Discharge Orders

According to my mother, my grandfather Curtis Shephard lied about his age (he added a year) and volunteered for military service during the First World War. He joined the 42nd Division, the “Rainbow Division,” of the U.S. Army in 1917 and went off to fight the First World War in France. In a vest pocket-sized leather notebook he kept a record of his tour of duty, which lasted until Spring of 1919. A terse narrative with dated entries and place names marks off his experience of the war. He recorded the places his division marched, the hours they marched and where they camped. Sometimes brevity conceals horror: “Entered the trenches. Heavy gas and bombardment attacks.” Towards the end of the notebook there is an entry in capital letters: “HOMEWARD BOUND.” There are lists of what appear to be expenses and pay, meticulously entered in dated columns. There is also a long list of people’s names: I wonder if he sat one evening with nothing more pressing to do than to recall all his friends and acquaintances.

Pasted onto several pages are orders typed on onionskin, some with the names of generals at the bottom. According to my mother, part of his job was writing (or at least typing) letters for officers, so these may be specimens of what he typed. He also had to write letters to families whose sons were killed, probably to be signed by an officer. There is one sheet of “General Orders” that surely did not come from the Army. I think these were his general orders to himself as he left the Army. According to my mother, her father left military duty deeply committed to pacifism. Though he was not politically active as a pacifist, she told me that on Memorial Day or Armistice Day, whenever former soldiers would put on their old uniforms, he too would put on his uniform. He would then make a point of telling the children he met on the streets of Evanston, Wyoming, that war was not a glorious adventure but a horror they could not imagine, and that they should not be fooled into thinking it was any different.

Here are Curtis Shephard’s “General Orders” upon discharge from the U.S. Army.


Apuntes de Ignotus I

Inventory, animals in the apartment

1 cloudy-eyed black spaniel
1 bowlegged white cat, orange ears
1 black and white kitten, rowdy
Uncounted: neons and guppies in the fishtank

Inventory, languages you might hear on the streets of Parla, a working-class suburb of Madrid, Spain

Castillian (“Spanish”)

Water for guests

In the old times, in the islands, we did it this way.

In the entrance way, before the main door of the house, an alcove holds an earthenware porron, a flat jar with a neck on one side and a spout on the other. Evaporation cools the water, ready for any guests who come out of the intense sun to the shaded doorway. Sometimes the alcove also holds a destiladora above a pitcher. The destiladora is a plant in a hanging basket. Its dense mat of roots filters the water that is poured over it. The water is most likely rainwater caught in a cistern. We pour the water that drips into the pitcher into the porron.

But perhaps I remember all of this wrong, or it happened to someone else, or in a story, or never.


In the old times, on a washstand in the patio: a pitcher and a bowl and a towel.

Pour the water from the pitcher into the bowl. Gather the water in the smaller bowl of your two hands held together and lift it to your face. Blow into the water as it rises to meet your face. Feel your breath splashing the water outwards as you mold it to your face. Apply soap. Scrub. Again, lift the water and blow it outwards. Find the towel. Dry your face.

This is how my father taught me, but perhaps it was someone else’s father who taught him, or I heard about this in a story, or invented it to fill an idle moment.


Because our town was too small to have a baker, we built an oven in the orchard wall and baked our own bread.

The History Book

The Fascist dictator who governed this country for forty years had the best interests of the country at heart. The history book my niece is studying for her university qualifying exams says so. And if your family history and your own sense of historical bullshit says it was otherwise, that a Fascist dictator has never had the best interests of any country at heart? That’s fine, it’s a free country—but unless you want to flunk the course, keep your version of history to yourself. Was there ever a country whose official history was something other than a fiction crafted to conceal the true nature of its ruling class?

In the Bank

To get into the bank, you pass through an electronic portal, one person at a time. Each individual moves through a cylindrical space with transparent sliding doors fore and aft, just large enough to hold one body. The outer door slides open and you step in. The outer door sighs shut. Perhaps a disembodied voice tells you to deposit metallic objects in the small lockers in the entrance of the bank. Then the inner door slides open and you step through into the bank.

You find there are various queues in the bank: one that ends at a row of ATM machines, another that arrives at human tellers seated behind a counter, and another for people who need to meet with bank officers seated behind desks. “Who’s the last person?” people ask as they come in and find the queue they want.

The bank is busy. It’s the end of the month: there are paychecks to cash and bills to pay. The lines move slowly. People wait patiently, but there is a buzz of commiseration and outrage. These are hard times. Bankers are bankers first and human beings second, people say. There’s talk of the recent cases of fraud on the northwest coast, of hustlers who persuaded pensioners to invest their life savings in bogus real estate schemes. The law is pursuing the crooks—yes, but how different are those crooks from the ones who created the current crisis in the first place, with fast-money schemes and insider investements? Some the law pursues, others it protects: where’s the justice in that?

To get out of the bank, you pass through an electronic portal, one person at a time. Each individual enters a cylindrical space with transparent, bullet-proof sliding doors fore and aft, just large enough to hold one body. The inner door opens and you step through. The inner door closes. Then the outer door opens and you step out into the world.

Place Names

El Albero, El Romo, Vallecarril, Pelacogotes: every corner of land around this farming town has its particular name. Sometimes the name marks off ownership, sometimes a natural landmark, sometimes an experience: Pelacogotes is the place where the wind strips the hair off the back of your head. Who remembers the names? The last generation to work the land remembers them. Their children remember them, too, from the stories their parents tell about growing up in the time before most everyone here moved to the cities to find work. Who remembers the precise locations each name records? The sons and daughters can no longer find the exact places, even if they remember the names.

The Gift

On the television, the young woman who is the protagonist of a weekly drama has a special gift. She can talk with ghosts. Ghosts are the spirits of the dead. What a gift it would be to talk with the spirits of the living!

I might have been drunk

Sitting on a stone by the river where it runs through the town, I might have been drunk. People passing by would ask me, “Juan Teodosio, why are you sitting here?” and I would answer, “Look here, I’m sitting and waiting for my house to come by. All these houses are passing by me, one after another, and so far, not one of them is mine.”

666 is 42 in drag

Yes, two famous numbers are really the same. We have uncovered a stunning numerological proof, and ye shall be the first to know.

Firstly, 666 = 6 * 111 (six multiplied by one hundred eleven). Yes. And 111 in binary is 7: 4 + 2 + 1. Are you still with us?

Therefore, 666 6 * 7 42. Q.E.D.

Yes, the biblical Number of the Beast is equivalent to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, from Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

And if that isn’t enough to satisfy your pattern-hungry brain, consider that the third moment of the Riemann zeta function, that links geometry to the order (or disorder) of the prime numbers, is quite likely 42, and that the zeta function appears to rule in the quantum world of subatomic particles—so much so that physicists may be the ones to solve Riemann’s Hypothesis that within the geometry of the zeta function all prime numbers are gathered upon an infinite line.

Memory, Death

Memory traces a map but cannot cross the border into the past. The map is a fiction, an ideological fixture, a pretense of life where life has passed on, the shadow of a land of shadows. To be remembered is to suffer a form of death. To remember one’s past self, suicide.


Do something different this time. If that doesn’t work, do something different this time. (from J.T. Pescador’s as yet unpublished Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Space-Time Continuum)

SOC Sex/Romance

Sexual attraction operates at close range, like magnetism, with which it has long been identified, or really close up, like the strong nuclear force that holds atoms together. To hang together in intimate carouse, two nucleons must overcome mutual repulsion, not unlike two lovers. Romance operates over long distances, like gravity. Romance and gravity ignore intervening obstacles: sex and electromagnetism may be baffled by them. All these forces, social, animal, and physical, strike a delicate, chaotic balance where together they bring about the complex and lovely self-organized criticality (SOC) that engenders creation itself. If we thinking creatures could share this balance, we’d find ourselves living at the crest of each passing moment, where “energy is eternal delight.”

And failing that, since we are not likely to have nervous systems capable of truly seizing on the instant (carpe diem is such a forlorn expression), we might strive to explore the meandering course where romance and attraction strike their balance. I believe that may be called love, my dear Alma.

New new media media

The operations of digital encoding stretch and fold both media and content. If there’s a horizon between the two, it’s the porous membrane between data and display, not a partition into the meaningful and the meaningless. We should speak about “a media” rather than “a medium”: Inherent plurality drives the digital experience. “New media” gets it wrong from the start, suggesting that a collection of singularities (still) defines contemporary cultural productions. New Media was a convenient label, with just a tang of avant-gardism (new) while reassuring us that hybrid, transcoded, remixed and mashed-up chaos could be accommodated to prior art (media). It can’t.

‎”A collection of singularities”: Singularity in the sense of something unique, suggesting that each “new medium” could be differentiated from all others, like film from video or video from television. Instead, each media is a recombinant cluster or braided stream, sharing strands or elements with other media. They compete within a space of sensory modalities/production techniques/distribution channels/target audiences, continually seeking some interstitial zone that has not yet been filled. This is as much true of commercial media, that seeks profit in unfilled niches, as it is of alternative culture or tactical media, that pursues the phantom of liberation through interstitial media zones.

Enewetak Atoll

Craters on Enewetak (formerly Eniwetok) Atoll, in the Marshall Islands (11°33’11.22″N, 162°20’52.71″E). Lacrosse Crater and Runit Dome: features are approx. 400 feet in diameter. Lacrosse (18:25 4 May 1956 GMT) had a 40 kT yield. Cactus (18:15 5 May 1958 GMT), at 18kT, left a crater that was used for dumping waste and then covered over. The cover is leaking. http://bit.ly/g4ctT2

Aerial view of craters on Enewetak Atoll, Runit Islet

Craters on Enewetak Atoll, Runit Islet

Age and Consequence

You were born old and famous and you will die young and unknown. Trace the edge between age and consequence.


Vicente Huidobro’s poem Altazor, el viaje en paracaidas (Madrid, 1931) can be found here.

»Se debe escribir en una lengua que no sea materna.
»Los cuatro puntos cardinales son tres: el sur y el norte.
»Un poema es una cosa que será.
»Un poema es una cosa que nunca es, pero que debiera ser.
»Un poema es una cosa que nunca ha sido, que nunca podrá ser.
»Huye del sublime externo, si no quieres morir aplastado por el viento.
»Si yo no hiciera al menos una locura por año, me volvería loco.»

“Mago, he ahí tu paracaídas que una palabra tuya puede convertir en un parasubidas maravilloso como el relámpago que quisiera cegar al creador.
¿Qué esperas?”

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