“Indeed, one Kwanzaa instruction book for purchase on Amazon.com explains that the holiday “celebrates the African harvest,” a line that would surely strike the captive people of Zimbabwe and the 20 million hungry souls in the Horn of Africa as a cruel joke.”—Merry Christmas, Kwanzaa is Over: Reason
…as human brains became larger and larger — and pelvises became narrower due to bipedalism — it became necessary for women to give birth earlier and earlier, to the point that infants had to be born neurologically incomplete, to such an extent that much of the brain’s development had to take place outside the womb — a pattern completely unique among the primates.
More than anything else, it was this delayed development, or neoteny, that created the possibility of our acquisition of humanness.
Because human infants were born in this way, it obviously became increasingly necessary for human mothers to specialize in mothering — otherwise, these helpless infants would not have survived.
I spent several months living in his apartment building; I say that it was his not because he owned it but because he had a workshop in the basement and an enormous, homemade telescope on the roof beside a brick fireplace and wrought-iron furniture, as well as some rooms on the thirteenth floor with enormous windows, half of which were covered with sheets of gallium foil (he said aluminum foil was for “new jacks”).
He seemed, in other words, to occupy most of the structure, and certainly the places that distinguished it from other apartment buildings.
From the workshop, outside the heavy, bank-vault door next to which I used to crouch while he was working during the late nights, I heard the whistling of machines at high speed, the hissing of molten metals dropped into dark water, hammering, clanking, cursing, laughing.
His telescope, which looked almost like steampunk but had obviously not been designed with any aesthetic in mind, was visible from the street, and passers-by would gape at it while they shuffled through our rather unsafe neighborhood. I only saw him use the considerable firewood he stored on nights when it was colder than thirty-five degrees, and never had the nerve to join him and the motley gang that sat with him, smoking opium, discussing art, and peering at whatever stars his lenses showed despite the ambient light pollution. I did hear gasps, though, mostly from women to whom he spoke rapidly about this or that nebula.
The very few visitors I had would often pepper me with questions about him: who was he? Where had he acquired the range of talents that seemed to place him between the poles of the Renaissance Man and the Navy Seal, the Goethe and the MacGyver?
From his rooms often flashed pulses of light which at first suggested something had gone wrong with several hundred strobe machines, but would later assemble into coherence: he might have been building light displays for installations at the Whitney, the artist behind the artist. He might have been conducting neurological experiments on willing (or unwilling) subjects, in the name of science or kicks.
I never had answers for my visitors, for a simple reason: he terrified me. Not for the reasons he terrified our super, who hated the skull collection and the robotic arms in his house that would gently lift his LPs onto a well-balanced phonograph player with a top-quality stylus (his way, I thought, of making the digital subserviently work for the analog) and the panic room he insisted on building despite the obvious fact that he had never been in a state of panic and probably couldn’t be made to experience even mild concern.
No, he terrified me because I felt deliriously frivolous in his presence. While introducing himself, he was totally friendly: “S. Stratdrive, pleasure. Really? New Orleans? When I was in medical school on a bet, I met a one-armed sadistic surgeon from New Orleans. I don’t want to bore you. Listen: have you seen a rusted astrolabe? I think I left it on one of the landings.”
But I could sense the tension in him of someone near exhaustion with stupidity, and as I ventured a few banal opinions I realized that he was bored, perhaps even cross; I felt that my banality was a form of stupidity to him, and that should I attempt further conversation I might so painfully bore him that he’d have no choice but to act in self defense.
He happened to be wearing a kimono at the time and holding some sort of curved sword, evidently of his own manufacture and bearing his name in a script on its blade, and I thought better of pressing my luck.
From then on, I kept my opinions to myself and acted in a hurry whenever I saw him, although I began to sit at his doors, eavesdrop on his conversations, and record the records he played loudly at night with a small pocket cassette player I found in a dumpster. He had extraordinary taste.
has only lost fights he chose to lose for the experience of loss or for some larger strategic purpose; for example: to bolster further the fragile pride of an enemy so that when he, S. Stratodrive, delivers the coup de grace at a later date it devastates even more than it normally would;
can make anything out of anything, but only makes things out of the best materials because he’s not some punk show-off trying to impress you, some pathetic magician alchemist who transforms two apples into a television; no: if you want a television, he can make you one, but it’s going to be a fuck of a lot better in brightness, resolution, and aspect ration that “HD,” which he has a lot of contempt for, incidentally, not that he himself owns a TV (preferring a projector which preserves the original intent of the director),
which is not to say he cannot make things out of two apples or whatever else you have, but he’s not doing it as a parlor trick: only if it’s a fucking emergency;
has served in every branch of the US military, including the Coast Guard (just to silence those who insist on mocking them, because try mocking the Coast Guard to the face of S. Stratodrive), and the militaries of a few foreign countries, partly for the experience of more and less just types of combat, partly to learn the languages, and partly to score some sweet uniforms
didn’t take Obama’s phone calls, not because he didn’t like Obama, but because he has a job and a life, and he’d hope Obama would focus on his job and life rather than taking “How’s yer family?” phone calls from S. Stratodrive; because what happened to professionalism and focus? It’s not always a slumber party, life; sometimes you have to get to work
has killed, but has saved more lives than he’s taken, less out of sentimentality than a sense of dutiful obligation to keep everything going smoothly
I could go on, but you get the drift and I can take questions. I will conclude by noting this: although environmental exposure to S. Stratodrive’s workshop is probably the reason that I am a 28-year-old with emphysema, and although I still wake up terrified at the memory of the night I saw him suction-cupped to my seventeenth-story window, trying some new climbing contraption he whipped up at 3:00 AM, the time I spent near him was the best of my life, and ever since I’ve chosen to live alone.
mills is too kind. but in the interest of accuracy, it was not a kimono that i was wearing, but a tanzen (a heavier, woolen version of a kimono, worn during the winter months with a yukata underneath). i got it when i was 18 and working part time at a japanese import place in a hotel in downtown minneapolis called yamato imports. we sold everything from $3 chopsticks to $4,200 pre-embargo ivory sets (my favorite pair was the $300 set made from dipping the strand of a geisha’s hair into different colors of lacquer 100 times), $20 sake sets to $35,000 hamada shoji vases, $45 netsuke to $3,000 cloisonne opium jars. additionally, it was at this job that i discovered ikebana and zen buddhist texts and became a 1st-gen-gameboy tetris grand-master (playing level 9 and still using the drop button).
the only other thing i have from that job is a 19-move puzzle box that i use to store various “documents” and a lump of pure silicon i got from my brother (he works in the cleanroom of a microprocessor manufacturing facility).
and there is a woman somewhere on this earth that has a pair exquisite, carved water-emerald earrings that i stole for her.
That someone could be be driven to boredom by mills makes me feel despairingly small.