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Conversations in Back Room — “Emoji”


Everywhere, at all times, in mostly industrialized countries with populations bent on riding the technological bomb to its undetermined destination, conversations are happening in back rooms. These are not the sort of back rooms littered on black and white film tape or etched into the docile minds of the media hungry — there are not the back rooms of gangsters or card sharks. These rooms are everywhere and penetrate everything, and in these rooms conversations are taking place with no context. Mobile devices and computers hide these rooms from public view and mute these conversations to only the participants; I don’t know why, I don’t know the reason, but I know the consequence. Conversations are being moved to these back rooms, these automated screens on these mobile devices, and those who rant against this movement are deemed “out of the times” or “technology laggards”. We were all once benefactors of great conversation: and then the mob turned on us, calling anyone who listened in to look for truth or colloquial language damning names, like “eaves-dropper” or “busy-body”.

And so, we, the only species on Earth with the ability to speak, have tucked away and hoarded our conversations, translating them into computer code. We’ve traded the timbre of a bellowing for the hollow thud of a thumb against glass; we’ve given language to the computers, forking over all the meat while we humans scrape the bone for satisfaction. The human population emaciates itself in the name of technological progress and wonders why individuals feel so alienated, isolated, and confused.

We need conversation. Not the emotionless, self-absorbed conversation text messaging and chat rooms so easily supply, but conversation that fills halls with laughter or corners with despair. And so I hold the mirror up and show how truly emaciated conversation, and humanity, has become.

This is a conversation between a brother and a sister in a back room somewhere between the keyboard and the cell phone.


The View from the Timber


The slope was steep on the way up to 2464 Timberview Drive and it had been snowing. In the midst of the coldest winter on record for some 20 years, the newspaper had sent me out to take pictures of a newly built country home 15 miles south of known civilization. I simply detested this assignment — I knew what it was before they sent me out: a prostitution of my pen. Sent to interview a couple about their newly built house on a newly settled street, I received orders to write an article, a fluff piece, on the house so the advertisers could get their hands on the names list of contractors I was to dutifully procure. Who did the window treatments, who put in the foundation, what was the price of being chained to a piece of government-taxed land: compile it into a list and give it to the advertisers so they can sell. Advertisers ran almost everything now. Everywhere I went, there they were, waiting like hoarding crack feigns fresh off a trip. The only value they found out of the written word could be calculated mathematically, dissected and studied, then birthed into some malnourished form of profit-driven culture change. The newspaper needed profit and the advertisers needed commission. So I was sent to invade a house and inspect a lifestyle.

I barely got up the hill. Too steep for the ignorant young or the cautious old; one too fast, one too slow. I am barely the third bear of this hill, just the right cocktail of the indifference of the young and the panic of the old. My tires spun a couple of times, but not enough to bother the cattle in what looked like a 40-acre pen to the right of my now parked four-door sedan. Brown cattle, the ones with the white trim over some of their faces and their hooves. I waited for approximately two minutes as the heat went out from the car. The winters are getting worse in Iowa, especially for the humans. Some poor bastard was beaten and shoved out of a car a city over in Cedar Rapids. The beating didn’t kill him, neither the collision at 45 mph with frozen concrete — it was the freeze. The humans couldn’t kill him, but he didn’t have the hide for nature. Neither do I, in earnest. Sitting in the car, watching my breath turn visible, I imagined dying 20 feet away from the cows and a driveway from my lower-evolved assignment. I brought an invisible cigarette to my lips and lit it with an invisible Zippo. I closed my eyes as invisible nicotine spurred my brain. The difference between placebo nicotine and electrical currents firing the synapses is invisible, like the difference between the frozen guy and me, sitting in the car.

The house looked like any house you could imagine copied and replicated on the outskirts of a metropolitan area. No country flair, no barn-style architecture, no shade of red; just a suburban house too far from a city. I saw the house and I forgot why I quit smoking. It looked like the beginning of something dark and insidious lurking around the outside of the structure. The outside was caked in a sad imitation, a sort of copy so saturated with artistic ignorance that was better labeled as mockery. Charcoal gray panel siding with a rock pattern shingled roof and double-paneled windows.The only redeemable quality to the house was that it was built into a hill with the front facing east and the back facing west. Large east and west windows make for apple mornings and caramel evenings: a feast of texture for the retinas. But the house still found my spine: people were building these houses usually reserved for suburban cages in undeveloped areas; moreover, people are wanting these designs, like a blind man wanting a blind fold. Humans are going deeper into cultural depression as the children of this depression are being born without a glimpse of the outside, compounding the side effects. I shuttered as the winter breeze punctured the holes in my scarf and I knocked on the door.

I’d never seen the couple I was supposed to meet and had only spoken to the wife on the phone. She sounded what could only be described as chipper: a condition in which the affected neglects negative emotions and focuses on only positivity. As her voice came through the phone, I couldn’t imagine her sitting, staring into space, drinking alone in that impressive dark, or getting high to dull the space where all the lecherous emotions go — I couldn’t imagine her seriously considering jumping from a bridge or yelling at her mother for passing on faulty genes. She seemed too eager to invite me, a total stranger bent on inspecting and publishing, into her private dwelling. People always seem too eager to their doors to slick entities promising fame or fortune or even the slightest sexual advance. My dwelling is a temple of self-loathing which frees a paranoid mongrel from worry about outside influences. It is the summation of an equation steeped in an overt distrust of all things human and cultivated by years spent marinating my brain in that cult called Catholicism. If fame and fortune in the form of an amateur journalist knock at their door, people always seem to answer.

Or maybe these are the ravings of some over-masturbated lunatic with sociopathic tendencies towards commitment. Even looking at the house, I could feel myself simultaneously overwhelmed with putrid hatred and lung-squeezing jealousy of unknown origin. To be settled in a place to call my own is the dream, the authorities told me. Truthfully, I’ve spent nights imagining idealized scenes in which I’m pulling weeds out of a tended garden or separating my perennials while my pregnant wife, with her hair in a pony tail exposing the cross necklace I gave her for Christmas, sits in the shade. The cerebral magic lantern shows typically end in broken mirrors and bleeding knuckles. The implanted memories leave with the blood but the brokenness stays.

A strawberry blonde woman with a freckled complexion named Alex opened the door and I walked in, apologizing for uncontrollable aspects of life like the snow on my shoes and cold air. The inside of the house was just as deplorable as the outside, but oddly I wanted to be there. The warmth of the inside deceived my distrust of new people, as I felt welcome and security in this new place. It disgusted me, as I knew the decorating was engineered to illicit this feeling. But emotions are slimy bastards designed to corrupt logical reasoning. Like the jealousy that pulled at my kidneys as the woman’s husband poked his head into the entry way. Get a hold of yourself, man, I thought.

I snapped a few pictures of the living room and asked a few questions about the open floor plan. I looked too long at the woman before diverting my attention toward the husband, I knew it. I examined the husband’s face for signs that he caught on. Ogling a man’s wife in middle America is grounds for loading a hunting rifle and aiming it with vengeful intent. Paranoia nearly took over as the three of us walked through the couple’s bedroom and into another small room littered with unassembled parts.

It looked to be the makings of a dresser or a wooden dog cage and Alex could see me trying to put the piece together in my head. It caused her some embarrassment, for which I felt sorry.

“We’re expecting,” she said feeling her belly with the tender part of her palm. “This is going to be the nursery.”

The piece came together immediately. Young couple, husband, wife, newly built home in the country, affection at the door, baby on the way: it all had an eerily familiar feeling, like deja vu in reverse. And then I stepped back and saw the assembled product. This was the summation to an equation parallel to the summation I was living. If only a few variables had changed in the past, this would have been my future or, rather, my present. Like some drifting spirit, I had been inspecting an alternate present in which I compromised and chose the magic lantern show instead of gambling on isolation and belief in self-reliance.

I had a considerable urge to put my hand where her uterous would be located, just to feel innocence in creation. I abstained, but with the strangest reluctance: in a sense, I felt the baby could have easily been mine, even though I’d never met the woman who was carrying it. The paranoia set in quickly then, awaking me from the implanted memory. Something needed to be broken as the rage and the pain set in. I left in a feverish pace, one that seemed to startle Alex and her husband, making me feel all the more pained. I found my manners and leaned on automation until I got into my car and drove down the hill.

I drove away fast, not caring about the snow. Comfort and implanted desire had disarmed my emotional defenses, hijacking my entire nervous system. A drop of compromise in the chemical ocean made the sharks come; a butterfly called home flapped its wings and my brain became a hurricane. I worried I didn’t have enough for the article, but I figured I could study the pictures later. The headline would read, “A home with a view,” or some such nonsense.

I slammed the car wheel with my palm and I tasted salt water from my lips. I drove on, fighting the lantern show and telling myself I didn’t believe in magic.


The Mating Dance of the Human Being


Once, when I was a younger man, I witnessed the primal mating dance of the human being. It is an experience that has clung to the interior of my ribs like a devil fetus refused to be pushed out. I wrote it down at the time, contemplating and examining its consequences. I found it last night, found merit in it, and translated it onto this page and through this medium to bring to you. I have blanked out the names, so those who do not want to be recognized can find bliss in others’ ignorance. I do not know what it will bring you; maybe sadness, maybe inclusion. But for all the piece’s immature, slightly sexist tone, I do know this: it can be conquered. 

Two girls in the age of naivety shrieked as the -21 degree wind chill found their exposed upper thighs while they walked on one sidewalk bordering a stretch of road near College Green park. A pack of boys thought men with oversized brows and Internet-designed muscles shifted glances as an apathetic bouncer checked IDs, as if he could mistake their neanderthal eyes dilated by large breasts and youthful epidermis. J— and I, looking for something different in a monotonous setting, slipped up the poorly shoveled stairs to an apartment door that can be unlocked with any key.

Iowa City stripped bare: likeminded cattle seeking warm spots to gather in the pen. It’s like that at night; everyone tries to find a warm place, a warm body, people to share heat with. The lonely, trapped by evolutionary disparity, grasp their pillows in an attempt to satisfy this primal urge — but it never helps. Circle two dots and a line with a felt-tip marker and a face may emerge, but it will never really smile or generate its own heat. J— bumped the lock, straddled the brown bag holding his whiskey bottle, and went  in. I followed in line, like a calf, ready for nothing.

The party began as any party does. People showed up, picked their particular intoxicant or drug, and began to indulge. Personal intoxicants vary: some choose the embrace of alcohol, some choose the cerebral detachment of cannabis. By any method, be it natural or induced, members registered to minor social events like house parties or conversations over cocktails seek what is believed cannot be found in day-to-day life: endorphins, glandular engagement, increased electrical responses across dying synapses. This party began with no discernible difference from any other social gathering. But the night promising nothing held in its grasp a lens through which the true decrepit and insidious, but primordial, nature of previously-acceptable acquaintances were proven: an attractive woman.

Choosing ones relational attachments, as I do, is a strenuous process. Dispassionate as it may sound, the process is akin to patriotic torture, in which one individual performs a series of tests to determine where loyalties lie. Though not as dramatic as water boarding, nor as violent as the application of electrodes, my tests come over a period of time as external opportunities reveal themselves: a drunken conversation, a suggestion to engage in gross behavior, a secret admission. These provide me with information regarding a person’s character and disposition towards various pertinent issues. No one passes the tests, but that is the point. Get too close and the protected man always loses, always hurts, always self-destructs.

J— passed enough of the tests to be labeled as a friend, one I hold most dear, and would loyally and dramatically kill for. Loyalty is reciprocated, as is a lovely fondness. But he doesn’t systematically eliminate his companions based on cold and unrelenting self-sabotage; he gives people the chance to fully employ their destructive tendencies before he shuts them out. Flawed as I see this method of differentiating friendlies from foes, it earns him a certain popularity and allows for invitation to such social gatherings as this. Enough popularity to invite a friend of his own, who goes grumbling but secretly content to examine the opposing side’s trenches for weakness and the like.

The five players in this parabolic tale were sufficiently intoxicated by the time the blonde woman entered the room. Pre-hormonal rebellion, the room had a cordial vibration, a sort of warmth. Men clinked glasses and bottles foamed at the neck; the music echoed at a floating pace; calm descended on overworked minds and underworked sexual appendages. A man J— nicknamed C— B— hosted the party, and he drank an imported lager with an easy smell, pouring the golden liquid into a goblet with each new draw. J— enjoys giving people nicknames, I’m not sure why and it’s a conversation yet to be had, but he’s all together good at it. “Captain Blood” is a fantastic label that inspires the imagination and gives unearned weight to the named. Most at the party had a J— M— nickname: D— the M—, Take-it-to-the M— (or M—a-million), the M—ist. Nicknames are a sign of appreciation and acceptance from J—, something to make people feel included or a part. Inclusion: the mood of the gathering up to the invasion of the woman. Everyone was included, a part, members of a collective without power or competition. All members are included in paradise until the dick measuring begins: the only reason I hope human are all relieved of their appendages in paradise as their ticket to get in.

When she walked in, the room didn’t necessarily go silent, but I can see how the situation could be hyperbolized as such. A few people carried on conversations in their ignorance of the siren spirit, but they only had their eyes and lack of auditory focus to blame. The attractive woman, a flaxen-haired maiden from Minnesota, was single, the first problem, quickly followed by the second problem: she was newly single. To the less evolved but prominent majority, a single woman is a creature that is alluring, but a newly-single woman is something to be conquered and hung up on the wall like a trophy from a profitable hunt. E— was her name and her voice alone inflicted enough hormones upon the group of needy, desperate, and generally pathetic men.

The dynamic of the room immediately changed and caused me some psychological whiplash. Suddenly, as if it had always been there, symptoms of ape-like hormones began to take affect on the individuals. I saw tuffs of thick hair explode through knuckle skin and fingers crinkle into calloused fists. Nostrils flared among the members and eyes darted from competition to prize to competition to prize. Drinking became more erratic and purposeful, as if the amount of alcohol consumed measured the level of testosterone in the blood. J— remained my lone human companion, as buddy-buddies with inclusive nicknames made a full transition into ancestral primates.

I found myself trapped in a cage with C— B—: a loud conversation, no! an interrogation, about my feelings towards all things Illinois.

“Why do you hate Chicago?”

“I don’t hate Chicago, I hate the people who have come from Chicago and created an amusement park out of this city.”

“What do you know about Chicago?”

“I’m not talking about the city, I’m talking about the people.”

“Like you would know anything coming from Iowa.”

I knew what he was saying, not the interrogation as that was mostly a cover for the subtext, the subtext.

“I’m going to fuck this female, you bastard, get the fuck out of my line of sight.”

“I’m not looking to play this game, guy. I’m not looking to fight about this.”

“You fuck, I will beat you down.”

“I’m not partaking in this.”

“You are not worthy of mating with this female!”

It’s something I’ve never understood, this dance. I felt myself fall into it a couple times, looked down and saw the hair grow on my forearms. New hormones flooded my veins when I looked at her. Electrical synapses long unused fired. But the thought of taking her as a prize only brought disgust and guilt, an old Pavlovian response from catechism. I don’t know her and there are times, when I grasp the pillow at night, that I did know the idea of her. I look at, think of, examine the primal urge and power dynamic of my peer male and wonder if there is something truly wrong; if there is a broken part inside with nothing but disgust for everything this dance stands for, and in turn, nothing but disgust for what it yields. Maybe, just maybe, I would like this woman. Personal intimacies issues aside, I might. But how does one win without fighting? Inclusion cannot come from degrees of exclusion. A relationship cannot come out of this ritual, nor in these times can the relationship circumvent it. It’s a paradoxical entity now, the romantic relationship, as both parties have to thread themselves through expectation and neanderthalic attitudes to find anything genuine.

J— and I departed, and as we did, J— politely invited the room to his apartment for a gathering the following night. The invitation was directed towards the woman, I know. It was his way of not fighting, of not participating, but acting on the possibility of romance. It was just like his selection of friends: warm, inviting, non-presumptuous, inclusive. He was the better man in the room and the room didn’t know how to respond.  The apes I had seen earlier in the evening dissipated and men began thinking about their actions. J— and I retreated towards the door, the room still silent with moral contemplation. For a moment, I thought logic and reason mixed with compassion and stability would overcome the ape-like ritual I had seen not a moment earlier. I thought it was time for these beings to be men, not apes, but respectful, passionate, romantic men.

But no. C— B— suggested they go to the bars, a more fertile hunting ground, as he was getting nowhere with the flaxen-haired maiden. They turned back immediately, they were evolved for a moment, but turned back into these wild beasts shrieking the name of their favorite hunting ground. Snakes slithered in my veins as I felt my heart burn. The better man had lost and my dark passenger hated. I turned around and yelled at near top of my lungs, “Go fuck yourselves!”

They laughed, it was all a joke to them. J— and I wondered off into the night towards cold pillows and faces that can’t smile.

On power and the evolved


My general opinion towards politicians is similar to what I imagine the puppet master’s opinion towards his puppets is: pull enough strings and they are bound to dance. It’s inevitable when two men debate one another or compete or try in some way to get the best of the other simultaneously that one man must win; one man, for whatever concretely superfluous value, must be the better of the two. The aim is simple in most cases. Yes, dear reader, there are rare times when the aim is not simple, mostly when this aim is married with propaganda and general fuzzy feelings meant to reinforce some grandly grotesque idea. But, even in these (rare) cases, the aim is the same: win the argument, beat the competition, rise in power.

And this is the heart of politics: the dynamics of power, or how to control a large segment of the population using, largely in democratic politics, rhetoric. Power is the simple aim. Power over the other man; power over those who oppose you; power over each other.

There are many in the world who find themselves born into a society not governed by a democratic set of ideas. I do not know, or pretend to know, what life is in any country other than the United States of America. A man can visit the bazaar, haggle with someone over the price of a tuna filet, go back to his hostel and find some way to cook the dead fish, but never understand what that process means to the society. That, however, is culture, and though culture is intertwined with political structures, the two are distinct and separate. But still, through all my ignorance of the exotically mundane, I am solidly with Winston Churchill who said, Democracy is the worst form of government besides every other form.

The more evolved form of human relations, the purest vein of human existence, is the absence of government. Opponents, ones mostly scared of the idea or in no way can comprehend what is being described,  coin this anti-government sentiment as “anarchy.” Anarchy, through propaganda and rhetoric mixed with politics, immediately pulls images from news reels, from films, from imagination of chaos: mobs running, looting, killing, stabbing, shooting; people like cattle in an uncontrollable stampede, like cattle without funnels to show them to the slaughterhouse, like cattle who realized they are trapped in a system that forces a them to eat a certain way, to drink a certain way, to live a certain way. Chaos is panic, the adrenaline in a person’s heart, the realization that the populous is nothing but a herd of cattle in political systems. But, just like panic, chaos is temporary and fleeting. Political pundits broadcast over free air the examples of chaos and interpret it as anarchy. This is what anarchy is like, they say, the chaos of waking up from a coma, of realizing you are cattle. Anarchy, therefore, cannot be trusted, because the insidious truth at the end of the tunnel is the belief that people cannot be trusted.

This idea, this insidious idea, has led to a fractured human psyche. Romantic relationships to race relations to how to treat a homeless man on the street: this belief has infiltrated the subconscious human mind. Romance can’t be trusted because men are only looking for sex and women are only looking for security. Different races can’t be trusted because they only care about furthering their genetic pool. Don’t give a homeless man a dollar because he’ll buy crack with it. Don’t trust anyone because people will let you down and take from you and mistreat you and the only way you can survive in this world is to shut yourself off, just shut yourself off, and always be skeptical. Don’t trust anyone, except for the governing bodies, the political system. Trust the system, work hard, and you’ll prosper.

Prosper: like a person has a choice in the matter. Whoever came up with the idea that the only way a man can rise in the class structure is by increasing wealth through working, laboring, and torturing his existence in this world was clearly on the side of the aristocratic class. The idea that a man should work in society, that work is inherently good and honorable — even, or some times especially, at the expense of personal happiness — is by all means in opposition to happiness. Industry, innovation, exploration does not have to come from or be subsidized by governing bodies. Separate power dynamics and the need for power from these natural aspects of human culture and they will not die. Many have the notion that, if not governed, people would be unable to survive or thrive. Death would come to humanity, quickly and without mercy.

And perhaps it would now when the people still want to be governed, still buy into the idea that people can’t be trusted. This want inside people has been prevalent for centuries, from the creation of mythological gods who rule over them from the skies to democratic forms of government that manipulate through rhetoric and marketing. Perhaps, the evolution of the human being is not yet compliant with the independence and confidence needed to want to be free of political structures and restrictions. I suggest no glorious and permanent revolution, as one now would be unable to separate the lust for power from a human collective, but instead suggest waiting. Wait for the governed, the power hungry, to die — do not kill them, but instead tolerate them. Build your character and sharpen your intellect. This evolution of man will not happen in your lifetime or your children’s lifetime, but in thousands of year when humanity is ready. You will not be alive — you will have died from life long ago. You will not see humanity as you’d like, but do not find depression in this: find purpose. Begin to develop humanity for its evolution, find like minded people and begin a collective of humanity without corruption from power. Pass on what you have learned. That is your purpose, that is your goal.


John Francis Hughes: Particle Introductions


Many men have never taken the question of who they are seriously. They play it off as a question directed towards the discovery of their name. No, no. Some take it as a question about their character, the individual qualities encompassing their day-to-day interactions. No again. Very few men sit in corners, in uncomfortable chairs, in shadowy spaces contemplating the nature of their soul. Introductions to the many men are merely a chance to act, to play a character in some drama they fancy is their life. No, no — introductions, the question “who are you?”, is not simply answered but rather demonstrated. So, let this man demonstrate.

When I was five years old, my mother brought me to the basement of our two story cottage and showed me a motionless black dog wrapped in a black garbage bag. It was dead and I knew this immediately. I recognized the dog’s body had once belonged to the dog that bit me in the forearm two days earlier. I loved that dog, the one that left me with a scar I carry with me today. But I felt nothing for the body in front of me. That was when I was introduced to the soul.

The first drink I ever had was from a ten dollar bottle of Merlot my parents kept on cherry wood display. I remember filling my a wine glass in a room lit only by a late night documentary about some late porn star. She had deep chestnut orioles and soft hips that could fill gentle handfuls. I opened a second bottle of wine as she bounced up and down on the screen, her eyes towards the camera, drawing her simple audience past her full, maple colored lips. My sister found me opening a third bottle, alerting my parents.

I spent the summer of my freshman year of college in a house I had rented with my one of my close friends at the time. My beloved, beautifully plain girlfriend had traveled to the Coast of Spain for a two month stay and I thought it was occasion enough to dull the jealous days with too much scotch and take up smoking. My close friend passed me one night, nearly choking on my own vomit, unable to efficiently walk to the bathroom. He passed me to go to his bedroom, looked away, and continued on.

I started working at a french bistro. A frequent customer, a fantastically aged woman of Russian decent caught me on a smoke break. The season was winter and the air was perfect for cigarettes and lustful conversations. She asked me home after work and I accepted. We sipped wine and made love while her daughter was at her father’s.

A fourth of a dollar remains in my wallet given to me by a group of Mexicans who named me Gringo Moreno.

This is a small introduction, an atomic particle of my life. Demonstrations like these will encompass my work on this program. Know only this, that I love you, reader, beyond any love you have ever know. I will never lie to you, and therefore, will forever trust you. Keep a cigarette lit for me.

Jack Hughes