Thor Garcia’s monumental novel, The News Clown, which was a finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, has been described in a Publishers’ Weekly review as “fuelled by prodigious amounts of alcohol and tobacco, sex and drugs, skipping along from one bizarre episode to the next in the tortuous life of Thor, a young man whose dreams of a literary career have been sidetracked into an undemanding job as a ‘news clown’ for a small wire service in the crime-infested back alleys of Bay City.” Indeed, sidetracking in this work can be seen as the principle of narrative organisation itself: Garcia’s is a loose, episodic, picaresque survey of turn-of-the-millennium America, structured around parallel lines of development, with narrative tracks played simultaneously on a number of levels. The lived world of Thor and the legion of his drinking buddies, fellow sots, lovers and one-night stands is one of celebration. Whether at a wedding or a funeral, or whether to the accompaniment of punk music or violent porno makes no difference whatsoever; for the be-all is to consume, amuse oneself and forget it all in order to start over. However funny the escapades and snappy the wisecracks of Garcia’s entertaining satirical narrative, as the number of women and bottles conquered and downed rises beyond count, so does the number of black eyes received in drunken brawls and the equally innumerable scars to the soul, driving the point home that the end of pleasure is callousness. This has a symbolic parallel in the colony of worms invading and gradually coming to inhabit Thor’s apartment, to his initial disgust, and his alternative horror and protests which finally metamorphose into resignation.
Alongside Garcia’s Punk version of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age (a satiric post-apocalyptic Golden Twenties) another textual world invades the pages of the novel: the world reported through Thor’s newspaper articles, the world of crime both organized and random, but vile and gruesome either way. Here lies The News Clown’s crowning achievement. Thor’s binges and shags and hangovers coexist with an endless series of headlines such as “MAN STABBED TO DEATH ON BAY METRO” or “STUDENT SHOT TO DEATH AT BEACH”. And so on and so forth, with repetitiousness both benumbing and grisly — the unspeakable horror of violence and suffering of its victims reduced, in callous journalese, to figures and modus operandi. Mediation is of course the question behind all reporting, communication and language, and the mediatised world of Garcia’s protagonist appears unmasked by those in service of its fictitiousness. One example of many is the discussion of 9/11 in the “HIDE IN ‘PLANE’ SIGHT” chapter, where Thor is fed evidence by one of his drinking companions that the WTC towers were exploded from inside and the planes photoshopped into the newsfeed. “Then they showed it to the world, and everybody instantly became convinced that aluminium airplanes can knock down steel and concrete towers!” In a world of general insanity, survival is possible not through reason, but through out-crazing one’s opponents: “the only way to beat them is to think as crazy they do.” Finally, the text of The News Clown itself comes to us, with a fine additional meta-textual touch, already mediated – furnished with explanatory footnotes, presenting “official reports,” “evidence presentation” and “investigation results”; but no additional voice is required for it to be clear that such official truth can only serve to further deceive and blur fact with fiction.
Hide in ‘Plane’ Sight: Cannibals on the Loose!
I was broke again and had gone over to Eugene Keaks’. Gene had opened the bottle and poured the drinks and started showing the film. It was my day off – bright and warm outside, birds could be heard, but Gene had pulled the blinds and shut off the lights. He insisted. He didn’t want anybody “spying” – this thing was “illegal in 36 states.” On the TV screen, a woman dressed in a pink bikini was smashing a succession of cockroaches with black high heels.
“OH, THE POOR THINGS!” Gene screeched. He giggled and sipped from his glass.
The blond beauty snuffed out beetles and grasshoppers, twisting her toe, grinding her heel, flicking her tongue at the camera. Slow-motion shots showed her ass quivering in slow motion as she squished. An underneath shot through the glass caught bugs as they exploded and ripped.
“OH, NO! OH, NO!” Gene shrieked.
The film cut to a different girl, a redhead in a blue and yellow cheerleader’s uniform. She blew a few kisses at the camera, then stomped on a lizard with her Reeboks. A salamander wandered out, and then very small green snake appeared. It slithered along, its little head just off the glass. The cheerleader did a striptease, throwing off her skirt and sweater. Finally she was wearing only white panties, a bra and the sneakers.
“I HATE SNAKES!” squealed Gene.
I had met Gene while temp-working at Lisberger-Knox BioPrep, a company that sold and distributed medical supplies – stocks of rubber gloves and cotton balls and syringes, but also parts for heart pacemakers and stents, defibrillators, machine insulators, so forth. Gene’s job was to organize the shipping forms, to figure out what was being shipped and to print out the right address labels for the boxes. It was my job to stick and tape the labels on the boxes, then move the boxes to the loading platform. Gene must have looked into my torn and ragged soul and detected another victim, because from the first day I worked at the place, he was inviting me over to his apartment to “watch movies.” I said no for about the first two weeks, but the next Friday I found myself without any money.
“O.K., Gene, look, I’ll come over but I’m going to want something to drink. A lot to drink. You got anything or am I going to have to bring it myself?”
“Oh sure, I can buy it. What do you want?”
“A bottle of vodka should be fine.”
“Oh, no problem.”
“A big bottle, Gene, not one of the little ones. I like to get drunk. Really drunk.”
“Oh that’s fine, you can drink all you want at my place. I live alone. . . .”
Gene had a long skinny neck and was severely slump shouldered, as if the weight of his head was going to collapse his chest in on itself. He had sharp elbows, bony wrists, fingernails which he would eat off until the sides of his fingertips were raw and red. His teeth were grey, his hair a pile of brown mud. He was a member of the group of guys who never seem to notice that a layer of dust and food particles has settled upon their eyeglass lenses.
The second time I was there he started telling a story about how he had been “unjustly” fired as a stock boy at a Rosemary West clothing outlet. It had been “the best job in the whole world,” up at the Bay City Oaks Mall. But one day they had fired him, just let him go “without warning.” They had claimed reasons of economy, but Gene wasn’t buying. He mentioned a conflict with a certain woman supervisor.
“She hated me! She hates everybody!”
“It’s possible, Gene. . . .”
Gene had one-bedroom place near Koreatown whose walls were covered with posters for movies like House of Whipcord and They Call Her One Eye, Galaxina and The Possession of Nurse Sherri, The Toxic Avenger, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay, Creepozoids, SLUGS: The Movie, Vampyres, The Stepfather, Malibu High, Revenge of the Cheerleader Nurses, Naked Massacre, Zombiegeddon, The Lone Gunmen. . . . He also had several ring binders in which he kept autographed portraits of stars such as Jessica Hahn and Beckie Monroe, Chandra Huss, Julie Strain, Barbara Crampton, Milky Blandot and so forth. He would go to conventions where geeks would pay to meet these women.
“Doesn’t she have long nipples?” Gene would say, grinning. “Beautiful long nipples. I’ve seen them in person, as close as I am to you right now. . . .”
“Nice, Gene, super cool. . . .”
“She’s even better looking in real life, if you can believe it. . . .”
“I can believe it.”
Gene had another sideline in the field of presidential assassinations and assassination attempts.
“Mnung could be a pretty good president. . . . unless he gets shot.”
“What do you mean, Gene?”
“Well. . . . Presidents have a tendency to get shot, don’t they?”
“Well. . . . Yes and no. You make a good point, I guess.”
Gene proceeded to tell, in considerable detail, about the 1835 assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson. It turned out that Jackson was saved because the two guns carried by the assassin misfired. Both guns. I remembered hearing something about this at some stage of school, but Gene had the extra details, he assured me that both guns were derringers. . . .
Gene was also absolutely certain that John Wilkes Booth, after shooting Lincoln, had caught his foot on an American flag while jumping from the balcony to the Ford Theatre stage, thus breaking his leg.
Gene would say: “Everything’s connected.” For example, he said John Hinckley had known the Bush family, and wasn’t it “strange” that no one talked about how George H.W. Bush took over as president after Reagan was shot by Hinckley?
“Now, Gene. . . .”
“Everything’s connected. Everything. Or it just happens that way, right?” He grinned hideously. “Just a coincidence?”
“Come on now, Gene.”
“There’s no such thing as coincidence!” he screamed.
Later, I took the time and looked it up. There seemed to be some truth to it. It seemed the Bushes and the Hinckleys had known each other, had some connection. I really wasn’t sure what to think.
The first time I was over, Gene had thought I should see Cannibal Holocaust. “This was banned in at least 50 countries!” he said.
We poured the drinks and he rolled the film. It sort of dragged along for awhile, until somebody suddenly hacked off a monkey’s face so they could eat the brain. It looked real.
“It is real!” said Gene.
A short time later, they pulled a giant turtle out of the Amazon and a guy hacked off one of its claws. The three other feet flapped. That couldn’t have been special effects, but I wasn’t sure if it was real till the guy cut off the underneath half of the shell and you could see the turtle’s heart and guts laying there, shaking. I was 100 percent sure they couldn’t have faked that.
It had been altogether too much vodka and turtle guts. I was ready to vomit and I got up to do so.
“Wait, they’re going to eat it!” said Gene.
I didn’t wait. I barfed and came back out in time to see a snake bite the guy who had chopped up the turtle. Everybody freaked out. They chopped the snake in half, then quickly chopped off the guy’s leg. It didn’t help. The guy died and they covered him with leaves.
I sat down and guzzled more vodka. Little did I know, things were just getting started. The smug Americans shot a pig while cannibal villagers cowered. It looked real. The Americans burnt down the cannibals’ hut to fake a tribal massacre for a documentary they were filming. Weird hippie flute music rolled. The American men gang-raped a young cannibal girl, while the lone American woman protested weakly and ineffectually. The girl somehow wound up with a wooden pole shoved through her cunt and out her mouth. The Americans called it a “punishment ritual,” giggled and made smart-aleck comments and got it down on film for their documentary.
Finally, the cannibals started picking them off. They stripped the clothes off the blond American hippie, snipped off his penis, hacked him into red chunks with their stone knives. Little cannibal devils in Beatle haircuts stripped the woman and raped her, then the cannibal women carried her away and cut off her head. Crazy hippie flute music rolled. I sucked vodka. The callow American film director got his head lopped. Gene grinned. I sucked more vodka. I was going to finish that bottle.
A turtle image flashed, the vodka exploded inside me. I ran back to the toilet.
I came back out and picked up the video cover. Crazy Italian communist devils had made this movie. I sat there, my head spinning. Goddamn devils had trashed life, trashed death, trashed hope. They had cruelly kicked people in the head, and for that I supposed they deserved big medals.
“Gene,” I said Monday at work, “you can’t show people that when they’re drunk! That movie’s a dangerous weapon. I’ve almost gone insane. . . .”
Gene put his hand over his mouth and giggled. “That was my 19th time!”
After I joined Cities News, Gene took it as an excuse to start yanking my chain even harder.
“You claim to be a reporter – or are you one of them?” he would egg me on. “You’re one of them! You probably believe what they say. You probably think I’m crazy. . . .”
“The hell,” I said. “I don’t believe a word they say.”
Once, during the break between Golden Ninja Warrior and Bride of Chucky, I asked him, “So what about the Boeing, Gene. Did it hit the Pentagon on 9/11 or not?”
“THERE WERE NO PLANES!”
“EVERY PLANE SEEN ON TV ON 9/11 WAS FAKE! THEY WERE CARTOONS!”
“Goddamn it, Gene. Come on, man. I’m seriously asking you about the Boeing here.”
“Do you believe everything you see on TV? As long as it looks sort of real and it’s on the news, you believe it?”
“Gene, Gene – that’s crazy. No planes? Cartoon planes? What the hell are you talking about? I mean, nobody could . . . it’s too . . . it’s too-too much. It’s way on the other side of too-too much.”
Gene giggled, sipped vodka, bugged out his eyes. He cackled.
“Don’t think they can’t do it? Anything can be faked on TV. Who do you think’s running the TV signal? How do you know the TV wasn’t on tape-delay?”
“My God, no planes. That would be the biggest fake-out of all time. The absolute biggest. Kennedy assassination and Bay of Pigs and Oswald be damned.”
Gene sipped, cackled.
“You’re one of them. YOU ARE! You’re one of them! You believe whatever they say. . . .”
“The hell I do.”
“It was easy,” said Gene. “They exploded the buildings and then pasted the planes on to the videos. It would only take a few seconds to do that. Then they showed it to the world, and everybody instantly became convinced that aluminum airplanes can knock down steel and concrete towers! JUST LIKE THEY TOLD YOU ON TV! The World Trade Center!”
“Goddamn it, Gene. I tell you, that’s monstrous. It’s sinful to even think about.”
“Don’t you know that the only way to beat them is to think as crazy they do? They call it The Big Lie. Ever hear of the Big Lie?”
“Goddamn it, Gene.”
“They also call it Hide In Plain Sight. Everything there is to know is right in front of us, right there in front of our eyes. We just never see it.”