Short stories

Soft Technologies

When I first arrived in New York City, I lived for a while in an apartment at 222 East 12th Street. The landlord lived in the basement and had a serpentarium containing a large snake, which he fed white mice and cockroaches. Most days, I would walk over to Tompkins Square Park. It was a year after the riots there but the area was still full of homeless people, drug dealers and crack and heroin addicts living in a Tent City. It was late August, 1989 and I was strolling around the neighbourhood and going to the bars, when newspaper reports and street gossip were telling the story of 29-year-old Daniel Paul Rakowitz, the son of an army criminal investigator, who had lived in the city for four years.

Sexual activity, whether perverted or not; the behaviour of one sex before the other; defecation; urination; death and the cult of cadavers (above all, insofar as it involves the stinking decomposition of bodies); the different taboos; ritual cannibalism; the sacrifice of animal-gods; haemophagia; the laughter of exclusion; sobbing (which, in general has death as its object); religious ecstasy; the identical attitude toward shit, gods, and cadavers

Rakowitz was an eccentric even for the out-there East Village; a priest of his own religion – the Church of 966 – whose familiar was a shoulder-riding rooster cockadoodling along with the punk and the dub. Rakowitz would walk around the park shouting things like, ‘Kill the pigs and feed them to the hogs.’ He made his money by selling marijuana – used as a sacrament in his religion – and believed the people in the park were his disciples. He styled himself the ‘God of Marijuana’. He was also a part-time cook and had worked in various local cafés and restaurants.

It may of course be deplorable that certain tribes take pleasure in eating their oversupply of old people, but never will I agree that such picturesque gourmets should be exterminated; after all, we should remember that cannibalism is the very model of a self-sufficient society as well as a practice well suited to appeal one day to a packed planet. However, my aim is not to bemoan the fate of cannibals, harried though they are, living in terror, the great losers in today’s world. Let’s admit it: their case is not exactly impressive. Anyway, they are on the decline; a hard-pressed minority stripped of self-confidence, unable to plead their own cause.

Monika Beerle lived at 700 East 9th Street. The 26-year-old from Switzerland was a dance student at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and a performer at Billy’s Topless, a strip club at 727 6th Avenue and 24th Street. She and Rakowitz had only been dating a short time and the ‘God of Marijuana’ had moved in to her rooms. On August 19, the couple had an argument in their cramped apartment because Monika Beele had had enough and wanted him to move out, rooster and all

Bodies intermingle with one another, everything is mixed up in a kind of cannibalism that joins together food and excrement. Even words are eaten. This is the domain of the action and passion of bodies: things and words are scattered in every direction, or on the contrary are welded together into non-decomposable blocks. Everything in depth is horrible, everything is nonsense.

Rakowitz sadistically beat her and killed her by ramming a metal rod into her throat. He then stripped her, decapitated her and boiled her head, making soup from her brains. He’d loved the taste and scrawled on their apartment door, ‘Is it soup yet? Welcome to Charlie Gein’s Ranch East… Home of the Fine Young Cannibals.’ He had taken some of the ‘soup’ to Tompkins Square Park and passed it out to the homeless people living there. He boasted about what he had done, but most people thought he was a pathological liar, so dismissed his ranting as just that.

This country is without hope. Even its garbage is clean, its trade lubricated, its traffic pacified. The latent, the lacteal, the lethal – life is so liquid, the signs and messages are so liquid, the bodies and the cars so fluid, the hair so blond, and the soft technologies so luxuriant, that a European dreams of death and murder, of suicide motels, of orgies and cannibalism to counteract the perfection of the ocean, of the light, of that insane ease of life, to counteract the hyperreality of everything here.

He then returned to the apartment – John Joseph of the punk band the Cro-Mags lived a floor below – and put Beerle’s skull and bones in a drywall-compound bucket filled with cat litter that he deposited in a locker at the Port Authority bus station. A few days later, after a tip-off, police, arrested him. On February 22, 1991, he was tried and found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and moved to a state hospital for the criminally insane where he remains. In an interview he stated, ‘I’m the new Lord, and I will take leadership of the satanic cultists to make sure they do everything that has to be done to destroy all those people who do disagree with my church. And I’m going to be the youngest person elected to the U.S. presidency.’

Steve Finbow