Moon #4: “She’s the High Priestess to you, Jack”
“This is precisely why no one invites Baudrillard to parties.”
For years – YEARS! – my wife and I have racked our brains about why we intermittently receive copies of New York Magazine in the mail. Maybe we signed up for a free trial at a super market or something? Or maybe they are sending them to all New Yorkers. But these are both unsatisfying explanations, because the sporadic magazine deliveries followed us to White Plains when we left the city. A few months would go by where we received a copy each week just like in the city, but then months of mailbox silence with no deliveries. Followed AGAIN by a regularly scheduled delivery. It didn’t make sense. Not that I am complaining – it’s a great magazine and because of this mysterious semi-subscription I found David Edelstein, who I now claim as my favorite movie critic. But it’s been a while since the magazine has shown up. We haven’t thought about it in a long time, but there is always the hope – maybe one day the magazines will come back. But what does the Universe require from us to make this happen?
Turns out, we just haven’t been to the Public Theater in a while. At the top of the fourth chapter of Mike Daisey’s All the Faces of the Moon, which is currently playing in Joe’s Pub at the Public, Daisey makes a startling revelation that buttoned up that age old enigma of my household – buying a ticket to a production at the Public automatically classifies you as a member of what Daisey calls the “well-dressed intelligencia” and thus enters you into a shared online database for promotional subscriptions to New York Magazine. Looking back on it, the clues all click into place like I am Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects – the seemingly random subscriptions perfectly coincided with seeing shows at the Public. Being a fan of Daisey, I expected much from All the Faces of the Moon, but I NEVER expected to be able to put this riddle to bed. Daisey uses this info about the magazine as a spring board for multiple topics, including class, race, the desperation of publishers in the death throws of the print journalism industry, and yes, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard.
The connective tissue for Daisey is an interview in a recent issue of New York Magazine with departing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who Daisey has only derisively referred to as “the small man” in previous episodes. The smallness Daisey is talking about is not just his stature, he explains; he means his character and ideals. Case in point: Daisey calls out Bloomberg’s remark that Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is a racist for exploiting his African American wife and children at campaign events. Daisey’s summation is that since we have such a difficult time talking about race in America, we just assume anything having remotely to do with race must automatically racist in some way. From there, Daisey transitions to a little girl named Olivia – a lonely black girl, living in Red Hook, who by night dreams that she is in a factory somewhere, making mobile phones on an assembly line. Daisey renders her with delicate honesty and occasional blunt humor; particularly in a bit of information he withholds because it involves a boy she likes at school and Daisey doesn’t want to embarrass her.
That’s a perfect detail for what Daisey’s got going on in this story. Probably, Olivia isn’t real. Even if Daisey did see a girl reading Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation in the park, it’s likely that he’s invented the life he describes for her here. Her family. Her interest in technology. Her memories of Sandy. But at no point does he treat her as any less than real – he withholds information about her that would no doubt be entertaining to us because he wants to protect her privacy. It’s a truly masterful bit of third-person characterization.
I am realizing now that each of these early episodes end with a surprising encounter with a fantastical figure – Daisey himself meets Death in chapter one, Jack meets The Big Guy in chapter two, Daisey and Gibs meet Phil the forest guy in chapter three, and here, in chapter four, Olivia meets The Gray Lady. Coughing up black tar, the Gray Lady has summoned Olivia to the Upper East Side via a bizarre phone message and desperately needs her help.
At this point, I feel totally in the tank for this project and the characters Daisey has created — every chapter is better and more gripping than the last. And as much as I appreciate it, I’m not just saying that because Daisey finally told me where the hell those magazines were coming from.