Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Musings of McGee

Short Stories
SS Collections
McGee Series
Prophetically, from The Green Ripper, 1979
"We run a strange kind of country in the modern world. Customs and Immigration are, in a sense, token services. Any plausible-looking person can find many ways to come and go unimpeded. Anything that can be flown or floated can be brought in or taken out. We are but a wide place in the road in the middle of the world, and they wander through, back and forth, marveling at the lack of restraints. It is a paradox. The openness which endangers our system is the product of the policy which says that to close our borders and enforce all our rules and back them up with guns would change the system just as completely as any alien force.
Terrorism is going to pay us one fat bloody visit. But it will only be a visit. They underestimate our national resilience. Aroused by that kind of savagery, we will become a very tough kind of people."


A woman who does not guard and treasure herself cannot be of very much value to anyone else... Only a woman of pride, complexity, and emotional tension is genuinely worth the act of love, and there are only two ways to get yourself one of them. Either you lie, and stain the relationship with your own sense of guile, or you accept the involvement, the emotional responsibility, the permanence she must by nature crave. I love you can be said only two ways.

... I do not function too well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them. And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

A man with a credit card is in hock to his own image of himself.

(The psychotics) are so sure of themselves and so sure of us. They know how to use us, how to take us further than we wish, before we know what to do about it…and they seem to know by instinct exactly how to trade upon our concealed desire to accept this kind of domination.


Fingerprints work fine on television. But, on a rough guess, they get a usable print off one out of every hundred guns, one out of every twenty cars. ...It is usually more meaningful to find a car wiped clean... Then that has some significance.

(The educational system is) functional, of course. But it is like what we have done to chickens. Forced growth under optimum conditions, so that in eight weeks they are ready for the mechanical picker. The most forlorn and comical statements are the ones made by the grateful young who say Now I can be ready in two years and nine months to go out and earn a living rather than wasting four years in college. Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefore. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, the measured and guided study of the history of man's reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: Why? Today the good ones, the ones who want to ask why, find no one around with any interest in answering the question, so they drop out, because theirs is the type of mind which becomes monstrously bored at the trade-school concept. A devoted technician is seldom an educated man. He can be a useful man, a contented man, a busy man. But he has no more sense of the mystery and wonder and paradox of existence than does one of those chickens fattening itself for the mechanical plucking, freezing and packaging.


San Francisco is the most depressing city in America. The come-latelys might not think so... But there are too many of us who used to love her. She was like a wild classy kook of a gal, one of those rain-walkers, laughing gray eyes, tousle of dark hair - sea misty, a lithe and lively lady, who could laugh at you or with you, and at herself when needs be... A girl to be in love with, with love like a heady magic... She used to give it away, but now she sells it to the tourists. She imitates herself."


The only thing in the world worth a damn is the strange, touching, pathetic, awesome nobility of the individual human spirit.

I know just enough about myself to know I cannot settle for one of those simplifications which indignant people seize upon to make understandable a world too complex for their comprehension. Astrology, health food, flag waving, bible thumping, Zen, nudism, nihilism -- all of these are grotesque simplifications which small dreary people adopt in the hope of thereby finding The Answer, because the very concept that maybe there is no answer, never has been, never will be, terrifies them.

I think there is some kind of divine order in the universe. Every leaf on every tree in the world is unique. As far as we can see, there are other galaxies, all slowly spinning, numerous as the leaves in the forest. In an infinite number of planets, there has to be an infinite number with life forms on them. Maybe this planet is one of the discarded mistakes. Maybe it's one of the victories. We'll never know.


A friend is someone to whom you can say any jackass thing that enters your mind. With acquaintances, you are forever aware of their slightly unreal image of you, and to keep them content, you edit yourself to fit. Many marriages are between acquaintances. You can be with a person for three hours of your life and have a friend. Another one will remain an acquaintance for thirty years.

In some remote year the historians will record that Twentieth Century America attempted the astonishing blunder of changing its culture to fit automobiles instead of people, putting a skin of concrete and asphalt over millions of acres of arable land, rotting the hearts of their cities, so encouraging the proliferation of murderous, high speed junk that when finally the invention of the Transporlon rendered the auto obsolete, it took twenty years and half a trillion dollars to obliterate the ugliness of all the years of madness, and rebuild the supercities in a manner to dignify the human instead of his toys.

All the barroom sociologists were orating about national fiber while, every minute and every hour, the most incredible population explosion in history was rendering their views, their judgments, even their very lives more obsolete... They should hark to the locust. When there is only a density of X per acre, he is a plain old grasshopper, munching circumspectly, content with his home ground. Raise it to 2X and an actual physical change begins to occur. His color changes, his jaw gets bigger, and the wing muscles begin to grow. At 3X they take off in great hungry clouds, each cloud a single herd instinct, chomping everything bare in its path. There is no decline in the moral fiber of the grasshopper. There is just a mass pressure canceling out all individual decisions.

Now, of course, having failed in every attempt to subdue the Glades by frontal attack, we are slowly killing it off by tapping the River of Grass. In the questionable name of progress, the state in its vast wisdom lets every two-bit developer divert the flow into drag-lined canals that give him 'waterfront' lots to sell. As far north as Corkscrew Swamp, virgin stands of ancient bald cypress are dying. All the area north Copeland had been logged out, and will never come back. As the glades dry, the big fires come with increasing frequency. The ecology is changing with egret colonies dwindling, mullet getting scarce, mangrove dying of new diseases born of dryness. But it will take a long time to kill it. And years from now foolish men will still be able to kill themselves off within miles of help, hopelessly lost among islands which all look exactly alike. It is a black land, and like every wilderness in the world, it punishes quickly when a mistake is made, quickly and with a casual, savage indifference.

return to article return to top return to main menu

You can be at ease only with those people to whom you can say any damn fool thing that comes into your head, knowing they will respond in kind, and knowing that any misunderstandings will be thrashed out right now, rather than buried deep and given a chance to fester.

If there were people around colored green or bright blue, I would have a continual primitive awareness of the difference between us, way down on that watchful animal level which is a caveman heritage. But I would cherish the ones who came through as solid folk, and avoid the slobs and fools are bores as diligently as I avoid white slobs and fools and bores.

Most people are (blind). Eyesight is what you use to get around without running into things. But they find no esthetic value in what they see.


Two ample old-fashioned glasses, side by side, filled to the two-thirds line with cracked ice. A big, unmeasured slosh of dry sherry into each glass. Then swiftly, the strainer placed across the top of one and then the other, as with a delicate snap of the wrist he dumped the sherry down the drain. Then fill to the ice level with Plymouth gin, rub the lemon peel around the inside of the rim, pinch some little floating beads of citrus oil on the surface of the drink, throw away the peel, present with small tidy bow and flourish to the folk. (The McGee Special)

People hate their cars. Daddy doesn't come proudly home with the new one anymore, and the family doesn't come rading out, yelling WOW, and the neighbors don't come over to admire it. They all look alike, for one thing. So you have to wedge a piece of bright trash atop the aerial to find your own. They may be named after predators, or primitive emotions, or astronomical objects, but in essence they are a big shiny sink down which the money swirls - in insurance, car payments, tags, tolls, tires, repairs. They give you a chance to sit in helpless rage, beating on the steering wheel in a blare of horns while, a mile away, your flight leaves the airport. They give you a good chance of dying quick, and a better chance of months of agony of torn flesh, smashed guts and splintered bones. Take it to your kindly dealer, and the service people look right through you until you grab one by the arm, and then he says: Come back a week from Tuesday. Make an appointment. Their billions of tons of excreted pollutants wither the leaves on the trees and sicken the livestock. We hate our cars, Detroit. Those of us who can possibly get along without them do so very happily. For those who can't, if there were an alternate choice, they'd grab it in a minute. We buy them reluctantly and try to make them last, and they are not friendly machines anymore. They are expensive, murderous junk, and they manage to look contemptuous of the people who own them.


The only thing that prisons demonstrably cure is heterosexuality.


A parade is a group, and I'm not a group animal. I think a mob, no matter what it happens to be doing, is the lowest form of living thing, always steaming with potential murder. Several things I could write on My Placard and then carry it all by myself down empty streets.

Cretins are the only humans who can be absolutely certain of their own sanity. All the rest of us go rocketing along rickety rails over spavined bridges and along the edge of bottomless gorges. The man who believes himself free of any taint of madness is a damned liar. The trouble is, you never know exactly what might tip you off those rails. I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it. I am also wary of all earnestness.


I am in some warm place where the air and sea are bright. There are chores to do when I feel like it, but nothing urgent. I am in some remote place where no one can find me and bother me. There is good music when and if I want it. There is a drink I have not yet tasted. There is a scent of some good thing a-cooking slowly. There is a lovely laughing lady, close enough to touch, and there are no tensions between us except the ones which come from need. There is no need to know the day, the month, or the year. We will stay until it is time to go, and we will not know when that time will come until we wake up one day and it is upon us.

There are bad kids. There are bad trees in an orchard, bad apples on any tree, sick worms in any decaying apple. A world of perfection would be absurd. Even Doris Day couldn't sustain that kind of concept. Who needs it? We need the flawed ones, the lost ones, as a form of emotional and social triangulation, to tell us if we've gained an inch since Hammurabi. Rough, rough, rough on the people who love them, but by some useful design in the human fabric, the rejects manage to kill most of that love by the time they are grown. Think of it, ... as a trick of nature whereby some great smirking cowbird came long ago and laid its egg in your nest.

... all too many of them are screwed by the consumer advertising. Spend, spend, spend. Live for today. So they lived out their lives up to their glottis in time payments. They blew it all on boats and trailers and outboard motors, binoculars and hunting rifles and department store high fashion. They lived life to the hilt, like the ads suggest. Not to the hilt of pleasure, but to the hilt of spending. They had bureau drawers of movie cameras, closets full of record players and slide projectors. Buy the wall-to-wall carpeting. Buy the great big screen. Visit all the national parks in America. Funny thing. They had all started to lay away some dollars for old-age income, but when Social Security payments got bigger and the dollar started shrinking, they said to hell with it. Blow it all. Now their anger is directed outward at society, because they don't dare look back and think of how pathetically vulnerable they were, how many thousands they blew on toys that broke before they were paid for, and how many thousands on the interest charges to buy those toys. They don't know who screwed them. They did what everybody else was doing. Look at the tabulation on my last question. 'If you had it to over again, how much would you put aside each month, expressed as a percentage of income, and what would you give up?' Read the things they'd give up, my friend. It would break your heart.

He saved up all his cordiality for the critical moment of check and tip. The service had been indifferent, the orders not quite correct. What do you do? If you are cross, tired, and immature, you take it out on the waiter. The world is not enhanced to any measurable degree by one, or by one million, confrontations with venal, lazy waiters. And it impedes the process of digestion. So you compute the tip and leave in good order and try to remember never to return.

return to article return to top return to main menu


You can walk down ten thousand crowded streets in ten thousand cities of the world, and nobody will gave damn one about whether you cope or can't cope, whether you live or die. The ones who notice you wonder if there's any safe way to use you, or they give you a part in the little fantasy theater inside their skulls. There is an estimated price on your clothes, shoes and purse, but the rest of you is just too much live meat. Pretty meat. No bonus for how well you perform the feat of living...That's the way it is. Nobody grades your performance except you and your own ghosts


There is something self-destructive about Western technology and distribution. Whenever any consumer object is so excellent that it attracts a devoted following, some of the slide rule and computer types come in on their twinkle toes and take over the store, and in a trice they figure out just how far they can cut quality and still increase the market penetration... Thus the very good things of the world go down the drain, from honest turkey to honest eggs to honest tomatoes. And gin.


Florida elects its sheriffs on a party basis, a shockingly bad system... Law enforcement has become so complex, technical, and demanding, so dependent on the expert use of expert equipment, one might as well say it would make as much sense to elect brain surgeons from the public at large as sheriffs.


Being an adult means accepting those situations where no action is possible.

I remembered one of Meyer's concepts about cultural resiliency. In the third world, the village of one thousand can provide itself with what it needs for survival. Smash the cities and half the villages, and the other half keep going. In our world, the village of one thousand has to import water, fuel, food, clothing, medicine, electric power, and entertainment. Smash the cities and all the villages die.

It is man's primal urge to decimate himself down to numbers which can exist on the worn out planet. (Meyer)

Not one of us ever grows up to be what he intended to be. Not one of us fulfills his own expectations... We are all our own children, in that sense. At some point, somewhere, we have to stop making demands.


No matter how many times you do it, how many times you pretend to be someone you aren't, and you get the goodhearted cooperation of some trusting person, you feel a little bit soiled. There is no smart-ass pleasure to be gained from misleading the innocent.


Picture a very swift torrent, a river rushing down between rocky walls. There is a long, shallow bar of sand and gravel that runs right down the middle of the river. It is underwater. You are born and you have to stand on that narrow, submerged bar, where everyone stands.

The ones born before you, the ones older than you, are upriver from you. The younger ones stand braced on the bar downriver. And the whole long bar is slowly moving down that river of time, washing away at the upstream end and building up downstream.

Your time, the time of all your contemporaries, schoolmates, your loves and your adversaries, is that part of the shifting bar on which you stand. And it is crowded at first. You can see the way it thins out, upstream from you. The old ones are washed away and their bodies go swiftly by, like logs in the current. Downstream where the younger ones stand thick, you can see them flounder, lose footing, wash away. Always there is more room where you stand, but always the swift water grows deeper, and you feel the shift of the sand and the gravel under your feet as the river wears it away. Someone looking for a safer place can nudge you off balance, and you are gone. Someone who has stood beside you for a long time gives a forlorn cry and you reach to catch their hand, but the fingertips slide away and they are gone. There are the sounds in the rocky gorge, the roar of the water, the shifting, gritty sound of sand and gravel underfoot, the forlorn cries of despair as the nearby ones, and the ones upstream, are taken by the current. Some old ones who stand on a good place, well braced, understanding currents and balance, last a long time. A Churchill, fat cigar atilt, sourly amused at his own endurance and, in the end, indifferent to rivers and the rage of waters. Far downstream from you are the thin, startled cries of the ones who never got planted, never got set, never quite understood the message of the torrent.

It's a funny thing about television and cigarettes. Hardly anybody I know anymore smokes cigarettes or watches the tube. One stunts the body and one stunts the mind. 

Somewhere there are intelligent and highly skilled design engineers working the bugs out of ever more deadly weapons -- lasers to blind armies, multiple warheads, heat beams to fry the crews inside their tanks. And they pack up the printouts and turn off the computers and have a knock with the guys on the way home to the kiddies. Somebody has to do it. Right?

... the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.

The only possible solution to this deadly trade is to ignore it. Legalize it along with marijuana. Then the infrastructure will sag and collapse. It will no longer be fashionable. Street dealers will no longer hustle new customers on high school sidewalks. And men won't die in the squalid massacres... But maybe it is too late for legalization. The bureaucracy of detection and control has a huge national payroll... Legalization will be fought bitterly by politicians who will say that to do so will imperil our children. Are they not now imperiled?

return to article return to top return to main menu