They Live


Ever keen to provide material for Strength Weekly by having experiences the editor of this journal and his wife visited a party to which they had been invited in the north of this city. I will not condemn the suburbs outright for they nurtured J.G. Ballard thoughout his career and have catalysed, in their severity, the emergence of countless lively bands. This suburb was leafy and closer to not being in the city than being in it, prompting this exchange :
“Why do people live so far from the centre of this big city? It’s not like living in the city.”
“I agree with you, darling. Why don’t they live in small towns? Then they would be near things.”
“We should not forget, though, my precious, that they may not be here by choice.”
“Well, yes. There is that.”


We had forgotten the street number and there were no balloons to be seen. Balloons make things so much easier but I fear they are associated with the younger crowd. We did hear a low murmur, however, and knocked on the door. After waiting a while we pushed the door. We could see right through the house into the garden, which had a number of people in it. We made our way down the corridor, clutching our bottle and smiling in a generalised way. As we passed the sitting room on my right I glanced in. An unshaven man was seated by a coffee table, staring at it silently.

Suddenly we were in the kitchen. The air was close and still. There were five people there. None of them looked at us. Two were by the sink cleaning plates and glasses. A man sat on a stool, gazing at the floor. I realised that no sounds were coming from the sink. The cleaning was being conducted in perfect silence. Even the impacts of the utensils upon each other were somehow cancelled. A woman in a long dress walked slowly across the space. She had no facial expression. The air was so thick you could lean on it. Out in the garden were sixty people. They were murmuring.

My wife began to pull at the foil on our bottle. An elderly lady moved towards her and said “Are you going to open that with your teeth?” In my mind a voice said “Of course not, you silly old fuck.” Sometimes you can’t stop your mind. We poured ourselves a drink and and stepped through the french windows to the garden. The garden was terraced so that we found ourselves looking down to the far end where there was a shed. A man sat at an electric piano smiling. There was a mat on the grass. Some young people of student age stood beside it. They wore black tee shirts and leggings, like Left Bank bohemians from an imagined 50s. Some had beards. I looked for food but most of the bowls had been scraped clean. The man at the piano started playing music from the olden days. The young people proved to be dancers, for they now moved onto the mat and began throwing olden days shapes in a not entirely competent manner. As far as I could tell the dancing was imitative of that which is thought to have prevailed in the Elizabethan era. The lack of skill, the latter normally so crucial to that which is gripping, was gripping. I made my face go neutral, just in case.

After two such ‘numbers’ the troupe stepped off the mat to a faint patter of applause. A person stepped up to a microphone and spoke. The P.A. was not working. Nothing could be heard. My wife began gesturing to me as if to say “Amscray! Pronto!” Soon we were back in the street. On the way out I met a guy I knew from the past. We exchanged pleasantries. I said we’re out of here. He said but you’ve only just arrived. I said no we have been here since 4 o’clock. He said I didn’t see you. I said we were in the shed.

Readers accustomed to Strength Weekly’s insistence on closure will want it. My wife said “Fuck, I wish I hadn’t spent all that money on that wine.” I said “It is quite clear. They were zombies. We stumbled upon a clutch, coven or group. They live.”



The Guardian runs a piece about the rash of current imported US TV series featuring the adventures and misfortunes of nerds. Bryan Fuller, the creator of Pushing Daisies feels, according to the article, that “…in America, we need heroes. There is a lot of powerlessness given our current administration.”

An inverted logic suggests, it seems, that an administration by the powerless would therefore be preferable. Peter Sellers, in Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979) plays Chance, a gardner whose blank simplicity is mistaken for elliptical wisdom. He ends up being President. Bush’s simplicity has intermittently elliptic qualities but it is clear his inscrutability is not an effect of wisdom.

Neither Bush nor Chance are nerds, however. Nerds know a lot about certain things and bring to their knowledge a great precision. Their characteristics may even be locatable on a continuum that features degrees of Asperger’s syndrome, wherein knowledge and interest are focused on unusually narrow topics, such as railway timetables or historical cricket scores.

Were one affected with just a hint of Asperger’s one might fail to detect it in others and think to oneself “My – if his grasp of the ways of humankind is as developed as his knowledge of petrol-driven lawnmowers then he’s the man to lead us out of the current shit!”

When leaders expatiate in abstractions the air grows thin and dangerous. With a nerd, however, you get two for one – they’ll get the trains running on time because they love trains plus they get agoraphobic in the presence of abstraction.

The pressure on the non-Asperger individual to aspergise is considerable – the consumer, for example, must resist the Argos catalogue of everyday life (see here) by acquiring expertise in matters of classification and specification. The more you know about mobile phones the less likely you are to get stiffed by those who would (virtually) mobilise you. The internalisation of such data brings the satisfactions of mastery and distinctiveness. Ballard felt that in the 21st century the most successful psychological type would be the psychopath – it may be that the backlash features the rise of the nerd.