9 min read


She wants to be an artist, she wants it to be easy, because that seems like the way it’s supposed to be, post-andy warhol, post-internet, post-network spirituality.

by Swim

[previous post]

I emerged from the tent, purified and weightless like a feather in the wind to discover that The Babies had hooked up with a new crew. They pulled up stakes to go stay with them, which is where I am now. Missing, among other things, is my collection of black rock T’s, my scuffed and faded Vans slip-ons, and my candy colored Japanese pens, but it’s ok, it’s good to get even leaner. These new peeps all leave me alone with the exception of the leader, Cyndi, who wants constant reports on what I’m doing, how I’m doing and whether I’ve eaten. I post up alongside the long, bruised back hatch of the tractor trailer that rests on the overgrown front lawn of the main house, which, like the nearly identical split-levels to the right and left, seems to be owned and partially lived in by Cyndi and her family. There’s a barber shop in the back and a dentist office in the basement, the whole space cluttered with framed pictures of kids and old men and Cyndi cuddling her dogs in her trademark halter tops and daisy dukes. Guys wearing utility company shirts work on our cars. I am encouraged to carry bear spray with me whenever I’m outside, as they like to make their homes in the abandoned drainage pipes around this neighborhood. Or is it an entire town? It’s hard to tell, as the unmarked roads don’t appear on Google Maps. I sit back in a dilapidated beach chair wearing someone’s fleece lined denim jacket that smells like a campfire. I’ve got Kafka’s The Blue Octavo Notebooks tucked in the front pocket. There are oil stains on the concrete floor of the garage and cardboard boxes overflowing with green beer bottles and milk crates stuffed with rags. The generators hum, the sky expands and clouds move behind other clouds while I recapture that wonderful guilty feeling that comes from doing nothing all day except smoking.

Since I came back I’ve been questioning certain aspects of the story. Unfortunately, there’s no one who can straighten it out. Bruce, Lil Mountain and Em are gone and The Babies are unreliable. Their sense of duty to me remains intact, but they no longer seem to know what our mission is or what part they play. While I had my doubts about Lil Mountain, my time spent with his scrolls gave me no clear answers. What I did realize was that there were likely others involved in a plot to destroy me and Odious, including dear, sweet Em. I never would have imagined that could be the case, but isn’t that how it goes? The one you least suspect, and the one you love the most, is of course the one who fucks you over, etc. In her long white, virginal skirts, she gave the appearance of pretending to be of service, when she was really calling the shots. No one could be that calm without being on the take.

I go back to all the old posts, those scenes where she’s by my side and MJ’s on the other. Was her hair really so long and black as it is depicted? I remember her voice flat and low while her hands fluttered like butterflies. I looped her arm around mine and clasped her fingers to make it stop. But did we really stand so close that we were pressed together? Did she come and find me, late at night when everyone was asleep, waiting down the hall wearing only a nightshirt–her body small and slender and smooth? Did she lead me to the hot bath whispering, “you’re so precious to me” over and over while her hair fell across my face? Or was that another girl, someone HeirMax98/Odious have edited out as they take some of her characteristics and merge them with Em? She seems to get more real each time I read and reread, but she is less the person I thought I knew.

She’s out there now: back in the city where she’s been partying for four months straight, racking up bills. I know this because she forged my name to co-sign for a luxury sublet in the West Village and then skipped out on paying the rent. The landlord sent me pix through the burner email I use for X accounts and substack subscriptions. The walls are Tiffany blue, and there are white orchids and empty prosecco bottles everywhere. She ripped up the floor-to-floor carpeting to reveal the hardwood floors, just like a real Baby would do.

I remember telling her that a little deception and light crime is sometimes cheaper than a bank loan when it comes to getting what you need to build a brand, in which case, the 20, 30,000 that she racked up is nothing. It’s given her the chance to befriend important microcelebrities and bring her closer to her goal of being known so when she finally gets around to writing the book about me and Lil Mountain and everything that happened, it will be a success.

She wants to be an artist, she wants it to be easy, because that seems like the way it’s supposed to be, post-andy warhol, post-internet, post-network spirituality.

(And most of all, post me and post the babies)

“So much blood has been spilled on this settler land to make the way for this.”

I see shit like this on her net art manifesto site and in her Instagram ads she can’t afford. She’s vacated her precious human life to become a persona. And I know I play a part–the things I remember saying to her flit about my brain.

“It’s all publicity, even getting canceled, as long as you go with the flow and don’t panic. They are all talking about you which is when you self-publish, or put up a show and bar the doors so no one can get in. That’s the way. Make it difficult, or better yet, impossible, to access what you do and then resell that shit to the mainstream for millions.”

I was just high and fucking around or at least that’s what I thought at the time. But who knows. Maybe it was a part of the transmission after all. If anyone knew how to play the art scene game it was Odious. They too, put on a mask and adopted another identity, but instead of being another person, they became nature itself. The Half-decayed Devourer. Holding, feeding, hiding.

RE: Transmission. When I found The Babies I transformed from a flimsy, half-assed person into an information conduit, strong and true. I became a node on a network through which Data Flowed–moving like crystalline water from a mountain spring. This is how we build momentum, I thought at the time. I got the transmission from Odious and The Babies got it from me, at which point they let it bubble through their online swarm–not bots as such, but accounts representing identities/products that were shared, duplicated, splintered–transcending the individual creator and even the platform upon which they appeared. The Babies called it “clearpilled”. We are freed from The Matrix and reconnected to the Innernets, they said. We can see through and rise above it all.

And so on.

At the Stoned Goat House I had my little room, coffin-sized. I was fine with being the figurehead (stoic like a stereo speaker, my teeth glistening like the metal tips of adapter plugs) and for once in my life adored just for being there. I was a live feed–present in the present tense, overflowing with excess. The Babies took copious notes of whatever I said to augment their recordings, the annotated transcript of which would be printed out and placed under my door each morning so I could make edits and incorporate them into these posts that I worked so hard to get correct for all of you out there.

But instead of making new recordings and helping me keep track of all that bubbles forth, The Babies are more interested in assembling the ones they already have into soundtracks for the sprawling films they’re making. 3 plus hours each of chaos consisting of found (stolen) viral vids from the internet, snippets of movies, nature shows and TikToks, as well as bits of original footage–mainly shots of them watching the movies they projected in the woods last winter. Beside the blue-white towering faces of forgotten stars one could see the trees–oh man, how my heart jumped to see them again!--swaying black on black in the night.

I managed to sit through the whole first one. There was a scene of my voice over a clip of a woman who appeared to be Em dancing barefoot in the kitchen. The camera zoomed in on her painted nails to reveal an intricate car crash depicted on each one. My voice explained how fragments of Odious’s voice reverberated in the feedback from The Babies’ instruments and in the backing tracks of familiar songs. It was one of the many things I made up back then–not from some calculating need to lie but simply because it would just pop into my head and sound so good, I couldn’t help but to add it to the flow.

“Just think you could be picketing out in the Hollyweird desert,” 3 said, when we caught up on all these things. I had finished my time in the tent, the appearance of which had apparently been foretold by one of the several clairvoyants including Cyndi herself.

The picnic table was crammed with plates of pancakes topped with bright yellow salted butter, tallboys of hard iced tea and candy.

“That could have been you. If only you had done what they wanted.”

I nodded and looked down, filled with the usual strange mix of pride and shame that I got whenever someone brought up my failed show.

“It’s funny,” I said, “There were all those years of writing and working so hard on creating characters and situations. And now these posts about this crazy shit. None of it has stood up, none of it matters. Even if the show had gone through, if people watched it and dug it they would have done that for a little while and then it would be gone. Everyone would move on to the next thing.”

“Metaphors are the way,” 3 said, as he leaned back with his carving knife. He was one of the few Babies who didn’t have a teardrop tattoo. “Same with symbolism. Nothing else is safe from capitalism. It sucks up whatever you use to fight it and sells it back to you–but metaphors and symbolism are infinite because they can’t be contained and are open to interpretation.”

He whittled away at his latest wood carved Elf-Bar, which he would polish and paint so that it was indistinguishable from the real thing, complete with a tiny opening in which he could stuff and burn tobacco.

“That’s why we don’t use the word ‘film’,” he explained. “It’s too last century and filled with all that baggage. We prefer the description, ‘time-based digital collages.'"

“What I watched was static from the basement, edited and re-presented.”

“If you believe it to be,” 3 said, as he continued to carve.

“It’s like one of the Tik-Toks in your film–sorry, your time-based digital collage. The one of the old woman who supposedly stole a tray of donuts from a leasing office–she seemed so obviously made up, a young woman made to look old. But why? Without any context, I was forced to doubt my own perception. And all those bits of models strutting down runways. Were those kids with their impossibly smooth skin and thick mustaches real?”

He looked at me with concern as I began to laugh. Nothing upset me anymore, it was a new thing.

“Is Bladee real?” I shouted.

“Is the moon landing real, is the Shining real?”

When I need to go somewhere MJ drives and Yachty is on repeat. Just like with Bruce, I’m not allowed to sit up front, only this time my hands remain unbound. We rattle through tiny towns with their huddled houses and overgrown lawns, keeping our eyes peeled until we see the sign–a small hand-painted one on the side of the highway quoting Dylan, “Don’t follow leaders and watch the parking meters.” Some of The Babies had no idea who he was. Or should I say, “is”, as I just realized he didn’t die yet. Either way, this is the signal to get in the right lane and onto a hidden turn off that takes us to a road that runs parallel to and a little above the road we were just on.

I keep MJ awake by nudging her with the walking stick that Cyndi gave me, but it must have been me who fell asleep as I look up and instead of the back of MJ’s head, I see Odious’. It’s a vast neural network, the red and green wires as high up and numerous as the trees on the mountain, their leaves changing as fall comes and everything and everyone gets ready to go to sleep.

The music turns into feedback and in my dream I can hear Odious speak. There’s no way I’ll forget a single word, I tell myself while still asleep, but of course when I wake up I don’t remember anything they said.

Image: Tullio Lombardo, The Funeral Monument of Guidarello Guidarelli, 1525

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