The Life Of Milk
If Steven King can do it, so can I. The horror maestro has posted unpublished literary works on his website, freely accessible to all. He simply requests that readers who have enjoyed the tales send him a small sum of money. Apparently, something like 86% of those downloading the texts do. Like shareware, it's an honour system that works.
In a moment of reckless abandon, in emulation of my heroes, the literary hacks of 18th Century London's Grub Street who churned out essays, poems and racy novels for money, I've decided to try my hand at this storytelling lark. God knows, I've been a cantautore, a singing author, most of my life. Why not try an experiment with literature here online, now that the technology is in place to make it possible? Will it be mandated by a real reading public? Can I really entertain, and sustain a story the way Lawrence Sterne or Charles Dickens did, conscious of an eager audience hungry for every new twist in the tale?
At the very worst, my readers will answer my narrative with a deafening silence, until, as Gertrude Stein said to Picasso after reading his plays, someone says, quietly and firmly, 'Go to your studio, Pablo, and paint'.
My plan is simple. I will post installments of The Life Of Milk, a picaresque life of the man we shall call the Baron Milk, each time I am paid $100 for the purpose through the PayPal website. Paypal is a free web based system in which anyone with a credit card can send money to anyone with an e mail address. Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org
A handy bar chart at the top of this page will, from day to day, express to the nearest ten percent how close we are to the commissioning of another installment. Since PayPal is currently only open to US
residents, it is the Americans who will, ultimately, decide whether this story flies or plummets, and, if it flies, how far it flies and how long. (You should write Life Of Milk in the 'Message' section of the PayPal payment web form. You can also use this space to suggest episodes or situations you'd like to see featured -- you are a patron, after all!) People in other countries may encourage Americans to send money by petitioning alt.fan.momus or hectoring them from the pages of the Momus Guestbook.
If you're an American, and enjoy the tale, you can contribute anything from a cent to the whole hundred dollars, but small amounts are preferred. A lot of people contributing a dollar or so sounds more like genuine popular appeal and less like aristocratic patronage, doesn't it? However much you contribute, you can be sure that your donation will help bring the story into being, and give pleasure to those reading it who are unable to pay.
Here's the first episode. Welcome to a fine pack of lies!
The Life Of Milk
Being The Unlikely Adventures Of Baron Milk, Gentleman
A Picaresque Novel Written By International Man Of Letters Momus ...For Money
Chapter The First
The Fictiva Corporation - I Am Born in a Thunderstorm at Cannes - Avant Garde Physical Theatre in Poznan - A Polish Michael Jackson Impersonator
I am Baron Milk. Today is June 17th, 2045. I am lying, suspended in brine, in a flotation tank in Kamakura, Japan. I am brainstorming this story -- the story of my life -- in the beta release of Illumination, new software from the Fictiva Corporation. The idea is that, by means of two small electrodes clipped to your skull near the hypothalamus (in my case the electrodes are anchored in two smears of cool gel on either side of my Indonesian fighting cock tatoo), the software will trace the majestic range of your brainwaves, plot the jagged coastline of your imagination, register the radar blips of half-remembered facts, record the cacophonous white noise of memory. A Fictiva network computer (located for tax reasons in Liechtenstein) analyses the results and renders them in the form of picaresque narrative. The tale is then beamed back to my HotBubble RamJet where ink-vomiting nanobots build it atom by atom into a colourful, richly-illuminated book on thick, soft sheets of parchment.
I had hoped to get an illustrated autobiography hand-built by computer. But it's not turning out quite right. I told you the software was in beta. Anyway, let's blunder on and see what happens. If you have any complaints, send them to The Fictiva Corporation, 4 Route Du Signal, Charleroi, Liechtenstein.
Chapter One. Chapitre Un. In which I, Baron Milk, am born. It is the 20th Century. Some time in the 1960s. My mother has a small role in Jacques Tati's film 'Traffic'. She plays a pregnant air hostess who buys a small Lancia coupe at the International Car Show in Cannes. (Don't look for it, the scene got tossed into the off-cut bin.) I am born in a catering caravan, my mother going into labour on a bed hastily constructed from Dijon mustard crates.
All filming has been stopped because a noisy thunderstorm is rolling across the bay from the general direction of Monaco. Tati has been told about my birth and comes to film it with a small Super 8 camera. He is an obsessive documentarist who sees the comedy in everything. Thunder ricochets around Cannes, rain lashes the palm trees. My mother is screaming and I am bawling. Tati is chuckling, his little camera whirring. I don't know what happened to that film, but I'd like to see it. If it had an audio track, this is how it must have sounded:
Thunder: Boom! Crrraaaack! Riiiiiiipp-rumble ker-blummmm!
Tati: Heh heh heh heh!
Tati's Bolex Supreme 8: Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...
My Mother: Aaaaaaargh!
The Midwife: Poussez, madame, oui, comme ca! Oui, il arrive!
Me: Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Gwing Bwaaaaaaaaaaaah!
The Midwife: C'est un garcon! J'etais sur que c'etait un garcon! J'ai eu raison!
Tati: Hur hur, heh heh!
My Mother: Thank God! Oh, thank God!
The Midwife: Ah, un tres beau petit garcon! Adorable! Je vais juste couper, ici, et hop la! Il est arrive!
Thunder: Crazaaaaam! Boom! Boom! Muffled boom!
Me: Weeeeeeeeeeehgh! Ga-weeeeeeeeeeehgh!
Tati: Heh heh heh, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....
These sounds were so startling and so portentous that not only do I remember them in every detail, but I'm told that the Assistant Director's Best Boy, a Pole by the name of Stanislaus Brzywoznicwynski, later based an avant garde theatrical production on the scene.
It was originally staged, I'm told, in his home town of Poznan in August 1973 and was revived briefly in 1982 when he died, tragically young, of tuberculosis. He stylised the sounds of my birth by having them played by a band using three cellos, a lightning sheet, a bass drum, and a theremin. A troupe of expressionist mimes in black tights and whiteface embodied the principal players in the scene. I was played by a moon child, a beautiful little Polish girl with almost translucent skin. Stanislaus, being a monstrous egotist, inserted himself into the action as a sort of free-ranging mime-conductor. Feeling he'd been shabbily treated and held back in his cinema career by Tati, he took revenge on his mentor by directing with haughty disdain the cameraman character, a craven, clumsy old man with a long narrow chest, a skull-like visage, and a horrible hacking cough.
Stanislaus Brzywoznicwynski's production of 'Childbirth By Lightning' went something like this:
Mime Playing Tati: Cough cough cough! (Motions, not sounds.)
Drummer (Rimshots on a snare to represent Tati's hacking cough, pattery splashes on a cymbal to represent the camera motor): Tschak tschak tschak! Chickachickachicka tring!
Mime Playing My Mother: Aaaaaaargh! (Silent, done with facial expressions.)
Mime Playing The Midwife: (Gesticulates to Mime Playing My Mother the recommended positions for giving birth, but manages, by overacting, to look more like Medea throttling her children.)
Moon Child: Bwaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (Inaudible. The child doesn't even open her mouth, but sits, bathed in pale white light, regarding the audience with mysterious beatitude. Somehow the message is communicated: I am being born.)
Mime Playing The Midwife: (Abstract gestures of thanks to absent deities, slow awkward dance stage left.)
Mime Playing Tati: Hur hur heh heh! (Motions suggest a sarcastic and evil cackle.)
Mime Playing My Mother (Gestures to sky, silently mouths): O Cieux!
Mime Playing The Midwife (Mutely sings, voice-doubled by spooky wobbles from the theremin): Oooooooo, ooooooooooo!
Surprisingly Realistic Thunder From Thundersheet: Crazaaaaam! Boom! Boom! Muffled boom!
And so on. I'm told that the 1982 production, which substituted for the band a cheap synthesiser controlled by MIDI and for the actors a Polish Michael Jackson impersonator who represented my birth by moonwalking, was a disgraceful insult to Brzywoznicwynski's memory.