Thursday, September 30, 2010

Casolaro 54

There’s a man on the National Mall in DC handing out literature on Danny Casolaro. He’s there among the activists, peace and anti-immigration and anti-tax and anti-everything-you-can-imagine. He hands out a crudely printed pamphlet detailing the Casolaro story and the Octopus. People pass him by, tourists and workers, unconcerned about what he has to offer. Other activists drown his voice out advertising their causes. The Washington Monument looms over him in the background. At the end of the day, his feet are sore and his voice is lost.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Casolaro 53

Years after Casolaro’s death, a man searches the Internet on conspiracies, comes across Casolaro’s story. He reads it, intrigued, searching deeper and deeper for more details. He orders a book. He finds a discussion group, joins it. He starts compiling his own notes. He gets into lengthy discussions with some members in the group. He starts turning his notes into a book. One of the group members asks him repeatedly for a face-to-face meeting to discuss ideas. Concerned, he disengages from the group. Work on the book fades.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Casolaro 52

About a month after Casolaro died, Bill went with some members of the Casolaro family to Martinsburg to claim Danny’s car and personal items. While they waited at the police station, two men who said they were detectives came in, asked questions about the Casolaro case. They said they were investigating the murder of an Alan Standorf earlier in the year. Standorf—the name sounded familiar to Bill. Then he recalled that it was one of his sources from within the government. Danny hadn’t mentioned that he’d been killed. The coincidence at the police station startled Bill. He had trouble sleeping for several nights. He found that for months after, he was on high alert, listening for other connections, patterns, wondering when it would all circle back to him.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Casolaro 51

The man who was Casolaro now wanders the streets of Prague, holding a job doing menial labor. He spends his idle time at a cafĂ© near his apartment, looking into his coffee, hearing dishes and cups clanging together, having the vague sense that something isn’t right, chalks it up to man’s existential dilemma, trudges to work through soupy morning fog.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Casolaro 50

If you stand at the shore line long enough, things will wash ashore. Fragments of sunken boats, dead cephalopods, human corpses or extremities. It could take eons, but mathematically, at some point, it’ll come. You can seek it out and find out, but eventually, it will find you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Casolaro 49

Casolaro didn’t actually die but was kidnapped, brainwashed. His mind completely reformatted, like a computer hard drive, sent back out into another part of the world as someone else. New memories, new personality, new person. The scene in Martinsburg was a staging, the dead body Casolaro clone probably a homeless person, someone who was fresh at the morgue.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Casolaro 48

There will be a phone call placed, a letter sent. An anonymous posting on a message board, a cryptic e-mail that will be processed as spam. Someone with a vested interest will program a computer to fish for a new Casolaro, find the right person, lead them to investigate. Probe for specific characteristics: intelligent, obsessive, defiant. Resurrect the Octopus investigation so that it can be discredited, the new conspirators can work free, moving in a cloud of uncertainty and cynicism. When the time was right, this new person would be sacrificed, using whatever method was in vogue: radiation poisoning, suicide by gunshot, automobile accident, suicide by prescriptions pills, drowning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Casolaro 47

Casolaro’s son visited his father’s grave once, on his birthday, and was beset by curiosity seekers, those who found his father’s grave a tourist attraction. Four people, all male, probably in their early thirties, quickly deduced he was Danny’s son.

What was he like as a person? Do you think he was murdered? Are there any more clues? Have you taken up the conspiracy investigation?

Interrupted in mid-thought concerning his father, he walked away from them. They followed, crossing through other people’s graves, until he reached his car and drove away.

It wasn’t enough that he was dead. It wasn’t enough that he moved, changed his phone number, lived as quiet and unintrusive life as possible. His father told him once, I should never have gotten involved with this. It’s a debilitating disease, a stain that can never be washed away.

In the mirror, his son could see his father in his face more and more as the years passed. With me forever, he thought.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Casolaro 46

Tidbits of information gleaned from conversations with Casolaro swirled in Bill’s head. Inslaw. PROMIS. Data mining. The CIA. Manipulation of world markets. Iran Contra. IBM. Project Echelon. The Mossad. Lockheed Martin. October Surprise. Back door espionage. The NSA. BCCI. Shadow government. The World Bank. The JFK assassination. Caribbean islands. The flow of global information. The catalyst of major world events.

The Octopus was certain corporations and certain elements of government intertwined, Danny had said, vague and ridiculous but that’s the way it’s supposed to be so you never catch it, never pin it down, and you just give up, turn your mind off because it sounds preposterous.

Bill spent a day or two writing down the names, the information, drawing lines of connection, erasing and writing different names in different places, drawing new lines. The paper he was writing on looked like abstract art, a crinkled ruin that in places looked like someone was trying to clean up stains. He looked at it, thought, this is the culmination of death, as his friend was gone, this is the rest of us trying to make sense of it, as Casolaro was buried in the ground.

He gave up. This is not a place I should be, he thought. He set fire to the paper in his kitchen sink. The burning embers blackened, the mass turning into itself, disappearing into many chaotic points.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Casolaro 45

Anthony was startled seeing doubles of Danny after his death. A person driving behind him, cloned from his brother’s driver’s license and implanted into that car’s driver seat. A day after his funeral, a man leaving an all-night diner. They were popping up everywhere, mocking his death. Some replicant virus, gone into hyperdrive to spread confusion and misery.

Friday, September 17, 2010


This story is the 12th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Black Thursday.

Nine hundred fourteen years after its release, the last existing copy of Griffin’s twelfth film, Jokerman, was destroyed. A fire swept through an underground archive long ago abandoned. At that time, the world had been chaos for decades. The world’s remaining people knew nothing of film, only the frenzy of immediate survival. If one could compare that reality’s view with the current one, it would look as if the future world had been fitted with a yellow lens, blue sky burned into ash.


For Griffin, the immediate aftermath of Black Thursday was awards. A catalog list of nominations for the picture, his lead actor, technical aspects. The major ones didn’t come through, though he picked up some more obscure ones. They sat in boxes, turned on their sides on tables. Helena, one day, cleared a living room shelf, lined them up so they could be seen.


The prevailing film criticism became that Jokerman had to be viewed and considered in conjunction with Black Thursday, the work that inextricably became associated with Griffin. One film scholar said that the two films lined up like yin and yang. Consensus formed that, in both films, Griffin takes the pacing to beyond that typical of an arthouse film, yet still maintains his artistic sensibilities. Jokerman, in its time, was overlooked, did not receive the acclaim or eventual notoriety that its predecessor did.


The film’s main character, never named, was a raging lunatic. Here you had not the beleaguered aging detective of Black Thursday being chronicled but a raging lunatic. How does the lunatic, borderline homicidal, exist. Here was Henrick’s existential dilemma turned upside down. Rational thinking in a solitary world was gone. The nameless protagonist searches not for resolution.


Forty years after the film’s release, the government launched war on its people. San Francisco became the first casualty. The government proclaimed that a sizable revolutionary force had taken root in that city. Chinatown and Market District were assaulted in swift order. The military imposed martial law, extended it to other cities where protests formed. There were massive arrests. Universities were closed. Hundreds were killed.


During the filming of Jokerman, Griffin one day sees Richard, now 13, in a moment of adulthood. The boy was sitting on the couch, still, filling out a Sudoku grid. The boy’s usual boundless energy was sedated, teenage anarchy funneled through numbers. Richard looked up, caught his father gazing at him, and forced a quick smile.


Twenty years after San Francisco, you had to know secret knocks. You had to be on lists. You had to know people. Film became more than entertainment. It was a silent whisper, subtle nods in public, political statements held deep within the mind. There were people who insisted the world was being bleached of color, regressing to black and white.


Thirty years after filming Jokerman, Griffin would be working on his twenty-fifth and final film. The film was completely non-narrative, the most experimental of his canon, and he knew viewers and critics would be scratching their heads. Time-lapse photography. No actors or dialogue. Footage from cameras stationed throughout the city. He had words prepared. There is order in this though you don’t see it. You’ll be tempted to call this documentary or pure cinema but don’t. I want to show the world that’s unconscious of film, the swirling chaos that is itself order. He died, though, before he could say these words.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Casolaro 44

We will cut you up and feed you to the sharks: a line from a threatening phone call Casolaro had received. In Casolaro’s surviving notes, he had written it more than once. He appeared to be fascinated with the threat, a trait of his that his ex-wife described as morbid curiosity when something truly frightened him. She said he was afraid of drowning, of the ocean and the creatures that lurked in the seas, which was probably why the “Octopus” name for his conspiracy fit well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Casolaro 43

In some of Casolaro’s surviving writings, he demonstrated a fascination with artificial intelligence, most notably with the idea that, sometime in the mid-21st century, technology would surpass the human brain, eventually become sentient, create their own thoughts and ideas.

He wondered how this would affect human conspiracies. Would computers be able to interpret them, deconstruct them, use quantifiable facts to hold people accountable? Would they create their own conspiracies? Or would the future intelligence be borne without skeptical thoughts about conspiracies, the product of current conspirators working diligently to save themselves from the future?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Casolaro 42

After Casolaro’s death, Bill tried to synthesize the information that Danny had given him. But Bill was being stonewalled wherever he turned. He managed to contact some of Danny’s sources but got nothing, they would barely acknowledge Danny’s existence. The massive amount of investigative work and notes—Bill had no hope of recreating it, didn’t have the know-how or stomach for retracing his steps.

Bill wasn’t buying the suicide verdict—Casolaro had primed him before he was found dead that if he did indeed die, that it was at the hands of those he was investigating. He told an investigator this. The man just nodded his head, eyes glossed over, taking no notes.

He inquired about the Time article but found that wasn’t even true—he wasn’t sure why Danny lied to him on this. Perhaps it was some sort of coded message.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Casolaro 41

In the weeks after Casolaro’s death, his housekeeper Olga grew afraid that she would also be killed. She answered some of the police’s questions. She told them about the phone calls. But they didn’t talk to her much—their minds were already made up. She insisted that she knew Danny for a long time and that she just did not see him as someone who would kill himself. This did not seem to concern them. Why would he kill himself, they asked, not, it doesn’t make sense.

A week after his death, the phone calls started again. Silence on the other end of the phone. She stopped answering the phone. She changed the number. Soon she left the house, moved far away from Arlington. Still the sound of the phone ringing scared her. Still silence on the other end or a wrong number or crank made her think of Danny who never returned, the Octopus he talked about, made her fear that even years later someone would come kill her too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Phantom Snoozer

In literature classes, you’ve probably heard the Latin phrase, in media res, which means, in the middle of things. Novels, stories, and dramas, we’re taught, began in the middle of things, meaning that crucial things happened before the story’s start and the reader is entering in an in-process, unresolved state. Often, these things are alluded to during the course of the story, and they can be essential in advancing story plot and developing character and creating the illusion that the reader has entered upon a fully realized world.

In writing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of starting a story before it should start. I’ve written longer stories where I’ve realized the story doesn’t truly start until page five, and the first four pages can be, painfully, cut out. Maybe your antihero’s tale needs to start when the cops are chasing him after the bank robbery, not the day before when he’s planning it. Perhaps your protagonist’s story starts at his mother’s funeral, not when she was diagnosed with cancer six months before.

Switching to pop culture, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is, to me, a good example of something where the beginning of the story needs cutting. While Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul were cool characters, I could care less about Anakin Skywalker at 9 years old. It doesn’t help that the Jedi as characters are boring. Qui-Gon is interesting because he’s a rebel Jedi and all hideous looking evil guys holding glowing swords are inherently interesting, but Yoda, Mace Windu, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (at this point) are sleep inducers.

Anyway, Anakin when he’s older is interesting because he’s the chosen one and he’s struggling with the conflict of good and evil. But since Anakin is, in essence, what all six movies are about, he needs to be interesting from the get go in Episode I. Forget all this 9 year old child’s play and fast forward him to his late teen years.

Lucas has some unconventional built-in back story going into these prequel movies—the future. We know what becomes of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the Jedis and galaxy itself. But the linear storyline needs something more. Sure, there are plenty of things that have already happened, but are any of them critical? The first film in 1977 was so successful and mesmerizing largely because of it starting firmly in media res. The opening words show “Episode IV,” which instantly puts you there, right where you need to be.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Casolaro 40

Casolaro’s papers were tossed into a dumpster 20 miles away from where he died. The briefcase and accordion file opened, the papers loosened from their collection so that they’d be scattered, their order destroyed. Black garbage bags piled on top, seeping brown liquids ruining the papers, ink bleeding away.

Casolaro’s papers were locked in a large metal box. They were taken on a cruise ship, dropped over the side in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where they plummeted for hundreds of feet, a sinking stone that curious fish poked as it descended and finally rested on the ocean floor. There, one flake at a time the metal corrodes. Eventually it will be absorbed by the ocean.

Casolaro’s papers were taken to the Pentagon, placed in a sublevel archive of lore. The heartbeat of apocryphal tales, the epicenter of conspiracy theory. Something held so that it can never be seen, only exist in the world’s collective imagination, keep the conspiratorial waters flowing. The archive chamber initiates the whispers.

Casolaro dropped his papers in a FedEx box the day before he died, shipped them to his friend Bill. But they never arrived, were lost in the company’s system. They sat in a holding room buried in other packages for one year and were destroyed.

Casolaro’s papers were placed in a vehicle minutes after he was slain, driven east to a point along the Atlantic Ocean. A small island connected to the mainland, a secluded beachfront traveled only during the day by intrepid tourists. Under the moonlight, they were placed on the beach and doused in gasoline, set ablaze. Crackling flames near rotting fish carcasses, washed up seaweed and shells. The molecules of paper and ink burned away into the atmosphere. The remnants were covered with sand.

Casolaro’s papers ended up at a library of a large Midwestern university, stored in a closet with other peculiar items that somehow ended up there. It sits in a plain brown box, unopened, the university’s address typed neatly on the mailing label with no return address. There is no trail of how they arrived there. There is no record of them even existing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Don't Forget Zitana

Zitana, my psychic advisor, was old school. Crystal ball, gypsy clothing, stiff Tolkienesque speech. She looked ancient but was mentally keen. I wasn’t sold on psychics. So, why see her? Well, because of Mom, of course.

Last week, Zitana gave me six losing numbers. For the Mega Millions, she said, untold riches await you! I followed her advice. Not one number came up.

Occasionally, she was right. She said once, you will soon meet someone special. Four months later, I met Lara. For five months, we were ferocious. Then she ditched me for her financial advisor.

Dad disliked Zitana. He said, you’re wasting money. They would argue. When a stroke killed Dad, Mom said, Zitana predicted this! Mom, though, never relayed this dire forecast.

So I returned to Zitana, bogus numbers on newspaper, said, not even close. She was at her desk, Maury on rabbit-eared television, half-eaten cheeseburger Happy Meal before her. Her usual garb had been replaced by jeans and Disneyland sweatshirt.

Unconcerned about her character breach, she studied the paper. Well, I didn’t mean this week. Keep playing.

On Maury, a woman had nine children by eight fathers. When will I win, I asked. The crystal ball doesn’t reveal that, she laughed, biting her cheeseburger. Otherwise, I’d be in Tahiti.

Mom died ten years ago. Pharyngeal cancer. I never knew if Zitana had predicted it. Near the end, unable to speak, Mom handwrote on paper, don’t forget Zitana. So, I haven’t. Maybe one day, those numbers will hit.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Casolaro 39

Olivia the viola player learned about Casolaro’s death a few weeks after it happened. She couldn’t fathom his suicide. She replayed their conversations over in her head, their shared horror over their sisters’ suicides. Maria—the pain revisited, the jagged knife within, twisting, a corkscrew of misery, joined by Danny. Her dreams of teeth pulling, dismemberment returned. She’d awake, unable to fall back asleep, and instead played sad notes on her viola deep into the night. A new song didn’t find her.

In the days after she found out she performed in two concerts, thought about how she was becoming surrounding by death, her playing mechanical, her music absorbed by the symphony.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Casolaro 38

Casolaro had difficulties separating reliable information and sources from the unreliable. He collected a lot of garbage: Illuminati theories, the Christic Institute, even stuff from Lyndon LaRouche surrogates. He was a garbage collector, a sponge, collecting every tidbit he could get to work into his theories. Nothing was too preposterous, it seemed, if he gain anything from it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Casolaro 37

In Martinsburg, Casolaro happened to meet the guy staying in the room next to him, Mike Looney. The two had drinks in the hotel lounge the night before Casolaro was found dead. I’m supposed to be meeting a source at nine, Casolaro said, but I’m getting the impression he’s standing me up. He left Looney at the bar, said he went to make some calls. Came back, told Looney that, I think I got blown off.

Casolaro talked to Looney about his work in mostly vague details, saying he was doing a criminal investigative story. He mentioned a book deal might be in the works.

Looney recalled him being a bit frayed, a little frantic. He scribbled stuff on cocktail napkins as they talked, almost like messages were being sent to his head as they talked and he had to transcribe them. He seemed like an odd person, a mad scientist type perhaps, but he seemed to have a good streak to him.

Looney seemed visibly shaken when he was informed that he was probably the last person to spend time with Casolaro. He tried not to contemplate the idea that perhaps he was murdered while I was asleep in the next room. The other possibility, that he killed himself, was no comfort either.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Casolaro 36

The flip side of the story—the narrative of accepted truth—is that Casolaro committed suicide in his hotel room. He used a straight razor to slash his wrists. There were partially consumed containers of alcohol in the bathroom; he was found to have alcohol and traces of painkillers and antidepressants in his system.

He left a suicide note, an analysis of which showed it was in his handwriting. There was no forced entry to the room, no signs of struggle.

The bartender at the hotel lounge, one of the last people to see him, recalled that Casolaro seemed depressed, he didn’t seem like a happy person.

His investigative notes were gone, but who can say what a depressed person who becomes a suicide would do with his personal belongings. If he killed himself, is it inconceivable that he would also destroy his life’s work?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Casolaro 35

His suicide note read, “To my loved ones, please forgive me—most especially my son—and be understanding. God will let me in.” Uncharacteristic for Casolaro because he was given to wordiness, and he wasn’t religious, rarely mentioned God in any personal way.

His brother Anthony said he could imagine his brother working on his suicide note for months, collecting ideas and thoughts, writing and rewriting. It’s just the way he was. He was a bit of a wreck, he said, a bit chaotic at times, but even if he did do it—hard to even think, given who he was and what happened to our sister—he would’ve mentioned something about his work. He was obsessed with it. It was everything he was doing right before he died.

His ex-wife said, I’m trying to think of him talking about God, about getting into heaven, and I just don’t recall it. Not something we talked about together or with our son really. He might’ve said vague stuff like, thank God for this, or God willing I might be able to do such and such. I wouldn’t characterize him as an atheist. But he wasn’t religious. I’m not sure he even owned a Bible.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Sampling of Complaints

She said, the coffee tastes like cigarettes, pushing it across the table, offensive. Over there, pock-faced man sad, the pot roast was stringy, conquered carcass hoisted by fork, lame with gristle. A sampling of complaints written on paper scraps: the bathrooms smell like urine, the pay is meager, the owner has octopus hands. Two youths sat across the street, heads full of unwritten grievances, spray paint cans in backpack, lighters in back pocket and pondered, who will they deface, how will they burn.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Casolaro 34

You’ll see something in the news and feel it’s not quite right. You’ll grow angry, frustrated; you’ll turn to this because it makes sense, it forces a framework on it even if you can do nothing about it. You will find comfort in these ideas, in these narratives. Someone out there, you’ll think, can scratch my itch. Someone out there understands the way I think.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Casolaro 33

On the morning of August 10, 1991, Danny Casolaro was found dead in his hotel room bathtub in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Naked, with twelve slashes to his wrists. Blood on the wall and floor, a scene that made one of the housekeeping staff faint. Paramedics found a beer can, a half-full bottle of wine, two garbage bags, and a standard straight razor.

A detail revealed later: several towels were found on the bathroom, looked as if they had been used to wipe up blood, someone doing so using their foot, according to one of the housekeeping heads at the hotel. The blood smeared in a trail, leading to the disposed towels. These towels were thrown away.

The death was ruled a suicide. A Martinsburg undertaker embalmed Casolaro’s body that night, before Casolaro’s family had been notified of his death—a crime in West Virginia.

Some of his fingernails were broken--no one looked under his fingernails for residue or skin fragments, any sign of a struggle. No bath water sample was taken. A bruise was found under the top of his head that could have induced moderate hemorrhaging.

His briefcase and accordion file of notes on the Octopus, including the related manuscript that he was working on, were not in the room. They were not in his car. The immediate area was combed. Nothing.

The Octopus descended into the waters, its prey left spent, washed up on shore. No photographs, only anecdotes, a fluid story.