Friday, March 29, 2013

Hidden Gems of Netflix: Changing Lanes

File:Changing Lanes poster.JPG

"Changing Lanes" came out in April of 2002, smack dab in between the self-important Oscar-bait films of the previous fall and the dumb and noisy action
flicks of the summer, and long enough ago to have slipped past. It received relatively favorable reviews, made a good box office showing, and then promptly disappeared. Its solid reputation could not save it from obscurity, and neither could its stars: Ben Affleck was about to enter a downward spiral as an actor (see "Paycheck" and the widely despised "Gigli") that he would only later pull out of as a director, and the always reliable Samuel L. Jackson performs in so many movies, both good and bad, that another appearance by him is hardly a major cultural event.

However, this film should not be forgotten. It tells an excellent story of a very unusual sort for Hollywood: one with real moral issues on its mind, issues which it can articulate well. It is also an engaging and effective thriller, boasting Affleck's best performance and possibly Jackson's as well.

The premise is as follows: A successful lawyer and a desperate dad become entangled in each other's lives after a fender-bender in hairy New York traffic. This one small event sparks a horrible day of thoughtless cruelties and reckless reprisals from both of them as the veneer of polite society falls away. Running late for an important case, ambitious lawyer Gavin (Affleck) hands the weary insurance salesman Doyle (Jackson) a blank check. Doyle protests; he wants to handle things the right way. But Gavin drives off, leaving Doyle, whose car is inoperable, stranded and unable to get to a custody hearing—in the same courthouse!—in time to prevent an unimpressed judge from granting custody of the man's two sons to Doyle's ex-wife. It only gets worse from there for these two mismatched enemies. And this all happens on Good Friday.

 See? It doesn't even sound that good. In fact, it sounds dangerously high-concept and ready to teeter over into contrived and schematic what-ifs or tacky literalism. I set about watching it the first time expecting a by-the-numbers revenge thriller that would probably throw in some pseudo-profound babbling about fate and chance and being not-so-different, you and I. But director Roger Michell, working off an excellent script from Michael Tolkin, Chap Taylor, and Anthony Picharillo, has crafted a much more compelling film, a moral thriller centered on two entirely believable characters who are neither heroes nor villains, but men stuck with having to make increasingly harsh moral choices that have likewise escalating impacts on their lives and those of the people around them.

Affleck often stumbles around over-earnestly in roles that don't do him any favors. (He was the weakest link in the ordinary but likeable "Sum of All Fears," even though he was first-billed.) He's not cut out for to be an action hero; he's not magnetic enough to skate by just on charisma as a leading man; and he's too bland to be a character actor. But here he is handed a complex role and fits himself to it ably. Gavin is slick and self-confident, a man with a buried conscience who is all too comfortable in the ethically dubious situations his job puts him in. As the bad Good Friday progresses, however, and he keeps crossing moral lines, Affleck does a masterful job of showing Gavin's growing unease with himself and incredulity at the mess he has gotten into. "Is there any other way?" he asks at one point. "Sure," says the man with his finger poised above a mouse-click that will wreak havoc on Doyle's finances. "Call him up and just be nice to him." But that would mean humbling himself, and by that point both characters are already acting out of spite and anger. Affleck sells both sides—the doubt and the arrogance.

Jackson on the other hand has long been one of my favorite actors. He elevates whatever he is in. He was revelatory in the stylish "Unbreakable" and his perfect delivery single-handedly saved the ending of that film from potentially groan-worthy dialogue. However, he is admittedly an actor who has a basic type he often returns to: the loud, angry, charismatic, menacing troublemaker who swears up a storm but has a core integrity beneath the rage and the bluster. He perfected this role as Jules in "Pulp Fiction." We see some of that fire here. There is a moment where he is telling a story and his eyes lock into a stare and his voice goes flat, and it is chill-inducing. But overall Doyle is almost the opposite of Jackson's typical role: he is a weary and cautious everyman, a man of integrity who strives to be a responsible father but is limited by his history of mistakes and battered by the grinding, mundane details of modern life until the quiet rage and desperation long coiling inside him is finally loosed in a cacophony of raw emotion. And when Jackson does show that rage, it is all the more potent and frightening for having been hidden so long beneath Doyle's meek and patient exterior. It is followed by trembling amazement at how far he has allowed himself to go, and a weary regret. Jackson's Doyle is one of the most memorable, believable characters I've encountered in film; while watching him I feel like I know exactly who he is, in the way usually only possible after having lived with a character for a long time in a novel or television series. Every time he comes up against a hard choice, I desperately want him to make the right decision, but every wrong decision he makes is perfectly motivated and perfectly understood.

Jackson's performance makes Doyle the more sympathetic of the two characters, but he is also a recovering alcoholic on the edge both of falling off the wagon and also, more importantly perhaps, of failing as a father. One of the film's strongest moments is when his AA sponsor (William Hurt) calls Doyle out on his flimsy excuses. Hurt is the first among equals in a uniformly excellent (and perfectly cast) cadre of supporting actors, including Amanda Peet, Kim Staunton, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, and a splendidly creepy yet ordinary Dylan Baker. Special mention should also be made of the fantastic Sydney Pollack, who as Gavin's boss plays a powerful, intelligent, and self-righteous man who justifies himself with the notion that, "At the end of the day, I think I do more good than harm." This is the central line of the screenplay for me, an exposure of a very commonplace type of moral code as in fact a compromise. It's this "I'm a good person" logic that the literate and tightly-constructed script deviously interrogates and undermines. At "the end of the day" (or life), is "more good than harm" good enough?

If I had to name a fault with "Changing Lanes," I could perhaps point out that it is occasionally too obvious with its parallels between the situations and actions of Doyle and Gavin (both have confrontations with their respective wives, who are wise to their patterns of behavior). Or I could complain that the ending seems a touch too upbeat, and risks undermining the moral horror story that came before. But these are nitpicks that I won't dwell on, because so much in this film—from the writing to the directing to the acting—is head-and-shoulders above 99 percent of what crops up in this genre, and in Hollywood in general.

"Changing Lanes" is a thoughtful and intelligent picture, full of fleshed-out characters and bravura speeches that cut to the quick, a criminally underrated work that deserves to become a modern classic.

"Changing Lanes" (R) ***** (Available on Netflix Instant)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Office of Information – Restricted Resident Division
Report of Resident Safety Monitor Rudd ‘Door’ Burby
            My gracious respects, an honor.  An honor, most respected equal.
            So, resident Will, um, well, he spends his time buildin’ elaborate structures out of playing cards.  Yea-up, playing cards.  Paper ones, naturally.  Yeah, we gave him a deck.  It amazes Door how Will can balance them one on top of each other, or leaning, counterweighted just so, never tumblin’ till he wants them to.  Don’t mind Door talking in the third person.  Door is “me”, OK?  They call Door that ’cause he’s so stinkin’ wide; yeah, like a door.  But Will, he can just sit there doin’ it for hours and hours, you know?  Like he’s got nothing better to do.  Haha.  Yeah, Door’s quite the joker, ain’t he?  See, Will use to look up at the safety cameras every now and then, and Door’d wonder if maybe he knew it was him up there monitorizin’ him.  Shouldn’t know, though; shouldn’t be any way for him to know, as Door can figure.  Door’s never mentioned it, for sure.  But, that was more “used to,” and it’s a thing not happ’nin’ anymore.
So Door watches resident Will puttin’ together these houses of cards, and Door realizes, eventually, not right away, you know, but eventually, that although Will builds lotsa different structures, he always uses the cards in the deck we gave him in the same order, you follow?  Like a code or somethin’.  Like this:  first he takes one joker and he throws it, like as if he’s pretendin’ like he’s still all mad, huh, and it bounces off that padded wall and lands just to the left of the door, face down.  And then, he takes the other joker, and he does the same, ’cept he does so it lands just on the right side of the door, and it lands face up.  Weird?  Yeah, and Door has to watch him do this every stinkin’ day.  Now how can he do that so precise?  He certainly does know how to throw his cards.  But once he finished with the two jokers, real particular, he starts on the deck proper, so to speak.  Puts out the ace of diamonds an’ the ace of hearts, and leans them against each other, fine and proper.  That’s how it always starts, ev-er-eh single time, but then it changes from there.  You know, ’cause like Door said before, Will don’t build the same thing twice, not so long as Door’s been watchin’ him, least.  But the order’s always the same.  He works through the face cards of the hearts, then two through six of the spades, then the face cards of the clubs, then the ace of spades, then the queen of spades, then jack down through seven of spades, then the king of spades, then all the rest of the clubs, ’cept the ace, mindya, in what seems like a real freaky random order, and then ten down through two of hearts, and then the even numbers of diamonds and then the odd ones, a-and, las of all, he puts the ace of clubs on top of whateva structure he’s gone an’ built, and sometimes these things are half the width of the cell.  Honest truth, Door swears it.  Oh, and then he pulls out the queen of hearts, and the whole thing goes to the floor.
Alrightae, you want more particular?  Instances?  Ok, ooookay.  Lemme think a moment.  That’s right, you straighten that collar yours.  Heh-heh.  Yes, respected equal, okay.   Was the time, was the time, when, eh . . . when he described to Door how he used to drink in “establishments,” ’fore the Glorious Liberation.  Said to Door, “Door, listen to me very carefully as I explain this to you:  I would step into the bar, order something and sit down with it at my table in the back corner where I could see everyone and I would slowly sip my drink.  I knew exactly at what point it would start to give me that fuzzy feeling and I would always stop right before it hit me.”
And Door thought, “That’s impossible,” but what he said was, “An’ how’d that feel, Will?”  Door finds askin’ the resident how he feel can do a mighta good, times, let ’em know two things a’once:  ya care, you know?  So not disadvantagin’ them.  And you’re checkin’ up, keepin’ track, watchin’ like, and haven’t forgot ’em.
And Will looked at Door with dose wanderin’ eyes of his, and he said, “I shouldn’t answer that question.  Because you don’t really want to know.  You’re just asking to fill air space.  You and I, we don’t interact.  We just pretend to interact.  But to fulfill my need to feel that I’ve communicated, let out something of my soul, so as to avoid the oblivion of being ignored by history, I will tell you.  It felt like I was in control.  Alcohol couldn’t touch me; couldn’t control me.  I controlled it.  And I felt big for a moment; like I controlled everything.  Illusion.  Chimera.”
And, wouldn’t you know it, he wouldn’t say a word more after that.  Looked off into the distance, ’cept of course there wasn’t a distance to look off into, heh heh, but he was trying, and Door just gave him his nourishment injection for the day and went off and locked the door behind me and all, of course, but the rest of the day, that little speech of his just kept on runnin’ through Door’s head.  Couldn’t forget it, much as woulda liked to.  Be sitting at the desk watching Will pacin’ bout on the big screen and feel like was hearin’ that quiet, harsh voice of his again, talking on about control and illusion.
But, true be told, respected equal, I know what you’re looking for, here.  Looking for Door to tell you if Will could be the one in particular that we’ve been looking for all along.  But true be told, Door don’t see a resemblance to the old footage.  Neither in face nor in attitude.  Yeap, of course, most equal, Door knows that the countryside’s been searched thorough.  So he must be in here, huh?  That the line of reason?  Well, Door doesn’t say Door don’t agree with it.  Just it’s like this:  the Disruptor was all confi wasn’t he, all boom and bluster?  But this fellow, this Will, he’s a Cerebral for sure, and not un-dangerous Door won’t disagree, but he strikes Door as more of a wannabe, you know?  He’s got so many stories in his head, and he doesn’t right know which one he’s part of, Door’s thinkin’. 
Yes?  Yes, equal that is correct.  He did tell me a half again story ’bout the Disruptor, yes he did.  Well, okay.  It was like this:  Door comes in, you know, and Will’s sitting there in the far corner with his legs stretched out into the middle of the cell and he’s shufflin’ that card deck and eyeing it like it’s the last emotion-shot there is, and Door gets out his nourishment injection and try to lope over easy and make some sound brushin’ the door as comes through so don’t startle him, you know, but Will looks up, very knowin’-like, and he goes and says, “Not today, Door.”
So, Door’s a bit startled ’imself, as he’s sure you can appreciate, and so he asks, “Well, come on, Will, as blinky why not?”
And Will stops shufflin’.  And he says, “Let me tell you a story, Door.”
And Door think-checks his chrono and finds he’s actually forward of schedule anyhows, and he closes the door ’hind him for safety’s sake and says to Will, “’Kay, go ahead.”
And Door can’t be blamed if and he don’t remember all the ’xact words that resident Will used, but he started like and this:  “The Disruptor.”  And he pauses like, for dramatic ’fect, Door’s thinkin’, and he then he on-goes, “You and your people, your GL, and your Opportunity Advantagement, you got the Disruptor wrong.  He’s utterly unselfish.  What he seeks to break is the Mistake.”  And he went on like that, you know, with that kinda rhe-toric, for a little while, and Door stands there, and he nods, ’cause you wanta kinda lettem think you’re symp, you understand them, but then it was like Will ’membered he was meant to tell a story, not go spoutin’, and so he sits up straighter, and he looks Door in the face, kinda bold-like, and he gets this glintin’ behind his eye, you know what I mean?  And he says to Door, “The Disruptor once went six days without his injections, to let his friends have them.”
Here’s that when Door interrupts, askin’, “Friends?  Don’t you mean lovers?”
But, “No,” Will says, all dramatic like.  “I mean friends. Understand this:  the Disruptor believes that not all close relationships are, or must be, or should be, sexual in nature.  He looks to the example of history, the real history, as it was known before your Glorious L, and sees that friendship, mutual unselfish assistance and kindness, was much of what made the Old Nations work.  The death of friendship made your GL almost inevitable.  But that,” and there he paused again, kinda put-on art like, and he says all slowly, “that was not even my point.  The Disruptor knew how to sacrifice, and that,” he put his hand over his chest, “is my point.”
So, that’s probably what you wanted to know about, ain’t it, ’spected equal?  That was his only moment of Disruptor talk, though Door supposes there’re other moments wouldn’t meet anti-standards of hate or dogma rhetoric.  Talked ’bout failures, times, too, respected equal; how recipients weren’t as happy as they pretended to be, how “shortages” (his word not Door’s, I ’umbly point out) existed, and the what-like.  But Door knows for fact, from talkin’ to love-sharer of mine who efforts in this division as well, that the resident she watches also has such talkin’, times, and says others as well.
. . .  Well, you’re welcome, most ’spected equal, and always a pleasure for Door to be of serv-- er, to assist an equal of such great and honored equality as yourself, most equal.
Oh, really?  Door ain’t sure . . . means, is that nessecary?  Might not like it, Will, and sure and you won’t get straight answers out of him talkin’.  No, Door wasn’t suggestin’.  Yes, m’spected.  Uhum.  Door will do that.  And, please remember Door favorably, if his name does ’appen to come up in conversatin’ with, eh, other most equals.

Office of Information – Restricted Resident Division
Responses of Restricted Resident William Rethhouse
            Now that was an abrupt “question”, wasn’t it?  It that your style now, point blank?  I’m afraid it just will not work, not on me.  I’ve told your “equals” hundreds of times, I am not the Disruptor.
Grah!  Please, don’t do that again.  It’s a victory for me every time you hurt me, you know.  It proves how hypocritical your system has become.  It started well enough, of course, but you know what they say about noble intentions.  So by all means, let fly.  In the name of love, yes, hit me!  “Reconcile” me.  I have been offensive.
Graaaah!  I bite iron.  Physical pain shall do nothing to me.  The defense of old, infirm liberty is stronger than you give credit.  Beat and get blood, but our veins run deeper than you know in many bodies.  You shall not reach our heart by breaking skin.  Don’t sneer!  It’s unbecoming.  Pretend rather that you are posing for one of those Free Equity posters.
Graaah . . .  Don’t bother hitting me.  Uh.  I’m merely attempting to save you some trouble.  Physical abuse will accomplish nothing.  And I’m afraid I’m already rather broken psychologically.
Why of course I’ll answer some questions.
I am aware of the trouble the Disruptor has been causing.
Hmm.  Well, in my opinion, he serves a proper end with incorrect means. . . .        I mean it.
Because the extremity of them destroys any potential yield of recognition of his validity or legitimacy.
Well, that was a sudden change in direction.
Excellent question, actually.  What is the harm?  You’ve already eliminated them from your dire equation, anyway, haven’t you?  Oh, unaware, is it?  Well, I’ll get to it then.  Glean what you will.  I imagine your profiling books are already pretty full.  Enough to stock an Information department shelf, probably.
It was just before the endemic when I last saw them.  Me and some friends, (yes, there’s that subversive, offensive word again!) were at a concert.  You know, music.  Old days music, not like the post-ethnic stuff your unity-stations play now.  I received an alert, and my wife (long live such subversive concepts!) wanted me home for an early supper.  My two sons were there, eight and twelve and boisterous as ever.  The meal was delicious.  Maybe some of the last potatoes ever to be harvested and eaten.  I’ve almost forgotten what that was like, chewing and tasting.  I remember Lisa was quoting from a movie she’d seen at her cousin’s u-port half the supper hour, and explaining the various explosions in it, but I was always less interested in movies than my wife.  A rebel against the repressive mainstream society, I think it was.  Movies like that were allowed back then, although I daresay there wasn’t too much actual thinking done by the characters other than how to escape various situations.
Yes, yes, note that down in my file.
I remember we laughed, all of us, at various wonderfully funny and nonsensical things Toby said.  The news wasn’t on.  There was rioting in some of the streets, I knew from the broadcast on the way home, but inside the home security field, we felt safe.  Electric lights were still warm colors sometimes back then, not the cold white everything is now.  The heat was on, as high as we could afford it, and we were all wearing gloves and scarves.
Tell me this, master MRE, why can’t we have that back?  My time aboard the Solidarity was hellish, true be told, and this is worse.  If you want, I can tell you more stories about the Disruptor.  That’ll give you the evidence you want, won’t it?  You’ll be able to cite in the Unity Courts and in your Information reports.  Your associates and myriad love-sharers will be much impressed, I’m sure, that you figured it out.  The protesters and the resisters will be disheartened, surely, and that’s what matters most, admit it.  But I’m not the Disruptor.  And you, personally, will have to live the rest of your very most equal life with the precious knowledge that you, most respected, were wrong.  And soon enough, I suspect, the Disruptor will do something else out in the world, that you won’t be able to deny, and you’ll have to admit you disposed of the wrong person.
Wait, you’re getting up?  You’re leaving?  How can you do this?  After all we’ve been through!  Will I ever see you again?  Oh my.  Best of luck writing your report for your more most equals!

Office of Information – Restricted Resident Division
Recommendation, based on Analysis and Summary of Restricted Resident and “Disruptor” Suspect William Rethhouse by Most Respected Equal Nolan Teague
            Having spoken with both the resident and his Resident Safety Monitor, it is my informed conclusion that said resident, William Rethhouse, is undeniably one and the same as the long-sought unstable, degenerate, seditious, and anti-social Disruptor, out-standing insurgent in armed and violent antagonistic and hostile opposition to Tranquility, Unanimity, and Love Unfettered, may they ceaselessly direct us.  As a precursory perusal over the preceding texts, trans-corded directly from standard equipment issue 4.5mh audio-nets, will confirm, we have numerous exceptional and indubitable reasons to surmise that the resident in question was intimately, thoroughly, and systematically involved with and implicated in deviant, aberrant, and violently insensitive and disruptive activity, in unprecedented defiance to the Unanimity of Tranquility, prior to and (auspiciously, for only a succinct interlude of time) shortly subsequent to the Glorious Liberation.
            Please make careful note of the following phrases from the text of the prisoner:  “recognition [the resident’s] of his [the Disruptor’s] validity”, “infirm liberty” (illegal word pairing), “he serves a proper end”, “dire equation”, “various explosions”, “repressive mainstream society”, “rioting”, “hellish”, “disheartened”.
            It is my unwavering estimation that if these phrases are run through a proper and well functioning Subconscious Analysis Streamliner that the results will be both steadfastly indicative of offense and unflinchingly unequivocal in their blatancy.    That is aside from the obvious and rampant sarcasm and extremely and repetitively insensitive disrespect employed in referring to all things correlated even in the most marginal manner to our essential precepts, these aberrant attitudes occurring consistently throughout the consultation.  The Commission of Resident Hosts and Caretakers has stated to me categorically, in a document which I can provide if necessary, that they are in full agreement with my prediction of these forthcoming results.
With the consideration of the safety of the Restricted Resident Facility, and the other Residents and their Caretakers therein, foremost in my consciousness, I recommend, with the most suitable and customarily natural sorrows at this regrettable necessity, and with the opinion of the Resident Health Overseer in unwavering agreement with my own, the immediate implementation of the following procedures (at the following levels):
-Retraction of Potentially Detrimental Memory  (thorough)
-Tranquility and Continuity Awareness Enhancement  (durable)
-Personality Optimization for Affirmative Societal Contribution  (comprehensive)
to be performed on the person of respected equal and current Restricted Resident William Rethhouse, individuation # k8i3*-/th6.
I am Tranquil, Unanimous, and Loving in my optimistic anticipation that this shall prove to be the lasting conclusion of all unconstructive and ingenuous actions on the part of the “Disruptor”, whose dubious designation I now feel free to put in quotations, and whose pacification I have no cause to doubt will constitute a definitive step of affirmative progress in furthering the complete restoration and preservation of the Unanimity of Tranquility.
Most Respected Equal  Nolan Teague  , Office of Information, RRD

1 4m th3 m4n wh0 wr1t3s th3 num63rs 0n sku11s

              What is the difference between numbers and words?

What is the difference between 30129487324631205 and ghgh1dnbgmjdgvnu1? What is the difference between 7 and seven?  Between ~100,000 and approximate1y one hundred thousand?  Between the number 1 and the 1etter 1?

I often te11 peop1e I meet that I write for a 1iving:

            I write a 1ot for my job.

            0h, that sounds nice.

            We11, it’s not mean.

*po1ite 1aughter* 0R *genuine 1aughter* 0R *exasperated but forbearing smi1e*


So do you enjoy working with words?

I don’t work with words.

You don’t work with words?

I don’t work with words.
I work with numbers.
I write numbers on sku11s.

0n sku11s?

Yes, on sku11s.
For the government.
I write the numbers that go on sku11s, for the government.


They do not ask me if I enjoy working with numbers.

You get it now.  But you don’t quite now whether to be intrigued or to be disturbed.  0r to worry about me.  Don’t worry about me.  You knew that numbers were put on sku11s, of course.  You never rea11y thought, thought, though, about the person who put them there, in a si1ver room (rhymes with tomb) tremendous1y far underground, surrounded by sku11s.  Someone has to put numbers on the sku11s, it is necessary, so that they can be categorized, and then stored for future use.  And that wou1d be me.  The someone.  Don’t worry about me.  I a1ways te11 peop1e not to worry about me.

Don’t worry about me, I say.

Why not?                                0R                   Why wou1d I?

Because I’m fine.                    0R                   Because I work with sku11s.

But you work with sku11s.     0R                   So?

I don’t get depressed.             0R                   I might get depressed.
Around death a11 day!           0R                   Because you work with sku11s?

Death doesn’t depress me.      0R                   Death might depress me.

It wou1d depress me.             0R                   *shrug*  None of my business.

*shrug*  I’m not you.             0R                   True.  So don’t worry about me.

I think I have to1d enough peop1e.  It must be that peop1e know not to worry about me now.  It has been a 1ong time since I had a visitor who did not wear sung1asses.  The government men a11 wear sung1asses.  I used to wonder why.  There is some secret about their eyes, I to1d myse1f, to pass minutes, or parts of minutes.  There is some secret about their eyes, which they do not want me to see.
Maybe their eyes are exceptiona11y b1oodshot from a11 the staring that they do at the enormous computers on their desks, and at the diminutive computers that they embrace in their hands.
Maybe their eyes are horrendous1y ug1y.  Maybe they are frightening.  Maybe they are the eyes of tigers, or of devi1s.  I have never seen a tiger, so I am not sure that they exist, but I have imagined a devi1 that 1ooked 1ike a tiger.  Maybe it is better that we do not see those government eyes.  Maybe they wear the sung1asses for our good.  For my good.
0r maybe they a11 just want to 1ook 1ike rock stars.
Maybe a11 their eyes have a power to see into sou1s, and once one got a g1impse of mine, when he popped in for a moment, and it was so ug1y and wrink1ed that he warned a11 the others.  Be sure you wear your sung1asses, your sou1g1asses.  Sun.  Sou1.  The Spanish the word for sun is “so1,” pronounced exact1y the same as “sou1.”
Maybe their eyes are b1ind.  And they don’t want anyone to know.
0r maybe they don’t have eyes.

The government
men                                         c495309
or women                                c088957
or errand boys                         c195307
fresh out of gov-ed—
the government peop1e           cG05673701

do not ta1k to me:

            Government ________ enters

            Hey-0!  Good morning.   
0R    . . . evening.    0R    . . . afternoon.

            No response.  I try to read in its expression whether I guessed correct1y.

Another batch?
Not too damaged, I hope.
Somebody . . . shou1d te11 the C1eaners to be more . . . carefu1.
How are things up top?
Easy now--  0K, I’ve got ’em.
And now I wi11 sign.  0f course I’11 sign.
And you wi11 sign.
Davin 443 Lee, huh?
1   1    1    1   1
And nice to see you.

            The government retreats.

            I run after the government.  I press a 1etter 5454-921 into the hands of the                           government.

If you don’t mind.  They’11 be worried about me otherwise.  I get rep1ies most 7465.  Even though they’re 83-211.  And please te11 the 921 censors a11 the promotions are schedu1ed, they don’t have to try so hard.

            The government gives no assurances, a1though I know from experience
the 1etter 5454-921 wi11 be de1ivered, hopefu11y before the next 7465.                  0therwise my fami1y 4q-3587-950 wi11 indeed worry.


            0ne day I asked myse1f the question that nobody asked me, even back when I had visitors who wou1d ask me questions, who wou1d worry, or not worry.  I asked myse1f:  Do you enjoy working with numbers?  I was on my 6510 break.  Do you enjoy working with numbers?

            Do I enjoy it?

            Do you enjoy it?  Do. You. Enjoy. It?

            It?  Working with numbers.

            Do 50 you 902 enjoy 34709 it 17? 2

            What kind of question is that?

            You’re sta11ing.

            We11, you’re being ridicu1ous.

            Do you ever get tired of working with numbers?

            Get tired?  0f course I get tired.

            Get tired of it.

            You are si11y.

            I am si11y?  You are on1y ta1king to me because you are bored out of your mind.

            We11, what shou1d I do?

            Why not write?

            What?  Isn’t writing what makes me bored?

            There is writing, and there is writing.

            0kay, I to1d myse1f, most1y to get him to shut up.  I’11 write something.  How about a poem?  Nice and short.  It wi11 not overf1ow my break.  No harm done.  I heard no objections.  I attempted to find some paper.  I fai1ed severa1 times, and then remembered the government re1ease form for the sku11s, a T546-r.  I was start1ed that it came to mind as paper, because it was government, and was somewhat akin to sacred, something akin to unbreakab1e, or at 1east invio1ab1e.  But I found that the back sheet was b1ank:                                                                                             Wou1d it hurt to tear it off?
It didn’t, in fact.                                                                     Sti11, I had startled myself.
I 1ooked around.                                                                    I needed something so1id.
            I used to have a tab1e in here, unti1 9384-5600 or thereabouts.  I didn’t anymore, so I had to ho1d the sku11s in my hands whi1e I examined them—ho1d them carefu11y whi1e I put the BrandStamp74 to that particu1ar spot on the upper forehead.  About the hair1ine, I sometimes thought.  Then again, that depends.
            0f course.  The sku11s themse1ves were so1id.  Most of them.  They were hard.  They were bone, they shou1d be.
            I wrapped the torn off back sheet of paper, now my sheet of paper, around a sku11, a particu1ar1y thick, so1id sku11, #5473, my sku11, we11, not my sku11, but a sku11 under my authority.  The midd1e of the sheet stretched across the top of the dome, the parieta1 bone (02h).  I hooked the ragged edges of the sheet under the edge of the jawbone (05h) and in the eyeho1es, between the fronta1 bone (01h) and the zygomatic bone (07h), so that it wou1d be steady as I wrote.
            I wrote my poem, on the paper, on the sku11:

And I wi11 spend the afternoon
Making faces at the moon,
And after, using most1y spoons,
I’11 fight away the grey raccoons
That tried to make my faces gone
Which broke the night and saved the dawn
That made the truth 1ook 1ike a beach
Too simp1e for the wor1d to teach,
And then I’11 spend my yesterdays
Staring at the ocean’s haze
And when the sea has 1aid her down,
I’11 spend the evening out of town.

            Then I put the thick sku11 back and went back to my work.

 *** (elsewhere) ***

            I am a fighter.  A fighter, and an infiltrator.  I work in Information.  It is not as boring as it sounds, of course.  Especially not for me.  I conduct missions.  Mostly by myself.  Missions.  The very word shimmers with latent excitement.

My head is not a11 my own.  My sku11 is not my own.  0r not a11 the way my own.  It is part1y my enemies.  #5473.  When enemy fire damaged my head, it was a carefu11y extracted portion of his thick sku11, part of the top 1obe, or whatever they ca11 it, that was used to rep1ace the broken bones.  Part of my enemy is inside me now.
            This is what I am thinking as they keep hitting me.  B1ow after b1ow on my
shou1ders, and I think I am breaking.  I can no 1onger think of other things.  I have run out.  And then I stumb1e from one b1ow and mess the next one up for my questioner.  It was aimed to break my nose, I think, but instead it grazes my sku11.  No, not my sku11.
My enemy’s sku11. 

I think, I have got them to strike each other at 1ast.

            Fire tears at the edges of my sku11, and there is something dancing back behind my eyes.  My questioner steps back; he has seen something strange in my face.

            As if from nowhere I begin reciting poetry that I do not know:

And I wi11 spend the afternoon
Making faces at the moon,
And after, using most1y spoons,
I’11 fight away the grey raccoons
That tried to make my faces gone
Which broke the night and saved the dawn
That made the truth 1ook 1ike a beach
Too simp1e for the wor1d to teach,
And then I’11 spend my yesterdays
Staring at the ocean’s haze
And when the sea has 1aid her down,
I’11 spend the evening out of town.

            Whi1e I am reciting they just stare at me.
            When I am done they just stare at me.
            It is as if I have become something e1se.
            They do not know what to make of it.                                               I repeat it.

            They smi1e hesitant1y.  Perhaps they think they have broken me.  But fear is s1ipping out their guarded eyes.  They frown.  Perhaps they wonder if it is a code.  0r a prophecy.  They 1eave.

            Whenever they come back in, I repeat it.  I never miss a word.  It is engraved on my mind.  It unnerves them.  I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it, I repeat it.

            They exchange me for one of our captives.