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Corporate Torsos

Corporate Torsos book stack Paperback writer!!!

Okay, okay, I hear you. You’ve been staring at a screen for six months straight. Me too, friends.

Oh good I was hoping there would be five more Zoom meetings today I’ll keep sitting here

You want to read a book. You even want to read my book. (Aw, thanks.) But you don’t want to read an eBook. You want a real-life book, made of matter.

Cue the music!

I thought it was going to take a lot longer, and I was aiming for December 21st (when I publish my next novel, Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device!), but as it turns out, I can get a real-life, made-of-matter, hold-in-your-hands copy of Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply to you much, much sooner. And I think I can even make it so that you can buy it in your local bookstore.

When, you ask?

As soon as this month, I replied, and I felt 50% sure I could do it within that timeframe.

If you want to know the moment it hits, sign up for my newsletter! I’ll share other fun things with you too, but not all the time. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed or stare at a screen too much. That was the whole point of this blogpost! Pretty ironic, right? Now stop staring at this screen, and go have fun.

Literary magic Writing with Alexander Chee

Do you ever have a project that you start ambitiously and then become terrified of midway through, abandon, and cower in the proverbial corner for a decade or two, then drag yourself over to it in the middle of the pandemic and think, maybe I should try this again?

Me too! What are yours?

One of mine is to finish learning how to play the Capricho Arabe. It’s a workout but totally worth it. Check it out if you get the chance. When I finish learning it, I’ll play it for you the next time I see you. So far it’s been twenty years.

Another one of my paused projects is a memoir. I started mine when I was 25. That’s right, I thought I had enough content to book when I was 25, and now it’s waaaaay later. Good luck figuring out what to include in that AND keeping it under a thousand pages.

I’m still back and forth on whether I should even go through with it or not, and there are lots of other, more fun writing forms I want to tackle first: my play (Foxhole), my screenplay (Book Midwife), a short story collection (Plant), others. I don’t have to tell you about them; you already know, they’re in my Stories section on this website.

While I was gathering memoir courage to even re-read my old draft, a motivated writing friend told me about the Alexander Chee course available at The Shipman Agency. I tried to resist enrolling, but it was futile. I had already taken a great poetry class with them, and I had so much FOMO I couldn’t miss out on Alexander Chee. The Alexander Chee. I’m just telling you all about this to be friendly – much like my writing, I don’t get any compensation, and they don’t know who the hell I am. My hopes of Alexander Chee knowing who I was because of this class were dashed by the volume: 400+ other students.

I should have known he was a big deal because when I purchased a Loyalty Bookstore pandemic-episode grab bag, with a request to get me only the most awesome books, they sent a copy of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by guess who? Yep. Alexander Chee. Looks like everybody knew about him already. A lot of the other people in the class were also famous authors. Famous people and/or great writers tend to know about each other, it seems.

I have one more week to wow them all with my Zoom sitting!

And one more week to figure out the essay writing process, which may or may not help with the memoir writing process. I have a panic plan: memoir poetry chapbook – Au Revoir, Memoir. That’s the title. I’m hoping to beat the lure of false memories by shoving them all into poems.

Wish me luck!

Earth magnetic field I was going to write a new blog about electromagnetism and memory BUT I FORGOT

I’ve been trying to write this blog forever, but as the title indicates, I completely forgot. This is what the blog is about: the relationship between electromagnetism and memory.

Since Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply was published, I thought it would be fun to create an annotated bibliography of all the science in the book, so readers could check my sources, learn more about what’s the science, and what’s the fiction. I’ll write a few gray papers, I thought. Then I tried to recollect the actual sources of everything in the book (it’s a 24-year project; I didn’t keep comprehensive notes all the way through…I know, I know, I’ll do better next time) and this was the most difficult to assess. Where did I get all this crap from? Did I make it up or read it somewhere? Was it science or pseudoscience?

Pole shift. I know my Torsos research started with a flood story, but I really got into it when I learned about pole shift. Soon I was neck-deep in research on the flipping of earth’s poles, sparked by Charles Hapgood‘s book. This was connected to my fascination with the original source of the Piri Reis map and other dubious archaeological claims that make amazeballs fiction stories.

Hapgood’s book appears super legit. It’s got a forward by Einstein. Yes, the Einstein. Later on in life, Hapgood starting hanging around with a medium. People who write about science and people who hang with dead people-talkers are usually two different groups of people. I understand why, but I also think it’s kinda a shame to miss out on the diversity in the long run.

Anyway, I believe I got the idea that human memory and electromagnetism are linked based on Charles Hapgood’s book (The Earth’s Shifting Crust, 1958) and cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis. You’d think there would have been an update in knowledge about the topic since 1958, and maybe there has been. I haven’t really been tracking. I suppose you could say the evidence in the cultural record for that kind of cataclysm exists, but you don’t know what kind of exaggerators these authors were. After a few generations, your story has to be really good for it to stick.

And a good story is a little different from a true story.

Here’s the idea in my book: human memories get worse when the electromagnetic field of the earth weakens.

True or false?

First of all, does your brain even know what a magnetic field is?

Back up before we talk about that. What is an electromagnetic field versus a magnetic field, and what’s the difference?

People refer to earth has having a magnetic field instead of saying an electromagnetic field, but really it’s both.

NASA says, “The core of the Earth is also an electromagnet. Although the crust is solid, the core of the Earth is surrounded by a mixture of molten iron and nickle. The magnetic field of Earth is caused by currents of electricity that flow in the molten core.”

So whether you say magnetic or electromagnetic field of the Earth, it’s basically the same thing.

FYI, NASA also says there’s a dent in it. Isn’t that weird?

According to the USGS, earth’s magnetic field does not affect human health. But, based on my rock-solid memory, which may or may not be affected by the magnetic field of the earth (I can’t remember), I read somewhere that the weakening of the electromagnetic field of the earth affects human memory capacity. Was it pseudoscience? Where the hell did I read that? Why can’t I remember anything?

Researchers (who do this kind of a thing for a living, legitimately, not people who read a lot of books and google a lot, like yours truly, not to poo-poo reading and googling, both of which are the cornerstone of my whole life) have copped to the idea that animals use magnetoreceptors for navigating and other handy processes, and humans are animals, so…obviously then they did this fun experiment about it to prove humans can also sense magnetic fields.

Following Hapgood’s book (I actually don’t know if he said the thing about earth’s field weakening causing human memories to fail, so if you’ve read it and remember that line, let me know…I can’t stress that enough) I must have gotten into some fun journal articles, like this one, where they briefly list “Known Interactions Between Brain Frequencies and Natural and Simulated Geophysical Fluctuations.” Then maybe I read something like this, “Billions of Human Brains Immersed in a Shared Geomagnetic Field…” and you can see how I took off from there if you’ve read Torsos by now.

The other part of this investigative “What the hell was I thinking/reading?” thread is that all the articles I’ve posted here weren’t written yet, when I was investigating different hypotheses for major cataclysms as background research for Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. I also didn’t have a smartphone or own a computer.

I didn’t even have a telephone. In my house. But that’s another story for another blog.

Things have changed. Now I’m surrounded by electromagnetic fields all the time, and scientists are focusing their research on that. If we all lose our minds from an earth magnetic field problem while we’re simultaneously getting brain damage from a cell phone magnetic field problem, then civilization is really in a pinch, right? A couple billion people will be okay, as long as the zombie portion doesn’t kill the no-techs in the process. Did you read Stephen King’s Cell? Fun book.

Side note: I know everybody is talking about this very negative movie about social media and I understand that social media can have adverse effects, but I’ve been reading this saga about an epic woman’s life on Humans of New York lately, and I’m telling you, even if it’s deteriorating my brain, it’s completely worth it.

Okay, so to wrap up, I can’t remember anything, including where I got the idea that human memory is linked to earth’s magnetic field. I’m going to keep working on the magnetic field-human memory research. In the meantime, if you’ve seen anything interesting about it, leave the info in the comments, or call me to chat about it on our cell phones!

The United States Supreme Court Writing with Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Last week I was reminiscing about my legacy with one of my writing heroes, David Foster Wallace. Last night we lost another great.

These days, when you lose a brilliant legal mind who came from a now-past era, it scares you. How many of those do we have left? you think. Where are the other ones? How can I stem the tide of loss with my own work? Are new hardworking legal geniuses being born right now?

Unlike DFW, RBG wasn’t one of my young heroes. I remember her nomination but she didn’t come to my attention until she became the Notorious RBG. My hero was Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice. When I was 8, I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice just like her. And an astronaut. I didn’t know anything about life, higher education, or careers. Or making choices.

I gave up on my Supreme Court dreams twenty years later when I started the law school application process. Law school teaches you how to think a certain way, they say, and the closer I got to admittance, the more concerned I got with standardizing my own thought processes. Standardizing your thought processes might help you practice law, but I didn’t think it would be great for writing. And, unlike being a Supreme Court Justice, or an astronaut, writing was something I was already doing. I didn’t want to get my thoughts standardized. It didn’t sound good.

When RBG went to become a law clerk, she got denied due to her gender, and she went on to spend most of her law career remedying that kind of inequity for others. Unlike for RBG, by the time I decided to become a published author, there were almost no barriers. You could even publish yourself, so I did. This year. Having a barrier to entry can be very galvanizing, and not having one can make you very lazy. I’m not making excuses for that novel taking me 24 years to write. I’m just write-thinking here, about greatness.

As for doing my part, as a writer and not a lawyer, I do have a new fiction series in production designed to teach young and new adults about critical thinking, civic education, and public administration. (And coffee varietals. It’s gonna be good!) I hope her ghost will haunt me as I write it.

I hope it helps young people think about governance and social justice.

But it’s no RBG. She’s notorious. May she haunt us all.

My 1996 hardcover copy of Infinite Jest Writing with David Foster Wallace

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher brought me a newspaper article. The headliner of the piece sat there in his photo, a Seattle-style grunge musician perched on a barstool, bandanna holding back his awesome hair. He looked to be in a mood, as did most rock stars in the 1990s.

“This article made me think of you,” she said. The article wasn’t about a musician; this moody pinup was a writer. A genius, they were calling him. It was 27-year-old David Foster Wallace. He had just written Infinite Jest.

Of course, I read the book immediately. I remember the day I finished it, how I felt, how much I admired David Foster Wallace. I read everything else he wrote. He was a genius. I thought so too. I had read a lot of books up to that moment, but not from authors who got featured in the New York Times for being geniuses. He was my first writing hero.

He hung himself twelve years ago today.

A lot of words have been written, thought, and spoken about the supposed link between creativity, madness, and genius. A lot of people wanted to know what DFW really died from, and his wife was pretty vocal in reporting that it was a chemical imbalance.

Three years ago, right around this time of year, I was co-creating a podcast about authors and writing. I went to Ithaca and I interviewed the Director of Cornell University Press, Dean Smith, who shared with me a copy of a letter David Foster Wallace had written to the Press about a piece he wanted them to publish.

They didn’t.

I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about who he was or what he experienced in his mind throughout his life based on one letter. That would be the ultimate fiction, wouldn’t it? But I will say that people who have the ability to create the kinds of patterns in their heads that make an incredible story have the propensity to use that power against themselves in just the most destructive ways. That’s not limited to writers, of course.

Chemical imbalance or no, it sure is easy to get caught in an infinite loop of using thoughts against yourself. And that’s not a medical condition. That’s a habit.

I will also say I choose to believe the ghost of David Foster Wallace haunts me in a positive, content-producing way. It’s a form of literary ancestor worship I made up to get me through the decades of trying to write a novel. It may not be true, but it’s a nice little story I invented to cheer myself on with my own hero. Maybe that makes him more of a concept than a person, but we never met, so in that sense he was always just a concept to me. Now he’s a concept that helps me write. Better, right? Better than thinking my hero hung himself, that’s for damn sure. That story sucks and produces nothing.

David Foster Wallace gave a very influential and lauded graduation speech in 2005 called This is Water. I’ve never listened to it.

I prefer his fiction.

Dental extraction, the worst kind Extractions, and the stories that stick with us

I was trying to watch the movie Extraction (2020) last week when I accidentally watched the movie Extraction (2015). Both, true to their titles, featured extractions. Neither is going to win any awards. I don’t think action movies win awards anyway, do they? It pained me to see Bruce Willis suffering in the inferior of two mediocre movies, but we’ll always have the best Christmas movie ever made, Die Hard (1988).

Always is a strong word, isn’t it? We don’t know if we’ll have film or books in the future. Lately I’ve been consuming information through memes, neither film nor book nor article. Which version of a story makes it, and which doesn’t? Somebody had extractions on their mind enough to make two movies that feature them in the past five years. My book, Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply, also features an extraction. Whose extraction story wins the test of time? Whose extraction, if any, would last the ages?

Luckily we have some guidance on how stories survive thanks to a Neil Gaiman talk at the Long Now Foundation.

At its heart, each of our stories, Extraction, Extraction, and Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply, have one premise: somebody gets captured. Somebody else tries to rescue them. The fundamental difference between our three stories is this…mine is told in printed words. The other two are recorded audio and visual images. All three are electronic. (Paperback version coming soon. Stay tuned!) There are other differences that could be even more fundamental. My extraction is a comedy. Extraction and Extraction, on the other hand, appear to take themselves very, very seriously. Which will stick in the long term? Does drama outlast comedy? Is it a question of medium or of volume, coverage? If you hit a critical mass of listeners, does it guarantee your story will exist in the future? Are there particular features of the story that inspire replication, a set of markers that can predict successful symbiosis with humankind?

I don’t have any answers to these questions yet; I’ll get some and report back. I also want to talk more about the Long Now Foundation and how to think on a 10,000-year timeline. When I started to write Corporate Torsos in 1996, I wasn’t thinking much more than 20 years in the future, like a novice. Next I should make a few extraction memes, just in case that’s the winning story format.

Ice climbing Need some action in your life?

Yeah, you do!

You’re in luck. I’m part of a promo that will knock your socks off, check it out:

Hey Ma! It’s raining bullets again-

My book is the one in pink. And it’s not just about bullets, it’s also about moms!

I’m looking forward to reading (for free! If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can tear through the whole lot for nada; isn’t that crazy?) the other authors in the group, and I’ll let you know if I come across something special-

Speaking of moms, have you seen the Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply review from my own?

Amazing!! Clever, funny, full of wit & humor, shocking, kept me intrigued to find out what would happen next…totally a fun, pleasant escape for me from today’s current events [smiley emoji with teeth and closed eyes]

-My mom

Thanks, mom!

This macaque brought you a gift- The 100th Monkey Effect

“The primatologists learned it wasn’t only the monkeys on the lone island who were washing their sweet potatoes. After a certain number of monkeys learned the benefits, all the monkeys learned. On all the islands. Think about it. They didn’t even have the LINC. Or a market research corporation.”

“I see.”

“I don’t think you do.”

Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply

The 100th monkey effect is part of the speculation that makes Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply speculative fiction.

It’s based on an unsubstantiated claim that a 1950s island group of monkeys began washing sweet potatoes and, when their behavior hit a critical mass, i.e., 100 of them, it impacted the species multi-generationally…including on isolated islands where there was no actual transmission of learning. Although the study was intended to be an example of cultural learning in animals, it wound up becoming a kind of parapsychology myth, that there was this non-local cerebral field. This is echoed in other pseudoscience classics, like The Field.

I revisit this concept every now and then to see if there’s been any actual study on the idea. I haven’t seen much in social science but I did attend the screening of a movie last week about theoretical physicist David Bohm, Infinite Potential, that very briefly covered some of his ideas on the non-locality of information storage. It’s worth a look if you get a chance. Nice biopic about an interesting guy who had a lot of ideas, and got shut out of a better career because he joined the Communist party in Pennsylvania to talk more about Hegel. Those Commies didn’t care about Hegel so he quit after a couple of weeks. Later on he lost access to his own damn research when his security clearance got yanked. What a bummer. But I digress. Back to the monkeys.

The ‘explosion’ of potato washing among the monkeys, unfortunately, was actually a slow and measured behavior change over a long period of time. Too boring for the plot of a near-future cli-fi action-adventure comedy, so obviously I went with the pseudoscience concept instead: the existence of a species-wide cerebral cortex.

The 100th monkey story is worth a read, but don’t look at the wikipedia entry if you want to hang on to the pseudoscience and myth that surrounded the original study. Also, there weren’t even 100 monkeys in the whole group. Disappointing.

Corporate Torsos book stack Is Corporate Torsos the new Slaughterhouse-Five? You tell me.

I feel pretty confident that readers who like Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams will like Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. Would Kurt and Doug like the book if they read it? I hope so. Maybe we could seance it. That would be a fun launch concept for my next book (Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device, 21 Dec 2020…sign up for the newsletter if you want me to tell you when it’s up for pre-order!) I’d love to product test with some Gen Z radical eco-activists. But I don’t know any.

The plot of the book is pretty simple, check it out on the book page. But I think if you want to know whether this book is for you before you invest the $4.99, it would help you to know more about the backdrop, the details. I’ll try to keyword the book in more detail here.

What the top of a camel’s head feels like. The potential effect of electromagnetic field strength on the human nervous system and memory. Traveling from Cape Town to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal on a containership. The biochemical composition of the blood of Jesus Christ. An undergarment for testicles. 3D printed food with minimal nutritional input. Biodegradable drinking containers. Sky-walkways to avoid inevitable deaths due to glitches in self-driving car software upgrades. The rapture. Haplogroups. The Illuminati and the Rosicrucians. Post-flood USA architectural adaptation. Weather engineering. The field. Commemorative and instructional holograms. Snakes. Farming in Western Cape. Doing a yoga headstand with one stump and one arm.

I’m also trying to figure out what to put on the back of the book. I don’t know if this is it.

View from a small plane after launch There’s no such thing as a free launch

The release of Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply happily coincided with an upswing in the Black American revolution for social justice and sadly coincided with a global pandemic. I hope the former succeeds and the latter dies out.

I’d had a dry run on my book launch, leap year extravaganza, but by the time I published, it was no longer a good time to party.

Instead, I went flying. If you can’t launch your book, you may as well launch yourself. It was nice to get out of the house…way, way out of the house, after three-plus months of isolation. The Sahara dust cloud had already hit the United States, and there was a haze, but I could still see quite a bit.

There’s a part in Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply in which the earth’s magnetic field weakens so significantly that planes start falling out of the sky. I had a half-memory that decades-ago me had researched this and determined its viability as a plot point. But current-me was too lazy to fact-check past-me, so I thought this would be a good way to verify. By the time we got up in the air, I decided against mentioning it to my instructor pilot.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut. And fly.

Afghanistan

The Plot

It was another beautiful night in Kabul. I was on the terrace, watching the bats flit around a neighboring floodlight and thinking over a few things. Earlier in the evening, in a kind and thoughtful gesture from the government of Afghanistan, a Colonel with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) stopped by and informed me they had received intelligence that I was the target of a kidnapping plot. Unfortunately I wasn’t noteworthy enough to be a political kidnapping; this one was going to be for financial purposes. These would-be kidnappers obviously hadn’t seen my 2009 income tax returns.

A kidnapping would be a big fiasco for me personally. Maybe if it had happened earlier in my stay, I would have had the energy for that sort of thing, but I had been living and working in Kabul for months already. I was tired and frayed around the edges. Besides, I had led the majority of my loved ones to believe I was in India and it seemed hurtful for them to learn the truth from a Yahoo! news brief.

What to do? Well, Kabul Conference was coming up, which meant lockdown was at hand in a few days and movement around the city would become nearly impossible. The Colonel from NDS had suggested I disappear for a week, possibly take up residence in another hotel such as the Serena or the InterContinental. Both seemed unlikely options, as they were not within the budget of a civil servant such as yours truly and would soon be loaded with guests who were political kidnapping worthy. Besides, I already knew the risks at my current site: it was haunted by freaky ghosts and people were trying to kidnap me. Who knew what I would face at the new location?

My visa expiration was rapidly approaching anyway, and my departure from Afghanistan was imminent—less than a week away. Although I was going to miss my Central Asian home, it was time for a vacation.

Propane Nightmares

I never thought I would be the kind of person who was intimidated by or jumped at loud noises, but propane accomplished its mission of fully scaring the hell out of me when it somehow ignited and exploded in the shower this morning. Luckily I was practicing the wasteful western habit of letting the water run for no good reason while I accomplished other tasks at the time. I made an executive decision to stop trying to take hot showers, as they get tepid at best anyway, it’s July, and the rise in temperature isn’t worth the accompanying skin graft.

Transportation Dialogue

G: How are you?
J: Good. Just got back from a UNDP meeting. I am like not entirely excited about going places in a car marked with UN in big letters on the side of it since that one got attacked.
G: Yeah, don’t go high profile. Keep it low.
J: There’s no way, they put a gigantic UN on all the vehicles. A car was attacked last week, the driver was shot. I don’t know the details. Maybe a gambling debt. But they always blame the T.
G: We’re always using soft shell local vehicles with local drivers. That’s a lot safer than a big hard shell with idiots.
J: Yeah, if we rode around in taxis with cracked windshields and no AC I guarantee there would be no attack. People would realize we had suffered enough.
G: That’s right.
J: They would probably offer us some funding from their kidnapping money so we could be more comfortable.

Horses and Carts

My car pool had determined that as a native English speaker, I was obligated to teach them two new words a day. The program seemed to be going well.
On Wednesday the driver pointed at the windshield.
“Windshield,” I said.
It came out the next day that this had been a misunderstanding. The driver had actually been pointing through the windshield at a horse and cart.
I explained the options for animal-pulled transportation and their various conditional uses: cart, carriage, buggy. The lesson was satisfactory and met with some approval. Later on in the day the lesson became more relevant when Kenta needed to change money on the way home, and a donkey-pulled cart collided with our vehicle as we were stopped on the side of the road.
“I never should have asked to stop for my personal reasons.” Kenta shook his head regretfully.
“At least the English lesson will be useful,” I said.

That afternoon I stopped by a French development organization that had offered me a job.
Me: As headquarters explained it to me, they can’t hire me until this other key position has been filled, or it’s like putting the cart before the horse.
Them 1: Right, except in this case, we don’t even have a horse.
Them 2: There is no horse.

The Loss of My Friend

Things haven’t been the same around home since My Friend left, a key staff member at my hotel. He was a vital component to interests near and dear to my heart, like breakfast. I don’t really know what My Friend’s real name is. There was a Japanese woman around for a few days who has been coming to Afghanistan since 1996, and one time she called him Hussaini, but I never heard him introduce himself as anything other than My Friend.
At first, none of us took My Friend’s alleged departure to the south seriously. “He’s been saying that for two years,” Abdullah said. Still, I threatened to hobble him, and Ged and I discussed some sort of captivity plan. Eventually My Friend escaped anyway. As a former teacher, he had to fulfill several more contracts before he could receive his pension. They sent him to Kandahar along with ten other teachers, perhaps Helmand and Uruzgan to come. I haven’t really been able to secure a breakfast since, and the days of two cups of coffee in the morning are long gone.

[picture redacted]

Above: My Friend gleefully shows us his plane ticket, as we all voice our disapproval. “I’ll take a picture in case you get kidnapped,” I offer. “Okay,” My Friend says. “Thank you.”

Foreigner Landscaping Techniques

[picture redacted]

A pond of fecal waste material, complete with decorative fountains, outside a military installation in Kandahar.

Photo complements of Paul Junior, reporting from Kandahar.

Goodbye, Wall!

The concrete wall I usually face when I walk outside was totally missing this morning. It was visually shocking, but I knew its disappearance was coming. The cranes had been working on it all night, removing the cement barriers that ran the length of the road, the same that hid virtually all the buildings in Kabul for security purposes.

Mustafa came into our sitting area when they first started to remove the wall yesterday afternoon. He said Karzai signed a deal with the Taliban and both sides were making concessions: no more suicide bombings, no more barriers. The old foreigners I live with all grumbled something like: “…grumble grumble….until the next suicide bombing….grumble grumble….,” but I celebrated the peace agreement, because even fifteen minutes of peace agreement seemed better than no peace agreement, and I was looking forward to seeing what some of these buildings looked like after all.

I searched for some news on it later in the day, but there was nothing, and like most things here in Afghanistan, I had absolutely no idea if it was true or not.

[picture redacted]

An excerpt from the Listening Project, Afghanistan

“I was at a meeting with an NGO and I asked ‘Is the assistance going to the poorest?’ and no one answered.”
-Resident of Kabul

The REAL threat: hotel ghosts and migrant pigeons-

At home, I was still trying to rack up support for the filming of a new movie about the hotel. I needed a host for the segment. I thought about it every day when I went out onto the roof. I was smoking up to a pack a day, sometimes more, cleverly edging the dust out of my lungs with smoke, which was especially useful lately, as the dust had been swirling around us at an even more frenzied clip. I was watching some birds build a nest in the bathroom window down by my portion of the fourth floor. Between that and the ledge outside my bedroom, these pigeons had me surrounded with their habitat. My living space echoed with a persistent cooing at certain times of day.

In the old days, the Soviets used the building to hold, interrogate and torture potential enemies. Now it was my hotel. It was so goddamned haunted. A hotel employee had once seen an apparition so terrifying, he fired his gun at it and then fled the hotel, never to return. Although I had heard some impressive stories, I hadn’t seen much of anything too frightening, but then again, I was often too exhausted to humor any dead people in my down time. I was sleeping through everything: gunfire and explosions, pigeons, ghostly torture victims. The foreigners at work told me that as foreigners, we have a stamina expiration date of about 3 months in Afghanistan, and if you don’t take a vacation after that amount of time you usually wind up sick or crazy, or both. So I was pushing the envelope, but I wasn’t exhausted enough to sleep through the seismic tremors a few mornings ago, although I didn’t immediately identify them as earthquake material, instead pinning the shaking walls on my new, possibly frisky neighbors or their many lively children.

Immigrant Jirga

The Rhodesian gunsmith and I were sitting around, watching some lousy movie on cable as usual. He was naming all the different kinds of guns as they appeared in the movie and commenting on their comparative advantages.
The Danish botanist was depressed, lying on the couch. I knew he was depressed because a little bit earlier I had pointed in his direction and shouted,
Look at him! He’s depressed!
“I am,” he had confirmed. “Every day I think I’m going to get my visa extended.”

He was facing disappointment on a daily basis, reminiscent of the woes that had initially surrounded Paul Senior’s visa extension application, slowly torn in half before his very eyes at the Ministry of the Interior. The botanist was aiming for not only a visa extension but also some permits to extract vegetation from Afghanistan that he found relevant to his botanical research in some way. It all seemed highly unlikely to me given the track record of other foreigners I had witnessed before him but I was keeping my potentially negative mouth shut due to his already-descending depression. He was the third Danish expedition dispatched to the Wakhan Corridor. I think he said the last one was deployed about a hundred years ago.
But so far he was trapped in Kabul due to these aforementioned visa concerns, as were many others (c.r. the Swiss motorcyclist, until his eye had gotten so infected he had to go home because he was becoming a medical emergency and just the sight of him was starting to get a little bit sickening).

The next day, at the office, I went to print something, but when I tried to retrieve it, the printer was missing. I saw it later on, sitting in a wheelbarrow outside Building A.