These are the dog days, the dead days. The days of the sun. And beneath it lay the hours of our lives, ground to dust.
From the dust we came, so shall we return. That’s it. No fancy funerals. No mournful songs. Just dead hours. Dead moments. And these moments, they’re filled with ghosts, reminding you of what you can do. How to do it. And how to make it better.
And, as with all ghosts, we ignore them. Until they’re inconvenient. But by then, it’s too late, isn’t it?
I wander the streets, and what do I see upon every shoulder? The twisted, tortured faces of the haunted. Do they ever find peace? No, I don’t think that they do. None of us do, really. So we make the best of our situation. Sometimes through the quickest solution at hand.
We cover our ears and pretend there are no voices. We drown in media. We isolate ourselves. We take on a happier life, an idealized role. But we never get rid of the ghosts. We’re haunted by them. So we keep looking for a role to fit us. One to captivate our ever-captive, clinging audience.
These are the dog days, the dead days. The days of the sun. And beneath them all, a groaning, creaking grave.
It starts like this.
I begin my tour during the dog days, and end before fall. I move into an area under an assumed name. After I’ve settled, I go to the hardware store. Not the local store the populace uses - the big box store, with a hundred employees or more. I buy my materials. Then I buy a newspaper.
The average American paper is at least twenty pages in length. A forth to a third of which are advertisements. While many of those are from local grocers, car dealers and businesses, just as many are from individuals. Those compose the back of the paper, under a “fun" title like “IWANNA," or even the classic “Help Wanted/For Sale/Looking to Buy." Some go further, and offer services. Plenty of handy men, carpenters, and door-to-door salespeople have made their career on these ads. The smaller ads, like this, they tell a lot about an area. They tell you about the people, their level of income, and what they do for fun.
So I take an entire day, and I pursue every ad. I make phone calls. I visit shoddy websites. I contact business owners, mechanics, and little old ladies. I always seem interested in their services. I always ask about their junk for sale, or how to get my goats dewormed. I promise to call back, but never do. All just to get a feel for an area, it’s people, it’s life.
Then I place an ad myself, right along with them. It’s never worded the same, but goes something like this:
Having problems facing the day? Lacking the motivation to get up? Are thoughts of suicide or depressive episodes constant? I’m here to help. Let’s talk.
The phone number listed always goes to a cell phone. One purchased from the local Dollar Store, on one of those small subsidiaries of bigger companies. One I can throw away when I’m done. Disposable, just like the name. Just like the ad.
Then I sit by the phone, and wait. Sometimes it takes a week. Sometimes longer.
Sometimes I get a call the day the ad is printed.
But I sit and wait, and the phone always rings. Always.
The night before the call, I’m out walking the street. I have the phone on me. Just in case. But if they call, I won’t answer. It’s “after hours." Maintaining an air of professionalism is central to my role.
In some towns, on some nights, like tonight, the streets are empty. Few cars are on the road, if any. The street lights cut long shadows, turning their displays into little stages. A solitary spotlight, disconnected to its peers.
And on these stages, you can see seconds-long plays. Flutters of drama, with roles filled by professionals. You see contortions of smiles, glints in the eyes. Real smirks. Real laughter, joy. And real tears. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, true, palpable anguish.
I’m a fan of these works. Unlike theater dramas, I can get close to the actors. I can breath their air, feel their desperation. I can come within inches of their work, close enough to hear the spirits of their life haunting them. Close enough to hear their personal ghosts wailing at them, rattling their chains.
And, if I’m careful, even touch them.
Any artistic work, can be disassembled into its base parts. Despite what creators say, doing so allows a more nuanced analysis of the whole.
A play, regardless of genre, is composed of acts. These are composed of scenes, which are composed primarily of dialogue and visible actions committed by characters. The audience is thus privy to a limited amount of information at any point. Save for asides by the characters, the audience knows only what is shown or explicitly said. Ambiguity is best left to other mediums.
However, plays aren’t without shares of mystery and intrigue. Why are the characters motivated so? What drives them to engage in the drama? Why, in turn, do they matter?
This is why many writers, including masters like Shakespere, make use of asides. They allow a private moment for the writer to explain away, by degree, what makes characters fascinating. Asides prove conclusively that the audience hates mystery. As such, many modern dramas have incorporated asides into dialogue, knowingly or unwittingly, in an attempt to make characters more “empathetic."
The modern aside is the death of mystery, and the death of drama.
The audience doesn’t want asides. They don’t want empathy. They don’t desire familiar themes. What they do want is a bit more complicated than that. They want messy works, where questions are left unanswered. They want plays where desires and ambitions go unfulfilled.
Because, in truth, that’s more realistic than forced empathy. More fulfilling than one on one conversations with characters. And much, much more believable.
I’m sitting on my bed the day of the call. It comes suddenly, as they all do. I rise and cross the room, picking up the phone. I answer it, and wait a moment before uttering the name I used in the ad.
"Angelus Care Agency. We’re angels of care." I spit a name out, and say, “How can I help you?"
There’s a moment of silence, and a woman’s voice cuts through.
"Yes, um. Hi. My name is Maria. I saw the ad in the paper?"
She sounds fearful. Nervous. As she mounts this stage, I see her eying the audience. Eying me. She’s uncertain of herself, of this particular role. But I can help.
"Ah, yes ma’am. I placed that only a short while ago." I say, smiling to no one in the room.
The success of my operations hinge entirely on my abilities as an actor. If a single line of dialogue slips, I’ll be here another month. Waiting for another moment to share the stage. So I live my role, even if the audience doesn’t care. Even if I’m just the supporting cast. I let her speak.
"Yes, it mentioned… lacking motivation? depressive episodes? Among… other things."
They never willfully mention suicidal intentions. That’s their own personal aside, one only spoken in private confidence. Those asides, their ruining their role. Their scene. Their entire life. But I won’t let her do that to herself, oh no. I’ll bring her up. I’ll make her a capable heroine, the star of a great tragedy. Our tragedy.
Cue the spotlight, placed upon Maria and I, actors pressed to prop phones.
"Yes ma’am. We here at the Angelus Care Agency specialize in helping others in their personal quandary. And, regardless of the issue, I assure you that we’ll work tirelessly to get you back to feeling yourself." I say. Sell the line. Make the drama unfold.
"Really? What… what does that entail? Does it cost anything?" she says. She’s nervous. My Maria, she’s gripping the phone, melting under the stage light. Giving into her own fear, the sweltering ghosts of her dead days. But I won’t let her fall. Not yet.
"The Angelus Care Agency is privately funded, ma’am. We offer free consultations, and offer sessions at no cost to you. We’re not a health care provider, nor a psychiatric clinic. We merely give you someone to talk to. That is all. We work for the public good."
One in five actors I speak to flee during this scene. One in ten yell at me, and say they’re suing for false advertisement. But as the spotlight stays on Maria, I hear her swallow her pride, and say her lines.
"Free consultations? And sessions?" "Yes ma’am, absolutely free."
Another moment passes. She’s going to hang up. She’s too haunted, too tortured to try. But then, to my surprise, she says, "How do I sign up?"
The audience applauds. And through the phone, I hear her spirits groaning. But no matter. They’d be silent soon.
I set up an appointment with her. The day after tomorrow. Plenty of time to prepare.
The scene ends. The curtain falls.
Any artistic work can be broken down. By it’s base mechanics, we can form a solid understanding. But to view a work’s soul, we must observe the impression it leaves upon the audience.
The audience, despite what critics tell you, is a malleable, fickle beast. Producing anything for them explicitly makes them angry;they don’t like being pandered to. Likewise, they don’t enjoy material reserved for the elite. They don’t enjoy asides-they explain away the mystery. But they don’t like feeling ignorant either.
They do however like feeling involved. They enjoy feeling clever. The beast likes feeling in control. So you give them just enough information to feel like they’re a part of the scene. That these dead moments and hours wasted breathing were all practice for center stage. But you never dare tell them the sub plot. You never tell them the full script. You let their own ghosts of self-doubt and loathing do that. Tear away at them, bit by bit, until they NEED this part.
And by that time, they’ll improvise with whatever material you hand them. Any artistic work can be broken down, but so can people. And at their base, they’re afraid. Not because of specific, palpable things, but rather self-made ethereal terrors given flesh. The twins, fear and panic, whispering into their sleepless nights. The constant, haunting dirge of “What if?" playing in the cobwebbed corridors of their minds. These are the ghosts of modern man. The root of new mystery. The rebirth of living, day-to-day drama.
Scene deconstruction is simple. Practiced, and precise for someone of my skill. Almost an instinctual action. Scene building was a much more involved affair.
The ad was just the start. The phone call was the snare. But the meeting would be the proving ground. The final curtain. And I had to be perfect.
I dress my scene. I put up motivational posters. I go to the printer, and create a few signs for The Angelus Care Agency. I put one on the front lawn. I hang one on the door. I buy a small, cheap press board desk, and place it in the center of the room. I tend to go with a minimalist approach-it encourages my fellow actors to improvise. Be creative. Accept their role as reality.
Backstage, I press the plastic sheeting over every surface. I tuck and tack, tape and bind it. The room crinkles when I exit.
I sharpen my tools. I clean and press my shirt, and pants. I clean the scuffs off my shoes, shave and trim.
Then I sit, and wait for the curtain to raise.
The lights are blinding as the curtain wavers, raising. The audience settles, spurting few whispers.
Enter Maria, stage right. The spotlight concentrates on her a moment. She looks out into the crowd, seeking a friendly face. Our eyes meet, and she stammers, “Hi, um. I had an appointment?"
The spotlight shifts to me. “Ah, yes! Maria, is it?" I say, standing and extending my hand. She takes it with a weak grip. So fragile. So unsure. The audience is completely still. They’re eating up every moment.
"Yep, that’s me." she says, giving a small smile. "Please, ma’am. Take a seat."
She sits, crossing her legs, setting her bag next to her. She’s chunkier than I imagined, with big, dark green eyes. But she can still live her role. She can still be the beauty, stricken weak with personal woe. She coughs, and says “I, um…I’m not really sure how this is suppose to go."
I lock eyes with her. She searches my face, and I smile. I cross my fingers atop my desk, and say “Well, I suppose I can tell you about us. Or, if you prefer, you can tell me about yourself. It’s up to you, ma’am".
She smiles again, more genuine this time. The audience begins to murmur, critiquing every tooth. “Please, Maria. Call me Maria."
"Maria, then. How can I help you?"
The orchestra plays, the curtain lowers, and the lights go dim.
Scene deconstruction is simple, as is clean up. But only If done with care, time, and respect.
You begin by making sure your work area is clean. Make sure it’s at least eight feet by eight feet. Any smaller can lead to complications. Make sure the area is properly ventilated. A small, high window or vent is preferable. Also, remove any and all possible furniture or movable objects.
Sweep away any dust or debris. Then lay down plastic sheeting, making sure it’s taught along every surface. But not too taught, as removal can lead to a bigger mess. Next, make sure your attire is work friendly, and can be disposed of later. Disposable gloves, medical masks, goggles, hair net and apron are a minimum, and a must.
Next you must prepare the body. Begin by draining the body of blood. This can be accomplished in one of two ways:
1). Place the body in an otherwise unused tub. Ventilate the body by carefully cutting into the skin along all major arteries. Depending on freshness, draining can take an hour or more. Dismantling the body aids this method, but can be very messy, bringing unnecessary complications to clean up. Afterwards, remove the body, and pour the strongest bleach available along the tub, and down the drain. Do this multiple times, until odor dissipates.
2. Wrap the body carefully in plastic cling wrap, sealing it within a plastic cocoon. Make sure no part of the body is left exposed. Then, place the body in a non-biodegradable plastic tub, and ventilate the body along the carotid artery. This may take several hours. Afterwards, dispose of the liquid in a distant location, preferably a river. Be Warned: This method is much more labor intensive, and may not entirely drain the body.
After draining, remove any and all identifying markers. Remove the teeth and fingers, and puree or grind them. Any tool for accomplishing this will do, but dispose of whatever tools used carefully.
Treat tattoos in the same fashion, but remember that the skin is most elastic moments after death, and is thus easiest to remove then. Remove any jewelry, and carefully place them in an air tight container. Bury the container at a distant location when dismantling is completely achieved.
Next, cut along the stomach horizontally. Then, make a vertical cut from the belly button up to the throat. Carefully remove the small intestines, kidney, bladder, gal bladder, and other organs below the rib cage. These must also be pureed or ground up. Opening the rib-cage to remove the heart, lungs and other contained organs isn’t necessary, but makes dismantling easier. Grind or puree these organs as well, as disposing of the heart otherwise requires an intense heat source.
Now we must remove the arms, legs and head. Cutting the arms and legs along major joints, such as the knee caps and elbows. Be sure to use a strong, sharp object. Bone Saws are preferable, but small electric hand saws will work as well. Work slowly to reduce splatter. Removing the head can be difficult, and requires patience. If you used method two during draining, make sure that you incinerate the plastic after removing it.
Grind the left over remains in an industrial chipper, or dispose of them at various, distant and otherwise unrelated locations. Incineration is possible, but requires access to a working crematorium, as the heat required to achieve ash-style disassembling is likewise unavailable to the average person.
Carefully clean and ventilate your work area. Incinerate the plastic sheeting. Leave and never return.
Move on to the next scene. Move on to the next role.
These are the dog days. The dead days. The days of the sun.
And, on these days, as others, the twisted and troubled try to find some beauty in the world. They try to salvage some inspiration from the creaking hole before them. Sometimes they find it. But, as often the case, they succumb to the roaring, ever hungry grip of death.
There’s still some beauty to this, though. Some art, if we deconstruct the moment. If we take it down to it’s base parts. Every artistic work can be taken down to it’s base parts. People too.
Deconstruction alone makes neither completely understandable, though. There are still the uncertain, speculative elements left of each. And, upon contrasting the two, these parts become even more illuminated. Doing so reveals a singular truth. We suffer unto art. In crafting it, displaying it, and understanding it. But we also suffer to be art ourselves; to be beautiful, and observed. To be understood, if only to quell our gnawing personal fears. We aspire to become the mystery we see around us.
I made Maria beautiful, as I did others. She’s a part of my personal collection now. And with that, I shall continue my tour, until the sweltering star of summer shines no more.