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Squid #505
(published September 23, 2010)
Ask the Giant Squid: The Spirits of St. Louis
Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid?
Dear Giant Squid,

Should I go to St. Louis tomorrow?

Chet Stroebeck

My Dear Readers (and, by extension, Chet),

It is in the spirit of sleepless desperation that I address you this morn, my hunting tentacles gently plucking forth the words from this submersible keyboard as the moon climbs above the topmost mullion of my floor-to-ceilinged easterly windows, and the hands of the hip-shaking Elvis clock on Rob's cubicle wall slowly stretch to meet at the mystical three directly to the left of St. Elvis's blessed navel.

Perhaps you are concerned that it is your question itself which bears the blame for my sleeplessness; perish the thought, for I was much disturbed for long hours before, in an attempt to quell my anxieties, I turned to the succor of that sweet, sirenic mistress—Work—to sooth the savage beasts that plagued my fevered series of cliches.

That your question should cut so succinctly to the very heart of my anxious anti-somnolence was clearly a sign—not from some fey, absentee "God," but from the unforgiving, toothsome, eyeless maw of synchronicity itself. When the "Lord" tells you to burn a book or bomb a people, perhaps you act and perhaps you ignore, but when synchronicity taps upon the door, you jump to answer and throw back the bolt without even the briefest glance out the Judas hole; anything less is madness (although, admittedly, opening that door, that too is also madness).

But yours was a question, simple and clear, and so I honor it with an answer of equal and unvarying brevity, clarity, and concision:

You, emphatically, should not go to St. Louis, tomorrow or ever; I went there this summer past, during my traveling holiday, and remain yet still a much change'd squid.

The city St. Louis is haunted by terrible spirits. All throughout the world there are towns and villages that, with or without provocation or ample justification, claim their ghosts. Prague and Paris and foggy, venomous London cling to the quaint ambiance provided by the photogenic "spirits" of the poets, painters, inventors, statesmen, and serial killers which "haunt" their "streets."

Does Van Gogh still walk the Seine? Does Fitzgerald spit from the bridges crossing the Hudson river? Do Benjamin D'Israeli and Jackson Pollack-Ripper still ceaselessly stalk each other in the alleys and mews around Whitechapel? In all cases, I very much doubt it (and can positively confirm that the spirit of Benyamin De Ysrael is trapped in a disused tobacco tin shoved for to the rear of Mr. Thackery T. Lambshead's foreclosed Cabinet of Wonders).

But St. Louis, curse'd St, Louis, is as packed with restless, angry spirits as a Facebook wall is packed with the glowing blandishments of "friends" who not only fail to wish you well, but do in fact wish you active harm.

Let me explain the simple, graceless facts of the numinous afterworld, principal among which is this: You are rooted to the place of your birth, as surely as a tree is rooted to the terrible, useless dry dirt of its own nativity. No matter where you wander, now how distantly your roam—by land, sea, or foam—immediately upon your demise you will wake to find your articulated, extruded ectoplasmic avatar returned to and confined within the recognized legal boundaries of the municipality from which you hail. Mark "Samuel 'Langhorn' Clemens" Twain may be the voice of early, glorious San Francisco, and the ineluctable memory of Old Man River, but as soon as Comet Halley passed its perihelion, sucking the last of Twain's life-breath through his fur-caged nostrils, the old man found himself again haunting the tree-lined parks and midnight sandwich shops of old St. Louis. You might most easily imagine William S. Burroughs shooting horse with pretty boys in Paris, or shooting pretty boys with off-duty police horses in old New York, but today and evermore he must sup on the rancid miasma of rectilinear "provel" "cheese" pizzas baked in St. Louis ovens. T.S. Eliot may have sipped tea like an English gent and slurred Israelites with equal supercilious aplomb, but he was born a Missourian, and so is condemned to forever arm wrestle Josephine Baker before a unfathomable sea of now nameless, now forgotten slaves, sold to the far-flung corners of the Union only to return upon their demise, drawn back to the bitter soil of their birth, smoldering with the rage of the thwarted dead.

All of them are home, and none of them desire to be so—it is, after all, why they left in the first place (apart from the slaves, who had little choice in the matter—although, when the long view is taken, it is hard to argue that any living being has much choice in the place and moment of his or her birth, death, or major live transitions and transformations).

This is the dark truth—not just of St. Louis, but of the whole mortal coil of this damp cinder of a world: the dead are angry, and they are insatiable in their anger, and every day there are more and more dead, more dead than at any point in history, and although return—and its enraging nostalgic ache—is guaranteed, there is certainly no turning bake.

And let us be candid, are not celebrities more human than us "regulated Joes"? Do they not need feel their delights more delightful and their slights more cutting? Are they not pricked one-hundred fold be each slung needle that would pierce you or I just once? I note the angle of this seeming tangent, because dear St. Louis, more so than any burgh in this great Nation, has birthed and nursed far more than its fair share of celebrities; viewed with the right eyes, in the right light, at the right moment, anyone can easily discern the glowing, unending, undulant, self-devouring snake of celebrated spirits wound through St, Louis's alleys and avenues. Has any city given us more scribes and poets? More singers and musicants? More rappists, more basketballers, more actors and actrixes, more debtors and debutantes? Perhaps New York has birthed more souls, perhaps Hollywood has seen more shining lights, but their celebrities—those supercharged beings of emotion and spite and famous fame—were borrowed lights, imported from our Great Nations' dark interior like walking, weeping, drinking, daring diamonds, gems of our paparazzi age; they were not native sons and daughters, and so do not haunt those klieg-lighted streets. They haunt the sad, little streets of their birth homes—the streets that were insufficient in life become the caged ruts of afterlife, and the streets of St. Louis, they smolder and glow like rivers of angry, half-forgotten fire, its chop lively with the leaping, phantasmic fish of those most illustrious St. Louisers. And, in case it cannot go unsaid, the nagry dead are hungry, and they will be sated by nothing less than the precious vital fluids of the young and lively, like yourself, Dear Chet.

These are the things I saw in St. Louis with my own optically perfect eyes, a phenomenon I had witnessed no where else in the world. But now I float in my tank, and look out over the dimly moon-limned wares of the Straits of Detroit, watching as those waters are ceaselessly, cautiously culled by countless fallen bootleggers and blind pigs, betrayed Chippewas, sunken traders, lost boys of the Motown alleys, each like tiny, glowing, water striding insects, failing to even note each other, let alone we late watchers from on high. And they, too, are murderously angry; these angry plebeian dead, with not even one-one-hundredth the vitality of a St. Louis spook, as well look to kindle flames and inflame to murderous rage the common man, the doubly-crossed woman, the wanton teen—this skittle and flicker of Detroit shades is a dim and lukewarm hell when held up to the ectoplasmic rage of St. Louis.

But worse, yet, is my own knowledge that, having seen St. Louis, I cannot unsee her, cannot close the doors of my eyes to the dark glowing Wanderers that, sooner than one might hope, must come.

I Remain
Your Giant Squid

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see other pieces by this author | Who is Poor Mojo's Giant Squid? Read his blog posts and enjoy his anthem (and the post-ironic mid-1990s Japanese cover of same)

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