2 August 2000

Newspoetry Conspiracy Theory

I had to solve the mystery.

The next day I went to the Newspaper library. After hours of research I found an article about a start-up called "On the Job Consulting" in an old issue of the Octopus. I wondered whether this was the computer company that hired only artists that I had heard mention of in the Daily Illini. I had read about it in an article that had something to do with a secret school... And back then a little sentence caught my eye about someone named "William Gillespie." I wondered whether he had some connection with "Newspoetry" or the "School for Designing a Society." I decided to keep looking. Finally, after 18 hours of scrolling through microfiche, I found an article about the School for Designing a Society in the News-Gazette. And this article mentioned that Newspoetry was a project of the School!

I was astonished to discover that Newspoetry was, in fact, all along, a project initiated by the School for Designing Society. This suggested that the matter went deeper than I thought. You see, as I continued my investigative work, I discovered through a private interview with an anonymous database programmer that On the Job Consulting had designs upon Newspoetry, considering it to be the key to their corporate mission, and was poised waiting for Newspoetry to go public with its IPO... But what did the Performers Workshop Ensemble have to do with anything? Would Herbert Brün (who, as far I could tell, called the shots for these people) want anything to do with the poems of Futrelle, and this "William Gillespie"? And I had also heard mention, from an unreliable source, of something called the "Gesundheit Institute."

Curious, I eventually found out the phone number of the reporter who had written the Gazette article and called her at home.

First, I tried to pry her for information over the phone about the Schneretz Institute's hostile takeover of Newspoetry dot com, but she claimed complete ignorance. Such ignorance could only be concealing true facts, but, for the time being, I played along. Finally she suggested that we meet in person, as there were certain things she did not feel at liberty to discuss on an insecure telephone line.

This was promising.

That evening, I took a bottle of wine and a notebook to the address she had given me: a house on California avenue I had never noticed before. I had never noticed it because it was completely surrounded by dense trees. Between the trees and the house was a run in which a restless doberman paced.

I finally found the back door and knocked. When the reporter cracked the door she asked me if I was alone.

Finally, she let me in. She would not touch the wine I brought, and instead took an open bottle of her own from the refrigerator, poured herself a glass, and insisted I drink her wine as well. As the wine she proffered did not appear to an exceptional vintage, I was confused by her gesture, and instead drank my own.

For awhile, I consciously tried to lead her in aimless chatter. We discussed film... or, should I say, the movies. Like whether it was worth transacting with Amazon.Uk in order to obtain the uncensored DVD of Eyes Wide Shut, or how we shared a stern disregard for Tom Cruise, or which was Tim Robbins' worst role during the period in which he was struggling to pay off  Cradle Will Rock, which we agreed was arguably the best American film.

Then I changed the subject to the row of portraits above her mantle. She abruptly seemed to grow withdrawn.

"So, tell me about yourself" she said eagerly, as if out of desperation.

"Well," I stalled, "I'm actually a graduate student in Rhetoric here at the university," I lied, "doing a dissertation on electronic literature, and..." And, to my astonishment, as I glanced up at the portraits, the one closest to me was a framed oilpainting of Futrelle himself, looking somewhat sinister, in a suit, wearing an eyepatch, talking angrily on a black rotary telephone. In the play of light from the row of candles in what I realized was a sort of shrine, I could barely not make out the signature of the artist.

The next portrait over, I realized, was of a hallowed, gaunt face with a cloud of unruly hair: Gillespie. Only his face appeared to have a slash of red paint across it in the manner of a no smoking sign. I must have appeared visibly shocked because I heard the reporter stop breathing. Gillespie had disappeared from the Newspoetry scene a number of  weeks before, seemingly vanishing without a trace, and I had dimly suspected foul play. As I stared at the portrait, my eyes widened as I notices that the red paint was still wet!

And then she asked "Have you ever heard of Spineless Books?" I gasped, because I had not. How many overlapping identities and false trails would I have to stumble through before I made some sense of this mess? At that point, I carefully considered fleeing in terror. But, the doberman...

And  who  were  the "United Mime Workers"?

Two days later I got a lead and caught a flight to San Francisco.

Sam Markewich met me in Golden Gate park. He was wearing a rubber Nixon mask with a strap-on dildo for a nose; I could not identify his features, although he had hairy knuckles. He said he came from the planet Uranus, and that he had a nasal infection.  He gave me a nasturtium. I was having trouble piecing all this together. He said he used to work for Newspoetry and that he had scored a lot of booty. I took this to mean that he had done some embezzling.

Still, it was not clear who I was dealing with.

Although  the meeting with Markewich was a bust, I was in Oakland drunk off my ass and scrawling obscenities on the wall of my hotel room with my own feces when I got a call.

I met Sam Patterson in Hawaii, which was as close to San Diego as he was willing to discuss these matters. In San Diego, he assured me, there were conservative elements who would ensure that he was destroyed for what he was willing to reveal to me.

But, on that beach, beneath those coconuts clustered in those palm trees, he revealed to me that he had actually done some sort of masters thesis on Newspoetry, in a university in San Diego whose acronym he was not comfortable revealing. Over the next twelve hours, and over 113 margaritas, I slowly picked his brain.

So I gave up the search, based on a reliable tip that it was all really not that interesting.

I returned to Urbana, dropped out of the journalism program, and tried to relax.

One afternoon I was sitting at home taking a warm bath, enjoying my new life, thinking about when and to where I would go when I left Urbana, considering various film schools, when the doorbell rang.

As I stood out on my porch, wearing a towel, dripping, the man and woman with the glazed eyes introduced themselves as my neighbors from immediately across the street. After this brief introduction, they explained to me that my cats had been in their garage, which was unacceptable because cats were "indoor animals," and that they had (they boasted) used a trap to capture their neighbors' cats before, and sent them to the pound, and that they were just warning me, to be nice, that they had a lot of birdfeeders and were big fans of birds, and that they would without reservation trap my cats and have them institutionalized.

Then the man smiled crookedly and asked "are you a student?"

"No," I said, stepping inside, and slammed the door.

To this day, I still don't know whether these people had some connection with Newspoetry, but at the time I could not shake the suspicion that Futrelle had set them up, just to keep me paranoid and off-balance, to remind me that, when I had investigated Newspoetry, I had opened a can of worms which could never again be closed.

After a day of thinking it over, I decided it would be best to confront them. Anyone who knows my cat Sebastian knows that to be stuck inside a building with him will eventually become an unendurable hell. Sebastian is Siamese, a cat you might call "vocal." There was no way I could live with Sebastian without letting him go out.

So I built a bird suit, with gigantic wings I could unfold through a lever system, and a big bird mask made of paper mache and feathers, with a large beak that I could peer out of.

I tromped up their porch stairs with my webbed boots, and clumsily rang their bell with the tip of my large wing. I heard a tinkling crash, as if of breaking glass, and wondered whether I had knocked something over. As I tried to maneuver to look around, my beak fell closed immersing the inside of the mask in darkness. I could not see.

I thought I heard the door open. Then silence.

Unsure what to do, I began to move the levers that unfolded my giant wings and shouted "I am the Bird God! I have come from Bird Land to tell you not to bother your neighbors' cats!"

And then I heard nothing. I wasn't sure whether they had closed the door, and, truth be told, wasn't sure that they had opened it to begin with. I wasn't sure that they were even home. As I tried to turn and grope my way off their porch I heard plate glass shatter. I must have broken a window with the tip of one of my large mechanical wings, which I had forgotten to fold back up.

Now, as I sit here in prison writing this down, I have to admit this much: that this is all I know. I may never find out what Newspoetry is or how it relates to the other clues. And, frankly, I am sick of the whole mess. All that is clear is that there is something amiss in East Central Illinois, something that may even extend into the lower reaches of the Urbana city government and the local media. Even the local food co-op may be involved. I think I am safe here in my cell, at least I hope I am, and I can pass the days reading USA Today and doing the crossword puzzle in the morning, and by reading old Stephen King novels in the afternoon. It is not a great life, but really no worse than any other.

To be continued ...

Newspoetry at Spineless Books