Discussed in this essay:
HOW I BECAME A SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE CHURCH OF THE SATANIC APE
by the High Priestess of the Church of the Satanic Ape, the former first lady Bush
Regan Books, 2012
Riveting in its amalgam of noir intrigue and sci-fi futurism, the former first lady’s new memoir, How I Became a Spokeswoman for the Church of the Satanic Ape, recently published by formerly flaccid Regan Books, stands poised to eclipse even the King of Pop’s 2006 tome, In Bed With Apes, as the all-time best-selling memoir having to do with the triumph of our nearest evolutionary cousin, the chimpanzee.
Interest in the de-evolution of humankind reached its apex in the latter years of the Bush administration, before the transformation was complete. Authors of all stripes had spent the previous decades hard at work casting the slow burn of American empire (alongside the ever-quickening incineration of the world’s fossil fuels) as one of the least intellectually engaging collapses ever — so obvious were both the signs of the impending crises and the willful ignorance of the vast majority of the American political establishment. Still, it wasn’t until 2005 that the relatively unknown Jacob Cyrus McCormick, of Chicago, established the soon-to-be guiding metaphor for our sinking ship of state as return of the lower-level cretinous ape to the very top of world civilization, the assumption of the American presidency, in his obscure but soon-to-be prescient Chimps Ahoy! or All Chimps on Deck or The Foolhardy Organism of Reverse Darwinism and the American Presidency.
Ms. Bush’s How I Became a Spokeswoman details the after-effects of the metaphor’s ascendancy in America’s perception of itself. Ostensibly an absolutely over-sincere “twilight years” narrative with a terrible grasp of basic narrative prose (its wretchedness unmatched since the “Left Behind” series of biblical thrillers penned by right-wing babboons Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, among others in the “years of the half-man-half-ape,” as they’ve come to be known), the book reveals the infidelity behind the imperial pair’s much-publicized split and the subsequent “abduction,” staged as it was in a manner sensational enough to rival that of Patty Hearst oh those many years ago. The details of the Church of the Satanic Ape story are now well-known, yet to read them in these pages is to experience the elucidation of several key epiphanies Ms. Bush and many of us had and/or are still having about the period of decline. Among them are:
1) De-evolution is not always mutually exclusive. From the former first lady’s detail of her first encounters with the Church of the Satanic Ape, it becomes clear to us — though not all that clear, arguably, to her — that the CSA was actually of a higher order of intelligence than the society in which it operated, mostly belied by the fact that total allegiance was not required of its members, making its core one of the most harmonious and at the same time dedicated of underground paramilitary organizations in history.
2) Chris Rock, you will be missed. The blissful utopia depicted in Rock’s ascendancy to the throne of American power in the now-apocryphal Head of State (in which, among other things, the American presidency was envisioned following the rise of one of the more complicated and humanistic and ultimately beneficient of American cultural products, i.e. Rock’s character was portrayed as a big fan of the rapper Jay-Z) was never to be realized, of course, and Rock’s early demise at the hands of government agents will be lamented for centuries in the history books, a fact Ms. Bush only tacitly grasps but that screams through the blank spaces between her leaden lines.
and finally 3) The much-vaunted “slice to the jugular” was at best a political ploy, and at worst simple b.s. As clear as it seemed at the time, the so-called “supreme revelation,” or “slice to the jugular” delivered to our country’s news-ingesting public by its mainstream media, the unveiling of the covert last-ditch suicide plan via nuclear self-annihilation, was not as cut and dry as it seemed. Again, the former first lady’s lifeless prose doesn’t live up to the sting of our knowledge of the falsity of this revelation and what it could mean to the future of our society. News organizations, as Ms. High Priestess of the Satanic Ape reveals, are not to be trusted. And she is right. But the by-now descended and obvious destruction of any sort of trust in our society goes unremarked upon. So much for new orders, new ways of seeing. So much for de-evolution.
The city was out to get her. The weekend loomed, the third in what we were coming to see as her inevitable trinity. Two weeks prior, after a Saturday bachelorette party (not her own), her boyfriend was just off work at a bar in a depressed area of town and drove to rescue her from a cabal of Mafiosos at the Redhead Piano Bar as well as from the drunken bachelorette herself, who was about to be involved in something no one wanted. There were five of them in the party, in all. Z, we’ll call her, watched her man walk in and, before she could get to him, get collared by the drunken bachelorette, who was oh-so happy that he was there, she and Z (whose brother was the bachelorette’s betrothed) would someday be sisters, it was sure, and how happy she was! Well, thank you, the boyfriend said, not realizing the extent to which he’d saved the day here. A drunken Mafioso had been about to lift the bachelorette from the ground when she saw the boyfriend on the way in. Z, for her part, sighed and then loudly suggested they get the fuck out of there.
They did. Stopping at a late-night diner on the way, now going on 5 AM, they were only just two or maybe three bites into whatever variety of grease plate they chose to feed the alcohol coursing through their veins when the waitress whined, “You aren’t parked in the garage, are you?” knowing the boy suspected full well that they were. “Yes,” Z said. “Yes we are.”
“Well, you won’t be able to get your car for a while. The garage is a crime scene, all taped off.” And the waitress, wide-eyed, now disappeared behind the diner’s counter, a hub of activity now as excitement of the news built: someone had been shot! Oh great day, how wonderful! Other waitresses and waiters and managers and cooks would repeat the mantra with something like glee in their eyes — “It’s a crime scene! Oh no, you can’t get your car now!” — and Z would tell us the next morning at brunch, aka the hungover, funereal last bachelorette gathering, how she and her man got a cab home and she’d just dropped him off now, at noon, to pick up his car, which had been right next to a dark stain on the concrete that could only be blood. And yet there wasn’t at that point in her talk the kind of abject paranoia that would inflate it in the weeks to come to the stuff of myth. It was all inconvenienced anger now, my God what gall to keep the citizens from getting their own cars, private property, etc.
But then the week drew on into the weekend and, this time, she was at the YMCA, she said, out in her old west-side neighborhood. She’d gone for her typical 30 minutes on the treadmill, a little light weight lifting, when she witnessed on her way in an extremely large crowd of loud young men on the basketball court, unusual for a Sunday. She commenced her routine and didn’t get five minutes into the running when a voice rose behind her, “Is anybody in here a doctor?” She first thought about her heart, her poor murmur-riddled heart and then of the heart of whomsoever it was that had had a heart attack in the sterile environs of this west-side YMCA. She thought maybe briefly of her father and his triple bypass, but the voice behind her went on, “Someone’s been shot on the basketball court.” He sounded unconcerned, really, so much so that the import didn’t register at first — until her heart fluttered, jumping forward a beat or two. “What!?” she said.
The man with the utterly disengaged voice now came skittering up to her machine. “No, I’m not a doctor,” she said, “but what happened?” incredulous but insistent, a slight out-of-breath rasp. The man calmly informed her, in the manner of a nurse reading an astronomically high blood pressure reading, that there’d been an argument on the court, two young men on one side had left, come back right through the front door, and started waving a gun around on the court, at which point their principal opponent in whatever the argument was about — something trivial, surely, a ruling on the court in absence of a referee, a maligned hairstyle — tried to take the gun out of the armed man’s hands. She tried to imagine the sound reverberating through the cavernous gym area, tried to visualize it bouncing off the 40 foot ceilings and hard floor tiles. “He’s not dead yet,” said the man behind her, “but he’s close. Caught him right in the jugular.”
She was happy, at least, that this particular shooting wasn’t the outcome of a catfight in the women’s locker room, for this time at least she would be able to gather her things and go. On the way out, after her workout was officially cut short when the gym’s manager decided to close early, after the young man’s death was official, she caught a snatch of conversation between cops and a woman who appeared to be the deceased’s mother. “Only 22,” she was saying, completely indignant. “You motherfuckers won’t do shit, will you?” she said.
She told us this the next Wednesday at our typical midweek after-work gathering. She told us how she was convinced the weekend awaited something final, something monstrous. “These things always happen in threes,” someone said. Someone else laughed. Not her. Not I, either, and I pledged right then and there to be with her this weekend, if she needed it. “My boyfriend’s acting silly about it,” she said. “I think I’ll stay in.” She invited us all over Sunday for drinks and food on her back porch. We wouldn’t make it as a unit, though. Only I would play witness to the strange workings of fate.
It was hot that day, and she had no air-conditioning — and if she had, what office flack in the town could afford it with rents so high? — so on her third-floor porch our sweat was visibly mottling the boards beneath our chairs. This was, however, an improvement to the swelteringly humid box inside. Other than she it was me, her boyfriend Ron, and one of his friends I didn’t expect to see, Jeremy Knowles, a local, very small-time filmmaker who had a penchant for self-deprecating remarks that in his talk eventually wound around to deprecating you. Z was visibly miffed by his very presence and did her eye-rolling best just to ignore Knowles and Ron as they talked on and on an endless metaphor connecting DIY filmmaking to gritty noise rock. She and I gathered round some plants at one end of the porch and smoked a joint one of our after-work gals had given her Wednesday in concession for her absence here. “I’ve never been so superstitious,” Z said, adding though that she had grown up on the periphery of a smattering of Pentecostals and that there was all amount of speaking in tongues and other such nonsense in her extended east-Tennessee Appalachain family. “My mom was a hippie, though, and she was way into stuff like astrology and the spiritual possibilities inherent in psychedelics, belief in things beyond mere advanced senses.” She never fell for it, really. Acid was an exercise in maintaining control; gave her the willies, really. Pot was fine, long as the buzz was mild. She cut it with alcohol and cigarettes, always, she said.
Just then Knowles piped in, visibly and auditorily drunk, with “You girls talking about something a mere filmist oughta be in on?” Not that it was malicious, maybe, or even arrogant, but fuck the guy. He was a waster of the worst type, made all the more appalling and ugly for his apparent success, the mere fact that he got things done. He never combed his hair, went around in the summer in what looked like the same pair of black cut-off corduroys and simple white T-shirt stained in the armpits. And these outbursts were about the worst; yes he had a habit of loudly interrupting, when trashed, which was most of the time away from his house, anyway. I’d never seen him anywhere but out, though, so maybe I’m being uncharitable.
And we just ignored him, mostly, and Ron for his part seemed a little embarrassed by the guy, too — I’d never known them to be friends, I’ll admit, and maybe they weren’t. Ron kept getting up and moving aimlessly about the small deck and always then ending his circular amble slumped against the doorframe to the interior, where he’d sort of sway back and forth as if to crank the chattering filmmaker’s awareness like a jack in the box, like he wanted the guy to leave. But of course it wasn’t working, and as we all got more and more drunk — Z’d brought out a couple chilled bottles of cheap Spumante — Z went on with her talk, she’d never been the superstitious type, really, she meant it, but there was a pattern here that was undeniable.
Paranoia is contagious. It crept into my bones as she broke down the past and possible immediate-future scenarios: 1) a man or woman identity unknown to Z or any of Z’s immediate friends shot very near to a car in which Z was to be ferried from the place where she was eating, a wall away, really, followed by 2) exactly one week later (if one was to consider the timing of the previous week’s killing being in human terms late late Saturday night but in real, mathematically-restricted-by-the-24-hour-clock terms actually Sunday morning) a boy, named Dante, identity further solidified in Z’s mind by the actual physical sighting of his babbling angry mother, all of which would mean 3) something should happen today, and by Z’s logic it would go down in her proximity and it would involve herself or someone she was well well aware of, meaning A) Ron, B) “that fucking jerk Knowles,” or C) me.
Knowles heard this last part — I watched his eyes light up as Z went on — but miraculously chose to ignore it. I considered the porch, highly rickety as it was. Maybe it would involve us all, a classic Chicago mega-porch-death scenario. The papers would eat it up just as they’d devoured the Great Collapse of ’03. “They’re changing it in two months,” Z said, noticing my grim expression, but drilling the paranoia home all the while.
But I had another small glass, then another, and had mostly forgotten about it all, even Knowles, who continued to jaw on, sending Ron up and up again, to the doorway, back to his seat.
Then I guess no one was really that nonplussed when the first shot came whining over our heads. The sound had been a kind of whistle. I heard it, but thought perhaps a fly had buzzed my ear. The second volley got the attention of Ron: after a quick yelp he shook out his hand and, bringing it up to his face, dislodged from the skin of its back a single BB. “Motherfucker,” he said, and Z’s gaze shot my way, her eyes pinched slit as if the confirmation of all her fears was something to rally her focus around. Just then another volley caught fucking Knowles in the forehead, and I couldn’t but laugh. Z didn’t join in at first, but Knowles started screaming and jumped up to run back into the house when a BB lodged in the flesh of his triceps. Z exploded. We were in tears in seconds. Ron even joined us.
Across the alley an open window, a curtain half obscuring the dark interior, was forced closed. And the shooting stopped. Knowles didn’t come out immediately, but when he did he was on a mission, demanding to know if we knew where the shots were coming from, like we were somehow responsible. We pled ignorance, pointing out the possibility of the window across the alley, still closed. The shots commenced the minute Knowles got down the stairs, hitting him with uncanny accuracy as he ran to put between the suspicious alley window and the next-door garage. The shooting continued, lodging a pellet now in his wrist. Maybe there were numerous shooters, we all laughed, for, as uncertain a blessing as an all-out BB attack might be, death was not in our cards for this day, and we were happy.
Please forgive your favorite editor/columnist. He is desperately attempting to quit smoking, realizing all the while that nicotine gum is nothing more than Skoal Bandits in chewable and quite overly expensive form — nevertheless, he chews on. Give him a break. He is feeling very dumb. After puffing away for ten and more years, the loss is more than just that of a very close but licentious friend, it’s given him this sort of wound-up, crosseyed feeling every time he sits down at his computer or pulls out a pen and paper. It’s DAY 3 and the feeling has yet to abate, nicotine gum-cum-Skoal Bandits be damned. He feels more stupidly stupid than he has ever felt, in short (not altogether a bad thing, we guess, though his historical boostering for things like “the literature of stupidity” or “stupidism” or just living one’s life with a high knowledge that one is, more than likely, quite a bit more idiotic than the next man — all of this stuff was of course done in a rather jauntily ironic way such that both that which was being proclaimed and its exact opposite could be construed as equally intended, so he wasn’t all dumb, or at least that’s was he thought). At this very moment, he is out of wit. This, below, is perhaps all he can handle. OK.
Could smoke rolled-up newspaper, or used toilet paper, even, anything. Yes. That bad. Spend morning very halfheartedly assisting fiancee in digging up turf in a small plot in the backyard in order to extend garden by perhaps four square feet, enough to accommodate two green-pepper plants and three more tomato plants. Spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the fact that, should the tomatoes and peppers ever materialize, what with the undoubtedly polluted city soil, they will become most definitely food for the alley rats.
Spend rest of the morning deflecting fiancee’s ire; pop double load of nicotine gum.
Receive e-mail around noon from also-quitting friend, who sez, “Could smoke rolled-up toilet paper.” Aren’t these your thoughts? Struggle to keep eyes focused on screen.
Journey to meet with old SC friend in Ravenswood for tacos and water. Buy a pack of Marlboros (for an outrageous $6) on your way there and sit it in the passenger seat, an impulse test. Chomp away at gum while occasionally glancing at your new friend, all red and white and lovely there beside you. Pound steering wheel at red lights and scream at cars in traffic.
Mention new friend to your old friend, who laughs and shakes his head back and forth in disapproval across the table from you. Shit. Long, possibly hour-or-more-long, conversation about the progress of life, the feeling of being a pod that churns out and takes info almost on a routine basis. Your old friend is a great man, though, yes, a much better individual than your new friend, whom you throw out the window like useless foreign money on your way to the golf course.
Double bogey. Par. Bogey as you pass two hacking duffers who have to be shooting snowmen (the ever-dreaded 8) or more on each hole. Bogey. Bogey. Join up with Ed, a real-estate consultant who slices his drive into the trees on the right side of the tight fairway. You: Bogey. Bogey. Bogey. For the final hole, pop gum and shank your tee shot into the trees on the right. Waste three strokes getting out of a sand trap after a heinous approach shot, and end the day with a snowman of your own.
Blame the awful end on lack of cigarettes. Buy another pack of Marlboros and place them on the seat beside you. Ever superstitious, resolve to leave them there, comfortable, unburned, until the next round.