Summer at the cinema is very nearly here, which means I’ve been thinking about robots.  This one, for instance:

This is a dramatic collection, the weight of the book alone makes you feel like you’re holding something substantial.  I’ve never been a huge SF fan, I love Alien, and Blade Runner, anything about the end of the world, that stuff gets my attention.  Jonathan Lethem wrote a really great essay on J.G Ballard recently (here), and it reminded me of Lethem’s roots in the genre, and he made a point that the stories aren’t all flying saucers and alien’s eating human flesh.

My own mother loved the story in The New Yorker that came out the week J.G. Ballard died,  “The Secret Autobiography of J.G.B.” and after reading it I was convinced that this guy might have more in store for me than what I knew, or should I say hardly knew.  Crash, and Empire of the Sun are both great movies, at least until Spielberg puts his soft sticky stamp on one, and the sickness known as David Cronenberg who with his adaptation unsheathes a thirteen karat zirconium train wreck on movie goers.  It’s interesting to see how filmmakers take to Ballard’s harder stories, and I could see many modern cinesates frothing over this collection, casting the rolls as they read the book. “The Secret Autobiography of J.G.B.” convinced me that the world had ended, and this was the only place “to be”.  If that makes any sense.  There was a something very attractive about the desolation, it’s the adhesive quality of that story, for sure. How life can start again after everyone is gone, as long as everyone doesn’t include you.

“End-Game” is nothing more than a man doing the same thing over and over and expecting something to change. Which is the long way of saying Constantin, the jailed hero of this story, is insane. Malek, his personal executioner is there for the long haul.  They are both confined to a villa without any furnishings, it’s just them and a chess board. Over time, and many games of chess, you get an ear full from Constantin as he discusses his circumstances, at least how they relate to his imprisonment and his death, soon to be, at the hands of Malek.  This is like watching a drowning man reach for anything that will save him, or a crook say anything to get out from under the point of a knife. Ballard sets his men apart by good and evil, looming death plays a part too.  I’d like to think that the theme here is that life is short, and none of us know when it will end or how, and Malek, or a man like him, will come to our homes like an unwanted visitor.  Constantin almost succeeds in convincing the reader that he should get another trial, but Malek proves otherwise, not with a death blow, but with the words of a wise old man.

“Minus One”, is the next story in the collection and falls suspiciously into your lap, it’s not there for long, but it’s an effective example of what Rod Serling was trying to do with The Twilight Zone.  To be honest I don’t know who influenced who, I can’t see how it matters, but there is a connection, especially with this story.

Ballard takes us into the throat of a sanitarium, asylum, dry out ranch, whatever you want to call it.  Immediatley there is something wrong, a patient is missing. Mr. Hinton has gone away, disappeared like car exhaust.  He was there and then he wasn’t. People are blamed, the people in charge, and suddenly common sense prevails. Watch as Ballard proves the impossible, if Mr. Hinton can’t be found, did he ever really exist? Could it have been a typo on the registration of another patients intake forms? Was he imagined? Of course, that’s the answer. I wouldn’t be doing you any favors if I told you what really happened.

Christmas is coming, you can make someone happy here.


The first thing I did after you moved out was rearrange the furniture.

Before your moving truck even made it down the hill to the interstate I was back upstairs, calculating the new equation of chair/couch/bed/desk that redefined “our” home as “my” home. It was easy; the strength I wasted trying to keep us together was more than adequate to the task. With all of your junk gone there was at last room to move, room to breathe. You took away so much but at least you left me with that.

Next I cleaned. Every spill, every stain, every unwashed surface you spent months ignoring I attacked. Your laziness towards housework had accreted in buildup behind the toilet, under the microwave and in all the little crumbs of half-eaten cat food scattered around the edges of the carpet. I swept and mopped and scrubbed, down on hands and knees with a toothbrush where need be. I mauled the carpet with the vacuum, running it back and forth, over and over, siphoning up piles of fur left behind by two cats I hope never to see again and the dog I’d give anything to have back.

I found the ashtray stuffed full of cigarette butts you left for me out on the balcony. Thank you for that.

When that was done I stripped the bed like a carcass, collecting the worn sheet set you’d left behind and hauling it down to the dumpster. A waste, yes, but it was too worn out to be donated to Goodwill. I warned you about that in the store, tried to tell you that the pets’ claws would hook on all those embroidered flowers and tear the comforter to shreds. “But it’s pretty,” you insisted, as if this were the principal criteria for the purchase of any household item, and I chose not to carry the fight further. When the animals proved me right you hated me for it, even while we lay as pages between those covers.

I organized the DVDs and the books and cupboards, discovering in the process that my copy of Shaun of the Dead was missing. My posters and decorations were repositioned and re-hung, liberated from the tyranny of a single bedroom wall. I did this all while playing CDs by Tori Amos and PJ Harvey on my stereo system, thrilled I could once again listen to them without hearing your endless complaints of “Ugh! Chick music!”  

Every photograph of you and I, every image that suggested we had been together in any sense at all, I collected into a shoebox I shoved into the back of the closet, where it remains. I could have burned or shredded them, tossed them in the dumpster along with your sheets, but like it or not you are a part of my past, and I cannot burn you out of my memory. But I saw no need to leave reminders of that lying about.

When all this was done, when the apartment finally looked like a place where I lived rather than where I merely existed, I was still buzzing, blurry around the edges with unspent energy. It was early dusk, the sun still up in the air, and I doubted you’d even made it to the Arizona border. I went for a run, making sure to listen to my iPod so I wouldn’t have explain to the neighbors out walking their dogs why mine wasn’t jogging with me this time. On the way home I bought dinner from that Hawaiian barbeque place you hated, even though you only ever tried one dish.

After dinner I took a long shower, since there was no one around insisting she had to take a bath. I scrubbed myself the way I scrubbed the floor, and made a note to throw out all of those various little bottles of bath oils and emollients you left behind. When finished I chose to stay naked, faint steam rising off my skin in the apartment’s cool January air. I walked around the living room aimlessly, reveling in the freedom of my unclothed body. The lights were on and the blinds half-open, and I could hear you in my head, yelling at me about how someone would see, how embarrassing it would be.

“Fuck it,” I said to you-in-my-head, “anyone spending their time staring in through my windows gets exactly what they deserve.” And that was the last word on the matter.

I watched my DVD of Blade Runner, the film you always said you “don’t get,” because it is how I’ve christened every solo apartment I’ve ever had, and because it is my favorite, and I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like it.

When I finally felt tired I stretched out on the bed, now fitted with my old flannel sheets from college, and marveled at how much space there was, and how relaxed I felt in it. I avoided looking at the empty spot at the foot where the dog should have been curled up in a little fuzzball.

I thought about how much time I would have to write, without you around to constantly interrupt.

I decided to take up learning the guitar again, and to exercise more.

I wondered about the next person I would date, and the next person I would sleep with, and which would come first. 

The last thing I did after you moved out was send an email to my friends, everyone I should have called individually but just didn’t have the patience to, to bring them up to speed on the day’s events. Instead of paragraphs I wrote only two words:

“It’s done.”