Moon #25: “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”
“You know sometimes the best tricks aren’t tricks at all? I just knew when you ran like that. I know a little bit about what’s in you and I knew you’d be able to run wherever you wanted. The world would bend to make it possible.”
Mike Daisey begins Episode 25 of his 29-part monologue, All the Faces of the Moon, with a hilarious cold open: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone.” This brief, but welcome reference to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion fits here for two reasons. Firstly, there is an aesthetic link – albeit a remote one – between Keillor’s lush off-the-cuff raconteuring on NPR and Daisey’s sinuously evocative monologues. Second, in spite of a few beats of intensity and some key revelations, there is a downright neighborly vibe to this episode, as characters pair off and kill time on a moon-drenched night. Perhaps most affecting, and also on one level most troubling, is the encounter between Daisey and Livia from which the quote about tricks above is taken. They always say the greatest special effect in the movies is a close up. Daisey deploys a nice permutation of that of that concept here: that close human connection can do things that even magic cannot.
It’s the billionaire philanthropist (and vampire king) George Soros who is listening to A Prairie Home Companion at the top of the episode. And though we do not see them interact, he is thinking a lot about his relationship to the Grey Lady, Elaine, who is the human embodiment of the New York Times. There is a kind of affection between these two, both of whom sit upon precarious thrones and on some level regret the things they’ve done to maintain that seat. “I should have held out for a better deal,” Elaine says to Mary Jane later on. Meanwhile, a childhood encounter with the Golem Saul imprinted the young Soros with a keen self-awareness and desire for atonement – he knows that he is destined to deal in darkness but still dreams of blinding light. Daisey has achieved something commendable in his multi-faceted rendering of these two characters, who by most metrics would be considered minor villains in the story. After all, it was their bogus agreement in the ‘80s that led – in ways that have yet to be fully defined – to the explosion in lower Manhattan and, in turn, the emergence of “the ladder,” which reaches up to the ethereal board room of Heaven itself. Even more interesting is that Soros and Elaine are nominally enemies, yet both have expressed an informal fondness for the other as they work together to prevent the mystical cataclysm on the horizon.
On Soros’ end, this entails double checking the contents of a safe that was housed in the banking building/vampire den that exploded across from Zuccotti Park. Within the safe is a cigar box, but a remarkable one – it contains a nuclear explosion. As Daisey referenced in Episode 17, a document was recently declassified detailing a near miss the Air Force made with two nuclear warheads back in the 60s. Well, it seems it wasn’t a near miss; it wasn’t a miss at all the first time around. The warhead went off, destroying New York, Washington, and much of the North East corridor. At the behest of Soros, an erratic young magician (most likely Dasiey’s instructor Phil) was able to “fold up” the explosion and the future that followed it into this cigar box. The notion of an aborted timeline is another splendid bit of mythmaking on Daisey’s part. The “Daiseyverse” already includes magic, vampires, Mole people, and pocket Universes – why not a parallel dystopia for good measure? Consequently, the cigar box becomes a kind of ultimate weapon and, surprise, Soros soon discovers that it has been stolen and a regular box of cigars has been left in the safe in its place. The fact that this weapon has ALREADY destroyed a lot of America and messed up a whole future gives this revelation a particularly potent kick.
Meanwhile, Elaine is getting high with Mary Jane on a roof in Brooklyn. It’s a nice moment for the Grey Lady, who because of the pot is able to disengage herself from the portentousness of her office and really relate to a much younger, but in many ways much more worldly person. Swept up by the chance at genuine human interaction and a wave of nostalgia for what she gave up when she became Ms. New York Times, Elaine agrees to let Mary Jane teach her the rites and rituals of her Dionysian cult. Daisey handles the omniscient narration of their encounter wonderfully, gently slipping in and out of each of their heads without any fuss. It’s a truly lovely scene: how the paper of record got her groove back.
Saul and Livia bide their time playing Risk in a hotel room. Via Livia, Daisey makes some compelling observations about the way all people relate to each other, as she feels herself “bump up against” the edges of what Saul is capable of as a person. Saul is a 600-year-old Golem and so not a whole person in a spiritual sense. Maybe he has something to say about the Raj in India because he was there, but a game like Risk, which simulates the viciousness of the human condition on both micro and macro scales, is lost on him. Yet, he’s got it where it counts – when the Gebbeth appears in the bathroom mirror and attacks Livia, Saul crashes through the wall to rescue her.
Daisey closes with one last authentic human encounter – this time between himself and Livia on a park bench in Brooklyn. She has left Saul behind to deal with the Gebbeth and now she must make a choice as to whether she wants to be fully “initiated” into the world of magic. Daisey tells her she will be different after that happens; that his friend Gibbs was beaten within an inch of his life when he was first initiated. When she asks Daisey what happened to him when he was initiated, he says that he was raped. It’s a very heavy piece of information to suddenly introduce about our main character so close to the end of the story, but I trust Daisey to earn this revelation within the time that remains.
In all cases, though, these are characters operating in a situation beyond what they once perceived to be their limits; these are people who have bumped up against and moved past the very edges of themselves. And when that happens, when the world fails and your dark future can’t be folded up into anything, all you’ve got is the person in front of you.
Sometimes that’s all the magic you need. Anyway, it seems to be enough for the nice folks in Lake Woebegone.
Follow the podcast at mikedaisey.com