Listen, before Hark, was it ever harder to be human? Was it ever harder to believe in our world?
The weather made us wonder. The markets had, the wars.
The rich had stopped pretending they were just the best of us, and not some utterly other form of life. The rest, the most, could glimpse their end on Earth, in the parched basins and roiling seas, but could not march against their masters. They slaughtered each other instead, retracted into glowing holes.
Hark glowed, too.
He came to us and was golden-y.
It wasn’t that Hark had the answer.
It was more that he didn’t.
All he possessed, he claimed, were a few tricks, or tips, to help people focus. At work. At home. Out for coffee with a client, or a friend.
(Listen, before Hark, was it ever harder to find focus?)
Hark gathered his tips together, called it mental archery. Pretty silly, he liked to say.
But some knew better. Some were certain he had a secret, a mystery, a miracle. For what was mental archery but the essence of Hark, and what was the essence of Hark but love?
In this hurt world, how could that hurt?
The hunters of meaning had found no meaning. The wanters of dreams were dreamless. Many now drifted toward Hark Morner.
This is, like, the backstory.
The front story is about a bunch of people and a movement they launched under the banner of Hark, a movement that maybe meant nothing at all. Or maybe it did mean something. It’s tough to tell. The past is tricky, often half hidden, like a pale, flabby young man flung naked into a crowded square. The past doesn’t stand there, grant ganders. The past clasps its crotch, scurries for the cover of stanchions, benches.
History hides. That’s its job. It hides behind other history.
Fraz Penzig, one of the front-story people, knows all about it. He used to teach some history, though he hasn’t taught it in a while, not since the middle school cut staff by a third. His wife, Tovah, told him that life is not a zero-sum game, but Fraz senses that if it were, he would be the zero sum.
Lucky for him that Tovah is still employed.
He’s grateful for the medical, though he happens to have his health at the moment. Not that it’s something you can ever truly own, or bequeath, like a house, or a houseboat, or a parcel of land in the hills, but Fraz does have his health.
Oh, maybe he feels frail on occasion, a tad pulped, bones shot, frequently fevered, on the verge of the verge of death, but make no mistake, he’s hardy. His twinges, his spasms, his stabby aches, they’re chronic, like all the other minor hurts, the gym injuries, the sprains achieved mysteriously on the can.
He’s terminal, but not quite near the terminus.
Like when he had that raisin on his head, went to the raisin doctor.
“It’s nothing,” the doctor said.
“I mean it’s something. It’s just what people get. On the way down. You want I light-saber that bad boy off?”
Also, forty-six years on this hard turd of a world and Fraz’s mind
is still, by his lights, pure silk. He knows younger types already fried, or brined, not just with drugs or booze, but merely from rising in the morning, moving about in their private biospheres of panic and decay, the hours at work, the hours of work at home, the hours of work with spouses, fathers, mothers, children, the stresses laced into the simplest tasks, the fight-or-flight responses to kitchen appliances, not to mention the mighty common domes, with which the individual bubbles Venn: the fouled sky, the polluted food, the pharma-fed rivers full of sad-eyed Oxytrout, the jeans on outlet shelves in their modalities of size—skinny fit, classic fit, fat shepherd fit, all dyed a deep cancer blue. And the wave rot, of course, the pixel-assisted suicide, the screens, the screens, the screens.
Yes, Fraz is lucky, privileged, if you please, not just to be alive but to still live here, his locus, his home grove, the city that never sleeps, but paces its garret in a nervous rage, the city of his kin.
Once he had some vague ambitions, semi-valuable skills. Now he tutors schoolkids part-time, does favors for an old friend of his late father.
He’s also lucky Tovah’s affections don’t hinge on his ability to generate revenue. Or maybe her affections hinge on nothing now.
But fie on such wallow-world musings. Fie on these flurries of own-negs. Today he will shrug off the cape of self-hate. Fraz has upsides. He’s a doting father. He’s one of Hark’s apostles. He spreads the word. Also, he’s rich in nutrients, solid from the gym, with, despite a certain overspreading doughiness, some noteworthy detail on his tris and delts. Truth is, he’d rather be a male waif, but he got Jewed (he can say it) on the genetics. His narrow band of endomorphic choice will always come down to this: lard barn or semi-cut chunk.
Today he’s headed downtown for a meeting with the mental archery brain trust: Kate Rumpler, the young heiress who funds their institute; Teal Baker-Cassini, the discipline’s leading intellectual light; and Hark Morner himself, their radiant, inscrutable guru. They will take their booth at the Chakra Khan, sip kale-and-peppermint toddies. They have much to discuss. Demonstration videos. Scheduled appearances. The True Arrow, a new feed on Hark Hub.
Fraz wishes they could meet at a coffee bar, or a full-service bar, or a full-service meat cart. He likes the street meat, the tangy skewers. He doesn’t mind the toddies. But the candles, the garden scents, menace his dainty machismo.
Listen, such are the sacrifices one makes for the cause, for mental archery, for love.