Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Very Special Apocalypse - Donald Shimoda

Now obviously you may not know who exactly Donald Shimoda is. And therefore the revelation that he's become some kind of shambling undead thing working for the Antichrist isn't going to strike you as particularly noteworthy. For those people a word of explanation is in order.

If you grew up in the late 1970's or early 1980's and took theater classes in your high school or found yourself at some kind of spiritual retreat with your church youth group -- or perhaps you had the kind of teacher who distributed crystals as a motivational tool -- you would have encountered Donald Shimoda. A man named Richard Bach wrote a book called Illusions about a reluctant messiah who moonlighted as a barnstormer in the Midwest, and taught everyone that they could do absolutely anything if they believed in themselves.

He would focus his attention at a cloud in the sky and make it just vanish, and he said that ordinary, non-messianic people could do this too, and that the only thing holding them back was that they were sure they couldn't. You could read this as a wonderful metaphor for the power that ordinary people had over their lives or you could think that maybe the author meant this literally and was batshit insane -- that part was never spelled out. Possibly the book inspired an entire generation of young people to stare at the sky for way too long. And it also inspired Klaus Clavicle to follow his dream and pursue the one career he really loved. And that career was blackmail.

Clavicle was a mediocre private investigator, but he was really very good at telling people he knew some terrible secret and then taking their money. He had been an avid reader of Richard Bach's motivational fiction during a low point in his life -- his first firing and his second divorce -- and it drove him to follow his passion for extortion. Within a few weeks of reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull he was sending his first letter composed of words cut out from a magazine.

Klaus scored his first big payday in 1988 after learning that there had been seven Shane MacGowans in the Irish band The Pogues. MacGowan and his successors died every few months on tour. And each time the manager would replace them like a toddler's goldfish in the middle of the night. He would fly to the MacGowan's home town and pick up a sibling, a cousin, a second cousin... and eventually people who barely knew the MacGowans, but seemed to suffer from the same kind of vitamin deficiencies. (The hometown was Detroit, Michigan; the MacGowan name was originally Jaworski, which was part of the reason the manager was so eager to pay money to keep the whole thing secret). Klaus Clavicle made $500,000, and he soon became wildly successful in discovering the most unbelievable and damaging secrets of the music industry: Elton John's heterosexuality, Prince's love of the game Dungeons and Dragons... the fact that Kurt Cobain faked his own death so that he could go to law school. Clavicle became a very rich man. And like all wealthy and successful people who want to live the exciting life he moved to Virginia Beach so that he could rent a small office in a rundown office complex. It is of course possible that he misspent some of that money along the way.

But Klaus Clavicle is walking back to his office and he is very happy, because he has a stack of papers with the names and addresses of some kind of group he's been researching. He has a real feeling of excitement and satisfaction, because although he doesn't have all the details yet, he is sure these people are hiding something. He has only to find it, and another big paycheck is his. Several paychecks actually -- he intends to squeeze each and every person on his list as hard as he can. He is also happy, because he has a two liter bottle of Tahitian Treat tucked under his arm. Tahitian Treat is a fruit-flavored soft drink from the 7-Up company made for people who don't like the way they can taste a hint of discernable fruit in something like Hawaiian Punch.

Clavicle climbs the dank, unlit stairs -- the elevator is always out in this place, along with the air conditioning. In the dark he fumbles with his keys, unbolts the door, and walks into his workplace ready to get down to the business of secrets and payoffs and clipping out phrases like "shameful past" and "indicted for a felony" from the Reader's Digest. And sitting there near his desk, like a dream come true, is the source of all Clavicle's optimism and passion: Donald Shimoda himself. Clavicle has never seen him before -- he's a character in a novel. But Shimoda is exactly like Clavicle has always pictured him. Same kindly eyes and mischievous smile. Same gaping chest wound. Same 9 mm semi-automatic with a homemade silencer made from a gas pipe and some cotton wadding.

Two shots go pop in the dim office. Half of the red stain on the wall is Tahitian Treat. Half of it is Clavicle.


(Note: The picture is a can of Tahitian Treat, which is almost certainly copyrighted. I'll keep it up on the website until it is replaced by a jpeg of a letter from someone's lawyer.)

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