Have we had enough of climbing the walls of our houses, apartments, condos, trailers or whatever the fuck kind of domicile we have been holed up in lately? Are the metaphorical muscles in our figurative arms and legs burned out and exhausted? Why not go outside and get some fresh air? Well, I’m writing this on May 9th from Long Island and it’s thirty five degrees outside and the wind is pounding the windows of my house like some goon defenseman in a hockey game slamming a quick skating goal scorer into the boards.
Maybe you should hit the drive-thru at the nearest fast food joint and get fat on the expensive garbage they shovel into those take-out containers? Act like a stalking vampire and slink down the dark basement stairs so you can smoke a half a pack of cigarettes like a fidgety stockbroker watching the market crash. Have you consumed enough booze yet that you’re starting to wonder if alcohol poisoning is a bigger threat to your well being than the ‘Rona? It’s interesting that the all knowing and proverbial “THEY’” on the television and internet mention that we, as a society, need to maintain clean living so we can better deal with these pandemics. However, every essential business that has been allowed to remain open is a purveyor of goods that can heavily contribute to every risk factor dealing with this virus, except old age. I’m not advocating for these businesses to be closed. This is America and we should be allowed to make our own decisions. I just like pointing out the irony and inherent stupidity and inefficiency of government.
These lockdowns have been tough on just about every society and economy on the planet. However, bureaucrats can’t quarantine the imagination. The best way to stimulate the mind is to snort up lines of well written prose like they were the purest form of cocaine not seen since some random episode of Miami Vice. I am done drowning in the endless stream of Netflix shows and documentaries. I want to stop choking on episodes of that flamboyant Tiger King and that psychotic pretty boy that dared to F**k with cats. Reading provides this type of escape. Writing does, as well. I am trying to get off my depressed and drunken ass to exercise my mind as much as I have been exercising my body lately.
To escape to some far off land or another time that hasn’t been restricted by unprecedented crippling of individual freedom to slow down the spread of a virus is something that we probably all would like to do. We all need that motherfucking magic carpet ride.
For someone growing up on Long Island, the concept of The French Foreign Legion represented an exotic world of mystery and adventure. I don’t know much about the proper place in history the French Foreign Legion has achieved. In works of fiction, however, The French Foreign Legion and the geographical location of North Africa are filled to the Kepi with romance, danger and clandestine machinations that could topple vast empires. It’s a world filled with a drunk and weary Rick Blaine, lumbering mummies, stunning architecture, exotic and dangerous women and dueling planes over a bitter and scalding ocean of sand.
I haven’t read much fiction that was in the classic pulp magazines that filled newsstands and five and dime stores in America in the first half of the 20th Century. I knew even less about it. However, last September I started drinking at noon in a dive bar in Woodside Queens. I woke up with my face stuck to the bar in a remote outpost on the edge of the world. My liver and bank account bruised, I raised my arm and asked the burly bartender for a whiskey. From beneath his handlebar moustache, he sneered at me as he poured an angry looking drink. His bald head, badly scarred from epic battles with violent enemies, shone beneath the dingy overhead lights. The hulking dude muttered something in a language I could not decipher as he slid the glass filled with whiskey in my direction.
“Think it’s gonna take a while to get your dirigible fixed.”
I turned to my right, eyes filling with battery acid. “What?”
“Those Patagonian Air Pirates went to town on your airship with their Gatling Guns.” The man said. He was wearing a mask and a Fedora. Yet he still managed to drink his bourbon. “There were so many shell casings raining down from the sky, the peasants thought it was another one of those hot hail storms the inebriated priests in the Port Disturbance churches wax religiously about. The scarier the sermon speak the more coins they usually get in the collection box. Lots of stuff on the edge of the world to scare people. Lovecraftian monsters are as common as athlete’s foot.”
I need to quit drinking, I thought.
The masked man got up, walked past me and slammed a book on the bar next to me. It was The Free Shall Live and Other Stories by Georges Surdez.
I opened the book up and turned to a story named The Blood Call.
Surdez has a tight, economic writing style that has me flush like the jade dragon of jealousy. He manages to evoke a bustling North African city from vast decades ago in a single paragraph. Surdez spits out a Movietone Newsreel in black and white where we see reveling Legionnaires, just returned from months at some violent front, looking to spend their pay on drink and degeneracy. It’s a similar setting to his short story, Russian Roulette.
It asks the provocative question of what would we do if confronted by a congenial person who confessed to you that they dealt your family tree a tragic wrong? The easy answer would involve your bruised knuckles and a trip to the hospital, or worse, for the confessor. Is life that easy? Even in a time gone by, surrounded by the raging sandstorms of war, would our response be as delicate as a tank flattening a jeep? Surdez broaches these interesting questions of honor, duty and family ties in this entertaining story that, most importantly, will temporarily transport you from the planet of the virus.