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Jan/Feb 1999 Fiction

Leon

by Stanley Jenkins


 

I

We have come upon a very different age from any that preceded us. We have come upon an age when we do not do business in the way we used to do business,—when we do not carry on any of the operations of manufacture, sale, transportation, or communication as men used to carry them on. There is a sense in which in our day the individual has been submerged. In most parts of the country men work, not for themselves, not as partners in the old way in which they used to work, but generally as employees,—in a higher or lower grade,—of great corporations. There was a time when corporations played a very minor part in our business affairs, but now they play the chief part, and most men are the servants of the corporations....

Yesterday, and ever since history began, men were related to one another as individuals....To-day, the everyday relationships of men are largely with great impersonal concerns, with organizations, not with other individual men.

Now this is nothing short of a new social age, a new era of human relationships, a new stage-setting for the drama of life.
       —Woodrow Wilson, 1912

 

Friday, September 6, 1901. Turn of the century, Mr. Czolgosz, turn of the century. Telephone ringing. America calling. Blood dripping.

Hey, it's for you, Leon. Leon Czolgosz. Will you take it?

And a voice says: "Bang, bang you're dead, Mr. McKinley."

President McKinley. President William McKinley from Ohio—(where they love you because you stand for all that is brave and right and white in America—(and because, like somebody else would say later: "the business of America is business")—and where they have just elected you for a second term and we are morally perfectible and it is the American century and the culmination of Carnegie and Frick and Rockefeller and Morgan and Vanderbilt and..... )—Mr. President from Ohio!

And well, you know, orders are orders. What's a poor boy to do? Two shots in the stomach and they send you to the chair, Leon. Ha ha. LOL. They barely even gave you a trial.

You fool. You cipher. You patsy.

Didn't your mama ever tell you? You can't kill Leviathan. You can't kill the Octopus. You can't kill Capital at the turn of the century at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. No way. No how.

Oh Leon! Leon. You laid the president down. And you shot the president down. Just tell me this. Just tell me this one thing.

How does it feel to have a face, Mr. Czolgosz?

For the rest, at a time when the universality of Spirit has gathered such strength, and the singular detail, as is fitting, has become correspondingly less important, when, too, that universal aspect claims and holds on to the whole range of the wealth it has developed, the share in the total work of Spirit which falls to the individual can only be very small. Because of this, the individual must all the more forget himself, as the nature of Science implies and requires. Of course, he must make of himself and achieve what he can; but less must be demanded of him, just as he in turn can expect less of himself, and may demand less for himself.
        —G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807

Tick. Tick. Tick. Clock is ticking, Leon. You are crazy. And you know it. 1898. It's Cleveland. You work in the wire mill. You work twelve hours a day, six days a week, 52 weeks a year—because this is a Christian nation and you get the Sabbath off. The fucking Sabbath, Leon. And on the Sabbath you go to Socialist meetings. And you go to Anarchist meetings. And you learn that all rulers are the enemies of the people. It is a good thing to kill the enemies of the people, Leon. This is what you learn. You are crazy—and you know it. Tick. Tick. Tick.

(I hear the keening of Cleveland in 1898. Nightmare chimneys. Horse hooves on cobble stones. There is a child. The stench! They make you live like a beast, Mr. Czolgosz. And when it snows the snow turns black.)

What's her name? The woman you watch. I know that there is a woman that you watch. Her name is Maria, right? Must be Maria. You and all the other Poles—the women you watch—they are all named Maria. Mother of God. Stella Maris. Star of the sea. The star that guides all sailors home. But you can't see no stars in the Cleveland night of 1898, Leon. You ain't no Copernicus. And besides, they sold them. That's right. Sold the fucking stars. Star of Bethlehem. And you saw them do it too, man. You watched her—the woman who you watch—and you followed her into great white night until you saw the electric light burning in her window—red light burning in her window!—and the door opening and closing. And the men coming and going. And the men coming and going. And you stood out in the alley watching the men coming and going, Leon. And you know, it wasn't like something cracked in you or something. It was like something so quietly and inevitably rolled over. The sigh of your mother. Your dead mother. And she rolled over. And it just ain't never been the same Leon. Ain't never been the same.

So what did you do? Oh man! you fool, you goof, you holy idiot. You got quiet, Leon. You got real quiet. And the family just didn't understand. And in 1898 you walked into the factory mill and with invisible weapons you slayed the horrible beasts. Ancient dignity. You stood up straight. With swords that did not exist you pierced the foul breast of your foreman. You sallied forth.... You danced. You whooped hollers. And then you collapsed and foamed at the mouth (no shit!)—you crazy mother-fucker—and they carried you out and forgot your stupid unpronounceable name, Leon Czolgosz—forgot your name. And truth be told they never had no use for your name to begin with. Cleveland 1898. How stupid can you get? How is it that you got this far in life and never understood that you are invisible, faceless. You do not matter. You are nobody. Welcome to America, Leon—there are a thousand more where you came from. Fuck you.

The collective is a body, too. And the *physis* that is being organized for it in technology can, through all its political and factual reality, only be produced in that image sphere to which profane illumination initiates us. Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the *Communist Manifesto*. For the moment, only the Surrealists have understood its present commands. They exchange, to a man, the play of human features for the face of an alarm clock that in each minute rings for sixty seconds.
        —Walter Benjamin, "Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia", 1929

Buffalo, New York. 1901. Pan-American Exposition. Ring, ring, ring. America calling. And hey! Ain't we grown up, now? Alexander Graham Bell. Thomas Alva Edison. Hey! We're waiting for you Mr. Ford. Mr. Bill Gates.

But nevermind that now, it's 1901. It's the Pan-American Exposition. First of the great fairs to commemorate no actual historical event at all whatsoever. Ha ha ha. LOL. And that's just fine. Because America is the event, itself. The ahistorical event. America. And the age of Electricity and Progress.

Check it out, man. Center of the exposition. It's the Electric Tower. We're talking 44,000 lights. We're talking power. We're talking the Spanish-American War. We're talking a search light at the top of the 325 foot tall American tower of Babel that can be seen from Canada and Niagara in 1901. Oh man! We're talking the city on the hill—(O my America!).

And the buildings of the exposition. Too funny. Rainiest season in years. And get this: The buildings are not meant to be permanent. ("And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" (Matthew 7: 24-7)). Joke's on us. Plaster and chicken wire. And the rain. And even within weeks of the opening the buildings are visibly falling apart. Drip, drip, drip. LOL. And the seams. And the seams. Oh Leon! America is falling apart.

Turn of the century.

Revenge, working men! To arms! Your masters sent out their bloodhounds—the police. They killed six of your brothers at McCormick's this afternoon. They killed the poor wretches, because they, like you, had the courage to disobey the supreme will of your bosses. They killed them because they dared to ask for the shortening of the hours of toil. They killed them to tell you, 'free American Citizens,' that you must be satisfied and contented with whatever your bosses condescend to allow you, or you'll get killed. You have for years endured the most abject humiliation; you have for years suffered immeasurable iniquities; you have worked yourselves to death; you have endured the pangs of want and hunger; your children you have sacrificed to the factory lords- in short, you have been miserable, obedient slaves all these years. Why? To satisfy the insatiable greed to fill the coffers of your lazy, thieving master. When you ask them now to lessen your burden he sends his blood-hounds out to shoot you, kill you. If you are men, if you are the sons of your grandsires who have shed their blood to free you, then you will rise in your might, Hercules, and destroy the hideous monster that seeks to destroy you. To arms we call you! To arms!
        —"Revenge!", circular printed immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, Chicago, 1886

America is calling, Leon. America is calling.

Then, faint and prolonged, across the levels of the ranch, he heard the engine whistling for Bonneville. Again and again, at rapid intervals in its flying course, it whistled for road crossings, for sharp curves, for trestles; ominous notes, hoarse, bellowing, ringing with the accents of menace and defiance; and abruptly Presley saw again, in his imagination, the galloping monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path; the leviathan, with tentacles of steel clutching into the soil, the soulless Force, the iron-hearted Power, the monster, the Colossus, the Octopus.
        —Frank Norris, The Octopus, 1901

And Geronimo was there, Leon. Pan-American Exposition. 1901. Fierce Geronimo. He was there. For real. Apache terror. Apache tears. In the Indian Village exhibit at the Pan-American Exposition. Three times a day, under special armed guard, he performed his own defeat with a cast of thousands.

Geronimo, Leon. Geronimo!

Bang, bang, you're dead.

 

II

OK. So what happened next? You had your breakdown in 1898, Leon. You were crazy. Damn telephone ringing all the time. And Emma. Emma Goldman. Red Emma. (*Mother Earth*, Free Love, and the Revolution.) You stupid idiot. You went to see her, didn't you?

Yeah. That's what you did and you jabbered like an idiot at her. Because you're stupid, Leon. Simple. You can't even hold a job. Can't even look your stepmother in the eye when she berates you. Oh Jeeze! A brick short of a full load. And what did you call yourself? Nieman, wasn't it? Fred Nieman. You told her your name was Fred Nieman. And Nieman in Polish. It means "nobody". Fred Nobody.

(Oh Leon. Your real mother is dead. She died a long time ago when you were a boy in Detroit. Leon. Oh Leon. Do not be sad. You break my heart, brother. There is a whole other America weeping for you tonight. Motherless children, all. And the boys with no faces.)

Nobody.

But the funny thing is, Leon. Ha ha ha. LOL. They thought you were a spy. Emma and the others. The anarchists. They thought you were a spy. They listened to your wild and keening nullity. Your American sorrow. And they thought you were a spy.

Even wrote you up in the September 1, 1901 issue of *Free Society*. "The attention of the comrades is called to another spy. He is well-dressed, of medium height, rather narrow-shouldered, blond, and about twenty-five years of age." They said your demeanor was of "the usual sort, pretending to be greatly interested in the cause, asking for names, or soliciting aid for acts of contemplated violence". They said that you had already appeared in Chicago and Cleveland and that if you showed up anywhere else....anywhere else....anywhere else, Mr. Nobody....."the comrades are warned in advance, and can act accordingly".

Five days later you shot President William McKinley twice in the stomach in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. And you laid him in his grave. And you laid him in his grave.

And the incorruptible Professor walked, too, averting his eyes from the odious multitude of mankind. He had no future. He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable—and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world. Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men.
        —Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, 1907

 

*

Well, you got what you wanted, didn't you Leon? And you surely accomplished what you set out to do. Jesus Christ, Leon! Just tell me this. Just tell me one thing? How does it feel? How does it feel? To arrest history in one moment? And stop nothing?

Of course, they beat the shit out of you, Leon. Secret Service agents. After gun shots like outrageous knockings of ghostly radiators had shattered the clock and freed time. And you shouting stupid, illiterate things like "I done my duty! I done my duty!" And they were smashing you in the face again and again. And you shouting, "I am a disciple of Emma Goldman!" And the fury of the nation. Smash! Smash! Smash! Unleashed now in such ghostly industrial howls and animal noises, until it is not clear whether the keening is coming from you or from them or from the blood-stained ground of this the last and the best of the Promised Lands—and neither does it matter Leon, neither does it matter. The American century is calling. The American century is calling. Piston, pump, pulse the screech of steel on steel. O my sad Americans at the turn of the century. Lost in great vast industrial no man's lands until John Henry drops his hammer and fucking dies. Just fucking dies.

It's too funny, Leon. Too fucking funny.

 

So they gave you the chair. And they sent two different jolts of 1,700 volts of pure American optimism coursing through your body for a full minute of sixty seconds each time. And you know what? Today, nobody even remembers your name, Leon. You stupid, crazy mother-fucker.

Leon Czolgosz, a.k.a. Fred Nieman, aged 28. Nobody.

Oh Leon. My brother. My dead dead brother. You break my heart.

 

Check out vintage Jenkins in this issue's Spotlight section!

 

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