New age breakout 

It's raining. We take the alley behind Ferretti's loft. In the background is the concrete-and-steel Detroit skyline. In the foreground is a vegetable garden. We approach the mound of earth where Ferretti's cat is buried. He has wrapped the corpse in aluminum foil and wired a TV antenna to its head. The antenna pokes through the earth.

"A New Age alternative to pesticide?" I ask. "Like a flea collar for pumpkins?"

"The plague," is all Ferretti says. "The plague."

My nose starts to run. Snot mixes with rain. The signature taste of my life as a failed writer. It's time to go inside.

Fire trucks barrel down Michigan Avenue as we enter Ferretti's loft. He locks the iron door. We're imprisoned in safety. What artist can tolerate that? I think of how important it is to break out. Picasso did it with Cubism. Proust did it with stream-of-consciousness. I do it with acne. The plague, I think. The plague.

THE HATE GLAND

Ferretti has run a wire from the dead cat to his loft. It's attached to a truck battery on his kitchen table. Underneath the battery are stacks of New Age books. Deepak Chopra. Shakti Gawain. Dan Millman. The books are covered with acid and smell like the chemical burn of a thousand LSD trips.

"Please," I say. "Light the incense."

Ferretti doesn't hear. He's wearing a Day-Glo headset and scratching his whiskers.

"Someone's jammed the signal," he says. "Castro? The CIA? I need more voltage."

Ferretti leaves the kitchen table. I want to put on the headset. I want to transfer my acne to the dead cat. But I'm afraid that prize poisons would leave with it. It's my vanity as a writer to hate everything modern. I need the agony of integrating myself into a society that's left me behind. I'm obviously not afraid of being a loser. I'm afraid of being vacant.

CELESTIAL CHEST

Ferretti drags a metal tool box across the floor. It's a Sears Deluxe Craftsman that's worn and true. He opens the bottom drawer. I expect to see hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches and a crow bar with glistening steel teeth.

But I don't. Maybe Ferretti isn't to blame. Maybe it's just the age in which we live. Because the drawer contains a bust of Krishna wrapped in an oil rag. There's a voodoo doll with crusty flakes of turtle blood stuck in a canvas tool belt with a bronze Inca warrior and an iridescent blue dolphin.

"I can't find it," Ferretti says.

"Find what?" I ask.

Ferretti dumps out the drawer. Stuck to the back is a moldy potato. Ferretti shakes it loose and presses his thumbs into the skin. The potato opens like the gourd of life.

"Loan me twenty bucks," he says. "I need to make an offering."

"I'm broke," I say.

"Voltage," he answers. "I need more voltage."

Ferretti sticks my credit card into the potato.

"Why don't ya just call 1-800-PSYCHIC?" I say. "They got mediums standing by 24 hours a day. You can get black or white or Asian. Hot high school cheerleaders. Horny housewives. Just pick up the phone and dial."

Ferretti scowls. He says that we come from a proud heritage of Midwestern crackers.

"Do-it-yourselfers like Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison. They gave us the Arsenal of Democracy long before Ilitch gave us pizza. Remember this," Ferretti confides, "God helps those who help themselves. That's why he's a Democrat."

"And what did the Democrats give Detroit to renew the economy?" I scoff.

"Gambling! If Clinton had labored with his hands," I say, "it woulda sweated the punk outta him. But people don't celebrate their bodies through hard physical labor anymore. They celebrate through sex. That's why America's obsessed with it."

Ferretti walks to the wire mesh window of his loft. The autumn rain pelts it. I wish for hail and frogs and locusts. But Providence has lost patience.

"The waters are rising," Ferretti says.

KNOCK-KNOCK

"Stick the credit card into the potato," I say. "Put the potato atop the truck battery. Put on the headphones and dial direct. Order a nuclear strike on this sick American society."

"A pre-emptive Armageddon?" Ferretti says. "Only an Englerite would be so vindictive."

He puts on the headset. He turns the dial from station to station. He mews like a cat. He drools like a famished gargoyle.

"I'm getting a signal," he whispers. "It's getting closer. Deliverance is at hand."

Lightning flashes through the loft windows. There's a knock at the door. It must be the Second Coming.

"Jesus Christ," Ferretti says.

"No, pizzaman," the visitor answers. "I gotta large with triple anchovies. Some cat called in an order."

I grab the pizza and slam the door.

"God helps those who help themselves," I say to Ferretti. "That's what makes him a Republican. Jesus was a small-town guy. His stepfather was a nonunion carpenter. An independent. D'ya think he'd vote for an urban Democrat like Fieger? Provincials never vote for Jews."

"Jesus was Jewish," Ferretti says. "That's what closet Nazis like yourself forget. Take the broader view. Don't resist progress by focusing on what comes out the butt-end. Everything produces excrement and that includes civil rights and women's rights and gay rights and New Age foo-foo-ism. Lemme repeat what Clinton told the Chinese, 'Get on the right side of history.' "

"I'm a failure," I say to Ferretti. "I can't write. I'm too old to be a jujitsu champ or clean my goddess' house in the nude. I never learned how to let go. I've been a halfhearted warrior, a halfhearted sissy. I shoulda been a bureaucrat instead of an artist. It woulda made no difference. I can see my tombstone: 'Had Acne.'"

"You're only a failure," Ferretti says, "if you die with hate in your heart. The time for atonement is now."

SPANKED AT REBIRTH

"The problem with this pizza," I say, "is that it doesn't have enough grease. Every artist needs a fatal flaw. I could've really been somebody if my acne were worse. Mediocre zits. Mediocre self-loathing. Mediocre writing. Nietzsche would scoff."

"Clinton would scoff too," Ferretti says. "He's got a really big problem: An Achilles penis. It separates Clinton from his alter ego: Ronald Reagan. Clinton has given us a look at the boy inside the man who's wrapped up in being an actor."

"I'm sorry for the country. For Clinton. For myself. I'm the second sorriest man alive."

"Ya gotta float above the rain and sewage," Ferretti says. "Noah did it. Nobody called him an escapist. There's two ways to make art. You can make art jealously or you can make art with love in your heart."

I empty my pockets of a four-leaf clover, a rabbit's foot, a Confederate penny, all folded inside my first Clearasil wrapper. I sense that life itself is a process of burning off lives until one's quota is reached. Cats get nine. George Wallace got two. How many will Clinton get? I crawl toward a pyramid that Ferretti has constructed with lumber stolen from a crack house torched by vigilantes. A dream-catcher hangs above the entrance. It spanks me as I cross the threshold. Ferretti beats the pizza box as if it were a shaman's drum. "Welcome to the New Millennium," he says.

"Thanks," I cry.

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