25 - student - NYC That's all for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Short Story - Part IV

Lucifer awoke in a sea of red. He could see that his left arm bled freely, yet no pain registered – though a dizziness hovered precipitously close, anxious to make its presence known. Shards of glass dug unnoticed into his back and legs. A pungent odor filtered its way through the air. Formaldehyde.

The corridor remained brilliantly lit, but permeated desolation. The only sounds were a soft trickle of liquid and the crunching of glass as Lucifer struggled to sit up. He found that his arm hung useless, drained of much of its vitality. In fact, the entire left side of his body felt chillingly light. Lucifer knew he needed immediate medical attention. He tried to collect his thoughts.

How was the normally bustling fourth floor suddenly the embodiment of solitude? Where was Ruloff? How could he stop the bleeding? Thoughts jumbled together recklessly. Had that old man done this? Lucifer drew frustrating blanks. As he brooded, a white excrescence cast over his vision. Recent memories flooded.

It was six weeks earlier. The snows melted the blacktop slick in a typical suburban theatre. Lucifer leaned back on the picket fence taking a deep drag of a cigarette. Smoke plumed through his nostrils in tiny horns. Winter break could not end soon enough as far as he was concerned. High school friends suddenly seemed strangers – they spoke of names unattached to faces, related stories that evoked no memories. Lucifer felt estranged and mildly rueful – lamenting the simpler days of youth when a blizzard meant snow forts and school closings.

Frosty gusts knifed his windbreaker as he inhaled another smoky breath and stared at the children. A small boy hovered anxiously beside his creation as the older girl marched imperiously about in inspection. She tutored the younger boy knowingly, rearranging several raisins and a carrot as her eager shadow squeaked and hopped alongside. Lucifer gazed at the scene coolly – his eyes shining mutely, the only movement, a tremble of his jacket in the wind.

Exhaling another pair of horns, he lifted the cigarette again to his parched lips. The girl had finished her fussing and was now squinting crinkled eyes at the spot where he stood.

But Lucifer was too busy packing snow into the base of his creation to notice Lucy’s preoccupation with a lonely spot in the distance. His older sister had finally finished adjusting the snowman’s particulars and Lucifer imagined only moments separated him from the creature’s sudden animation. He and Lucy had just that morning watched a program depicting a lively snowman with a stovepipe hat. So when those moments passed and Frosty still remained inert, frustration descended.
Lucy was still staring at the vacant point in the picket fence when Lucifer peered up at her.

“Watcha lookin’ at Lucy?” he asked.

“Nothing, Furry,” she mussed his hair distractedly, “I just… I just thought I saw someone just now… standing there watching us.”

Lucifer felt a cold shiver as he followed her finger to the fence. Perhaps the air grew more chill at that moment or maybe it was nothing, but Lucifer felt strange. A fleeting gasp of knowledge embraced his childish mind before fluttering free – a small moment of clarity that he had lived this moment before. Déjà vu.

A whooshing sound suddenly filled his ears as the world fell away into the horizon. Another familiar scene slowly developed in its place – a playroom full of plastic dolls, Legos and toy trucks. Lucy sat in a corner, fretting over something. A domestic scene played out nearby.

Leaving Lucy, Lucifer gnashed his cigarette into an ashtray as he followed the sounds into a kitchen. Beside a center island stood a couple talking in hushed tones. Threading his way through several stools, Lucifer approached the pair unnoticed. They continued their muted discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A News Break from the Story - NY Times v. Gonzales

As there hasn't been any particular interest in the short story - I thought I'd return to news.

Yesterday, I attended the 2nd Circuit oral argument of NY Times v. (A-G) Gonzales. This particular case was appealed from a S.D.N.Y decision issuing a declaratory judgment against the government, forbidding it from issuing a subpoena to the telephone company. That subpoena would be requesting the telephone company to divulge a record of the calls between NY Times reporter Judy Miller and an undivulged source who leaked information about an impending bust of a Chicago-area suspected Islamic terrorist group.

Apparently, Miller had called the group after receiving this tip and basically warned them of the impending bust. Now the government wants to get a record of the calls as evidence for a grand jury it is convening in Chicago to prosecute the source of the leak to the Times.

There are two major areas of contention and legal relevance in this case. The first is basically a venue question that won't really be of interest to anyone unfamiliar with the law. In essence, the government argued that the Times inappropriately engaged in "forum-shopping" in bringing a declaratory judgment action in NY. The government claimed that the appropriate response to a challenged subpoena would be a motion to quash brought in the court which had issued the subpoena (in this case, a federal court in Chicago). The implication, here, is that the Times brought the action in NY because it knew that the judges were more favorable to an expansive reading of reporter privilege under the Supreme Court's Branzburg opinion.

The second issue in the case dealt with the question of reporter privilege and how far it extends under the Branzburg opinion. The 2nd Circuit, in a line of cases, had basically adopted the Powell concurrence as a more expansive reading of the privilege, rather than the White majority - a reading that the government did not agree with. But in an attempt to distinguish this set of facts, the government argued that here it was issuing a subpoena to a third party. Floyd Abrams (also counselor for the Times in the famous Pentagon Papers case) responded - I think persuasively - by saying that the telephone records are part and parcel of reporter privilege and without privilege being extended to those records, it would have no real strength.

There was some back and forth about a federal common law standard for reporter privilege. Abrams claimed that 49 out of 50 states have statutory shield laws for reporters and the government's failure to recognize a similar right puts the state of journalism in constant flux - because the reporter never knows what assurances he can give his source as there is a constant threat of a federal subpoena even with state protections. As my professor Jack Weiss mentions, however, that is still no reason to create a constitituonal protection for a privilege under the First Amendment. The government responded by repeating that there are 0 out of 50 states that protect third-party subpoena privilege.

It will be interesting to see what the Circuit decides to do. The lower court, of course, issued the judgment - so it is up to the Court of Appeals to reverse it. Interestingly, this entire issue may be moot, because the subpoena was to be issued to the telephone company, NY Times would have no reason to ever see it. As a courtesy the government had informed the Times of the subpoena but there is no way of really knowing whether the telephone company already received and complied with it. Thus, the government may very well already have the telephone records, in which case this whole argument is moot.

However, the sympathy of the Court during oral argument was fairly obvious. Judges Sack and Kearse seemed to favor the Times and the extension of reporter privilege under Branzburg. The delicate problem is that the forum-shopping aspect of the case looks suspicious and if the Supreme Court heard this case - it would almost certainly be reversed on that issue. It will be interesting to see what the judges decide.

Of note: 15 minutes into the argument Judy Miller hurried into the courtroom and sat directly behind me. She was staring daggers at Fleissner, the prosecutor for the government. As an aside, from the things I've read and heard about this woman - I just don't like her.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Short Story - Part III (a busy day)

Lucifer reached the fourth floor. As he approached the fire-door it swung open, confronting him was a twisted old man leaning heavily on a cane. Lucifer did not recognize the man, though this was unsurprising as Lucifer had little acquaintance with the faculty outside the architectural school. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the fellow but for the cane – which looked to be solid gold. Presently though, much of it was obscured by the old man’s exaggerated hunch.
Preoccupied, Lucifer endeavored to sidestep the wizened creature and was surprised to have his maneuver abruptly retarded. A steel grip held fast his wrist. Surprisingly dexterous, the gnarled fingers had seized him mid-stride.

“Do not seek it. You shall not find it a kind master. Luciferio. Expartio oustle bavaerum,” the strange ancient wheezed harshly.

A deep chill left his blood cold. It was the second time he had heard that odd phrase. Frightened and confused, he turned to face his captor – but the old man was gone. Only a stiffness in his wrist remained. The fire-door lay open.
Lucifer stumbled into the hallway and headed toward the familiar display cases, but something felt terribly wrong. A pit began growing in his stomach. As he inched closer, he struggled mightily to throw off a growing dizziness. He felt sick again – glass covered the floor. Lucifer’s eyes teared heavily – red trails smeared the corridor walls. The ceiling swooned and starbursts exploded before his eyes – a noxious smell permeated the air. And as Lucifer crashed to the floor, he lacerated his arm deeply on a jagged edge of what was now an empty broken display case – Ruloff was gone.

Lucifer awoke in a sea of red.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A Short Story - Part II

Hunched over, a light finger pressed his shoulder. Lucifer turned and blinked at the figure peering down at him. It was tall and gaunt, shrouded in a deep cloak festooned with brilliant blackness. Lucifer could not decide whether he should describe it as dull luminousity or a luminous dullness. Either way, it both swallowed and radiated light. Lucifer found it quite impossible to distinguish any detail as the material refused to allow focus.

The light pressure he felt on his shoulder remained, and it was in notable distinction to the growing heavy presence of this figure. Of further significance was the tremendous heat emanating from that contact point while the rest of the figure appeared nothing more than like a freezing wind. Oddly, Lucifer felt no fear as he was alternately warmed and cooled by this mysterious apparition. Quite the contrary, he experienced a welcome calm even as the figure spoke.

“Revitharum feclorum divintium. Influentia contrafista luciferio. Expartio oustle bavaerum.”

The strange words had a deep icy quality, as if etched into stone. They also carried with them an unmistakable expression of antiquity – of beings as ancient as rock and earth. Lucifer did not understand but felt a foreign echologic compulsion – he repeated the words softly and involuntarily.

And as in an instant, the pressure on his shoulder ceased and the figure dissipated. As white light returned, Lucifer found himself sprawled on the lawn. Several students were clumsily attending his comforts. His neck now supported by a bunched sweater, a North Face girl fussed over him anxiously.

“His eyes are opening! Are you okay? I saw you just totally… like… collapse! And then you started mumbling in a weird language, and then…” she squeaked excitedly.

Another girl kneeling beside the first dropped his wrist satisfied that he did, indeed, have a pulse. Later that day she would walk into the registrar’s office and switch to pre-med, much inspired by her healing touch. But still sitting beside Lucifer, she interjected into her friends torrent dialogue.

“Corinna’s a little excited, but she’s right. I was standing over there when you came out of Uris Hall. One moment it looked like you were puking on the statute and the next you were dancing while staring up at the sky. Then you collapsed and began mumbling… feh color um da vinci um or something…over and over”

Lucifer blanched slightly, the warmth and calmness was leaving him, taking color from his skin and replacing it with the creeping white tendrils of fear. He knew deeply that the figure was real – just as clearly as he had known that the Green Dragon walls truly moved. But the blindness of these witnesses greatly tested his natural convictions. Ever accruing evidence suggested Lucifer’s own madness.

But he was growing accustomed to solitary knowledge. Hours alone in the studio had honed his capacity to “go insular.” The fear receded. Color returned.

“I’m fine,” Lucifer managed. His throat was cotton. “Just a bit of epilepsy. It’s a pain sometimes,” he creased a pacifying smile.

Corinna’s friend nodded knowingly, she had heard about epilepsy. She was inspired to find the cure. Later that day, after visiting the registrar, she would look it up on the internet and donate to the “National Society for Epilepsy.” Two weeks after that she would become the stuff of urban legend – falling two hundred feet into Cascadilla gorge while trying to pee off a bridge. Apparently she owed her survival to a particularly large badger or raccoon which had broken her fall. It was rather difficult to tell the exact species from the condition of the carcass.

But for now, she finished nodding, stood and pulled Corinna with her. “He needs some space to breathe, Cor. Give him some space.”

Corinna compliantly retreated, glad to have her friend in control. In general, Cor was a fairly compliant girl. She went with the crowd and did as the crowd. In high school, she had gotten into alcohol and drugs at an early age – her allowance more than sufficed to cover a steady stream of addictions. And that generous income was supplied by Daddy Duggan – a man made rich through his best-selling line of self-actualizing books. Among the more popular titles were Duggan’s Guide to Independence and Duggan’s Manual for a Clean and Healthy Lifestyle.

Lucifer sat up and noticed that a considerable crowd had formed. Many of the faces were familiar though not intimate – they belonged to names that Lucifer had heard or known. Many of these faces wore expressions of bewilderment and disturbance, as though this scene upset the placid tranquility that their parents paid for in tuition. Misfortune normally distributed blinders to these students, but her negligence had left them somehow irretrievably soiled. This spectacle would haunt their conscience, at least until Thursday’s Sigma Nu Spring Bash.

He dragged himself to his feet and shuffled toward the refuge of Uris Hall hoping to get lost among the academic traffic, hoping to escape the judging modern peerage. Corinna and her friend followed.

“Are you sure you’re alright? I mean, anything we can do to help,” the friend offered, ushering Corinna through the doorway.
“Yeah… we can help,” Corinna squeaked.

Lucifer cringed. “No. You’ve done enough. Thank you. I have an appointment.”

He disappeared into the stairwell, leaving the two girls alone in the hall. Corinna saw that her friend was miffed, and so she too became miffed. They stewed together in their miffage for a while before the friend became mollified by the thought that she saved a life. Corinna was also coincidentally quite mollified by that sentiment. So when her friend announced triumphantly that she was heading down to the registrar, Corinna decided that she too would make the journey. After all, she could think of nothing better.

A Short Story - In Progress

The following is the beginning of a short story that I just began writing.

Lucifer wasn’t always evil. In fact, he started out Jewish. It wasn’t a Jesuitical Jewish, but rather a relaxed reformed religiousity – that sort of limited high holiday awareness common to much of the gentile sect. Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and occasionally Sukkot brought him to the synagogue for a bit of prayer, occasionally yeast-less bread or as often no food at all. A childhood of sub-urbanity had inured him to this cyclical annual pattern of attendance and though his mind and spirit were never in it, his circadian rhythm demanded it.

Growing up in the suburbs, he experienced the standard difficulties of an upper-middle class upbringing. He never seemed to have enough allowance, he had to wait until 16 and a half before being allowed to drive the BMW alone, and he got cut from the varsity basketball team. All in all, it was a typical adolescence, rife with typical teenage troubles – nothing particularly heroic.

He went to college – as all devils do – a pristine little Ivy in beauteous bucolic environs. The campus cris-crossed gorges shorn into the landscape by the gradual working of time and water. In fact, it turns out that the main exports of this college town were green t-shirts pithily inscribed with the words I____ is Gorges!, (and to a slightly lesser degree) insomniac, chronically-smoking, miserable architects. It was to this latter category that our hero – if that’s the word – belongs.

The University had recently installed a five year architectural degree program. Five years of hell and guaranteed intimacy with an eraser, as it was billed. Months of toiling in a dingy studio with barely the incessant grey clouds spilling through the skylight. All of this culminating in the annual masochistic celebration known as Dragon Day. Architecture students would devote months of effort to designing and erecting a large papier-mâché dragon to parade about the Arts Quad as the engineering students attempted to destroy it. Really, it was a rather pitiful spectacle – as like watching an elephant attacked by an army of tigers. The elephant occasionally lays waste to a paper tiger or two, but the bespectacled beasts eventually wear down his defenses – and the papier-mâché hide disintegrates under a barrage of water balloons.

But, of course, our Lucifer was no Dragon Day devotee. His architectural experience was more in the manner of the occult. Whipping up devilish designs quietly became more than a passing fancy for the protagonist, his bizarre pregnant blueprints reflected a growing inner turmoil – one that was not apparent from his resplendent façades. But perhaps we get ahead of ourselves. It was his first year.

Lucifer drank no more than customary for his rank and file. Neither was he too involved in recreational pleasures, narcotic or otherwise. He was sociable enough though he often felt the presence of his classmates rather oppressive – years of churning under the grindstone of parental expectation had left them a soiled sort. Lucifer’s own sense of self involved a remarkable cognizance of the impact the same had had upon him. Yet, for better or worse, he remained stoic in his solipsism – not ever really reflecting upon his impressions of others.

This attitude would serve him well in the opening days of his first spring at the University. The unrelenting March gusts were quite enough alone, but singing their accompaniment were icy breaths of jagged snow. He pulled his mantle closer, shielding his face with an upturned hand. Uris Hall was just ahead, offering hopes of a brief respite and also the second largest brain in captivity prominently displayed on the fourth floor. The former owner, one Edward Ruloff, had been a local serial killer. A “learned ruffian,” Mr. Ruloff pioneered the path for middle-class murder, a crime which had been previously thought to be the exclusive domain of the less fortunate. He also featured prominently in legal innovation, as his was the first trial in which photographs were accepted into evidence. Lucifer stared at Ruloff.

Our devil made this pilgrimage often. Mr. Ruloff was only one of many brains kept in the display cases peppered liberally along the corridors. The others belonged to famous and ordinary alike, to people more than happy to donate their minds to the advancement of science. Or perhaps more likely, happy to have their names emblazoned on a plaque beside a withered grey organ in perpetuity.

On this particular morning though, Lucifer had not come for Ruloff. Instead, the promise of $50 for a thirty minute experiment brought him to the psychology department. A clutch of students formed along one side of the hallway, many deeply involved in fatuous conversations. Staccatic bursts interrupted Lucifer’s brainy reverie.

“… and Brian left just like that, I couldn’t believe it. I just wanted to…”
“… and we could totally use this to buy like 300 beers…”
“ … he grades on a curve, but the average is an A minus…”
“… freezing my nuts off out there…”

Students seemed to pour out of the elevators and stairwells, all gripping grubby handbills promising fifty dollar rewards. The air became close and heady. Lucifer’s eyes were swimming. Staggering slightly he closed his eyes to reclaim equilibrium. Feeling his way to the side stairwell, he pushed the door open only to run into a gaggle of girls swarming the threshold in their North Face puffiness. Swallowing a gag reflex, Lucifer plunged through the gore-tex horde and stumbled down the stairs.

The sun shone brilliantly, casting a panoply of star-brights off the large nude figure of Hercules in the courtyard. Lucifer leaned against the statute’s base recovering breath and composure. The lawn was deserted.

The devil considered the recent anxiety attack. It was not the first, but it was the second. Its predecessor had arrived equally unanticipated not two days earlier. Eating lunch at the Green Dragon, the walls approached. Slowly at first, but with increasing alacrity, they converged at the edges and thronged to the center. What he determined was a peripheral figment impressed itself as a certain reality. However, he discovered a thorough blindness offered some reprieve. Eyes furiously shut, Lucifer squeezed between the walls toward the exit, upsetting several customers in his path. Once outside he had knelt to the ground and gagged – as he now did beside Hercules.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Look Out Eastern Europe

That's right. Jeanine and I head off to Prague in March. Hoping that second time's the charm, we aim to put the Belize experience behind us. I will cross my fingers that the journey of this vacation will be much less worthy of memorializing.

The plan in brief is as follows:

3 nights in the lovely Prague at Hotel Tyl
3 nights in Vienna at Rathauspark Hotel
3 nights in Budapest at Andrassy Hotel

If anyone knows anything about these hotels or cities, feel free to comment. I'd love to hear any recommendations.