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The Last Day of the Great Laibon [a story]

by Michael Robbins

This story is dedicated to my father.

 

Kiana had been in the wilderness alone. It was against protocol, and exactly what she needed. That’s what she told herself anyway. Lions came to nuzzle her belly, rumbling softly, perhaps due to that acute animal instinct for knowing when something was wrong. Usually they scattered when the Old man came around.

The first time was on the first day of the month, on the first hour past noon. Of course it was. He popped around a tree on those sand scattered Kalahari plains and waved. Kiana started, then bent over the hand-held UV monitor in both her mitts and muttered, “It’s not real.”

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On the second day, at the appointed hour, he climbed into the sun-screened Jeep with her with a cheery “Hello!” Her grip tightened knuckle white on the steering wheel. “You’re not real,” she repeated, almost as a mantra. Her bright green eyes shunted her off onto a vision, flashing to the live-feed six weeks past, to the same man, now more emaciated than he’d been at their last contact, seemingly plied with ever-more tubes in every vein. She blinked, jerking to the side, but the man was gone, at least for now.

Twice more she saw him, at a distance paralleling her as she did her job, collecting genetic samples from the indigenous wildlife. It wasn’t normally dangerous work, but it was always better to work in teams. Especially on the Kalahari with its hundred-degree-plus temperatures, sparse grasses, pale sand pans and gnarled camel thorn trees clawing infrequently at the sky. On the sixth day, it almost cost her.

Kiana had sampled some weaver birds but hadn’t been paying enough attention to her surroundings. Which was how the cheetah had stumbled into her. They literally tripped over one another. Luckily Kiana rolled one way and the spotted cheetah the other. Her heart hammered at her ribs with startling ferocity. That was nothing compared to the snarl issuing from the big cat.

Its eyes were cloudy. It must have an older cat who stumbled carelessly into the noonday sun and been blinded. With all the other adverse effects of climate change it couldn’t have been helped. This was not helping her at all, though. Her limbs were still trying not to move. She didn’t seem to have much control over her shrill breathing, something the cheetah’s ears tuned in on with terrible accuracy.

That’s when the Old man stepped around her, waving both long arms and yelling, startling the cat enough that she could get off a shot with her tranq pistol. It took a couple of shots to flatten the agitated beast, but it was done.

The pistol thunked to the brittle yellow grass as the Old Man swung back to her with that familiar grin. “That’s why you shouldn’t be out here by yourself,” he said. “Baby? What’s wrong?”

“…please stop,” she whispered, her overflowing eyes burning. “…god, please stop…you can’t be here…”

“I don’t see why not. The cheetah seemed to agree with me.”

“B-but, Poppa, you’re gone. You’re…y-y-you’re…”

It all came spilling out, all the tears dammed for the past six weeks, all the suppressed emotions, stealing her breath, choking her. The Old Man returned from the truck with a paper bag for her to breath into. He held onto her with soothing words as she hunched over herself, hyperventilating for how long, an hour? All she was able to choke out in all that time was, “forgive me.”

“What for, baby?” he asked.

“I-I wasn’t there, Poppa. I-I didn’t come for the end.”

“The cancer was pretty far along this time. There wasn’t a lot anyone could do.”

As he’d done when she was younger and brought home every stray dog in the neighborhood, teary-eyed, he now dabbed her cheeks with a kerchief that was the same safari-brown as his sleeveless shirt and shorts. “It’s okay, Baby. Say what’s really bothering you.”

She could look at him now, into the smiling eyes that had raised her, the face now smoothed of all aches. “Is heaven real?” she asked.

“It’s better than heaven,” he shrugged. “Go on. You can do it.”

“I can’t.”

“What, the little girl who frolicked with lions? That’s not who I remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t want to remember you like that, all wasted away. I wanted you to be strong in my memory. I wanted to remember all the fishing trips with you and Momma. I wanted to remember that big hug you gave me when I came home from my mission.”

“You can still have that. Nothing wrong with that.”

“But I-I’m not ready.”

“I wasn’t. Nobody’s ever ready. That’s okay. I have faith in you, baby.”

“Does Momma hate me, for not coming home?”

He blew a raspberry out the side of his mouth. “Never. ‘Worried’ is more like it. You should give her a call.” Together they stood. “I’ve been allowed this one visit. I’ve probably overstayed it already. Why don’t I help you load that cat in the cage before I get back?”

This was done in no time at all. As she slammed the metal cage shut in the back of the Jeep, he tipped her chin up, chucking her on it. “I’m proud of you, baby.”

She ducked her head with a smile. A stiff breeze whipped through her bones and he was gone. In the depression in the grass where he’d stood, there remained a small red book of Psalms, the one he’d always carried with him for forty years. The one Momma swore she’d buried with him.

Excerpt: Midnight Interruption

A short excerpt from my next novel in progress, Sanity’s Edge. Enjoy.

midnight interruption 300

I slipped off the ship after dark, once I could sense that everyone in the village was asleep. The forest was new but Mama had found me a new friend. We stared at each other under the shade of a mango tree as the Moon climbed into the sky.    Its tongue flicked the air in the three-meter space that divided us. This wasn’t one of the gen-altered snakes I was accustomed to from my home. This bugger was all wild, possibly the first of its kind that I’d seen since childhood, possibly the first I’d ever seen in my life. Sweet Ngai, was she massive! Her trunk was thicker around than my thighs.

I sensed her full belly, so I had no worries on that score. Her scales had a fresh gloss, as though she had just completed shedding not too long ago. I suppose she wouldn’t object to a warm body to enfold. I closed the distance between us and stepped into her embrace.

I knew this would be a problem as soon as a hundred kilos seemed to land on my hips, pressing me down. My knees buckled at first, but I kept to my feet as a second curl of muscle wound behind my legs, brushing the skin of my thighs before plopping atop the first coil, in the process pushing up my breasts.

Both were solid rippling muscle. A thrill shuddered through my chest, and perhaps a little excitement. I’d never given myself to such a beast before. A third coil slipped past my shoulders, pressing my breasts into flattened ovals between them. Sweat trickled over them and down the middle of my back; but that was probably just the heat of this place. For now, I was content.       As I held out my hand, the last meter of its tail settled in my palm, circling twice before cinching tight. With my eyes shut, we dropped as one bundled mass into the soft grass.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it. When was it ever so? The sun had barely emerged as a pink fingernail on the horizon when my hand comm chirruped in my waist pouch. This was ten meters away, along with the rest of my clothes.

Brutus, for so I named her, showed no inclination to release such a rich source of warmth, and gods, I didn’t want to leave this body hug just yet, either. Oh well. I stretched forth my free hand, the new new left one.

The hand comm made an oddly hard thump as it whipped through the grass into the false meat of my false hand. I settled back in Brutus’s coils, pillowing my neck on hers as I put the comm to my ear. “Jambo?

“The correct greeting would be I ni sogoma, young miss, but we will let it pass this time,” a firm male voice replied. “Am I speaking to Miss Jamai Dlamini?”

“Yes,” I said, suddenly a little nervous.

“My name is Magistrate Oumar Hadad, the local prefect for this hamlet. Would it be possible for you to spare me a few minutes?”

“H-have I done something wrong?”

“Not at all. Your Captain Ismalla discovered you missing this morning and got it into his head that you would be in the fields, with a snake. And so you are.”

My body seemed to have frozen, even snug in Brutus’ coils, though my stare darted left and right. “Don’t be alarmed. The local children spotted you sleeping from some trees they were climbing. They almost took you for dead, but for the fact that you were snoring.”

“I snore…?”

“My deputy has been watching you via long-range glasses, to see to your safety. He will escort you to my office, in your own time.”

My own time…I could make them wait another hour…No, best to be done with it. “Whenever he’s done masterbating, I’d like to dress in peace.”

A deliberate pause followed. “Let me speak with him. You can pull yourself together while I’m berating him.” And the comm chirrped off.

mango-trees

The End is Not Near

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I wrote this piece eons ago, after years of writing about a situation in a certain African nation that seemed unresolvable. I was looking for some way out. I suppose this piece came out of that dimming hope. It’s a two-handed dialogue between two POVs, one as seen from my present state of misery, while the other come from a perceived future. Now that nation I spoke of seems to be making inroads to a better form of governance. It remains to be seen whether that comes to pass. That need for hope is still an ongoing thing, unfortunately closer to home these days, so I’m re-presenting it here.

 

A Song of Hope

 

What kind of world are we leaving our children

who can they believe after all the lies

why must the mistakes of the past

be visited on the generation to come?

 

My generation thought we could do anything

my people touched the Moon

our songs moved a young nation

The path was ahead, not behind

But that’s where this generation is hiding away

 

All the wonders we have seen

are forgotten by narrow minds and narrow hearts

all the questions our children will face

are coming to haunt our fading days

Tell me, why haven’t we learned?

 

Oh my love, your glass is so half-full

your eyes see only half the picture

This much is true

there can be no rest so long

as men rule the world

 

But the winds change with the seasons

The minds of men open and shut as easily

The doors you now see closing

one day will open again

You can’t put aside what Ngai has decreed

not before ten billion more seasons pass away

so how can you say that the end is so near?

 

Please tell me, why can’t we learn?

When did we become slave to the black goo

dribbling ‘neath holy ground?

Haven’t you called it ‘The Devil’s Excrement’?

 

How can so much money flow into so few hands?

Why are so many promises left unfulfilled?

Tell me why another generation can only hope

 

Oh love these things are not new

Freedom ebbs and freedom flows

even in the shining lands

Everything you fear to lose

will come back to your hands another time

Even the darkest night must have a dawn

 

Even the Earth you walk one day will cease to be

But that day is so very far away

Take my hand and believe what I say

This day, today, the end is not near

 

From the future to the past

With love from the Emancipation Posse

 

In landmark case, Supreme Court rules LGBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-rules-existing-civil-rights-law-protects-gay-lesbian-n1231018?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma&fbclid=IwAR0HwgKEcELvefL4zrx7mzH8TJE4vS2aWLvBsfRPI0cnUvwvo32WD2-1X6k&fbclid=IwAR1K0ndi-hAYGVTQm-9A20v9jRirSo5r_tjAAWrg5fLztwfIPHpGwwcG23M&fbclid=IwAR0a0ZHpqKekkU6NvSfnrOxJe1-03Pb1SJTD4-4TjHda-9izN_bTjWiQhtE&fbclid=IwAR11QanDEMha9qn995EJHc3PD0ptfeBMtOfszTiIn2EL8de59fnuNEbe0i8&fbclid=IwAR3w-yN0Sw19_JFN3HUqUCnICS-ZpUBlaoKxUX8fkwE4dYBkUA7M8Tvfd6Y

John & Yoko Live with Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East, June 6,1971

Available On: Side 2 of the Live Jam disc included with Sometime in New York City, released in the U.S. on June 12, 1972. This performance was subsequently issued, with an alternate mix, on disc one, “A Typical Day On the Road, Part 1”, of Frank Zappa’s 2-CD live set, Playground Psychotics, originally released in 1992 on Zappa’s Barking Pumpkin label; it was re-released on Ryodisc in 1995.

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The performance was captured on 16 mm film and insofar as I know, has not been officially released on video.

 

It comes out that people like me have to save themselves, because we get fucking kicked! Nobody says it! Zappa’s there screaming, “Look at me, I’m a genius, for fuck’s sake, what do I have to do to prove to you son-of-a-bitches what I can do and who I am and don’t dare fuckin’ criticize my work like that! You who don’t know anything about it!” Fucking bullshit! I know what Zappa’s going through! And a half! I’m just coming out of it now, just fuckin’ hell, I’ve been in school again, I’ve had teachers ticking me off and marking my work! Fuck you all! If nobody can recognize what I am, fuck ’em!

-John on recognizing himself as a genius at age 9, Lennon Remembers, New Edition, Jann S. Wenner, @ 2000 Verso/Rolling Stone Press, originally published in 1971

 

The Mothers of Invention were much like John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, in that their membership fluctuated, and in fact they had disbanded in 1969. The Mothers had only recently reunited in 1971, not long before the John and Yoko set. Both bands were also led by men with distinctive absurd artistic tendencies.

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This session had its genesis in an interview with the Lennons by Village Voice writer Howard Smith on his WPLJ-FM show. Smith was off to interview Frank Zappa (Dec. 21, 1940–Dec. 4, 1993) next and asked if John would like to come along, and naturally he said yes.

Zappa recalled, “A journalist in New York City woke me up–knocked on the door and is standing there with a tape recorder and goes, ‘Frank, I’d like to introduce you to John Lennon’, you know, waiting for me to gasp and fall on the floor. And I said, ‘Well, okay. Come on in.’

                “And we sat around and talked, and I think the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re not as ugly as I thought you would be,’ So anyway, I thought he had a pretty good sense of humor so I invited him to come down and jam with us at the Fillmore East. We had already booked in a recording truck because we were making the Live at the Fillmore album at the time.”

The track listing may be confusing, so I’ll lay them both out to be sorted. On John’s Live Jam disc, included with his 1972 LP Sometime in New York City, it goes “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, “Jamrag”, Scumbag” and ‘Au”. The alternate mix on Zappa’s Playground Psychotics (1994) lists them as “Well”; “Say Please” & “Aaawk”, a double renaming of “Jamrag”, which was a cover of Zappa’s tune “King Kong”; “Scumbag” and “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”.

This was one of the last concerts to be held at the Fillmore East. After only three years of groundbreaking concerts, the venue closed on June 27, 1971. Fillmore East–June 1971 was released Aug. 1971, two months after John’s encore appearance; yet the encore wasn’t included on this album; instead it would be saved for Playground Psychotics.

The audience must have been surprised when John and Yoko stepped out for the encore, John in an off-white suit and black guitar. “This is a song I used to sing when I was at the Cavern in Liverpool. I haven’t done it since,” John said by way of introductions.

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The only tune that kept true to the performance in either mix was “Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)”, a 1958 hit by the Olympics. Well, at least it proved that John could carry a blues song. The only detraction was Yoko’s wailing after every line of every verse. She seemed to be on a one-track mind that night; all she managed to offer was the same wail.

(Ironically the live cover of ‘Well (Baby Please Don’t Go)” was released decades before the studio version saw daylight on the John Lennon Anthology and the smaller compilation Wonsaponatime in 1998.)

 

“Jamrag” was where they were sued by Zappa because they stole the melody to his song “King Kong”. That song was composed in 1967. Zappa and the Mothers had been performing it in concert throughout 1968, where it quickly became a concert favorite. It was finally committed to vinyl on 1969’s Uncle Meat as an 18 minute-plus track. I gotta credit the Mothers for stamina in keeping up the rhythm for 18 minutes.

(P.S.–‘jamrag’ was British slang for a sanitary napkin. Sorry, TMFI)

Basically, in this venue, it was John and Yoko screaming back and forth, with Zappa jerking his middle finger up, eliciting even more shrieks. It actually had to get a minute and a half into it before it approaches anything constituting a melody. Don Preston gives a prominent keyboard solo, but Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s vocals had been turned down on the Live Jam mix…as well as Yoko’s cat-killer wailing, ironically.

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On Playground Psychotics, “Jamrag” gets split up into “Say Please” and “Aaawk”, still with no mention of “King Kong”, though Zappa had every opportunity to do so on his own CD. Perhaps he was hoping to avoid any more lawsuits, or he had no interest in stirring up any more hornet’s nests. Who knows? The “Aaawk” section brings forward the guitars. Zappa probably renamed that part ’cause that’s what Yoko’s screeching sounds like halfway through the song.

“Scumbag” was a long jam consisting of John calling out two words over and over–with less Yoko. Literally, as partway in someone rushes onstage to drape Yoko in a bag, from which she wails on unimpeded.

Halfway through, Zappa breaks the Fourth Wall, calling to the audience, “Hey listen! I don’t know if you can tell what the words are to this song but there’s only two words and I’d like you to sing along ’cause it’s real easy, anyone who comes to the Fillmore East can sing this song. The name of the song is “Scum Bag”, OK, and all you gotta sing is ‘Scum Bag!” All right brothers and sisters, let’s hear it for the Scum Bag!”

 

That bleeds over into the last number, “Au”. On Playground Psychotics, the last number in John’s show was retitled, appropriately enough, “A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono”. Zappa and the Mothers exited the stage while John bent over the loudspeakers and left his guitar spewing feedback over the crowd, whose cheers had been scrubbed from the Live Jam. Yoko’s siren wouldn’t come in until two minutes in, and thankfully the feedback almost–but not quite–drowns her out.

Finally, when the noise is over, everyone comes back onstage to say goodnight. “I’d like to thank Frank for having us on,” John says. “Yeah, he’s the greatest,” Yoko adds.

 

“After they had sat in with us, an arrangement was made that we would both have access to the tapes…He wanted to release it with his mix, and I had the right to release it with my mix–so that’s how that one section came about. The bad part is, there’s a song that I wrote called ‘King Kong’ which we played that night, and I don’t know whether it was Yoko’s idea or John’s idea, but they changed the name of the song to ‘Jamrag’, gave themselves writing and publishing credit on it, stuck it on an album and never paid me. It was obviously not a jam session–it’s got a melody, it’s got a bass line, it’s obviously an organized song. Little bit disappointing. I’ve never released my version of the mixes of that night.”

Do you ever intend to?      

“One day yeah–but it would be drastically different because there were things that were edited out of their version and certain words that were being sung that were removed because of the editorial slant that they wanted to apply to the material and I have a slightly different viewpoint on it.    

–Zappa recalls on The Frank Zappa Interview Picture Disc, Baktabak CD CBAK 4012/ UK 1985, interviewer unknown, transcribed by Robert Moore; interview conducted c. 1984

 

This was probably the second-fastest turnaround between the performance of a live show and its release since Live Peace in Toronto, barely a year after the session. The show was fine, of course; what went into the mix on the Live Jam LP wasn’t the Lennons’ finest moment. Technically it was supposed to be a ‘free’ bonus disc, except that it was given a separate catalogue number which pushed up the price of the total album package. As Zappa said, he got the raw end of the deal.

john and frank live-jam

When it comes to mixes, I have to give this one to Zappa. Well, the audience was brought forward significantly. Zappa’s vocals and Jim Pons’ bass are more audible I believe on Zappa’s mix than on the Live Jam. At times it seems Zappa and the Mothers had been erased altogether from the Live Jam version.

 

Interestingly, Sometime in New York City was the last LP to carry the Plastic Ono Band name, as the Nixon Administration had already taken up its campaign of government harassment against the Lennons.

 

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/john-lennon-frank-zappa-fillmore-east/

http://wiki.killuglyradio.com/wiki/The_Frank_Zappa_Interview_Picture_Disk,_pt.2