© 2007-2015 Michael A. Kominsky
all rights reserved
– Prequel –
On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being
Outshines every star
You’ll feel part of every mountain sea and shore…
– On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) – Alan Lerner/Burton Lane
Moody Seaport, Washington State
October 10, 2001 Thursday 3:01 pm – 1 Kilometer from Ground Zero
A perfect Pacific Northwest Fall day…brimming with promise and expectation. So clear, Mount Baker, the great alabaster volcanic sentinel looming on the horizon is caressible.
Maple, Cottonwood and Alder are ablaze with riotous slashes of crimson, copper and rust against a backdrop of the same unsuspecting super-saturated cyan sky of September 11, 2001.
The Blue Beemer convertible top is down when the beautiful and bright mother of two, Professor Jessica Kennedy-Allison, drives away from the conspicuously opulent Lakefront McMansion on Cascadia Lake—for the last time.
Sample Chapter – 1 –
Those who do not follow willingly…are dragged by the gods.
– Ancient Roman proverb–anonymous
Moody Seaport, Washington State
October 10, 2001 Thursday 3:10 pm – .5 Kilometers from Ground Zero
Jessie Allison has been racing around all day in preparation for tonight’s VIP affair. It’s a beautiful Indian Summer day…she opts to park the requisite au courant Range Rover SUV of the arrivste, and take the convertible, a 2000 BMW 323Ci, to pick up her twin daughters Meghan and McKenzie from the prestigious and very exclusive Arcadia school.
The twins love riding in the backseat with the top down. They squeal with delight as their father Jack, District Attorney of Cascadia County, takes a corner hard, experiencing the lateral “Gs” of a roller-coaster. Because the Beemer, with the ‘DA BMR’ plate is Jack’s toy, she seldom gets to drive it.
After picking up the girls she is running late, and afternoon traffic is starting to get heavy.
She punches in her husband’s mobile number, “Honey…I’m stuck in traffic here…so frazzled, I forgot the wine…don’t have time to stop and pick it up. Can you stop on the way home from work?”
“Dammit, Jessie…I got so damn much on my mind…getting ready for this dinner…why the hell did you leave this to the last minute? I shouldn’t have to tell ya this is a B-F-D for me…uh us. Just handle it!” John says with a bite.
“Okay…okay…sorry…just thought…never mind. If I take the shortcut…the Moody Creek overpass, I can probably bypass some of this traffic.”
“And pick something with an expensive sounding French name…at least 10 years old.” Click.
She could not have anticipated the road construction zone at the overpass…or…
She is immediately stuck in the afternoon bumper to bumper traffic idling on the middle of the overpass that crosses Moody Creek. Impatiently drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, she is waiting for the light to change. Dammit, this light is taking an eternity…I’ve got so much to get done before tonight...as the forces of fate are silently starting to compound.
Picking up her children from school is a pleasant diversion from running errands and frantic shopping all day for tonight’s important affair. She listens distractedly as the girls, immaculately dressed in identical brightly colored floral print jumper suits, with matching day packs, share with great gravity, the daily minutiae so breathlessly important to a sixth grader.
“Mommy…do you know what that Maya Tarnowski did today?” says Meghan.
“Well…I’ll tell ya mommy…she brought her lunch in paper bag…a yucky paper bag!” chimes in McKenzie finishing her sister’s sentence as twins often do.
“And she was wearin’ some like sooo yesterday…totally uncool…like Walmart…thing.” Meghan finishes.
“Well, not everyone is born with a proper sense of fashion…in some it must be cultivated.” Jessica patiently counsels.
“Mommy…what’s a Muslim? Amber Ashton said that Maya’s mom is a Muslim…and that all Muslims are terrorists.” MaKenzie says.
“Hmmm…well…Muslims don’t believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior as we do. Even though they’re different from us and don’t believe in the Bible like we do, I don’t think all Muslims are terrorists…I work with Maya’s mother…and I don’t think she’s a terrorist.” Jessica says.
“Oh. Uh…mommy does that mean that they can’t go to Heaven…like us?” Meghan says.
“Well according to the Bible…yes…” Jessica says.
The girls drone on about Trevor this, and Tyler that, but her mind is elsewhere, as she ponders tonight’s haute cuisine bill of fare intended to duly impress the Executive Director of the Washington State Republican Caucus.
Her husband, John “Jack” Allision is young, handsome and bright…and nakedly ambitious. With his high conviction rate, he is carefully honing a politically appealing “no-nonsense” tough on crime reputation. He and Jessica, and their twin daughters, strike an inviting camera-ready All-American conservative Christian family image. He is being groomed for Washington State Senator, the first, but necessary step, of many toward becoming a serious mover and shaker in Washington state politics counsels ExDir, Jake Rossitor.
Jessie, is a ready for prime-time beauty–tanned, long legged, athletically lean with lustrous long blonde hair and wide-set luminous indigo eyes. The full package. A tenured Professor of Humanities at Moody University, where she herself graduated, she has graduate degree in Greek Classics–her Master’s Thesis was on Aristotelian Tragedy.
Both Jack and Jessica come from families of considerable wealth, prestige and privilege. A small-town golden-boy quarterback used to getting by on his looks, his family’s considerable wealth flowed from the plains of Wyoming black gold oil bidness. Having flunked out of Harvard, eventually a graduate of conservative University of Wyoming, his checkered and unremarkable academic achievements eventually led him to Seattle University Law School, where he barely qualified for admission, which in time would lead to meeting his future wife Jessica and settling in Moody Seaport where she was in grad-school and ultimately professor. He has chosen to practice criminal law as a D. A., a traditional gateway to higher public office…in ‘big fish-small pond’ Moody Seaport. He is a driven man–with aspirations one day to be Governor of Washington.
Her family amassed their huge fortune the old-fashioned way–they inherited it. During the Great Depression her predatory paternal grandfather, a distant cousin to Joe Kennedy Sr., the patriarch of the Kennedy’s of Hyannis Port, had bought up hundreds of distressed commercial properties in foreclosure for pennies on the dollar; prime real estate in central urban centers, like New York City and Chicago.
The light finally turns green, as the cars in front of her begin to move…
Jessica’s reverie is abruptly interrupted by a deafening explosion, violently shaking the overpass and the eight cars traversing it. Startled by the explosion, the driver of the car ahead, brakes hard skidding to a complete stop. Jessica slams on the brakes, nearly rear ending him. Because she’s accustomed to driving the Rover with an automatic tranny, she neglects to depress the clutch…the engine sputters and dies. The twins are immediately quieted, then in unison, begin crying hysterically. The driver of the car ahead is now scanning the horizon for the origin of the blast, turning his head, first to the left then, when his attention becomes fixed to his right, he immediately floors the accelerator, leaving the pungent smell of burning rubber.
As she turns her body to reach behind her to try to comfort the girls with a mother’s touch, the driver of the car behind her is now frantically honking the horn…first intermittently, then a constant, irritatingly loud din. How rude! Okay…buster…calm down…I think I’ll just take my time…teach him some manners…
She is now looking to her right, up Moody Creek, when her eyes are assaulted by a vision that can not be possibly be real…a massive angry ball of fire is rolling toward the overpass…directly at them. A fire-breathing malevolent Medusa…like something from an end-of-the-world sci-fi movie. But the reality of this surreal mirage of mayhem, the speed and the size of it, as it roars inexorably toward them is validated by the extreme heat blast that precedes it.
She frantically slides the stick shift into neutral, and turns the key. Nothing. Paralyzed with fear, she is too terrified to look up, but her peripheral vision senses the impending fireball racing toward them. The constant, offensive blare of the horn unnerves her. It is getting closer. Closer. She is now in full panic mode. She turns and releases the key, again nothing. Nothing. But, in her panic she has forgotten that the clutch pedal must be depressed before the ignition can engage the starter motor.
Jessica knows that their only hope now, is to get her and the children out of the car. But traveling nearly 60 miles per hour, within just a few seconds, before Jessica can even release her own harness, the voracious Monster has already pounced upon them. The last sounds she and the girls will hear is the blaring horn over the snarling roar of the ravenous Beast. Jessica and the girls, their shoulder harnesses still fastened–this is how they will be found, frozen in place, after the fiery tsunami has washed over them, incinerating every thing and every one in its path.
For many years later, almost nightly, John Allison would bolt upright, sheets soaked with sweat, haunted by the same endless loop horror movie of his beautiful wife and two darling twins helplessly watching the wall of fire as it descends upon them. Torturing himself with the same question: If only I hadn’t…if Jessie had not taken the shortcut..that deadly shortcut…
Was it just bad luck that had snatched my promising future and my beautiful family? How could my omnipotent God allow this to happen…was he asleep on the job?
Or…was it one of the endlessly repeating Greek Tragedies like Nemesis, the Greek mythological spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris and greed…playing itself out again, as she had expounded in her undergrad Humanities lectures, so many times.
Sample Chapter – 2 –
DoubleSpeak: First they steal the words,
then they steal the meaning.
– George Orwell in his novel (1949) – 1984
Moody Seaport, Washington State
October 10, 2001 Thursday 3:08 pm -.5 Kilometers from Ground Zero
I go by Koz. Michaelangelo Kozlov—to my close friends, Mickey, or MAK. To my Ex, ATM.
I’m a filmmaker. In my past life, representing mostly Fortune 500 clients, like Big Tobacco, intent on shaping the discourse of the vox populi. A merchant of doubt, I had specialized in the dark art of manufacturing consent, creating hundreds of poisonous position campaign ads and “documentaries” with a tendentious, often polemic political Point of View. A mercenary paladin—have camera will travel.
That is, until about a month after September 11, 2001. Up to 9/11, I was still very angry, very bitter and had grown gratuitously cynical, from having lost everything I thought mattered most, including the love of my life—brutally murdered back in 1985, when I was sucker-punched by a Misanthropic Miz Kismet. Karmic blow back is a ‘bitch’.
9/11 more than demolished the Dual Phallic Monuments erected to American Capitalism, massacring 3,000 martyrs on our home court— orphaning all of us. Violated in the promising morning light of day, in the safety of our own house, now and forever held emotional hostage by jihad. A testosterone laced attempt at a Grand Emasculation, a macho kick in the gonads, to render the Great Satan impotent. Was God asleep? Even Allah must have wept.
A Day of Infamy 2.0. The date now belongs to history as, A Tuesday Mourning, the eleventh of never, forever dismantling American Invincibility. The Western Deity of technology had empowered the powerless, the ignored. New rules. Welcome to the world of asymmetric warfare, the new equalizer against ‘superior force’. The delivery of blow back with no small irony through the democracy, the off-the-shelf availability of technology. A technological Frankenstein released into the wild, against its Western Creator. The new normal.
Almost immediately, the media began inflicting massive sensory mayhem through a constant 24-7 bombardment of our senses. Great Balls of Fire, over and over again, shamelessly appropriating the solemn and sacred into a vulgar obscenity—all on the pretense of news. And in some perverse twisted way, those flying silver marvels, monuments to Western innovation, on 9/11 became the guided missiles of misguided Muslim misanthropes. Delivering Air Mail, a mega-business opportunity—Special Delivery paranoia in perpetuity—a windfall of profane profits to the sacred bottom line of Corporate media.
Inviting and inciting a simplistic Cineplex reality of causation and Rambo revenge—the commoditization of fear and paranoia. Evil as a brand is created, competitively marketed, inanely sold like soap, non-stop on cable news channels—in the process paralyzing our humanity, resurrecting the Crusades and spawning wholesale Islamophobia.
Frankly, it was the genesis of my epiphany, the opening of my eyes, to the reality that I was nothing more than a propaganda pimp—a dissembler and purveyor of the same skewed, unreality that was driving the collective paranoia and fear mongering of the masses.
It brought into painfully clear focus, that I was a charter member of the Unreality Industry Inc. that was manipulating and exploiting the fear and anxiety of an emotionally traumatized post 9/11 public—for cynical political advantage and yes, personal monetary gain. Big time. Eventually, making it pretty damn hard to look myself in the mirror.
My dubious gene pool is half-Italian, from the neck up, half-Russian, and the third half, according to my barely over 5 foot tall Russian Babuska, zhiraf, or giraffe. Christened after Michelangelo Caravaggio, the great Renaissance painter and rascal of Milano, Italy, by way of my maternal grandfather, Michael Caravaggio of South Philly. Also, birthplace of moi and the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa, Patron Saint of Philadelphia. Yo Adrian! On the paternal Kozlov side, the Cossacks of the Don region of the Ukraine and Southern Russia, the pre-revolution Tzar’s barbarous mercenary militia.
Both branches of the rather tall family tree sprouting inveterate Philly Philanderers, begs one of life’s more persistent questions. Does a uh…bad apple always fall not very far from the tree?To perfectly mangle a metaphor. Your call.
Since my internet nom de guerre is the portmanteau kozmick, naturally it’s Kozmick Productions. Yeah I know, a little too cute by half. Just about what you’d expect, from a narcissist.
If all fiction is essentially, a lie, then it would seem to me that a good storyteller, must first be a good liar. If that’s the requisite bon fides, standing at six and a half feet, uniquely qualifies me to tell decidedly tall tales. After 1985, I had been a professional propagandizer—a fixer, at times, I admit bordering on the pathological. First producing banal “soap” commercials for the top 10 Broadcast TV markets, including The Big Apple and El Lay, for last 9 years now infomercial docs. Selling soap or lies, the process is all the same.
But the Big Bucks had flowed into Kozmick Productions on two year cycles from campaign ads for so-called elections. Since the Kennedy-Nixon era, TV had become the increasingly dominate medium for political advertising—from the 70s, exponentially so. Why? Because it works. Big time. Statistically, the best ROI, Return on Investment, per dollar spent per vote bought. Nationally, about sixty percent of all advertising and marketing $$$$ are spent on TV, mostly negative attack ads. Predominately on broadcast networks, but now increasingly on satellite networks, like CNN and from 1997, obscene ad revenues in particular for ultra-right wing Fox “News” Channel. Not only do the Networks make huge profits, but everybody has their snout in the trough—it’s non-stop feeding time at the pig pen.
From the early 90s the proliferation of TV as the preeminent medium for political campaign ads began to even insinuate itself into elections for state and local governments, like city and county council, mayor, local initiatives and referenda, including the negative scorched-earth brand of attack ads. Some would later cite this profound change in the advertising media landscape as the genesis of the wholesale polarization of the political process, which had even seeped down to the local government level. Even though the negative attack ads tactically in the short run achieved the desired victory, in the strategic long term, the strident radicalization of the ideology often burdened the ability to effectively govern—to allow any form of compromise for fear of the third-rail accusation of being labeled a flip-flopper—or a RINO, Republican In Name Only.
The local cable companies could now offer relatively inexpensive spot TV advertising, because of low operational overhead at a relatively low CPM, or cost per thousand, narrowly targeted by specific cable system demographics. This allowed the advertiser for the most part, to only pay for their target demographic CPM. Inserting political ads at a local level for state, regional and local elections became a huge profit center for essentially selling air, on local ‘avails’, where the cable company inserts an ad over the national feed, about 3 minutes per hour allocated on satellite networks like CNN that cost them absolutely nothing. Exploiting the vanity of the local mom-and-pop businesses ‘to be on TV’, with those charmingly cheesy :30 ads. Pure profit capitalized by pretend populism.
The ads could be customized almost to a granular level to appeal to specific demographics inherent in each cable service area heavily correlated with increased efforts at redistricting, or gerrymandering. It reinforced the tried and true campaign axiom, that “all politics are local”.
The Big Ad and PR Agencies, could charge exorbitant rates for the “creative” and on top of that, receive about a 15% commission on all media placed, on radio, TV and print, on millions of $$$. About six months before the actual election during primaries, because we had become very good at what we do, we had started getting calls from the Big Five national ad agencies, cueing up for production work. Mostly writing and producing :30 ads, our niche, the specialty of the house—nuanced euphemisms for borderline slanderous, but still exceedingly effective; “Are you lying now…or were you lying then? Do you still beat your wife?” kinda stuff. Our job description was hit-men for the Media Mafia—contract assassins of character.
With the rationalization ‘Just responding to the invisible hand of the market‘, like the rest of media we’ve had our snouts deeply submerged in the trough. We justified our piranha participation with, Hey…if we don’t, somebody else will pickup the obscene amounts of money just laying on the table. And by the way, it had made us a very nice living.
My dubious storyteller skills aside, although I’m certainly no Melville, Herman and I do have a few things in common—one very big thing in particular, an exceedingly large, and very angry, hairless albino mammal, Hawkus Shapirus. More later on the corporate ship of fools of the doomed Pequod and my inevitable collision course with its tyrannical monomaniacal Captain.
So, it’s just about a month since the attack on the Twin Towers of Power, and it’s coming up on the second anniversary of the WTO, The Battle in Seattle of November 1999. The whole week before, there had been very heavy social network traffic, buzzing with activists postings. Social justice advocates planned to trek to Seattle en masse from all over the U.S. to disrupt and attempt to stymie the conference through non-violent civil disobedience. Because Seattle is only about an hour and a half away, we had decided to ‘spec it’—as an indy news stringer.
After viewing some of our powerful verite in-the-trenches footage on national broadcast news, we were contacted by an ad agency representing a consortium of NGO Big Business PACs to produce a doc. Not normally a good ideological fit, but because of post 9/11 collective anxiety and mass uncertainty, the bottom had fallen out of the economy, literally overnight with many clients canceling production work.
The phone was so dead, a few times a day, I’d pick it up to listen for dial-tone just to confirm it was still working. The job was not exactly our cup of tea, more like hemlock, but because we had bills to pay, and a mortgage etcetera, we reluctantly bent our increasingly malleable scruples to stay in business. So, we took the job. Besides, the money was very good.
As a business operator, during slow economic times, it’s amazing how basic economic survival can so easily twist one’s high-minded principles, insinuating itself into every facet of American business life. In commiserating with our contemporaries, it seemed that the only organizations with money, indeed lots of money to spend on production were, as always, the far right conservative PACs.
It was supposed to be a seemingly harmless political position piece, to create a new snappier melody for the same old tired libretto. The intent was to enter it into some of the national film festivals in the category of documentary, including SIFF, the Seattle International Film Festival the city where the first major shot had been fired in opposition to Globalism, and the WTO, the World Trade Organization. We didn’t figure there was a chance in hell SIFF would even consider it, so it seemed like a safe proposition, that no nobody we really cared about would even see the damn thing, thus preserving our simpatico progressive image with some of the more liberal NGOs and PACs. So this was to be billed as the real story behind the Battle in Seattle that exposed the dark and sinister forces of the anti-American, unpatriotic radical left.
The title of this one hour shameless infomercial is “Globalism-the New Capitalism—Get on the Train or Get Out of the Way”. The client, who refers to abortion rights advocates as ‘baby killers’, does not do nuance.
So it was time to play offense. They decided to go “all-in” while they still owned the White House, since trade policy, free or otherwise, delegated and controlled under the powers reserved to the Executive Branch, nominally, that would be Dubya’s job. The film would devolve into a zealous and relentless jeremiad for International Free Market Capitalism, which some of the leading liberal elite intellectuals, lefties like Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn deemed tantamount to domestic imperialism.
Where to start? When in doubt, wave Old Glory while sprinkling a few, now Faux News coined epithets, like ‘liberal’ and ‘social programs’, hurled like a cat spitting up a hairball. So what started out as a relatively innocuous documentary, as the wave of client change orders started coming in from the rough cut, evolved to a rather strident ultra-right tract. But there was no turning back now for us. Out of a professional ethic, we needed to see it through. The worst negative rap a small production company can suffer is that it did not meet the standards of the client. The client is never wrong even when they are a total jackass. The production community is relatively small, and bad news, like being considered hard to work with, especially when it is promulgated with the help of your competition can travel literally at the speed of light. In our business, reputations are like pianos—hard to lift and easy to drop.
So for the client it was gloves off. Time to spin the colossal WTO PR disaster into some Socialist anti-Capitalism UN-American narrative that would have legs.
Me and my partner, Ad Hoc Shapiro, aka Hawk, were just finishing up the online edit at our production facility in Moody Seaport. Aside from the obvious derivation, from Hoc, the Hawkster also sports a considerable aquiline beak—not a big nose…just a small face, he explains.
“Koz…man, don’t even want my name linked with this dog. If Daddy ever saw a Shapiro connected to something like this, he’d probably disown me…again,” Hawk says in his incongruously high almost castrato voce.
“Hey Hawk, it’s not that bad. So I take it you have some fundamental…ideological disagreements with the content of the message?” I say.
“You could say that. To paraphrase da man, Marshall McLuhan, ‘the medium is da ma-ssage‘ of this shameless radical right screed,” Hawk says.
“Well don’t hold back, man. Whattya really think?” I ask.
“Man…the only question I have for you, is how come you don’t have a major problem with it?”
“I didn’t say I agree with it. But hey, it’s a livin’. It’s payin’ the rent and keepin’ us a float at least until the economy turns around and it’d be bad, no very bad for bidness if we didn’t finish it. But if I’da known what we were gettin’ into with all the change orders and such, and the extremist POV, yea, I probably would have passed on it. The good news is that I doubt any major film festival would even consider this shameless tract,” I say.
“Jezus man, now that the right is emboldened by the recent Coronation of the witless Dauphin, King George the Younger, they ain’t wastin’ any time,” Hawk says.
“Yeap…gotta admit they’re pullin’ out all the stops, way over the top. And Dubya’s the perfect foil, for the tres far right agenda of “Bush’s Brain”, Carl Rove, the Maestro of Mean,” I say.
“Doublin’ down on the mass jingoism from 9-1-1 “
“And the Battle in Seattle.” I add.
“Amazing. That Rove could sell an ex-frat-boy town clown, a notorious party-hearty guy, some BS burning bush, pun intended, religious conversion,” says the Hawkster.
“Born again…and reinvented. So I take it you’re not enthralled with our new Commander in Chief?” I say.
“An affable dunce,” Hawk says.
“Thereby insulting the whole of uh…dunce-dum. So…not buyin’ his faux John-Wayne complete with the macho saunter?” I say.
“Not on yer life, Pilgrim,” doing an uncanny Duke. “Sometimes your laser-like logic is just…stupefyin’,” Hawk says.
“Tsk tisk…just a lucky guess. Got some issues with his qualifications I take it?” I say.
“Ya think? His main asset is he’s raht neighborly. Dubya’s the kinda good ol’ boy ya’ll ‘d like to hang out with at a Sunday tailgatin’ at Dallas Cowboy Stadium,” Hawk says.
“As the Texans say, ‘all hat’. Well, I would have to concede that he’s not exactly, a uh…towering intellect compared to the smarts of the previous prez, Bubba Clinton,” I say.
“Ha…his low-bandwidth, one notch above a V-I, the other V-I, the Village Idiot. The guy’s a former college Ivy League silver-spoon cheerleader. A transplanted Brahmin now Tex-Mex. Born-again, for Chrisakes. New meaning to C-i-C, Cheerleader in Chief,” Hawk whines.
Moody Seaport’s a tony maritime enclave strategically situated on the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, Washington state, about 50 miles South of YVR airport Vancouver B.C. and about 100 miles North of SEATAC airport, Seattle.
It was dubbed from the eponymous first mate James Paul Moody of the maiden and only voyage of the “unsinkable” luxury-liner, The Titanic. Moody was a young Junior Officer who heroically perished with over 1,500 souls in the frigid waters of the Atlantic on that April night of 1912. He had selflessly declined to board a lifeboat to make room for some steerage class women.
Formerly known as Cascadia City, ‘the City of Subdued Excitement’, it was renamed as an homage to honor the heroism of the Mayor’s nephew. It is now the home of the Moody University “Fightin’ Titans”, the Titanic Bookstore, Titanic Tiny Tots Daycare, Titanic Body Sculpting and Weight Loss Clinic, not to forget the Iceberg Bar and Grill, billed as your last stop before going home. You get the idea.
It seemed a brilliant strategy at the time—a masterstroke of marketing by the City Fathers to capitalize on the zeitgeist of romantic fascination of the heroic self-sacrifice of young Moody on that ‘Night to Remember’. Perhaps even becoming a magnanimous magnet to attract ‘the right kind of people’ to settle and develop Cascadia City. To transform it from just another backwater lumber mill, commercial fishing town with all the enchantment of a Rotarian Destination Resort, to an upscale Arcadia by the sea..
But a series of calamitous bizarre local disasters, only added to the ‘Moody Blues’ of melancholia from the dark, rainy interminable duct-tape-blue-tarp winters, with the only half-joking shibboleth ‘the Repository of Repressed Emotion’. There were some of the pallid Moody Moon-tan Elders, that believed perhaps the name of the town would have been better left unchanged.
The most recent of which was the massive escape of chlorine gas from the local paper mill in 1989, in which some middle-management genius thought it would be the highest and best use of resource, to capture the gas used in the manufacturing process of paper, store it in large railroad tankers, and sell it. A brilliant example of the economic efficiencies and maximization of capital resources, that was ‘perfectly safe’, they had told the City Fathers. A position they steadfastly championed, even after the sirens at the mill began screaming the warning of the escaping lethal poisonous chlorine gas from tankers cars that had ‘somehow derailed, a regrettable and unforeseeable, therefore unpreventable accident.’
Twelve people died, and thousands of were sickened, with some nearer to ground zero, requiring long-term hospitalization for permanent respiratory damage. “Bhopal Light”, a variation on the theme of the ’84 Bhopal India chlorine gas escape—which ultimately killed almost 19,000 with severe respiratory injury to over 550,000 “unlucky” innocent men, women and children. Had Moody Seaport inherited the curse of The Titanic? Or was this just another tragic example of man’s unsinkable capacity for hubris?
Sorry…some obvious Attention Deficit issues here. With my dyslexia, a potent cocktail for cognitive dysfunction. As you may have already noticed, I’m easily distracted. Not good in my line of work. Gawd…I hope they find a dyslexia for cure…soon.
Now…where was I?
Okay, so we’re in the final stages of tweaking and fine tuning the production in time to get it on FEDEX overnight for submission to the SIFF.
Hawk is running the non-linear video editing software. His thick meaty hands and knotty fingers, belie his dexterity, flying unerringly over the keyboard with the casual virtuosity reminiscent of another masterful keyboard artist, the brilliant Canuck pianist Glen Gould.
I am manually sliding the audio level fader on the sound board, for ambient audio track 2, while watching action on the huge preview monitor, a process called ‘sweetening’ the audio. I am momentarily distracted by the glare of reflection, the glistening sweat of the back of Hawk’s immense shaved skull. Absent a neck, it begins at the ears, at the massively developed trapezes muscles which only serve to accentuate a large dent, a divot. It is adorned with an angry-looking six inch transverse scar garnished with a very realistic tattoo of a zipper, with a crude cursive inscription, “in case of a seizure, open here“, a souvenir of the Free Speech Movement protests at UC Berkeley in 1964, where we had first met.
The day before, had been anything but typical. On that Thursday morning in early December, the UCB campus was crackling with political fomentation—lots of FSM speeches, student protests, chants and placards.
A twenty-two year old philosophy major, a charismatic orator named Mario Savio had just given his now legendary impromptu impassioned “Bodies upon the gears” speech at Sproul Hall.
On our way over to the Student Union to commiserate with some fellow activists—the unmistakable pungent odor of tear gas. Suddenly a crowd of about fifty students, were running pell-mell towards us from Sather Gate, being pursued by cops in riot gear, brandishing batons. Two cops had cornered one totally defenseless guy, straddling him, they were whaling on one Ad Hoc Shapiro, mercilessly with their batons with no indication of let-up. Sensing the potential lethality of the blows, my roommate and I exchanged a wordless “oh shit, bad idea, but I guess we better stop this” glance of affirmation and intervened.
Now, we were all irrevocably committed. Eventually—Goodbye basketball scholarship. Goodbye Berkeley. Goodbye student deferment. And Hello Draft Board.
So, we’re about five minutes into the film, where the protestors have overturned cars and buses, torched SPD police cars, good stuff, lots of folks, many with black ski masks, manically racing around with anti-WTO banners and signs, screaming slogans like “Down with Capitalism!”, and my personal fav “TAX-iderm the Rich!” looking every bit like violent anti-capitalist, anarchists thugs with fire and smoke and explosions—lots of orange explosions made even more dramatic against the ink black night sky.
“Back up 60 seconds…and hit record.”
“Okay…audio track 2…pre-roll, five-four-three,” says Hawk, then a silent two-count, with a hand cue signaling the in-point.
I am slowly ramping the fader up, to emphasize the incredibly loud noise from the chaos and pandemonium…
The deafening roar of a massive explosion much, much louder than the audio. The whole room shudders and shakes reverberating about 30 seconds with secondary shock waves and more explosions. The windows rattle—the lights are flickering.
Oso, a mixed Great Pyrenees-Newfie, my constant companion is startled from his sprawled slumber, in his customary spot usually near, more often under my feet. He springs up to his full stature of over three feet, nudges my right leg with his huge white Great Pyrenees head seemingly grafted on to his enormous black Newfoundland body, and starts to whine then his signature basso profundo “what the hell is goin’ on?” bark. Yeap, well said, boy.
“Now that’s what I call realistic sound effects,” says the Hawkster.
“I’m not that good goddammit! Something’s happened! Something very big and very bad…maybe The Big One. Let’s check it out!” I say.
We scurry outside, with Oso in tow. Immediately we see a huge plume of black smoke, angrily bellowing skyward already several hundred feet high. It is very close…scary close, maybe half a klick, or kilometer.
“What the fuck could cause such a massive explosion?” says Hawk.
“Gotta be some kinda accelerant…gasoline…maybe a commercial jet cratered. It’s close…real close…let’s get over there. There’s gotta be some serious casualties…see what we can do to help. And throw the cameras into the truck,” I say.
We sprint to the pick-up, and as I open the passenger door Oso automatically leaps into his accustomed place, the passenger seat. I pull him out by the collar, to the rear tail gate, where with a muffled whine of disapproval, he effortlessly jumps into the rear bed of the truck. Hawk throws the video camera, and a digital still camera into the crew cab. I am barely able to jump in, before Hawk slams it in drive, burning rubber as we race toward the now huge black ominous plume. In less than 3 minutes, we are at the entrance of a public park which appears to be ground zero of the blast, Moody Falls Park.
We skid to a stop in the parking lot. The classic Depression Era stone bridge with graceful arches that traverses the stream, just past the waterfall normally viewable, is barely discernible in the roiling oil-black smoke. As we open the truck doors, the intense heat of the fire assaults us, like stepping into a blast furnace. The sooty smoke is now starting to engulf us—we’re having a hard time breathing. We can now hear a series of not-so-distant secondary explosions. I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea. I look at Hawk. He just shakes his head.
“Let’s get the hell outta here man, before this whole thing blows…there ain’t nothing we can do for anybody in that,” yells Hawk over the roar nodding toward the fire.
“Okay…guess you’re right. Poor bastards. Whatever caused it, like 9/11…fire’s a lousy way to go, man,” I shout.
Then, as a hopeful afterthought, straining to see, fighting through the stinging tears of my smoke-filled eyes, I think I detect some movement on the bridge. Then it disappears in the smoke. Then it appears again. Yes, there’s someone on the bridge, coming towards us, moving very slowly, carrying something.
“There’s some movement on the bridge…someone might be alive,” I yell.
I throw open the door, and start to run toward the bridge when suddenly out of the smoke a car comes barreling out of nowhere. Tires squealing, it barely misses me as I leap out of the way, it’s brake lights are the last thing I can make out as it speeds off, casting a ghostly red glow on to a wall of dense black smoke.
I run toward the bridge, coughing and choking. Just as I get to the bridge, I can see this charred black mass, staggering like a drunk, very slowly toward me, carrying something unrecognizable in its arms.
When I am within about 20 feet from this thing, I can begin make out that it is a human figure, or what’s left of it, skin hanging from its bones, no hair and where a face used to be, an indistinguishable charred black mass. The mass screams out something I can not decipher, but I know that it’s not English.
“Sera don nee!…sera don nee!” it yells.
“What-the-hell happened?” I yell over the roar of the fire.
Then, a rapid long string of words that I do not recognize—they sound Aramaic.
“I can’t understand you…can you speak English?” I shout.
“In the name of Allah…I…” it cries back.
Then as I get closer, it collapses in a heap as the charred mass in its arms falls to the ground in front of it. I am close enough now that I can make out the forms. In front of me is the charred obviously lifeless body of a young child and from what remains of the jeans and sport shoes, expensive Air Jordan’s probably a boy. I immediately realize there is nothing that can be done for it.
I kneel down beside the other charred mass, which I can now barely discern is a young man, now laying on his side, writhing in pain, screaming in agony, third degree burns over most of his body.
His body is so burnt I can not even find an undamaged location to grab on to…to try to move him.
He screams, “Allahu-u-Akbar! There is a long exhale, as his body goes limp. Then the unmistakable death-rattle.
The concussion of the shock wave of a huge secondary explosion catapults me backwards 15 feet into the air. I land flat on my back with force of a platform high dive into an empty pool, on to a huge mid-river boulder knocking the wind out of me, hitting the back of my head hard. Although I am completely disoriented and immobile, I now have the vague sensation of being underwater, face down, the icy cold water of the stream snaps me back to semi-consciousness, but I still can not move. I become aware of a tugging on my right pant leg, pulling me backwards forcing the cold water up my nose, and down my throat into my lungs. I am now half on the shore, with my face still in the water, when I am flipped over like a dead fish, and dragged completely out of the water. Gasping for air, coughing and sputtering, I force open my eyes and see Oso’s immense white head, whining, his big pink tongue slapping against my face.
As I push him away, I hear Hawk’s familiar falsetto voice, “Oso, good boy…back off now boy, I’ve gott’em.”
Then I have the sensation of being effortlessly lifted up like large stuffed Panda Bear, walked up the river bank, then being gently laid out in the back of the truck with my head laying on the open tailgate. I briefly pass out.
Like one of my 60s bad LSD trips, my desperate attempt to reconstruct what happened is futile. The intense heat—a blast furnace—the cloying smell of burnt flesh, dominate my consciousness. Every breath feels like a blow torch turned on my lungs.
Like a getaway driver at a bank heist gone very bad Hawk floors it. In a daze, laying on my back, I am starting to see a few patches of brilliant blue sky. My left ear pressed against the hard-steel bed of the pick-up amplifies the din of squealing tires—the high rpm whine of the engine drowning out the ambient pandemonium. Then the surreal sensation of a lightness of being, as an eerie equanimity washes over me, floating ever upward, looking down at the inferno. But my mystical migration is rudely interrupted by Oso’s, half-barking whimper in my right ear. Then, again with the big wet sandpaper tongue lapping my face summons me back to reality, activating the deep primal instinct to survive—evincing in me a sense that it is not yet time. Then, all black.
Its appetite for death and destruction momentarily satiated, The Monster, re-gathers itself, accelerating down the creek toward the unsuspecting populace of downtown Moody Seaport.
As It greedily races unimpeded down Moody Creek, through the car-laden overpass, and ultimately to the Moody Bay estuary, with no warning other than a rumbling, some would later describe as a bestial growling. It will engulf several buildings down by the waterfront. “Spontaneous combustion” is the technical term of art used by the Fire Chief Ted Frawley. His hair, somehow perfect, dressed in his official polished brass-buttoned department best normally reserved for parades and awards ceremonies.
Within less than two hours after the initial blast, in front of a hastily assembled cluster of microphones, tangle of wires and TV cameras, the ceaseless click and flash of cameras punctuates the Chief’s “media moment” debut. Mustering his most serious game face for the cameras, he obliges the media—the unspoken duty to provide disaster reality TV worthy of prime-time.
Behind a practiced expression of empathetic gravity, barely able to conceal their prurient lust for a good “if it bleeds, it leads” story, “Spontaneous combustion levels town” will become the lead line sound-byte of the perfectly coiffed broadcast carbon-copy news anchors and eye-candy anchorettes. Within three hours, sleepy little Moody Seaport is massively invaded by legions of ravenous mass media, dozens of huge semi-trailers each with several satellite dish uplinks.
By the time the gasoline finally burns itself off, several hours later in the Bay, 26 innocents will have been senselessly killed and scores injured, some of whom months later would still be hospitalized with horrific second and third degree burns.
(End of Chapter – 2 – and sample chapters…)
© 2007-2015 Michael A. Kominsky
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