7 min read

white shirts

Jesse James (who now goes by the name Lil Mountain) showed up on my windowsill, skinny and inspired and wearing an ET mask as he busted the whole scope of the thing even wider, so that now I don’t know who is on what side, and if there are even sides at all.
white shirts

by Swim

There’s a scheme running in the background, a looming Gotham of red-lit psych wards and high-rises like wizard’s castles, but is that just what my mind has created? A fear-based response to the sense that I no longer know who or what outside influences are working upon my thoughts?  I’d already set my intention to figure out who Heir Max was once and for all, and if necessary, extricate Odious from his grasp, when Jesse James (who now goes by the name Lil Mountain) showed up on my windowsill, skinny and inspired and wearing an ET mask as he busted the whole scope of the thing even wider, so that now I don’t know who is on what side, and if there are even sides at all. At first I was relieved to see him: he could help me make sense out of what was happening, he could calm me down the way he used to do out west, when we’d talk about scary or difficult things in diners, fortified by the sugar and caffeine and bright lights. I tried to imagine the protective feeling of the booth as I told him I’d seen a devilish face in the clouds, and sometimes felt invisible things close by, leaving out that by close by I meant in my bed and by things I meant Heir Max.

“It was probably projection mapping in the sky, some new angle the feds are playing out,” I told him, repeating what 3 had told me, after I scared the shit out of him by telling him what I saw. I wanted Lil Mountain to know I was still thinking logically, and that my overgrown paranoia was at least pointed in the right direction.

“Really?” he said, “Because I think it was Heir Max. I think he’s here, as real as the molecules in the air. We can’t see them, but they’re right here, beside us.”

I was shocked. In all our travels and time together he always politely (and sometimes not so politely) laughed off the whole Heir Max thing. He thought it was a joke that Odious was playing on me. An art joke taken too far, the result of their pandemic boredom and my willingness to be fucked with.

But he had changed. At least that’s what he said. Jesse James was dead and he was done with NYC, this time for real.

“The last act of a long, lame play. It ended with a whimper, not a bang,” he said, as he carefully folded and refolded his prototype stack of blinding white “revolution” t-shirts.

“I was at another meeting with another A&R dude, who was on his phone the whole time with someone else. I was drinking a sixteen-dollar martini in which the vermouth came in a vial, floating there in the glass like a pierced fish with its guts slowly leaking out. The HVAC system was emitting a high-pitched whine that was killing the vibe. Everyone hated everyone, the A&R dude, the customers, the people looking in from outside. But all I could feel was this intense love filling my body. Love for them all, everyone, every person and pet and bug. Even the rats in the corner of my eye. The love was so strong it disintegrated everything else. The room, the city, the street… my body and my sense of self. There was no past or future, no ambition, no trying. For a few seconds I was completely free.”

“I sat back and it clicked. I realized you were right. All that time I didn’t want to know, I wanted to be cynical and keep the stance of, you know, someone who believes in history. And science. But something IS happening, something that never happened before. There’s an opening. A chance to leave the ordinary world forever. And I knew right then that I had to leave the city and rebrand.”

The Babies had told me about the rumors. How he was on the payroll of “anti-woke” NYC artists funded by Peter Thiel, something he neither confirmed nor denied, saying only that the downtown scene had “quickly degraded.” He wanted to talk instead about how he and I and The Babies were going to finish the album the two of us started out west and embed a secret subliminal blueprint inside for all who were ready to hear it. “You know how they make you want to buy a coke in the movie theater? Well, we’re going to make people want to get free.” I nodded but found an uncharacteristic heavy handedness to his new, ideological proposals. He never struck me as very political when he was Jesse James, although it was true that he’d had some questionable views, which honestly I was OK with, seeing as how when we met I was feeling anti-everything myself and was just glad to have found someone who was DTF and DTTTFO (Down To Take The Fuck Off). No one works anymore, so I never really wondered how he got money to pay for motel rooms and Juul pods and iced coffee and drugs. In his Real Trees shirts and ripped, unwashed micro shorts, filthy vintage Reeboks and wraparound visor shades, his vibe was poor in a rich way, just like everyone else.

Had he been on the take all that time? Sending information back to conservative think tanks and Adderall addled bloggers? Sharing the most secret things that I told him that Odious told me, things about Heir Max, things I don’t even dare to write about here, which regardless of how trippy they sounded he always made sure to scoff at?

Now he’s staying with me in my room, and although it’s much bigger than most of the hotel rooms we crashed at on the road, it feels strange to have someone so close to me again.

No more staring into space uninterrupted as the minutes turned into hours or crawling under the covers when the light is too bright; he’s taken over the bed with his laptop, multiple phones, individually wrapped Japanese snacks, the design book about packaging that is almost entirely diagrams with arrows pointing at which way to fold, and the stack of thin, glossy New Direction Paperbacks that he carries with him not to read but for aesthetic inspiration.

“We like, you know, sleep naked together like, every night,” he said when he noticed I was getting dressed in the bathroom. A hint of cheesy pink bloomed beneath the powder on his cheeks. When he isn’t donning one of several masks, including a custom-made metal piece a la MF DOOM, he’s taken to wearing heavier, nearly theatrical level make-up, including blue eyeliner to outline his faded tear drop tattoo and make it pop.

I looked down and shrugged.

“Being naked is one thing. But there’s something entirely too intimate–nearly obscene–about getting dressed in front of someone in broad daylight.”

He smiled and I smiled back, and I thought of all those times out west, when I figured I was the bad guy, and was always surprised and relieved at the way he took care of me, feeding me and giving me edibles in the right combinations to help me sleep.

If he was in on the scheme I decided that it was also a part of the scheme that I would be in on him being in on it. In which case everything got canceled out.

But The Babies weren’t sure.

“We told you he was in trouble,” Em said at the house meeting. MJ was seated beside her at the kitchen table, looking officious with her hair pulled back despite being high as hell. The rest of The Babies were sprawled on the floor, avoiding, as usual, the “vascular constriction” of chairs. I’ve been trying to get them to let go of such beliefs, even if they were true–especially if they were true. “Odious makes facts and theories beholden to them, and not the other way around,” I pointed out, but it was a subtle thing and talking about it only went so far. I had to live as an example to such wisdom myself if I wanted them to learn and advance.

I looked out the window and could see Lil Mountain pacing, a cloud of smoke obscuring his face. The mountain blended in with his pants, while the sun glared off his blindingly white t-shirt. The idea was to give them out at distribution points listed inside the cassette tape cover of our album. A plain white T-shirt made of a special material that made it far brighter than cotton. It would help us find our fellow revolutionaries in the crowd while also making it impossible for anyone to look at us directly.

Em folded and refolded her hands on the kitchen table.

“We can’t let someone who most likely spied on us for the powers of racist hate and fascist darkness move back in.”

“Look, yo, this is Jesse, I mean, Lil’ Mountain. He’s so poker-faced and he’s got no fucks. He’d take the money but never narc us out.”

“It seems he didn’t realize who was actually behind it,” Em said. “That this wasn’t just some art crew beef about who can get a tag up on the top of a tall building. This is real shadow government shit. Mind control culture jamming with drugs and money and sex.”

“He told me he got paid through a downtown film festival, via a Chinatown gallery that’s only open for 45 minutes, every other week. He has no idea who runs it. He was supposed to show up and DJ a men’s bathroom with a dark ambient set and ended up pumping Narcan into some kid’s nose instead.”

“But who gave the money to the gallery who gave the money to the film festival?” Em said. “We have to follow the trail of Yankee dollars, that’s what you always tell us.”

“All our personal experience as well as our data shows that he’s a serious, caring person,” MJ added. “But he’s confused. And that’s the kind of person they like the best.”

“Right,” I said, lighting up a blend. It occurred to me how much time I spent worrying about them, these children I’d fallen in with. How I wanted The Babies to be OK, not only in some far-off future, but in the weeks and months ahead, what with the war and the killer police and unknown diseases still forming. The imminent collapse of the financial system. How will they get by? I wondered, but now I realize they’ll be fine. They know how to farm and fix mechanical things and learn new skills. They communicate with ease and are moving towards living 100% off the land. If I bother doing so at all, it’s not them I should worry about.

“Right, right, right,” I said, nodding profusely, until it felt like my head was going to roll off. “He’s a caring and confused person. Just like me.”


Image: Akira Nagasawa, Reborn

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