A Cynical View of Dystopian America by Benjamin McPherson Ficklin

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A post by the account PDX alerts: Report of a nude female masturbating on the Cesar Chavez Blvd I-5 overpass, incident causing slowed traffic in Northbound lanes. Eight minutes later, next post in the same thread: Police responding to multiple calls. Eleven minutes later, next post: Police in foot chase with suspect. Thirty-seven minutes later, final post: Suspect missing, last seen entering Laurelhurst Park, police searching surrounding neighborhood. But they never found the suspect. This person spent two-hours-and-thirty-two-minutes lying in the shallow end of the park’s pond with only their lips emerged from the murky water. The next incident, which was not associated with the previous one until their notoriety later increased, occurred during the Saturday Market beneath the Westside of the Burnside Bridge, a warm day with a crowd of shoppers swarming the stalls of tie-dye shirts, handmade jewelry, fried food, boutique coffee, and so forth, a nice day progressing as expected until a child shrieked, a man shouted, and the crowd surrounding an artisanal donut-stand jostled and began to run, shoving each other down, pulling each other backward to escape from a stout White person with frizzy hair who had lifted their dress to defecate in their hand, who had started throwing their feces at the teenager scooping bags of kettle corn, the clown juggling bowling pins, the mom with a stroller. A pair of videos of the occurrence went viral: first an unedited version from a private account that included a moment when a turd splat against the beige button-up of a man in business attire, a moment that would go on to be used in myriad gifs that often paused as the business man dropped his jaw in an expression that could only be called horrified, a meme that would become known as the Oh Shit Man, and a second significantly edited version released by KATU News that had the genitalia blurred or cut out, a version that despite the censorship captured the panic of the crowd, yes, panic, but after several views a watcher might have noticed the joy on not just a few onlookers’ faces, facial expressions that might be called full of life. When the proprietor of a tarot card booth was question by the police regarding the incident, she reported seeing the pooper leap aboard a slow-moving freight train that proceeded to cross the Broadway Bridge. Several weeks later, this same person (thought their consistent identity was still yet to be noticed) marched through a crowd preparing to enter a concert, a massive concert with an attendance of 20,000, and this person marched through the mostly-drunk attendees accompanied by a pair of mongrel dogs, wrapped in a wool blanket with their curls exploding in all directions, they’d stride up to a person, pull a flashlight from within the folds of their blanket and shine it in the eyes of the concert-goer, and, of course, those people flinched, walked away, cussed at them and the dogs, and only one person asked what they were doing, what their intention was, only one twelve-year-old girl drug to the Springsteen concert by her parents asked why, Why’re doing you doing that? To which they replied, I’m searching for an honest person. And then they turned from the adolescent, lowering the flashling, shaking their head and walking with the dogs to the next suspect. Later, when people all over the world began scrounging the internet for evidence of this person’s pre-notoriety antics, another PDX alert, this one issued on an afternoon in late August, would be referenced: Police to PSU Campus, report of a female transient interrupting finals exams and yelling at students in hallways. Six minutes later, next post: Police in pursuit. Seventeen minutes later, next post: Suspect escaped by climbing hill of ivy behind United First Methodist Church. Police notifying neighbors to stay alert. And, that night, a video was posted by a private account, one of the students had abandoned his exam to follow the commotion, filming his own face as he ran out of the building and through the park blocks, smiling and saying, Yo yo—this crazy homeless lady just broke into my fucking economics final, started screaming and shit, saying that like now that we’ve like finished learning from class we should fucking steal like computers and shit, steal stuff from the school until we got like the worth of our tuition back—oh shit okay okay okay—there she is! And he flips his phone around in time to see a person with waist-length dark curly hair leap into a nearly vertical wall of ivy. Two cops and three security officers stood bent and panting at the base of the hill. For a few moments the ivy shook as this person ascended toward the forested hills above. Then it went still. The student  could be heard woohooing and shouting Fuck yeah! before the clip ended with the five law enforcement officers turning their heads in a unified glare. A month later, as the nights turned cold and Portland’s once rainy Fall stayed dry, a minor protest congregated around Portland’s City Hall, eighteen protestors, mostly members of the houseless community together with a pair of shelter workers and four members of the Democratic Socialist Alliance, condemning the mayor Ted Wheeler. It had just come to light that his new “No-Sit” sidewalk-zones almost exclusively surrounded businesses that had donated to his campaign. As traffic passed, as pedestrians passed, a houseless person spoke through a malfunctioning megaphone, and while he told the few gathered about the self-loathing that gripped him everyday, the constant fear he suffered at the sight of the police or even the well-dressed, the embarrassment he felt in being told by the mayor that his life was a nuisance that could be swept away if the dollar amount was high enough, a pack of dogs circling around a cloaked person crossed through the middle of the road (halting traffic) from the park blocks across the street. The old man with a waist-length beard finished speaking. The crackling megaphone was handed back to one of the event’s organizers. The little crowd mumbled. The next speaker approached the marble columns supporting the brick building’s entrance, a young man who was studying political science at Lewis & Clark College, a young man prepared to encourage the protestors to draft legislation that would reverse the mayor’s No-Sit zoning, a young man prepared to encourage canvassing for such legislation, to spread the word so people like the previous speaker wouldn’t have to live in perpetual humiliation, and as this young man took the megaphone, he imagined himself one day being the mayor of this or really any other big American city, but before he could begin, the sound of something shattering commanded the attention of all those present. A rotund person in some sort of cloak was lifting a sledgehammer out of a window now framed with jagged glass. As the onlookers shrieked and gasped (interspersed with a few unconscious cheers), this person obliterated several large sections of the brick wall, wielding the hammer with impressive strength, stoic as they swung it around their back, brought it above their head, slammed it down into the wall. It took four police officers to subdue them. All the dogs escaped capture and ran off toward the river. Front-page headline of the following morning’s Oregonian: Socialist Event Erupts Into Terror Attack At City Hall. Three days later, amidst a maelstrom of local (and a few national) news stories on the so-called Portland Hammer, it was revealed that the perpetrator of the crime was the daughter of Saul Goldstein, age 67, the City Treasurer of Portland. Diane Goldstein, age 41, had been missing since completing her PHD in American Studies at Berkeley, and according to the interview with Mr. Goldstein in which he allowed only one KATU reporter to question him as he sat behind his ornate wooden desk, an interview during which couldn’t seem to stop messaging his right temple, this was the first anyone had seen of his daughter in eight years. That same night, Stephen Colbert, halfway through his start-of-show monologue, lampooned the situation by advising Portlanders that maybe (he grinned, shrugged and said maybe several times) there were more important political goals than destroying their own city. During the ensuing trial, Diane urinated while being questioned and bit the judge on the wrist. She was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital. This highly publicized fiasco distracted, for the most part, public attention away from Mayor Wheeler’s hypocritical support of Immigration and Custom Enforcement; following the election of Trump, Wheeler had declared Portland a sanctuary city, which was largely applauded by Portlanders until months later a small contingent of activists succeeded in getting local media to report that not only had ICE been operating in Portland all along, but that the federal agency had been continually assisted by the Portland Police Department in their imprisoning of people. The general outrage was immediate, forcing Wheeler to allow an occupation of Portland’s ICE facility, an activist occupation that successfully shut down ICE until, a few weeks later, the trial of Diane Goldstein dominated local news coverage. Even after she was sentenced to the Mt. Hood Psychiatric Hospital, cellphone videos continued to be posted of a stout frizzy-haired White lady committing various acts of societal interruption: urinating in the parking lot of Lloyd Center Mall, laughing while chasing squirrels through the backyard of private residences, climbing the metal beans to the top of the Hawthorne Bridge, ripping the just-dispensed money from the hands of somebody at an ATM—shredding the fiat currency with her fingers and throwing the tiny pieces into the puttering traffic. Some videos, like one of a laughing naked woman chasing pigeons outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, were noticed to be filmed in Midwestern or East Coast cities and thus assumed to be staged by imitators; others, like the one where the video’s subject sat behind a bronze Teddy Roosevelt on a bronze horse and masturbated, were undeniably taken in Portland. During this time of her detention outside Gresham, an investigation into the destruction of a half-built apartment complex was concluded, the detectives and advising architects agreed that the car which had started the fire had been pushed down the slope and into structure’s wooden skeleton, a car full of gas cans that so totally burned the building-to-be that the whole riverbank development was paused. A spokesperson from the LA-based realty company issued a statement denouncing eco-terrorism and emphasizing their commitment to developing cities. Three days after the report on the apartment arsonry,  Diane’s doctoral thesis was posted to a forum by a member of her academic cohort from the decade prior, and “A Cynical View of Dystopian America” was shared with zealous claims by individuals from myriad disparate online communities, but when the publisher from Looming Disaster Press visited Mt. Hood Psychiatric Hospital to request the rights of the thesis, offering to publish it with great care and monetary compensation, a calm and shaved-head person sitting across a wooden table from the publisher, accompanied by two nurses who seemed more like nuns, said, You’re clinging to what we must abandon, and then they stood and walked out of the visitors’ room onto the patio where other patients sat on plastic chairs watching videos on tablets lent to them by the institution, and, despite the cold, Diane curled up on the deck, lying in the sun as the clouds moved dryly across the distant mountain. At this point the general public had so fixated on this individual that they lost track of the ICE occupation, giving Mayor Wheeler the freedom to send Portland’s police to forcibly remove the protestors late one cold and dry evening, though some would notice the last ditch technique used by the occupiers as their comrades were choking on tear gas: attempting to smash through the building’s concrete walls with all matter of blunt objects. And within a two days the facility was operational again, sending out unmarked vans that would return containing people. And within six months Diane was released. After several emails and calls failed to procure any information on his daughter’s whereabouts, Saul Goldstein sent an aide from the mayor’s office to the Mt. Hood Psychiatric Hospital. Nobody had any idea where Diane had gone. Her last sighting was by a petite nurse with a thick mustache who said she left barefoot in one of the hospital’s robes and walked down the long driveway to the road that either led to the mountains or the more populated valley, and, without elaborating why, this nurse, staring at the groups of patients basking in the sun or running around the grounds playing some sort of tag, said, I think she’s the smartest person I’ve ever met but I don’t think we’ll see her ever again. The mayoral aid reported all this to Mr. Goldstein who found it quite satisfactory. That July, on a day that would set the record for the hottest day in Portland’s recorded history, a group of self-declared proud chauvinists took rented buses South from Vancouver, Washington to demonstrate along Portland’s Westside waterfront. These 50 or so men were met by several hundred counter protestors, but as the men in American-flag adorned clothing filed off the buses, the Portland Police Department barred the anti-fascists from engaging the proud chauvinists, aiming their flash-bang grenades and automatic weapons at the group chanting Power to all genders! Five cops tackled a Latina of seventeen who’d been filming them with her cellphone, two other anti-fascists tried to pull her free, guns were aimed, the chauvinists squeezed their metal flag poles, counter protestors pulled down their gas masks, a molotov cocktail was about to be lit when the young man holding the vodka bottle hesitated when he heard a moan above him. Somebody pointed up. Recording cellphones began to sprout from the chaos, and as more turned to look, more fell silent, more took out their phones, until all the chauvinists, anti-fascist, police, journalists, bystanders were staring (or recording) up toward the Hawthorne Bridge where there continued a series of steady guttural moans: a man with a mustache stood halfway up a flight of concrete stairs ascending to the bridge. He was leaning on the railing, legs spread, moving forward ever so slightly in a rhythmic pulse, eyes closed with an expression of concentration on his face. And behind him, at first only visible to those looking down from the bridge or those looking obliquely from the waterfront, kneeled Diane with their arm wrist-deep in the man’s asshole. The pandemonium silenced entirely. Something was thrown at the connected pair but it fell short. Somebody cheered. And after what may have been a minute but felt much longer to most, a pair of police officers began reluctantly approaching the stairs, but by the time they reached the perch, Diane was gone and the man had his pants pulled up and his arms extended in acceptance of handcuffs. Once attention returned to the brawl, everyone’s intensity had been undermined by some combination of disgust, hilarity, confusion. As a Willamette Week reporter asked a group of debusing chauvinists what they thought about the public fisting, one armed fascists just shook his head, said, Fucking icky, and returned to the bus where he sat in the back with his arms crossed until they all drove home an hour later. During this incident by the Hawthorne Bridge, though police officials wouldn’t release this information for months (relegating the story to a few local papers), a group of the chauvinists had been perched on a nearby parking garage with an arsenal of automatic weapons—no arrests were made. But just two days after the demonstration/counter-protest, when Portland’s chief of police visited The Lars Larson Radio Show to discuss what was referred to on air as “Portland’s anarchist problem,” the host asked her, the police chief, what she thought of Saul Goldstein’s daughter’s sick and twisted public behavior, to which she replied, Some people are so ill that they shouldn’t get to walk around our town, then the host asked the police chief what she thought about the moniker Diane The Heathen, the term getting used to reference the only child of the City Treasurer, to which the police chief, who’d been so widely celebrated as a progressive hire, said, It’s not my responsibility to decide how the media refers to that thing. The host found this hilarious. That Spring the Mayor announced his plan to forcibly remove the camps of people who were living along the Willamette River just South of Portland, but on the eve of the so-called relocation initiative, another partially constructed apartment complex, this one in the South Waterfront Neighborhood, was destroyed: a series of explosives strapped to the central concrete support pillars detonated simultaneously, causing the would-be highrise to collapse in on itself months before the Boston-based development company could fill the apartments with arrivals from The Bay, Seattle, or Denver. The removal of the homeless camps was put on pause and all police personnel were directed to patrol the streets in an effort ostensibly to give the city of feeling of security. News Feed headlines read: Portland Housing The Target of Terror Attack (The New York Times), Perpetrators of Portland Attack Remain A Mystery (CNN), Fear Grips West Coast As Apartment Dwellers Are Afraid To Go Home (MSNBC), Could Your Home Be Next? (Fox). During this time heightened hysteria, residents of the Eastside waterfront began to notice stray dogs prowling the streets in pairs or small groups, people recently moved from Santa Barbara or Nashville or Miami looked nervously off their luxurious balconies to a traffic-filled riverbank littered with trash, dogs, and a disconcerting amount of homeless people, people marching to and from a grassy lot beneath a freeway overpass, a spot hidden by the puttering lines of traffic. And the recent arrivals feared whatever these degenerates were doing down there—they feared the dangerous and deserving lives of the visibly homeless. Enough tenants complained that a building manager called the police, asking them to investigate. A young officer was sent to the underpass. He marched his way through the stalled traffic, slid down the trash-covered grassy slope to the supposed area of activity. Dogs barked. Something that sounded perhaps human and feminine grunted repeatedly. Gun drawn, almost slipping on a plastic bag, terrified of stepping on a shard of glass or dirty syringe, he came to see a sort of homestead: within a ripped-open chain link fence were raised beds full of greens and fruiting tomatoes and trellaced beans, raised beds that surrounded an industrial beer fermenter that lay sideways on the ground. What looked to be newspaper and hay covered the bottom of this huge piece of metallic equipment, it was like some sorta bedding or feeding trough, and inside this sorta manger was a group of eight or nine or maybe even thirteen people all fucking raucously in the Summer’s heat. A pack of mutts sniffed around the industrial fermenter, some dogs slept, some gnawed big bones that were later discovered to have been donated by a butcher, and one dog—maybe a pitbull/labrador, was licking the ass of a person fucking another person. When the policeman returned the next afternoon with several other officers, Diane was not one of the individuals arrested. Some were houseless, but, as background checks were conducted, the police discovered that many partaking in the orgy were Portlanders involved in colleges and architecture firms and various forms of public service—also a trash collector, a preacher, and an ambulance driver, but despite her unknown whereabouts, this makeshift home was explicitly assumed to be Diane The Heathen’s by The Oregonian and The Portland Mercury with The Willamette Week insinuated such as well. For some reason the police never released the name of the orgy members, though several came forward, like Dr. Tove the head of the Reed College physics department. Around this time, a six-person team from NPR came to record a special on the now world-famous Portlander, they visited the man who’d been getting fisted by Diane, interviewing him as he served time for public indecency, and in one audio clip, he said, It’s not about the sex. That’s just part of how she’s trying to liberate us. In this same radio piece, Dr. Tove stated that he’d never met Diane—though he’d love to, it was a colleague of his from the psychology department that had encouraged him to participate in what this colleague referred to as de-socialization. Shortly after this aired, Mayor Wheeler, who was mired in criticism for both his inability to locate the Portland Bomber and his armed expulsion of the houseless communities, busing people out of city limits and leaving them far away from their belongings and sense of home, for arresting people who’re sleeping on sidewalks—people who had nowhere else to sleep, the mayor decided it might look good to release a public statement asking Diane to come to city hall and advise him on how to better serve this community, and to everyone’s surprise, on a morning full of smoke from the Californian wildfires, Diane The Heathen aka The Portland Hammer aka Dianes The Dog aka The Willamette Witch strode up to the brick building wearing nothing but a burlap sack, thick black hair covering their head like a seven-year-old-boy, a pack of dogs circling them, and they shouted the mayor’s name: Ted Wheeler! For several minutes movement was seen in various windows of City Hall. Curtains, blinds, a twitching hand. Then the mayor surrounded by aides and police emerged into the smoke, some of his entourage tried to usher Diane inside and away from the arriving journalists, but they ignored everyone else, and, looking Ted Wheeler in his beady eyes, said, You could help this town by leaving. And not hesitating, not stuttering, grinning but with eyes careful to express sincerity and concern, Mayor Wheeler said, Please come inside. I’m prepared to hire you as an advisor on the homeless problem here in Portland. Together we can ensure a vibrant community and compelling brand for the city. But this person just threw their head back and cackled for so long that the spectators realized or re-realized that they were insane, it was the laughter of a fool dancing on a burning ship lost at sea, but then it stopped, and they said, You could only help us by getting off our river. And then they turned and left with the dogs. A few reporters and undercover investigators followed them across the Hawthorne Bridge, but they disappeared in a grove of cottonwoods along the Eastbank Esplanade. It was not clear where they went. One report, given by a now-popular vlogger, stated without evidence that Diane The Heathen was probably kidnapped and taken out of Portland and sold into the sex slave industry. A faction of the city’s activists printed a zine that suggested The Portland Hammer was assassinated. Several PSU political science professors thought Dianes The Dog left town to attempt and radicalize different people, perhaps admitting defeat in Portland, perhaps claiming victory, and some citing her as an influence did become visible across the country and the world, reclaiming public spaces, giving up material objects, destroying infrastructure, attacking politicians, burning currency, and so forth. Another story, told by an old person with a big beard to a young person covered in stick-and-poke tattoos as they huddled by a fire beside the train tracks that ran next to a brewery, as they rubbed their hands to keep blood flowing through their fingers as another rainless Portland Fall began, was that Diane the Hero decided to die, she found a little island in the middle of the Willamette, sat there, held her breath until she fell into the river never to reemerge.

glasses

Benjamin McPherson Ficklin

Benjamin McPherson Ficklin will never surrender—Benjamin McPherson Ficklin will always love you. Their work has been published in Lomography, wildness, Tahoma Literary Review, Ursus Americanus Press, Clackamas Literary Review, Autre, Oregon Voice Magazine, and featured in the Best Short Fiction 2019. When not wandering, they teach literary seminars in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.

If you enjoyed ‘A Cynical View of Dystopian America’ leave a comment and let Benjamin know.

You can read Benjamin’s previously published words below:

Stories:

“Space, a preface” Autre

“Any old Lavardis Nadler in a phone booth” Ursus Americanus Press

“There will only be one funeral” wildness

Poetry:

“Sanctus again: the avalanche” wildness

“a broken shape” wildness

You can find and follow Benjamin at:

benmf.com

Photo by PublicDomainPhotography

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1 comments on “A Cynical View of Dystopian America by Benjamin McPherson Ficklin”

  1. The Truth:
    Diane has gone deep undercover and now subversively trains police dogs to chase down individuals wearing American Flag-patterned apparel

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