Tuesday, February 28, 2006



1971, filmed in glorious color and directed by Don Sharp

Starring Mary Larkin, Nicky Henson, George Sanders and Beryl Reid

Where to begin? There are so many wonderful things about this movie that it’s hard to decide.

What a statement this picture makes about the youth movement of the Sixties! I have never seen a better film on the subject. This is a moving story about daring young people pitted against a decaying modern society, about the triumphant power of the human will, and the faith and love that can survive – yes! -- Death itself. The kids in this picture, like so many in the Love Decade, are just looking for meaning in a world that seems to offer none. The heroine, a pretty young thing named Abby, is in love with Tom, the fearless and terribly handsome leader of their group. He asks her repeatedly to really commit to him…But Abby just can’t take the plunge. Without ever really turning his back on her, Tom leads the others in their group to a new level of freedom and awareness that they never dreamed existed. Abby, distracted from the purity of her love by outsiders who just don’t understand, still hesitates. WHAT WILL SHE DECIDE?

OK, I’m lying. In fact, this movie is about a bunch of disaffected kids on motorcycles whose only apparent pleasure is to ride through shopping centers, knocking packages out of people’s hands, and running other drivers off the road. They call themselves the Living Dead and wear the grooviest crash helmets ever, fixed to look like skulls. Abby is indeed a sweet shy thing, who helps her mother with the shopping and floats around in ultra-feminine mini-dresses when she’s not, for instance, chasing a screaming mother with a baby carriage through the aisles of a grocery store on her bike. Her boyfriend Tom, the gang leader, is an arrogant playboy type with the worldly assurance that comes from having a rich mother who will bail him out no matter what he does. We never find out much more about the other gang members – Jane, Hinky, Gash, Hatchet, and Chopped Meat – but we do know that they would cheerfully follow Tom into Hell. The core conflict of the story is that Tom really does want them to follow him into Hell. And only Abby really can’t decide what to do about the request.

OK, I’m still lying. This movie is about FROGS and their power to infiltrate, screw with human affairs, and hop away unnoticed. By the middle of the film we have been successfully bamboozled into forgetting ALL ABOUT the frogs. But the original title of this movie was, in fact, The Frog, and I think you need to bear that firmly in mind at all times.

We get a few tantalizing glimpses of Tom’s home life - - it’s just him, his Frog-worshipping mother, and their butler, Shadwell. Shadwell is QUITE an interesting character. He appears to be there only to serve the sherry and answer the door, but it transpires that he may actually be the prime mover in the story. Shadwell appears to be, not the Lord Of The Flies, but The Lord Of The Frogs. So why is such a powerful figure of amphibian consciousness butlering for a rich old lady and her son? He hints, in a sad comment about how rare the Frogs are getting these days, that the amphibian branch of the English Fish Conspiracy might have fallen on hard times. These might be the last two followers he has. But we never really get a better answer than that. We do learn that both Shadwell and the lady of the house see Tom as the great hope of the family, the one who can properly will himself to come back from the grave instead of wimping out like his old man did. Not many young people have such supportive families, especially these days.

So one day, during a truly hair-raising melee of terrorizing women in hot pants, the gang takes to the open highway to shake off police pursuit – and Tom launches his bike off a bridge into a river. He returns from the dead quickly and spectacularly, kills a few people just to try it out, and convinces the rest of the gang to kill themselves so they can join him and be as invulnerable as he is. Strangely, Abby hesitates. After her suicide attempt fails, she decides to break up with Tom because it just isn’t working out. So much for Love triumphing over Death.

I need to point out right about here that Shadwell showed up at Tom’s funeral and slung a Frog medallion into the open grave. There was no more ceremony to it than that, unless you count the mediocre folksong rendered by one of the gang before they covered him up. I was intrigued that by far the nastiest-looking gang member, Hatchet, handmade a flowered cross for Tom and slung that in, too. Lot of good it did. But I stray from my point: the Frog needs only to be present in symbolic form to work its special magic.

The tragic breakup aside, there turns out to be another catch. Tom’s mother is appalled that nobody except Tom was killed and buried with the Frog Seal Of Approval, and this decides her to stop the killing once and for all by breaking some sort of bargain she made with the Frog Forces, which will wreck her life and end Tom’s.

The film poses a seemingly endless list of tricky questions. I wanted to share some of them with you, but be warned that this is far from exhaustive. You can ponder the riddles in this movie your whole life and never be truly satisfied:

What is supposed to be so evil about the resurrected Living Dead gang members? They do nothing worse than Tom himself does, and yet Tom is supposed to be OK and the others are supposed to be evil. What’s the difference? THE FROGS, MAN, THE FROGS ARE THE DIFFERENCE! The rest of them were probably raised Church of England.

OK, even if you accept the idea that a biker can come back from the dead and be invulnerable – how is it that his bike is afforded the same postmortem bonus plan? There’s a scene where Tom kills a filling-station attendant to avoid paying for two gallons of gas, suggesting to us that the bike, immortal or not, still needs fuel to run. But Tom can also drive the bike through a brick wall without scratching the paint. And by the way, a visibly-undamaged-but-dead Tom was buried on his visibly-undamaged bike after the crash. Have you ever seen the remains of a motorcycle after it plummets thirty feet into a shallow river? OK, neither have I, but I would expect it to be a twisted heap of metal. Maybe the bike was ALWAYS immortal. Maybe I’m being persnickety. But it seems to me that the river was probably full of FROGS, and that explains a great deal. Tom – and his bike – come out of the water as damaged or as undamaged as the FROGS decide.

I can readily believe that there’s a nest of Frog-worshippers in the British upper classes, but -- hiring the Devil as their butler? Who has that kind of money? Is there no other way for the Ultimate Amphibian to keep tabs on things around Latham Manor, where Tom and his mother live? And wouldn’t cooking dinner and answering the phone distract Shadwell from more pressing duties, like encouraging the House of Lords to undermine the powers of Goodness?

Of course there’s another explanation. Maybe the Church of England is the ruling evil and the Frogs are infiltrating to bring more Good into the world. That certainly agrees with my own personal worldview, because as they say in the old soda-pop jingle, things go better with Frogs. Amphibians certainly seem benevolent in this picture. Look at the fact that Tom’s mother works for free as a medium, speaking to grieving families in the voices of the dead and reassuring them that the Afterlife (presumably Amphibian in nature) is happy and welcoming. What version of Frogless Christian theology offers that kind of comfort to suffering people? But they recoil in horror when one of the grieving families offers them the gift of a cross. What does that tell you? Yep -- Christianity is Evil and Frogs are Good.

But that begs another question. What does Frog worship have to do with the resurrection of the dead? LOOK INTO YOUR RECRUITMENT MANUALS. PAGE 1979.
Does anyone but me wonder why Shadwell, the Lord of the Frogs, is named after a Fish? This is just the kind of detail a landscum viewer would clean miss. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to be totally obvious.

Does Shadwell really give a crap about anything that goes on in the human world? He doesn’t try to talk Tom out of killing himself, he doesn’t turn a hair when the kid dies, and then he doesn’t even blanch when Tom’s mother says she is going to break the contract she signed with him and undo all the bad magic. The only time you see this guy react, just about, is when Tom brings home the Frog from the graveyard. At that point, Shadwell’s whole face lights up. Doesn’t that say "operative" to you?

I cannot understand why Tom’s mother signs a contract with the Lord Of The Frogs, apparently dedicating her infant son to the Powers of Dampness for life, without even reading the damn thing. I was astounded when she signed it, THEN picked it up and read it as Shadwell, the new owner of her only child, went to soothe the screaming little mite. What was that about? Then she gets upset and voids the contract when the kid actually starts acting up. Honestly, some people. But if you ignore the landscum propaganda in the movie and think of Frogs as GOOD rather than EVIL, it makes more sense. She isn’t getting what she paid for if Tom is a grinning mass murderer. Of course she might try grounding the little sneering shit first. That's just my opinion.

By the way, is Tom really any more evil after dying than he was before? I can’t quite see the difference, myself.

What is Abby’s problem? Geez, her boyfriend comes back from the dead looking just as good as ever, offering her the gift of a consequence-free homicide spree, and she turns it down!

Is it some sort of conspiracy of silence that prevents the other gang members from telling Chopped Meat that his biker name is incredibly lame? And whose bright idea was it to add the illustration of the hamburger patty to the name tag on his leather jacket? Let me deepen the mystery by informing you that in this movie, CHICKS DIG HIM.

Let’s talk about Gash’s suicide. He staggers down a long, empty sidewalk wrapped in chains and flings himself into the river. The sidewalk stretches back to the horizon. We see no bike, no car, no heap of clothing anywhere near to help us picture where and when he weighted himself down. Just how far did he hop along that sidewalk in that condition without being stopped? Does this guy have the power of invisibility or something? If he did, that would explain how he walked out of the morgue without his swimming trunks, without getting arrested, in the next scene.

Is there anything more sublime than the sight of a frog in an evening dress? I think not, my friend. Feel free to disagree, but I think not.

One last, never-to-be-answered question. As Abby is sobbing brokenly at the end of the movie, staring at The Horror That Tom Became, Shadwell drives up in the family limo, approaching our badly frazzled heroine. The credits begin to roll before we can find out what he wants. The possibilities multiply out of control when I think about it. Is he there to drape a Frog medallion over Tom’s remains? Recruit Abby to the Frog Worship Auxiliary League? Ask her for a job?

This film is not to be missed, ladies. You can never stop learning from it, no matter how many times you watch it.

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Monday, February 27, 2006



The girls down at the central research labs have assured me over and over that non-aquatic lifeforms cannot make use of, or interfere with, any of our techniques short of killing us wholesale. As a result I am letting my guard down at last. WE ARE GLOBAL NOW and I think we need to join the new millennium, dare to communicate USING THE ENEMY’S OWN TECHNOLOGY and prove to ourselves that we can do it without giving away the game. Seems to me that if The Anarchist’s Cookbook’s release on the Net can have teenaged boys everywhere making grenades out of old tennis balls, it’s high time those of us with fins, scales and tentacles took full advantage of the same medium.

I wanted to start today by clarifying some of the misunderstandings that keep cropping up when you ladies read the Sacred Texts of the Piscatorial Revolution. These are in descending order, listed according to how much they happen to irritate me. You should maybe keep this in mind when rhapsodizing to me, YOUR ZONE LEADER, at the monthly meetings about how much the Texts have changed your life.

Every one of you needs to carefully interpret the readings before using them to infiltrate or wage war on the enemy. The life you save could be your own…OR MINE. Our goal is to further your education, your ability to network effectively, and your ability to speak to me at meetings WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE IDIOTS:

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON AGENT OPAL: Now, I know the common wisdom is that Opal, the model undersea-mammal revolutionary in The Godwhale by the Sacred Scribe T.J. Bass, is "weakening the resistance" by mating with Harlan, a land man. This is SHEER NONSENSE. Harlan is a refugee from the Hive (land) society, for one thing. If they ever found him they would kill him. And as you read, I beg you to note Opal’s very proper refusal to mate with him until he proves he can hold his breath underwater as long as she can. She fully trains him in our way of life. Far from settling for a Hive mate, she is stealing one of the best and brightest from their ranks and making him one of us. The worthiness of her actions is well demonstrated by what follows. In fact, the Benthic Deities respond by restoring the devastated oceans around the world to full health, so that Opal’s society need never again venture on land to steal food from the Hive. More to come in later installments…


She Creature
Released in 2001, directed by Sebastian Gutierrez

A real find. I’m delighted to report that the filmmakers – not only our operatives, but fully human actors and directors -- are bringing our sacred Cause more and more into the public eye. I can only hope the trend continues. My surprise video-store find is a new release, rated R. It stars Rya Kihlstedt as the operative, Carla Gugino as the new contact, and Rufus Sewell as the landlubber who thinks he’s in control of the situation. This was not released in theaters but don’t ask me why; it’s drastically better than some of the shore slop they put on the big screens these days. Here’s the story in brief: two cheeseball con artists (Sewell and Gugino) running a turn-of-the-last-century sideshow in Ireland are invited home by a rube (Aubrey Morris – I’ve always liked that guy), who turns out to be a retired sea captain offended by their phony mermaid. He delivers a lecture on the true nature of mermaids and tells them that there is a secret chain of islands where they still live. He shows them that he has the real article imprisoned in his basement – a stunning blonde with webbed fingers and a fish’s tail. He tells them that she’s already killed his wife and is extremely dangerous.

Sewell’s character decides he wants the specimen for his show, knowing that this is an instant ticket to fame and probably no real danger to him if an old coot like the captain has survived so long in the same house with her. They steal her after thtreatening the old man into havign a heart attack -- ALWAYS A POSSIBILITY WHEN YOU NEGOTIATE WITH A SHOTGUN POINTED AT THE RESPONDENT'S HEAD. The thieves wangle the boxed-up mermaid inot the hold of a waiting ship, and this FASCINATING realtionship develops between Gugino (the new recruit) and Kihlstedt (our heroine).

Life on board ship proceeds as usual while the plucky showmen attempt to keep the crew out of the cargo compartment where they’re holding the mermaid – and trying to convince her to eat. The only sign of progress is when Gugino comes into the room, whereupon the mermaid comes to attention with an unmistakable look of "Finally, someone I can TALK to" look on her face. Gugino seems as captivated by the mermaid as the mermaid is by her…but they still can’t get her to eat.

Gugino starts acting strangely. She starts upchucking at odd moments and suddenly has this incredible sex drive. Sewell is clueless and frankly, so is she, but she knows something is different, all right. At length she realizes she is pregnant – although we’ve been told throughout the movie that she is hopelessly barren. The only real problem with this is that while reading the notebooks on the care and feeding of mermaids – written by the dead Captain’s wife – Gugino finds that the wife, too, was pregnant when she died, spectacularly unlikely because she was probably in her sixties or older.

Well, finally the showdown comes, and there is some good suspense when the mermaid spontaneously changes to all-human form – and then, while the horny sailors are working their way up to a gang rape of the helpless naked woman, she changes again to her all-fish form. And what a form it is! Mayhem de mer ensues and before you know it, most of the crew is dead. While all this is going on, the Captain confesses that the mermaid made him do something "that you’ll know about soon enough," then blows his head off.

We soon see that he’s taken the ship wildly off-course, to the secret island chain where all the rest of the mermaids live. And those gals are hungry. The real fun begins.

Gugino, after being rescued for reasons best understood to the mermaid, OR ANY OTHER OPERATIVE WATCHING THE MOVIE, gives birth to a beautiful baby girl who resembles both parents – the pretty dark-haired landlubber, and the aquatic parent with the glowing eyes. Happy ending!

These are some of the most beautiful special effects I’ve seen in years, and for a change they are NOT computer-generated. In fact it crossed my mind that Kihlstedt looks a lot like my cousin Chrissie did back in the mid-Seventies, although of course she’s much 'farther along' now, so it couldn’t have been her. There is a sort of fairytale feel to this movie that reminds me of the Tales From The Crypt series; it’s so impossible, but it happens before your eyes and that forces you to believe it for a minute anyway.

There are small, glaring flaws here and there: the mermaid living comfortably, never fed, apparently for several years, in an impossibly tiny tank too small to turn around in, in water that is mysteriously perfectly clear, absent any evidence of an aeration or filtration system. The current-day English used by people supposedly living a century ago. Things like that.

I was also very disappointed not to get a tour of the mermaids' secret island.

But I like it, I like it! I like that they put some very respectable actors in a movie that has such a comic-book feel. I like the chilling sense of possibility it gives me, because they suggest that in a world mapped end to end by landscum like Admiral Byrd and Jacques Cousteau, there are still some unknown pockets of Fish culture. For the likes of us it also makes a fine fantasy and historical romance rolled up in one. Although the ESP mating of two females of different species is a delightfully fresh idea, it clearly also serves to conceal HOW WE OPERATE in real life.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Passing Of "Mr. Limpet"

This, ladies, is a hard one to even talk about. Today Don Knotts, who played the title role in The Incredible Mr. Limpet, entered the sea forever. Limpet is simply one of the finest Piscatorial Romances ever committed to celluloid. It's the story of an unassuming man whose only burning desire is to turn into a fish. One day he falls off the Coney Island pier, and suddenly IT'S ALL TRUE. He spends the rest of the film going through what all of us have to, bidding farewell to his life as an air-breathing biped with social obligations and club memberships and stuff, and discovering his TRUE DESTINY under the surface of the ocean. There is no more exquisite irony in filmdom: He played a man who turned into a fish, and he WAS a man who turned into a fish. Talk about hiding in plain sight. I admit we can be a big paranoid in the upper echelons, and this seemed like an enormous risk to take. Hey, it WAS an enormous risk. But you know Don -- you can't stop him from doing what he thinks is best, and as usual, he was RIGHT. I tremble when I think what he will be up to now that he has moved to fully-aquatic duties.

Limpet been an inspiration to three generations of young operatives -- one of them was me! I was entranced, and still am, by the sight of Don Knotts serenading a Goldfish with a love song, in the way only he can. It may have been my very first awareness of my life's path. And look at me now! In charge of every North American female landfish, working at the side of my partner (metaphorically, I guess) who lives in Lake St. Clair. You can believe me when I tell you that Hank is as delighted as I am shaken -- now he gets to meet the great man himself, and years before I'll be able to, at the rate I'm going.

Don't think I wanted him to go on suffering in his human body, which had to be wearing out pretty badly. I'm happy that he drowned in bed in the tradition of our finest high-profile operatives, like Divine and Attila the Hun.

But let's be honest: I envy him. When do I get to drown in MY bed?

And we have lost so many big names lately. Today we ALSO lost Darren McGavin, not an operative, but does that make me feel any better? I'm sorry, but dry land is not as good to live on with "Karl Kolchak" gone. Even Peter Benchley, my arch-nemesis, died just days before the great Don Knotts. That alone is like having the water stolen from underneath my fins. A few days before HIM we lost Akira Ifukube, the composer who wrote the movie scores of my youth. I cannot imagine a dripping monster -- Godzilla, Gamera, baby Mothra, you name it -- wading ashore from Tokyo Harbor without that great man's music thrumming in the background.

We even lost Betty Friedan, whose work inspired uncountable thousands of fed-up human women to seek their own destinies, and unwittingly drove any number of them RIGHT INTO OUR BRINY LAIRS. How can we thank her for that? We cannot. It would be a security breach, and if we thanked her we would be KILLED and EATEN.

Any place you go from here, great ones, will be better for your presence. Except you, Benchley, I'm coming for you one of these days, even if I have to follow you to Shark Hell.

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Some of the questions that I’ve been getting in lately apply to many of you. Here goes:

Q: "Sally Lightfoot" of our Southwestern Quadrant asks why I only hint around in publications and broadcasts about the identities of operatives.

A: Well, I have to protect other people’s identities the same as I need to protect my own. It’s especially important to ensure the privacy of those who have already entered the sea and are presumed dead. We run the risk of upsetting a great many applecarts otherwise. I, for instance, live in a very public place with guided tours and stuff coming through on a weekly basis. It would get dicey if anyone knew what and who I really am. And let us never forget that we live in the Golden Age of the Nuisance Lawsuit. With today’s laws, anything is possible, and I do mean anything. I have to keep my lip zipped.

Q: A consortium of nail techs and machine-lathe operators in the Midwest forwards this always-important question: what do we do if our transformation finishes up suddenly and we are nowhere near a body of water?

A: Actually, this never happens. You can be anywhere up to about three-quarters aquatic, and still safely travel to the Gobi Desert if you want. Your transformation into your final, fully aquatic form will NOT occur, in fact CANNOT occur, until you are with easy reach of an appropriate lake, stream, pond or ocean. The water itself causes the change. Now remember, everyone: salinity DOES NOT COUNT FOR YOU the way it does for other aquatic species. You do need to avoid chlorinated water, of course. When that chemically-sterilized pool filler hits your gills, YOU WILL WISH YOU HAD NEVER BEEN BORN. You also need to be very careful about appearing in fish form in a place you’re not supposed to be. A freshwater blind cave fish caught cruising around a tide pool on Molokai is BOUND TO EXCITE COMMENT, are you getting me? Which brings us to our next question:

Q: "Ralph Bleak," writing out of the Pacific Northwest, asks what Hank and I consider the most important in terms of rank-and-file operatives protecting the secrets of our glorious Cause.

A: Don’t do ANYTHING you couldn’t explain to an ichthyologist. Let’s consider that blind cave fish again. As prone to sunburn as she is, basking near the surface will not be much of an option. She will probably be under or behind something that will make her hard to spot. But say someone does see her – especially, in the worst-case scenario, a fish-savvy native Hawaiian or one of those wretched marine biologists that infest the beaches year ‘round. Now what do you do? What you’d better do is DIE ON THE SPOT. Take your black capsule IMMEDIATELY. At that point you can be written off as a tankfish someone let loose in the ocean, and OUR SECRETS ARE SAFE.

More later. Keep those cards and letters coming. OK, now ON TO THE REVIEW!

Cliffie’s Notes on Possession

Released in 1981, starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill
Directed by Andrzej Zulawski

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the uplifting story of a woman who’s had bad luck with men all her life, until she finally meets her true love: one of our own operatives, apparently some sort of Cephalopod. The story is told from the viewpoint of her husband, who comes home to Berlin from a long business trip, knowing only that his wife has found herself someone new. He starts investigating the matter and eventually finds out, well, everything. The director cleverly structures the story to make everything look one way to the landscum viewer, and another way to US.

Let’s observe for a moment the cuckolded husband in the story. Hubby is handsome, for a Naked Ape, until you notice those creepy, silvery eyes. He appears to be in some sort of shady government work, which makes you wonder if he might get arrested or assassinated one day. He’s been absent from the family’s stark, chilly-looking apartment for months at a stretch, leaving his wife so lonely that she goes out and gets someone new. Newly jobless, trying to save his family, Hubby breaks down completely and stops eating and bathing. It takes him a while to get his feces aggregated so he can fight to save his family. We finally see him come out of it enough to shamble down the hall barefoot in a sweat-stained suit jacket, with his hair pointing every whichaway, trying to find his son and reason with his wife. How long would YOU wait around for this guy?

The director paints a picture of an empty city where the romantic prospects (even for a beauty like Adjani) are bleak indeed. People are few and far between, and they stride through deserted streets, shop alone in vast, well-stocked grocery stores and meet in bars where nobody appears to spend any time. You might be desperate for love, too, in a city like this. But happily for Adjani, having given up on Mr. Absentee, she moves on from her next choice, Mr. Weirdo, to find real happiness with MR. OPERATIVE. I want to point out RIGHT NOW that this film paints an unrealistic picture of what it takes to catch the eye of a new contact, if you are an operative looking for recruits. They do NOT need to be emotionally neglected or desperate.

They may have worked the story this way because they made the operative, to Naked Ape eyes at least, pretty repulsive. Quite a contrast with the elegant and sophisticated human recruit, I mean girlfriend. I mean I realize they were trying to make a horror movie. But clearly Adjani sees the REAL BEAUTY and RAW SEX APPEAL under the slime. And when we finally get a look at his eyes, they are just the opposite of her husband’s – warm, deep and apparently comprehending everything in the Universe. You know, like a Mackerel.
You wonder how desperate she must have been to hook up with Mr. Weirdo, even briefly, especially in comparison to the unnamed operative who replaces him. Heinrich is a middle-aged man, oddly managing to be both wizened and doughy, who lives with his mother and pirouettes around the room as you talk to him, spouting pretentious horseapples about God and the greater meaninglessness of it all. He’s also quite likely to deliver a karate chop to the throat if you say something he doesn’t like. She fell for THIS? I guess we can understand why she kept looking, at least.

Funny things start happening. Hubby meets his son’s kindergarten teacher, a fresh-faced beauty who looks exactly like his wife. She sure is a lot nicer to him, though. Hubby meets Heinrich for the first time, and they don’t exactly hit it off. The private investigator hired by the husband tracks the Adjani to an empty apartment building, and then disappears. Adjani herself disappears for longer and longer periods of time. Their son starts practicing deep-sea diving in the family bathtub. A couple of people get eaten. Hubby starts to fall for the kindergarten teacher.

Hubby can no longer deny that his wife is not coming back after he walks in on her and the new fella. They’re in bed together and there is no doubt that she has found Piscatorial Love. This scene is not for the kiddies, ladies. Whoosh!

Rather unexpectedly, husband and wife are brought back together by the end of the story and are reborn into a new, better form, having been transformed by Piscatorial Love.

The operative? He gets what he always wanted: full infiltration into the landscum society, with nobody the wiser.

And what about the son? He’s left in good hands. They even let him swim in the house.

An important note: this is not an American movie. If you are hoping for a lot of car chases and starlets who can barely form sentences, forget it. This movie is characterised more by that kind of faintly surreal overacting that I associate with European avant-garde cinema. The action is all in the heads of the characters. You should also be prepared for some PRETTY GOOSHY special effects. And for all the panic, dread and raw lust we see in this movie, there is hardly a drop of affection or family feeling. Fair warning.

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I was waiting outside the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor at 7:30 p.m. on April 16th, 2005, when I saw a co-worker from my last landscum job coming towards me up the street. I waved him over and asked where he was going. He said he had tickets for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony at Hill Auditorium, and he asked whether I wanted to come, as he had an extra ticket. He expressed a fear that he might fall asleep during the presentation. I guess he wanted me there to jab him awake.

I was not tempted. I informed him I had tickets to see CRISPIN GLOVER tonight and that I was only killing time until the other two operatives in my group arrived. Unwisely, instead of dropping his own plans, he headed down the sidewalk to listen to Mahler. He did not recognize Crispin Glover’s name or know why I would choose to miss a sleep-in at the symphony to see him. A copy of Bartleby slipped into his mailbox the same week took care of that.

Well, let me just start by saying that there is no pleasanter person to spend an evening than with Crispin Glover, doing his best to show me a good time. I wish it had never ended.

The evening began with The Big Slide Show. This involved excerpts from 10 of his books (available for sale in 3 volumes at his website,
Volcanic Eruptions. Our host narrated every story as he meant it to be heard, under the glare of a tiny red spotlight. Each set of slides ended with wild applause, as our host caught his breath and smiled just a little in what appeared to be veiled delight. This part of the show alone would have made my evening, but there was much more in store.

We moved from there to What Is It?, his feature film. OK, how do I describe this story? On one level it’s about a guy getting locked out of his house after accidentally crushing a snail. By that token, though, Eraserhead is about a guy named Henry who gets married to his girlfriend because they’ve had a baby. And I’m here to tell you that What Is It? ranges much, much farther afield from its basic storyline than Eraserhead ever dreamed. We see romance of a sort; considerable violence involving shovels, hammers, and thrown rocks; puppet shows; a succession of Snails getting crushed, decapitated, defenestrated, and bubbled to death with salt; the enthroning, and later deposing, of a potentate of some sort. Oh, and nearly all the actors have Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy or other serious handicaps.

Eventually, the protagonist obtains a key and gets back into his place.

One of the powerful messages in this movie was that everything alive has a point of view and even feelings, even if the average Naked Ape prefers not to see it that way. The director uses all kinds of different forms of maltreatment and exploitation directed at all kinds of people and animals to make that point. Some would say that he was exploiting the handicapped in using them as his actors, but I disagree. He does not hand you any answers, but he certainly poses some intriguing questions.

For instance, the movie starts with a Snail getting killed. The guy who killed him says he feels bad about it, even tries to repair the shattered shell, but then he goes about his business. A second Snail who happens on the scene does not find it this easy to dismiss; she finds the victim and spends the rest of the film emitting piercing fire-engine screams full of horror and grief. This does not stop the other human characters from killing Snails right and left, but one of them does give thanks towards the end to all the Snails who gave their lives in the course of the story. The Gastropods, in short, are given about the same amount of consideration and dignity as the landscum give each other. It goes to the heart of WHY WE ARE UP HERE ON LAND, converting the shaved monkeys back into fish and returning them to the water. WE CANNOT LET THEM DO THIS TO EACH OTHER.

There is a sex scene between one of the handicapped actors, rolled up to the camera in an immense Oyster shell, and a naked woman in a monkey mask. This sight impelled the friend sitting on my right to lean over and hiss at me, "I am so totally picking the next movie." I'm not sure what his problem was, but what I was noticing was the Oyster shell. It certainly looked comfy. Even rather regal. That makes sense in retrospect, because the man in the Oyster shell proved to be a major force behind the creation of this story, and I gather he wrote this specific scene. He also wrote the sequel. He didn’t have a single line in the movie, but we found out more about him than we ever planned to.

In other scenes, there is a white man in blackface giving himself injections of Snail juice in hopes of someday becoming an invertebrate. He makes it sound his life’s goal. Now what do you make of that? It’s a fine thing to become a Gastropod, of course. Many of our operatives look forward with joy to this happy fate. But what does the director mean here? Let’s bear in mind that the man was filmed in a hideous dungeonlike setting with a tooth-curling old KKK song playing in the background. He seems to be aiming lower and lower on the food chain, according to the KKK heirarchy – white guy acting like a black guy and trying to be a Snail (which is not only an invertebrate, but a hermaphrodite. Surely the KKK would consider all Snails to be a bunch of queers. What could be more despicable than that?)

While all this is going on, the Crispin, playing some sort of potentate in a fur coat, decides who among the mentally-handicapped women in his entourage will be his girlfriend. An image of Shirley Temple stands smiling by a swastika, as if presiding over the scene. One girl wins, and one girl loses. There is absolutely no show of emotion or affection attached to this scene – this is just a debate about who gets the privilege, and a unilateral decision on the question. No follow-through, either. Did they live happily ever after or what? That's about all your average Naked Ape worries about: the happily-ever-after part.

We learned only as the credits rolled why all the characters were doing what they did, because the credits finally told you who all these people were. Better late than never.

The friend sitting on my left was groaning in horror at the Snail massacre when she wasn’t laughing helplessly at the other action on the screen. I specifically asked her to go because she counsels the handicapped for a living. She went in not really even knowing who Crispin Glover is, by the way. She was well entertained by the Big Slide show and started out quite appalled by the movie. By the end of the evening she was entirely converted. Another satisfied customer!

This was rough viewing for me, in part because I like Snails, but also because I am so used to those movies that are aimed intellectually at 15-year-olds. Gee, you want me to make an effort or something? I also wanted to know as each frame flickered past whether this was all kosher, legal, and fully consented to by the actors involved. I should have considered the source. It was OK.

The director set the issue of kosherosity straight in the Q & A afterwards. He noted that one point of making the film was to show people with disabilities living lives like yours and mine, not straitjacketed in the ultra-bland roles usually reserved for them in the mainstream media. Was he ever right. The fans in the autograph line muttered very anxiously about this issue all through the movie and while we waited to meet the director. It was a measure of how badly they needed to see these images.

OK-- the lives depicted on screen DON'T MATCH UP TOO WELL to mine. But whatever.

He did NOT mention during the discussion that this film also shows Gastropods struggling with life and death issues, just like the average Naked Ape – hoping for the best in the face of large, violent forces beyond their control. It is, however, RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES in the film. This is the first time I have ever seen a Snail suffer and die on screen, and then be honored for the sacrifice. This is PROGRESS OF A SORT. Our host even called them "sentient" during the Q & A. Make of that what you will. (Dang, I knew I liked that guy.)
Of course this film has not seen a wide theatrical release. That would be too bold, I guess.
Our host for the evening was apparently intent on keeping us happy no matter what it took, and if that meant answering each fan’s questions for 20 minutes while he signed our books, that was what he did. This kept the line from moving very fast, and there were 200 or 300 people in front of me. I finally got to speak with him at a little after 3 a.m., and while he had to be running out of steam after 3 or 4 hours of small talk, and the conversations had dwindled from 25 minutes each to less than 5, he didn’t make me feel as if I were getting short shrift. He was 100% gracious and answered every question in detail. And he must have been at least as wiped out as I was.
He isn't used to Eastern Time.

I was already extremely sleep-deprived when I woke up that morning, and I was dead on my feet after a half-day at work, and there was the usual Quest For Parking once I got to Ann Arbor. The content of the evening reversed this effect entirely. I not only stayed up effortlessly until the wee hours of the morning, but I read both the books I bought from him before finally hitting the hay.



Now, about those books. This column would be as long as War And Peace if I went through every delightful item in every book. (At this writing I have Rat Catching, Oak Mot, and What It Is And How It Is Done. More to come, I sincerely hope. I never get tired of re-reading these books.) But let me hit A MAJOR HIGHLIGHT for you: Part III of What It Is And How It Is Done, called "A Son Of Mother." This heavily-illustrated short story, EPIC IN ITS SCOPE, describes the disjointed journey of a character named Tom, as he converts from the life of a landlubber to a fully aquatic existence. I think. The author leaves out a couple of steps in there as Tom somehow goes from admiring a pregnant girl he meets in the road to being the unborn child, and from there being cast adrift to make his way in the open ocean.

Now, who are these people? Who is this girl who somehow becomes Tom’s mother? Who is Tom? Who is the mysterious Mr. Grimes, whose appearance somehow brings the story to a happy conclusion? We may never know, but the closing illustration of a beaming Tom riding the back of a flying fish says it all, I think.

Who are the other characters, for that matter? The little sister? The little brother? The dead fish? The menacing sea otter?

But notice, ladies, how NOT A SINGLE STEP IS LEFT OUT when you read it through the eyes of a Piscatorial Operative working for the Great Cause. The new contact (Tom) meets the operative (the girl). Next thing he knows he is in an aquatic realm he never expected to be in (the womb, in this case). Then the operative bids him a tender adieu as she sets him free in the ocean. And after some adjustment issues, Tom lives happily ever after. No further explanation is needed if you are ONE OF US.

The appearance of the little sister and brother suggests that the operative goes right on winning new recruits. Her great sadness suggests that she is very envious of their happiness in the ocean. Not everyone enjoys recruiting work, of course.

I love that way this Glover fella makes me laugh and puzzle at the same time. The Fish part of me laughs, and the remaining scraps of human are sorely puzzled indeed. For this reason I am happy to recommend his books to anyone. If Crispin Hellion Glover knows any of our secrets, they appear to be quite safe with him.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

DAGON -- plus crabitat tips!

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON AGENT UXIA: You girls need to stop thinking of Uxia, the mermaid from the movie Dagon, as a role model. This movie is new and compelling, the talk of every propaganda meeting, but let’s calm down a minute and look at what the filmmaker is really saying. The director, Stuart Gordon, makes a great point of staying true to Lovecraft’s intent in all his film adaptations, and this is no exception. Whoever this Gordon fella is, I like him. But this movie scares me. Probably not for the reasons Gordon intended, unless he is one of our operatives – which I doubt.

Now, at first glance, Uxia is sitting pretty: she’s bilingual, she has the favor of the Elder Gods as a priestess in the briny faith, she’s a goodlooking specimen by either human or calamari standards, AND she’s in complete charge of her territory, the village of Imboca, with only a single wretched human being left. But look how she misuses her gifts.

Her entire congregation is apparently male, which limits her powers severely, and she clearly isn’t taking the steps needed to remedy that situation. Is she going to do all the spawning herself? Way to expand the gene pool, hon.

The village itself is an apalling hellhole. It’s about the last place on dry land anyone would willingly visit, and how are they going to get new converts that way? Uxia and her villagers clearly aren’t even trying. I’ve heard any number of you reading the appearance of the village to mean that land society will rot away horribly as it deserves to. Come on, you have eyes: LOOK. The Fish People are living there, not humans! Would you live like that? Could you live in those wretched conditions and still consider yourself to be favored by the Elder Gods? The Great Scribe Lovecraft was always rhapsodizing over decrepitude and entropy, but here he gives us a hideous vision of entropy among the Fish People, which is almost a contradiction in terms. Lovecraft was one special guy in the horror department, but here he presents something so mind-bendingly weird that it turns even my stomach a little, and I had haggis for breakfast.

I knew something was wrong in Imboca right away when I saw all the converts in raincoats. Yes, raincoats. Notably, they put them on WHEN IT STARTED RAINING, not before, so it can’t be an attempt at disguise. What strange world is this where the landfish try to come in out of the rain?

Uxia herself is clearly the source of the spreading rot in this village, even if she appears to be the only healthy specimen living there in, I might add, the only presentable household. What kind of Fish Person is this, living not with her pod or school, but in isolation, and dramatically more posh than everyone else, like royalty? If everyone is looking to her for guidance, I think we have to take a gander at where she is guiding them, and sheesh, this place is a mess.

The only convert she brings in during the course of this movie – intact, I should say -- is yet another male, and her own brother at that. Hardly a smart choice as life-mates go. She makes another critical error in kidnapping, violating and alienating the all-important female tourists, rather than winning them over properly.

And what -- pray tell -- is the deal with the converts slicing the faces off their human captives and wearing them as ceremonial masks? Who let Leatherface in here?

Uxia is a dire example of how power can corrupt even one of our own if separated from the College of Benthic Wisdom. She makes the mistake of wanting to be a big fish in a small pond – or maybe I should say the only ‘Ladyfish’ on the spawning grounds -- with the usual result. Her life is a cautionary tale, not intended as a role model for anyone.
CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON AGENT ELINOR: Same thing again, girls. Over and over I hear you misinterpreting the actions of the amphibious revolutionary role model Elinor Caskey in the Sacred Writings of the Scribe McDowell. Now, I know the Blackwater books add up to a long and fairly complex saga, but if you read through you’ll see that everything Elinor does is to create a safe haven and power platform for her descendants. Up on dry land there is no stouter fortress than unlimited cash. But please note that rather than simply amassing a fortune and spreading her progeny on the earth, she ALSO does all she can to keep her daughters in the water. With mixed results, of course. You know how kids are.

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON THE INNSMOUTH EFFECT: In his sacred writings "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and "Dagon," the Scribe Lovecraft wrote only what he was privy to as a male, and a largely human male at that. Come on, do you think the town fathers of Innsmouth just took the money from the King Of The Fish People and announced to all the unmarried women that they were going to have to marry the Benthics whether they liked it or not? Don’t you think if it had gone down that way, the denizens of the deep would have arrived onshore to encounter a cordon of armed women and a load of buckshot in the face rather than a wet welcome? Come on, think about it. The Elder Gods saw the situation and approached the women years before the town fathers knew anything was going on. Half of these women or more would have been willing converts already, easily identified by certain insignia WHICH WE ARE STILL KEEPING SECRET, LADIES. They advised the Rulers of the Deep about the effective methods of bringing the men into it, and they were quickly freed to act on many plans they’d been working on for years.

I happen to know that my own great-great-great grandmother had been waiting half her life to finally pair off with the Benthic she’d been in love with since she was a teenager. I wish I could have known her thoughts as she cringed before her own naked-ape father and husband, doing her best to convince them that she was only a naïve landlubber girl and apalled at the whole setup – making this sacrifice only to help the family finances. Ha!

Well, that’s enough brain strain for one newsletter. Now let me pass on the answer to a question I get asked everywhere I go: What is killing off the giant land crabs? Well, I don’t need to tell any of you how many of our plans for world domination hinge on the protection of our unique strain of 15-foot-long, sentient, telepathic land crabs.

The good news from the research center is that there is no special virus going around or anything special we’ll have to do to correct the situation.

The bad news is that a lot of you are just not up to scratch on basic giant-land-crab care, in essence killing off our finest secret weapon through laziness or misinformation. Think about it: by far the most serious losses have been in the Antarctic Zone cabal. Look around your giant-crab habitat and ask yourself whether you’re providing the proper heat, humidity, natural daylight, furniture and flooring, crab chow, and the proper ratio of saline and fresh water. If the crabs are immobile from the cold in their corral, TURN UP THE HEAT. WE HAVE THE MONEY.

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Sweet Dreams of Killer Crabs...
I’ve been re-reading David Attenborough’s Life On Earth (Little, Brown & Co., Boston/Toronto, 1979). Right at the place where he switches over from the water to the land, on page 130, he makes this rather ominous statement:

"Three-quarters of the world’s surface is covered by water. Three-quarters of the world belongs to the fish."


What boggles my mind is the way he can make crystal clear the process by which water creatures came to live on land, but then blithely continue to treat land life as something other than altered aquatic life. I shudder in sympathy when I think of that first moment when some creature, somewhere realized that she had reached a point of no return and had to stay dry forever. But I refuse to back down on this point: We’re all on the same continuum, and we’re all made of the same protoplasm. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be able to convert the landscum back to our way of life, and Soylent Green would be a true story.

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON The Origin Of The Crabs

Guy N. Smith, New English Library, London, 1979

Where do I begin on this stunning series of killer-crab books? Well, with the first volume, I guess, and this is it. (I think. Smith makes it hard to tell.) There are SO MANY THINGS TO LIKE about it. The characters are wooden; the writing is slow, choppy and melodramatic; the plot starts in the middle of nowhere, and from there seems to go deeper and deeper into nothingness. And a lot of people die violently. In short, it is classic pulp horror of the finest type. I really had to force my way through it except at the places where the BIG KILLER CRAB SCENES made me fall out of my chair laughing. I know you’ll like them as much as I did.

The book reminds me a lot of the darn-near-immortal Roger Corman film, Attack Of The Crab Monsters. Both storylines go pretty much like this: there were these nuclear tests, see, and these crabs got really big and ate some people. The end. The movie has all of those fine Corman touches – the scientists trying to outwit the creatures and solve the mystery of their appearance on the island, crab chases in underground caves, manly attempts to protect the pretty ichthyologist from the menace, etc. etc. Smith, however, doesn’t bother with such niceties in his killer crab books. There are no scientists out there with their test tubes and Geiger counters working on the problem. In fact, almost nobody in The Origin Of The Crabs knows the problem exists.

A probably-unique feature of this crab epic is that it starts in a Scottish peat bog. There is a whisper of doubt in my mind that even the most determined and adaptable ocean crabs could or would really venture into Scotland’s peaty interior. Smith doesn’t address this question, or any others you may have. In the best tradition of Fifties pulp horror and B-pictures, he just hints around that radiation is the cause…AND HE LEAVES IT AT THAT. Now – and I feel it’s important to ask this -- if you were looking for a Giant Crab Menace, isn’t a Scottish peat bog about the last place you’d try? Maybe the crabs thought of that, too. I wouldn’t put it past them.

In fact, these are some amazingly devious crustaceans. I, for one, couldn’t bash in the front entryway of a Scottish castle, eat everyone inside, and stroll away again without leaving a few telltale traces of my presence. Apparently there isn’t so much as a trail of bloody crab prints on the flagstones to show which way they went. What did they do, take showers before they left the scene? Even if they did, can’t these coppers afford a spray bottle of Luminol? Or a tracking dog? It all suggests that the crabs are smarter than the humans hunting for them.

You ladies all know your undersea sociology, I HOPE. Seems to me there is no crab of any size with a thought in her head of using a battering-ram technique to reach live food on the other side of a solid obstacle. Any crab worth her salt would climb up the outside walls, peel back the roof, then just walk downstairs. All I can think is that this is another technique the killer crabs use to throw investigators off the scent. I sure wouldn’t look at a scene of destruction like that and ask, "I wonder if crabs did all this?"

There are also some small gaps in the author’s grasp of basic physical laws. In our first encounter with the menace, a crab the size of a cat breaks a wooden pole used as the handle of a fish gaff...just by sitting on it. Sorry, Guy, crabs are just not that heavy for their size. Maybe the wood was rotten? Some of you have exoskeletons yourselves by now. Can you bash through stone walls without sustaining some injury to the carapace? Some of the crabs had big piles of debris fall on them in the course of the trashing-the-castle scene. You all know that when excited or injured, CRABS DROP LIMBS. Surely a discarded crab leg THE SIZE OF A WHALING HARPOON would excite some notice during the police investigation. Or maybe I’m wrong. You tell me. Of course, these crabs are such slyboots that they probably retrieved all their limbs and carried them off to elude detection.

Of course, most crabs don’t hunt live prey, period. They’re scavengers who don’t move fast enough to catch anything that isn’t already…um…"undergoing postmortem changes." Let us keep close the Crustacean Dining Doctrine: THE DEADER, THE BETTER. These crabs are working the piranhas’ side of the street, ganging up on a screaming live victim and reducing it to bloody ribbons in seconds. I’m not sure a screaming live victim would even taste right to a crab. And again, why would they tramp upstream to the interior of a peat bog, come ashore, and hike cross-country to prey on living animals of any kind?

The military-style organization of these crabs seems fairly unlikely to me. I’m no scientist, just a humble chapter leader in a global conspiracy against the human race, but forming a hunting party or putting together a demolitions operation seems beyond the powers of even the most heavily-irradiated crabs. At least the ones in my underwater lair NEVER EVEN DISCUSS IT.

You’ve been pinched by a crab a time or two, right? So have I. So you all know that crabs have blunt claws built for prying and pulling at things. What’s with these razor-sharp pincers that can dismantle a car and clip off a man’s limbs too fast for him to scream? WHERE CAN I GET SOME CLAWS LIKE THAT?

On the other hand, you’ve never been bitten by a crab, have you? Neither have I. THEY DON’T HAVE TEETH. What’s with the gnashing razor-sharp teeth on these crabs, huh? Huh? And have you ever taken a good look at a crab’s face? Different species have different fixed "expressions" built into their faceplates, but in the eyes you never see anything but the cheerful curiosity that makes us all love them as friends, relatives, household companions, and key players in our worldwide takeover scheme. The specimens in this story must be pretty funky-looking, to say the least. Smith has these crabs glaring, scowling, sneering, leering and fearing. Their eyes glow red! With hate! THAT I GOTTA SEE!

Here’s the same complaint you’ll hear me make about all these nature-run-amok stories. The crabs start by clearing the peat bog of all the waterfowl and such, then turn to domestic animals, but naturally, as soon as they’ve tasted human blood, they want nothing else for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You ask anyone who’s tried it. We’ll –- they’ll all tell you the same thing. Humans do not taste good. They are emergency rations to us, like muskrats are to humans. WHO COMES UP WITH THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?

Now, let us turn to the prey in this unlikely tale. Frankly, these people deserve to be eaten even more than the cardboard-cutout people in Meg. Here’s the cast of characters:

Early on we meet the harsh, crusty, ruthless, hard-hearted, money-grubbing, ambitious laird o’ the bog. Trust me, you won’t be sorry to see him go. Personally, I thought his demise could have been much nastier, or at least more lovingly described to give us a better sense of the horror. Sort of an anticlimax.

The female lead is a trip: a callous, seductive, coldly practical, sex-addicted gal who meets the fearless crab hunter on the trail of the menace, and at that moment transforms horribly into a demented love kitten whose only desire is to follow him into the chelicerae of doom. She cheerfully goes crab-hunting with him in the dark, unarmed, and doesn’t mind a bit when they are suddenly surrounded by giant arthropods intent on eating them. She feels, and I’m quoting the author here, "euphoria." Why? They’re about to die and go to heaven…together. Cue the violins. Cue the crabs. Yikes.

The male lead is the only man smart enough to solve the crab mystery, but dumb enough to forget to call in any professional assistance, even when he realizes what he’s up against. He knows perfectly well what’s happening to people in the bog, so he heads out there at night, when he knows the giant crabs are active, and he takes along his pregnant girlfriend, with not so much as a sharp stick to defend them. They get killed. DUH!

We also meet some amazingly casual police. Two well-heeled hunters disappear while duck-shooting in the bog, but when the police don’t find anything, they just sort of shrug and leave. There also isn’t any undue talk or investigation when a car is torn apart in the middle of a road near the bog and its driver carried off in small pieces. Not even the car-rental company raises a squeal about it.

We get to witness the antics of some amazingly dumb people who hear about the disappearances around Cranlarich Bog and, thinking hard, decide it means that the Loch Ness Monster has somehow moved to another lake. They set up Nessie spotting stations and so forth, and pretty soon every idiot in the country is in attendance. OK, where do I start? Can you think of a time when the Loch Ness Monster has even been clearly sighted in living memory? Can you imagine a Plesiosaurus humping across I-don’t-know-how-many miles of open ground to get to another lake? With NO WITNESSES? Why would she move after all this time, and then – another first -- go on a killing spree when she got there? Can you list the people who have been eaten by Nessie? Am I the only one who has a problem with this? What really makes me smile is that it would probably happen just like this in real life. You know what humans are like. We COULD send out operatives on a cross-country hike in poerfect safety, for this reason. I'm going to think about that for the future...

I, for one, would welcome a chance to see this story on film, by a director willing to play up the angle that THE CRABS ARE SMARTER THAN THE HUMANS, outwitting the police and the public easily, immune to poisons and dynamite, eating anyone they hanker for without paying a price. I also want to see someone design a special-effects crab with gnashing teeth and a face blazing with hate. Is anyone working on this worthy project? Is Ray Harryhausen free this week?

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I have just finished up Journey Of The Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest (by Sy Montgomery, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000), and APPALLED IS NOT THE WORD. I have already had sanctions laid on the operatives who were supposed to be watching her and giving the contents of her new book the old 'fish eye.'

FIRST, I need to tell the rest of you to pick up every copy you can, and keep picking them up as they appear on the shelves of your local stores. Special-order every copy in the warehouses, too. Cash transactions, please. My first thought of course was to have HQ buy every copy, but that would be a little revealing, for one thing, eh wot? For another, you need these copies to read for yourselves, so you can see how easy it is to publish a MAJOR SECURITY BREACH.

SECOND, we need to see that as few of these as possible make it into the home libraries of the landscum. This was a very difficult decision to make, because frankly I like the book and its strong message about preserving the fauna and flora of the Amazon Basin. It’s well-written, too, actually very hard to put down. For this reason I can’t begrudge Montgomery the considerable financial outlay of seeing to it that we maintain control of every copy. She gets as close as any shaved monkey could to fathoming our aquatic consciousness.

But there’s the rub, girls; she reveals FAR, FAR TOO MUCH about our projects, especially the way our operatives bring in new recruits. I mean, Holy Mackerel! I went through it with some of those tape flags, and in just the first half I found TEN (10) exact descriptions of the way the local operatives bring in new converts.

Montgomery relates one conversation after another between operatives and their prospective new recruits. In one case I was able to identify the operative, one I’ve known personally for years. OK, we knew that the local people have been keeping track of this activity forever, but they’ve pretty much taken it in stride and kept it quiet. THEY WANT TO JOIN US. Only now, in the Information Age, is somebody writing it down and putting into a mainstream paperback form that people are ACTUALLY GOING TO BUY AND READ. This would be more than fine if we were sure every reader was a willing recruit. SUCH IS NOT THE CASE. I am obviously much more tolerant of obscure anthropology texts full of disinformation that few read, and fewer bother to remember after they pass their midterms.

Montgomery also describes aquatic species that I, personally, was not in favor of revealing just yet to the general public. There is a different Zone Leader in charge of the operatives of the Amazon Basin, but Montgomery comes from MY territory and thus she is MY responsibility. This is what insty-kwik global travel capability and widespread literacy have done for us! Gripe, gripe, gripe, I know. Sometimes the disadvantages of modernity overwhelm me.

Our security leak describes the actual sales technique of our most successful operatives in the Basin, known locally as Botos or Bufeo colorado.

She describes the romantic liaisons between the Pink Dolphins and the Pink Monkeys they are working to infiltrate, and the children born of those liaisons.

She even describes our Lairs. "Those who visit never want to leave, because everything is more beautiful there," she says on page 18, and it gets worse from there, believe me.

Does anyone but me see the problem here?

You should also read it, ladies, for the graceful, highly-descriptive writing and the vivid images of a place many of us will never get a chance to visit. It’s a wonderful biodiversity spree for someone like me in the Great Lakes area, who’s pretty much restricted to hobnobbing with the Muskellunge, Sturgeon, and Walleye. In this book we have not only the familiar Piranha and Aruana -- available even in pet stores, right here in the frozen wastes of Michigan! -- but delightful fish such as the Tambaqui, like an immense Piranha, only with teeth just like a human’s. One specimen you’ll never see in the pet stores is the adorable little Candiru, or Pencil Catfish, with his impish sense of humor and startling method of infiltrating new recruits.

Let’s not forget the Pirarucu, a silvery, tarponlike eight-footer that poses a question for those who would understand us. She answers the question at the same time, by choosing to breathe surface air rather than using gills.

The book ranges widely over common and rare plant life, insects, mammalia, fungi, reptiles and birds, even touching on previous geological ages when proto-whales had flippers in front and hooves behind. This book is full of fun stuff like that.

The current crop of new, 'Generation X' recruits in particular need to read more natural history and generally bone up on what’s going on in the world, especially as it applies to conservation and wetland management and so on. Someday that will be your home, and WHO DO YOU WANT RUNNING IT? I want you to read this book for all these reasons. Life isn’t all video games, you know. Oh, you DIDN’T know? See what I mean? You need to read up, kiddo.

Another thing I like about this book is the way it gives me hope that the Naked Apes, in many cases, are really worth re-absorbing into the Piscine Collective Consciousness. This woman would make a terrific operative, even a Pod leader. Unfortunately, the DNA transfer just didn't take. That's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.

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Friday, February 24, 2006


INSPIRATION CORNER: Religious poetry from Rupert Brooke, of all people! A lesser-known piece by the Great War poet was handed to me by one of our European operatives at the last Yearly Worldwide Domination Refresher Conference, and only last week did I actually read it. In an apparent attempt to be sarcastic and irreverent, Brooke captured all the longing and paradox of the sublime faith followed by every one of our operatives. It even hints at the secret desire of every fish, and half-fish, to see "Land’s End" in her lifetime. It choked me right up:

Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! – Death eddies near –
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But Somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! Never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there.
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

I’m not going to belabor the delights of this poem by explicating it, line by line, the way I was taught to do in English class – too sacreligious -- but I must rate it highly, for its educational value, its value as a recruitment tool to turn more Humans into landfish, and because it is a darn good read.

One question that bothers almost all of us sooner or later is the difficulty in looking "normal,"
i.e. mammalian, while you’re halfway through the process that will allow you to enter the sea forever, with the landlocked part of your mission finally complete. (I AM SO READY!)

Well, let’s take the falling hair thing first. Even if you wear a turban or a shaved head reather than the Let It Be look of hair falling out in clumps, people will probably think you’re catching. There are advantages to the way the naked apes avoid their own if they suspect a nasty disease. Even with shaved heads very fashionable at the moment, our missing eyebrows make clear that we do not look this way by choice.

In my mind the real difficulty is that most of us don’t look remotely sick, even without hair. That green skin is so becoming, my dear…Luckily, most of the signs we display in the stages before we enter the water just DO NOT COMPUTE in the brains of the Naked Apes. If you tell them you have a nasty skin disease they’ll usually buy it. But then when they can’t find any such disease on the Internet you have more explaining to do. Never mind, finfolk – soon we’ll all be where we belong. DRY NO MORE!

These days people expect you to tell them about all your body functions if they think you’re going through chemo or have AIDS, but you do NOT need to answer intrusive questions of any sort. If they ask you something that’s out of line, you can also take a page from our own operative at St. Mary’s In The Woods and start crazytalking. I’ve seen her do this myself and aside from being 100% effective, it is a riot. After one good lecture about the way the little green men in the flying saucers made your hair fall out because you ate their intergalactic pancakes, they’ll never ask you again.

I’m here to tell you that wig technology is getting better every year – at least for women – and the men can still just put on a baseball cap that says "Wish You Were Hair" and be done with it. Young adults going through the change have made some very arresting visual statements by simply letting it be, refusing to shave off the remaining tufts, and in a few cases by dyeing each tuft a different color. Not great for high-level corporate job interviews, but we want converts from every walk of life.

NO HAIR TRANSPLANTS. DO NOT TRANSPLANT. We have lost 3 operatives already and disfigured many more. Some of them can’t work any more and may yet die of the effects. We are still trying to figure out why this happens.

A word about living in college towns. On the one hand it’s a great advantage to live openly in a place where you can look like absolutely anything. Wear a ‘Freak Pride’ t-shirt, display your fins aggressively, and you’ll soon have the local precinct of the P.C. Thought Police supporting you as a member of an Oppressed Population. ("I’m not exactly biracial," quips one of our outreach workers, a student at Duke.) I don’t have to tell you how easy it is from there to bring in new faces from the disaffected youth around you. On the other side of that coin you’ll find a whole lot of intrusive questions – and I mean a whole lot – so you need to be ready for those. Practice deflecting questions at your chapter meetings. This is not a suggestion. I mean it.

This is fine, but what about the scales? Matte scales are easy enough to cover with concealer, but nacreous and metallic scales can be a chore, and if you’ve got them I feel for you. I have them myself – metallic scutes, in fact -- but thus far they've appeared only in areas dictating that I can never again wear a string bikini -- yeah, yeah, I know you’re relieved; so are all my neighbors. For obviously-placed scutes, antennae, everted gills, and the kind of fins that don’t fold away invisibly, the news is good: YOU GO TO THE HEAD OF THE LINE to enter the Briny Lairs. There are openings at every single location and your arrival there can only speed your transformation, getting you in ahead of the others for the underwater-demolition detail and other elite duties such as the farming, culling and training of fully aquatic operatives.
For those still not ready to make that move we have placements available in large cities where you can look like anything, have a midnight-shift job of almost any sort and still have easy access to the Source. Of course swimming the local waters can be repellently nasty because the larger the city, the more polluted the waterway. Remember your local chapter’s charter-boat fund to get you out past the filthiest areas.

Of course we all need social lives even during the transformation, but that’s what the phony support groups are for. And some of you have perfectly good rec rooms at home. Invite the neighbors over to show them that in spite of your tragic illness you’re still – chuckle – a human being. Keep trawling for converts as long as you are drawing air, ladies. I don’t need to tell you how your options taper off in the networking department once you have become fully aquatic.

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Newfoundland Notes: Fish Conspiracy Operatives in The Frozen North

O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! (Bill Shakespeare)

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON Theatre Of Fish by John Gimlette, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2005

PLOT SUMMARY: Gee, I guess there isn’t one, exactly. A British lawyer who claims to be writing under his own name follows the route travelled by his great-grandfather, Dr. Eliot Curwen, around the towns of Newfoundland and on into the Labrador Peninsula. Gramps worked there for some time easing the suffering of the locals, evidently with mixed results. AS USUAL with literature written by the landscum who think they know something about FISH, it is highly entertaining to dope out where the ironies in this book truly lie. What is NOT USUAL AT ALL is the funky double-edged writing style of this author. There are many books and movies out there that read one way to a shaved monkey and quite another way to us, the landfish.
The astounding thing about this book is that Gimlette APPEARS TO HAVE WRITTEN IT THIS WAY INTENTIONALLY.

DON’T BELIEVE ME? Allow me to enlighten you with a few of his amazingly ambiguous quotes:

Page xix, under a reproduction of a Newfoundland postage stamp showing a heap of slaughtered operatives: "Poetically, if not geographically, the province owes its existence to fish…Half-mythical, half-piscatorial, it remained a trade secret for the next sixty-one years." Most of the important stuff going on there today is STILL a trade secret, thank you.

Page xx: "The colony’s owners – the great "Fishocracy…" NEED I SAY MORE?

Same page: "[A] Fish has always been at the heart of politics, the ruling genius." (I added the word "A" to the front of that sentence because otherwise it is ungrammatical.)

Page 27: "Occasionally, these creatures were seducers, like the half-fish, half-woman that went for Richard Whitbourne…His servant stepped in, cracked the thing over the head with an oar, and it swam off." Here we arrive at the very heart of the reason this model had to be discontinued by the front office. We just lost too many operatives this way with very little to show, especially once the shaved monkeys started in on their Age of Enlightenment. But I think it’s a testament to the greater wisdom of our R&D labs that even hundreds of years later, the mermaid’s power to seduce is still a legend. When P.T. Barnum displayed the front of a dead monkey stitched to the back of a dead fish and called the frightful object a ‘mermaid,’ hordes of people pressed their dollars on him so they could take a look. THEY WOULD DO THE SAME TODAY.

Page 49: "His lawyers, on the other hand, were struggling with a deadly riddle: when is a fish not a fish?" IF YOU ONLY KNEW! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Page 56: "…But mostly people sang...The boy was always a fisherman. Sometimes he got his girl but, usually, he drowned. For some reason, everyone found this funny and we all laughed although we couldn’t think why." YOU AND I KNOW that the laughter is started by the operatives in the audience, and they find it funny, ladies, because the boy who "drowns" gets a much more suitable girl than the one who returns ‘safely’ to dry land. OK, she has gills and she doesn’t cook, but before long HE WON’T MIND. Most amusing of all to me is this: I really think that on some level – a very dim level to be sure -- even the humans in the audience sense and appreciate what is going on here.

Page 74: "…Indentured fish-slaves." I can think about the multi-layered meanings of THAT phrase for HOURS.

Page 81: "To his friends, he was ‘The Codfather’…" Hoo boy.

Same page: "There was a tendency among politicians of all stripes…to put the interests of the fishermen – who were voters – above the interests of the cod, who weren’t." Here we see one of the obvious, inherent flaws in the Naked Ape political process, but would a Naked Ape reading that passage have any idea what he was looking at? NOT LIKELY.

Page 100: "After the failure of the early plantations, the fish took control of the law." IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. But again, I’d be amazed if Gimlette knew what he was saying when he put this down. Because if he did, he'd be ONE OF OUR OPERATIVES and he would be KILLED and EATEN for publishing a book full of security leaks the size of the floodgates on the Hoover Dam.

This list reaches less than a third of the way into the book, ladies. I’m sorry to say that most of the middle and the end of the travelogue strays far ashore into landscum political boringness. This includes a bunch of hairsplitting about what difference it makes to be Innu, British, French, Beothuk, Inuit or Canadian. YOU ALL LOOK THE SAME TO US. Of course there are quite striking differences, let’s be real. On one level, this book charts the destruction of a number of Fish-friendly, utterly sustainable cultures like that of the Innu by competing interests, in the form of Basques, Brits, the French and various other groups practicing things like gill-netting. On the other hand, the book charts the Fish invasion into areas of Europe and North America that NEVER WOULD HAVE HAPPENED without the intervention of commercial fishing and people like Clarence Birdseye. Gimlette takes note of all this without ever totally losing sight of the ones who really matter: the Cod. We see that as the Cod decline, the fortunes of Newfoundland shrivel up and blow away. This is an incredibly ambitious message for what is, on the surface, just a travel book.

I want you to remember that message, ladies: IF THE FISH AIN’T HAPPY, AIN’T NOBODY HAPPY. Gimlette even demonstrates this for us by way of contrast, describing on page 133 an amazing "natural festival" that the locals call "The Miracle Of The Caplin." The Caplins’ yearly love feast, still celebrated only because the Caplins have not yet been driven underground by overfishing, brings out every other species out of their hidey-holes to share in the fun. Even the landscum are invited. For a brief moment Gimlette draws away from the depressing vista of slapped-together lean-to huts and the drunken self-destruction of his own species, and lets us see the Whales, Dolphins, Cod, and Puffins meeting for the big party of the year. Even in this come-one-come-all setting, the landscum can only seem to stand at the shore and stare. Then, unfortunately, Gimlette goes back to human affairs, which seem to truly interest him and which is the strongest evidence for you new readers that this man is NOT an operative. (But, gee, maybe we should sign him up, huh?)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I could hardly put it down.


Dateline: Atlantic and Pacific Herring Shoals

Nov. 10th, 2005: National Geographic reveals that Herrings in both the Atlantic and Pacific communicate within the shoal by expelling gas from their rear ends. This startling finding first appeared in Biology Letters, a UK publication of some note. HOW DID YOU THINK WE COMMUNICATE, BY SEMAPHORE? I mean, give me a break.

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