deep in his chest. He’s loud and fierce and if he could I’m sure he’d strip me of all my dignity and character and toss me into the fiery pits of Hell itself. But he doesn’t have this power and he never will.

I reach down and wrap my cold hands around the baby’s warm moist neck. With both my thumbs I press into the slight protruding beginnings of an Adam’s apple, as to halt all outward growth. I think about making my thumbs touch my middle fingers, which, if I squeeze hard enough, might actually be possible because Baby Hitler’s neck is so frail and the small knots of his spine seem like they’re about to rupture beneath my determined death grip.

Shifting my stance above the crib I let up a little, allowing my fingers to flare and stretch. A brief but sharp yelp bolts from Hitler’s throat and mouth and makes me wince until I reconstrict my grip and Baby Hitler is utterly silent once again. I squeeze. Those pale blue eyes begin to bulge out at me, leaving his eyelids and then pushing over his cheek bones like they might be ejected entirely. I press in harder, with an evident grunt. Hitler’s trachea pops and I can feel a slight hiss of air release from his nose and ears. Spindley rivulets of blue capillaries suddenly fill Baby Hitler’s face, starting at his jawline and splaying upward through the hard pallor of his cheeks. I can feel his Life Energy protesting wildly, but quickly losing its will, dwindling and seizing under my palms until it’s barely a murmur.

I squeeze. I’m probably going to vomit, but still I squeeze.

Baby Hitler’s small feet kick at my elbows. Such utter futility. I feel his little undeveloped toenails scrape the back of my biceps and then drop back to the cushiony crib. Thick purple veins at his temples push through the skin and dance. His cheeks are fire red now and I can feel their heat billowing along my neck. I squeeze so hard the muscles in my forearms are like marble. Baby Hitler’s eyes cross and then the blue irises roll into his head and only blank white globes remain. His spine finally gives. I feel the snap more than I hear it, and now Baby Hitler’s head is cocked to a nearly 90 degree angle. His tongue, already turning black, dangles out and globs onto his tiny chin.

Finally I let up and wipe the train of sweat from my forehead. I am the Jews’ smirking revenge. There’s an instant odor to death. It’s metallic and sharp. They say the stench of Auschwitz could be detected for miles in every direction, like it burned through the hills and infected every object on its path. This stench is smaller in scale, but no less magnificent.

All my senses are being pummeled, like a fat man clubbing a drum. Colors are brighter, and kaleidoscopic. My ears feel like giant satellites. My nose burns and fumes. My skin feels ablaze. It’s like all the energy once inside this child has been evacuated and is now bouncing erratically around the room looking for a new host.

Baby Hitler’s eyes gorge with puss and blood and now the sour ferment of my sweat mixes with the acidic tinge of the dead body glowing under me. I poke him with one finger and he shifts like a rag doll would, like a leather sack filled with long hard sticks, but nothing more.

Suddenly there’s a rattle at the front door. I snap my body all the way around to face it. The Producers, have they returned already? It is time to go. I tuck Baby Hitler under his heavy wool blanket and push his wet swollen face down into the cushion.

I float through the house and, as I’m closing the back door behind me, I hear the front door swing fully open. “Babysitter, I’m home,” Alois Hitler shouts cheerily, and then says something more but I can’t make it out. I duck in and around thick tree trunks to where Doc Brown is buried. Just before I lose sight of the ugly yellow house I hear the deafening shriek of a now childless mother.

Eighth and Final Note to Time Traveling Self: The question now is whether to return home — it has been a good while since I’ve seen Elisa’s beautiful koala face — or jump to Gori, Georgia circa 1878 and meet the Stalins. These are the decisions we face.