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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
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They Do!

By Al Po

I

Santa tugged at his left sleeve and checked his watch as a five-year-old girl, the last of the kids he would have to deal with before going on break, approached his lap. With a mirthless "ho-ho-ho," he hoisted her up.

"And what's your name?" Santa said.

"Sarah."

"And what would Sarah like for Christmas?"

Sarah put a finger to her mouth and consulted her memory. "Um, Barbie, iPod, Hannah Montana."

"Hannah Montana what, Sarah?"

Sarah looked a question over at her mom, who was setting up the camera function of her cell phone to capture the moment.

"Um, Hannah Montana anything," Sarah said with a decisive nod that bounced her curls.

"Well, Santa will do what he can, Sarah."

Santa spotted Elvis nearby, talking to a woman. Their eyes met and they exchanged a wink. From over on the Jolly Roger came the clanging of a bell and the voice of Captain Hook: "Hear ye! Hear ye!"

Santa gave Sarah's cheek a soft pinch and whispered in her ear: "Hear that, sweetheart? Santa and his friends have a special surprise for everyone, so go tell your mommy to take you over to the Jolly Roger and see what it is. Okay?"

Her eyes lighting up in sweet, innocent excitement, little Sarah said, "Otay, Santa."

Was it Elvis, or just some guy in a black leather jacket over a white t-shirt, with long sideburns, slicked-back hair and lazy sneer? Who was to say that Elvis, through his interpreters, owned the franchise on that look and on fifties-style cool and rebelliousness?

Still, it might be Elvis, and the working class woman standing in line only a few feet from him with her granddaughter, the one she was raising for her alcoholic, thrice-divorced daughter, waiting for their turn with Santa, wanted to know.

"Are you Elvis?"

His answer was evasive—"You just hang around and see." But she took it to mean yes, delivered as it was with one eyebrow dipped and the other raised, and in a lazy-husky drawl, all of which as far as she was concerned had Elvis written all over it.

"Just wonderin'," she said. "Ahm a big fan from way back, but I didn't see no mention of Elvis in the mall's Christmas ads."

"No, ma'am, but then Elvis don't need an ad to be Elvis, now does he?"

"I guess not, now that you mention it."

Elvis was pleased to see that he was pulling off the impression convincingly; that meant that he could hold up his end of the act when the time came.

As he spoke with the woman, he watched Santa and the Jolly Roger, where Captain Hook walked along the rail. After ringing the bell, Hook caught Elvis's eye and gave him a wink, accompanied by a leer and a twist of one side of his mustache. Santa lifted down the little girl on his lap, stood and turned the sign next to his chair so that the side facing out read "SANTA WILL RETURN IN A FEW MOMENTS." The three of them triangulated looks. A wink, a nod, Elvis's sneer, Hook's leer—the time had come.

Captain Hook had had a rough day. It was his intention that no one would be aboard the Jolly Roger besides him and Peter Pan. Until the moment came, they would pass their time in uninspired mock swordplay, intermingled with Hook's glowering and stalking the deck and Pan's calling out for Tinker Bell. It hadn't occurred to him that that intention wouldn't be clear to all until some pre-adolescent ruffians, shopping mall versions of the Lost Boys, unsupervised by their materialistic, self-absorbed mommies and doltish dads, tried climbing up the sides and onto the deck, threatening to capsize the ship in spite of its having been built with a flat bottom for stability.

Hook chafed at mall management's expecting him to be, at worst, a melodramatic parody of evil, evil Disneyfied, evil co-opted and made commercially palatable for the Christmas-shopping mall crowd. How he would have liked to skewer one of them with his sword or the prosthetic hook at the end of his left arm that the Theater Department's prop and costume people had rigged up. What a surprise for the sweet families that would be!

When he rang the bell and made eye contact with Elvis and Santa, he relished the thought of what was to come. He'd skewer them, all right—not with sword or hook, but something more cutting to their delicate moral sensibilities. He ran a gangplank out from the gap in the rail down to the floor of the mall.

Santa and Elvis met at the bottom, joined hands and made their way up. When they were on board, Hook hauled in the gangplank and went to the brass bell, rang it three times and called out, "Arrgh! Avast, ye swabs! Belay yer shopping and come be witness to a special ceremony that you'll never forget."

II

From: EZ-Zimmer@psu.edu
To: Fcarlson@themall.com
Sent: August 29, 200_
Subject: Christmas at the mall

Dear Mr. Carlson:

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Eric "Easy" Zimmer, chair of the Theater Department at Prairie State University. I'm writing to you with a proposal regarding the coming Christmas season that I believe has the potential for benefiting both your establishment and our Department. I realize it's only August, but I realize, too, that advanced planning for such things is of the essence in your endeavors, and that, from your perspective, Christmas is "just around the corner." If anything, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm too late. If I'm not, please consider this proposal, to wit:

We are planning a production of Peter Pan next spring, and I would like to suggest that the small-scale version of the Jolly Roger that we're building for Captain Hook might provide an entertaining motif for your mall during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

While I'm not familiar with the in's and out's of how shopping malls set up for Christmas, I have no doubt that it's an expensive business. In this case, we would be amply compensated by nothing more than the advance publicity for the show. Our scene and costume people are top notch—skilled, professional and with an eye for detail—so I can assure you of high production values in all aspects.

I'm eager to hear of your disposition toward this proposal. If there's anything else you need to know before deciding, please contact me.

Sincerely,
Dr. Eric "Easy" Zimmer

From: Fcarlson@themall.com
To: EZ-Zimmer@psu.edu
Sent: September 7, 200_
Subject: Christmas at the mall

Dear Dr. Zimmer:

Your idea of the Peter Pan theme at the mall during the Christmas shopping season has considerable appeal, especially coming as it does during rather straitened times, given the current state of the economy. To be quite frank, avoiding the expense of putting together a major Christmas set is very appealing. That the arrangement is beneficial to you and your mission at the Theater Department is all the better. And, fortunately, you're not too late in proposing it, although had you waited much longer you would have been.

I take you at your word about the high production values your department would bring to the experience. Still, I'd like to see workups of some kind that represent your vision of the ship and the characters.

My only concern is in regards to Captain Hook. I trust he would be, at worst, a benevolent menace, one that will make the kiddies squeal with delight and not with fear.

Let me propose that you come to the mall at a time of your convenience with whatever materials you think appropriate—sketches, perhaps even promotional visuals of past shows—and we can have a look at the space I have in mind for you.

Sincerely,
Frank Carlson, Manager, PrairieLand Shopping Mall

From: EZ-Zimmer@psu.edu
To: Fcarlson@themall.com
Sent: September 8, 200_
Subject: Christmas at the mall

Dear Mr. Carlson:

I'm pleased to hear that you're receptive to my proposal for the upcoming Christmas shopping season at the mall. And I can assure you of Captain Hook's harmlessness. As in the Disney version, he'll be more comic and bumbling than menacing.

Please let me know of a convenient time. I'll be happy to come to your office with some artwork that I believe will convey the essence of the project.

Sincerely,
Easy Zimmer

Dr. Eric "Easy" Zimmer sat at his desk in his office in the Theater Department of Prairie State University, smiling at the computer screen, having just read and replied to Frank Carlson's acceptance of his proposal for Christmas at the mall. He turned from his computer to his phone and rang up Billy Cole, his colleague and fellow traveler, and asked him to come to his office.

"Close the door," Easy told him when he appeared a minute later. When Billy was in and seated, he said, "This is almost too good to believe, but they're buying it."

"Fantastic!" Billy Cole said. "Who else is in on this?"

"I've got a grad student—sympathetic to the cause, of course—lined up for Peter Pan, and Derek Avery for Santa. He has his own outfit, and I'm planning to offer his services to Carlson, gratis. I'm bringing in outside help for Hook. I've seen your Elvis. It's good, and I appreciate your willingness to do this, but are you sure you want to risk putting yourself on the line?"

"What risk? Anybody who has a problem with it, I've got a hate crime for them. When are you thinking of trying to pull this off?"

"If the mall uses more than one Santa, then we'll have to time our move for when Derek is on duty—assuming Carlson can use him. In fact, that's the key to the whole thing. I'm hoping for the Saturday after school lets out for the holidays. The place ought to be busy, and we can make a clean break when we're done and avoid being around here when the shit hits the fan, which I guarantee you will happen. By the time we return to town after a month, things ought to have died down. But of course the damage will have been done."

"It just occurred to me," Billy Cole said. "What about Tinker Bell?"

Easy shook his head. "We'd need a kid, and that could spell trouble. Tink will have to sit this one out."

III

"Arrgh! Avast, ye swabs!" Hook called out from the port rail of the Jolly Roger after his ringing of the bell and his summons had got the attention of many of the shoppers around the hub of the mall. "Belay yer shopping and come be witness to a special ceremony that you'll never forget.

"Cast yer eyes on the main deck," Hook said with a sweeping gesture and a leer in his voice. "Here be Santa, and here be Elvis. Don't they make a lovely couple?"

Santa and Elvis held hands and smiled alternately to each other and out to the crowd, some members of which had begun to exchange puzzled looks.

"As ye all know," Hook said, "I'm captain of this vessel, and as many of you no doubt know, ship captains have the power to perform matrimony, holy or otherwise."

Some of the merely puzzled looks became infected with incipient alarm. One woman hustled away with her young twosome.

"No doubt many of ye will deem this here act of matrimony unholy, but that's yer problem, and to hell with ye."

Murmurs rippled through the crowd, but so did curiosity, and some pressed in closer around the Jolly Roger. Peter Pan appeared at Hook's side with a leather-bound Bible. He held it open upside down in front of Hook.

"Let's get on with it," Hook said, ignoring the Bible. "Do ye, Santa, take this man for your wedded mate, lawful or otherwise?"

"Ho, ho, ho. I do, I surely do," Santa said.

Down on the floor, a woman held her hands over her young son's ears and yelled, "Somebody get the manager."

"Do you, Elvis," Hook said, "take Santa as your wedded mate?"

Elvis dipped one eyebrow and drawled, "Ah dyoo."

"Wait. Hold on there."

The voice was that of Frank Carlson, approaching with the index finger raised on the hand of his raised right arm.

Ignoring him, Hook continued. "If there be any who know why these two should not be joined in marital bliss, let them rot in the Hell of their foolish beliefs."

Frank Carlson still hadn't broken through the crowd around the Jolly Roger when he heard, "I now pronounce you married. You may kiss."

And they did. Santa and Elvis, in full view of the moms and dads and kids who didn't avert their gazes, or, in the case of the kids, have them averted for them, exchanged a long, grinding, open-mouthed kiss.

Hook ran out the gang plank again, and the newlyweds, with Hook and Peter Pan right behind, made their way down and through what was left of the crowd, including Frank Carlson, which, in seeming awed disbelief, parted to let them through, and headed for the nearest exit.

Outside, the members of the wedding party exchanged congratulations and handshakes and hugs all around, then went their separate ways.

IV

Within eight hours of the wedding, Easy Zimmer was relaxing in his living room in Boston where he maintained an apartment and which he still considered home base. This was the trip he made at the start of every break from school of any appreciable length, so eager was he to escape the stultifying atmosphere of Greenville, a rural, conservative, predominantly Christian community in which PSU was an island of liberalism. Billy Cole, for more or less the same reasons, was off to his second home in Seattle.

By noon the next day, Easy was reveling in amazement to see that the wedding between Santa and Elvis at the mall back in Greenville had made national news. His amazement was one part delight and one part surprise, but the surprise faded when he reminded himself that in this age of instant communication any event can be recorded, saved as a digital file and made available around the world almost immediately.

And that was what had happened in this case: a woman who had used a video camera to film her kid with Santa had captured the wedding and posted it on You Tube, from which a variety of news media, online and otherwise, picked it up and ran it for offbeat news. Given the nature of the story, it became the subject of commentary by bloggers and columnists on both sides of the culture war. Members of the faith community seemed especially compelled to weigh in on the matter: Universalist Unitarians and Episcopalians virtually wept with joy. Baptists prayed for national repentance and healing. Presbyterians called for dialogue.

Easy was elated to have caused a bigger ripple by far than he had intended or hoped for, but he wondered if he might return to Greenville after break to find it up in arms over what he had perpetrated. To his relief, by the time he returned in mid-January for spring semester, talk of the wedding had pretty much died down, in part because, only a few days before Christmas, the town's attention was diverted when a local factory announced it was closing with the loss of a couple of hundred jobs.

Eager to know how the good people of Greenville would react to events at the mall, Easy had instructed his secretary to pick up and save copies of the Greenville Daily Journal during his absence. Perusing those in his office upon his return, he learned that Frank Carlson had issued a public apology on behalf of the mall. He disclaimed any foreknowledge of what transpired, said he didn't know who the principal players were, and that he was unable to get an accounting of how or why events had taken the turn they did. In the immediate aftermath, fundamentalist Christian protestors had descended on the mall. It had even received bomb threats, but they came with such frequency that after a while they were ignored. Easy was relieved to find that none of the articles mentioned either his name or the Theater Department.

As Easy was paging through the last of the newspapers, Billy Cole stopped by his office. Easy waved him in.

"Help yourself to coffee," Easy said. "Are you up to date?"

Billy filled a mug from a carafe. "I haven't seen any news. What's the damage?"

Easy beamed. "More than we could have hoped for or imagined."

From the pile on his desk he picked up the local section of the edition dated the day after the wedding and held it for Billy to see. "Check out the headline":

THEY DO! SANTA, ELVIS TIE KNOT
King, Kris Kringle Wed in Surprise Ceremony

"Here's a piece from a few days later on how Elvis impersonators are faring," Easy said, looking at another section on his desk. "One here in town, concerned that he might never find work again, went public to make it clear that it wasn't he who got hitched to Santa at the mall and that he doesn't support gay marriage. And a woman in Chillicothe, Ohio, shot an Elvis because she said the name of Elvis has been—I'm quoting—'permanently besmirched.' The poor bastard's on life support."

"Besmirched?"

"Santa's taking a beating, too, at least here in town. Several people whose kids spent time on his lap are now wondering what sick perversions he whispered in their ears."

"This is too good!" Billy Cole said.

"Let me show you the best part," Easy said, waving Billy over to his computer screen. "Here's a Slate dot com video I saved—an interview from a couple of days ago with Davi Bashan and a radical feminist colleague of his."

"Who's Davi Bashan?"

"He's in the English Department at Iowa, but his work has nothing to do with lit. He's a cultural critic and semiotician."

"What's a semiotician?"

"Watch," Easy said.

After a fifteen-second commercial for toilet bowl cleaner, Slate cultural affairs correspondent Erica Prattle verbally backgrounded the story as the You Tube video ran behind her, then introduced Davi Bashan.

"Dr. Bashan," she said, "you've gone on record regarding the significance of this event. But I wonder if you know that the common belief that ship's captains can perform weddings is a myth. Our research department says that a captain can do so only if he is also a judge, a JP, or a minister—in other words, able to perform a wedding on land."

"He or she," Davi Bashan corrected her.

Billy Cole looked with alarm at Easy Zimmer. "In answer to your unspoken question," Easy said, "no, I didn't know that. But it's a common belief, as she admits, and that's all we needed to damage the tender sensibilities of the sweet families at the mall."

"He or she," Erica Prattle conceded with annoyance on her face and in her voice at being corrected.

Davi Bashan, looking intense and evolved in stylish retro glasses and spiked hair, said, "That's more or less beside the point. What the average person of course doesn't comprehend is that this wedding occurred in mythic space. Whether they realize it or not, whether they like it or not, all Santas are now married to Elvis, all Elvises to Santa. This is a culturally transformative moment of absolutely immense proportions."

Erica Prattle then introduced her other guest: "Tara der Boomer is a radical feminist poet, critic, and self-proclaimed social engineer. Tell us Dr… is it Boomer or der Boomer?"

Tara der Boomer curled her upper lip. "It's Boomer."

"Dr. Boomer, why do think this… wedding"—she put finger quotation marks around the word—"is so important?"

"Because," Tara der Boomer said, "it's one more breach in the wall around the Christian Empire. And it's all the sweeter for having taken place in that rank symbol of capitalism, a shopping mall. I could only be happier if it had happened in a Roman Catholic cathedral."

"The sneer on this bitch is to die for," Billy Cole said. "I'm glad she's on our side."

"Don't kid yourself," Easy said. "I know people who have crossed her path. According to them, Tara der Boomer is on the side of Tara der Boomer. You're right about the sneer, though. She could stare down Rasputin."

"Who's Rasputin?"

With a click of his mouse, Easy turned off the video feed. He put his feet up on his desk and leaned back in his chair and sipped coffee.

"Ten years ago, even five," he said, "we couldn't have pulled this off. Now we have the weight of the culture behind us and there's nothing they can do. Some day, when people look back and speculate on exactly when the tipping point occurred, they might agree that this was it. And to think I only wanted to stick it to the mommies and daddies and kiddies here in Smallville."

Billy Cole raised his coffee mug. "Here's to a queer new year."

Easy raised his, along with one eyebrow.

"Oh, more than that, Billy Boy, much more than that. Here's to a queer new era."

© Al Po 2009