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Copyright 1997
James D Thomas


"Stranger Than Non-Fiction"

Cleaning House for Dummies

Aficianados of tightly-planned, meticulously orchestrated violence have long been fans of the zine "Cleaning House". Each issue Abraham Gratz -- talented zinester and world class psychotic -- interviews another professional in the security business. He takes them out to lunch, gets them a little drunk, and then asks the following question. "If you wanted to take out alot of people -- I mean _alot_ of people -- how would you do it?" Each of them has some pet scenario they've thought about for years, and are happy to explain, often sketching details on a cocktail napkin. Abraham takes these answers and supplements them with every piece of possible pertinent information: building schematics, weather reports, second-by-second time tables, ordering information for all products involved. Now, most of "Cleaning House"'s back issues have been compiled into one volume, deliberately designed to parady the look and feel of the entire '... for Dummies' series.

Here's a sample, from an ex-secret service man: "In my hometown, Firstar bank shoots off fireworks downtown every New Year's Eve. Thousands of people pack into the area around the state capital called 'the Square', many of them too drunk to move. I'd get up on top of the bank with a sniper rifle with a nightvision scope and start picking people off. The fireworks would block out the gunshots. Sure, a few people would notice, but the fireworks would block out their screams, and it's too crowded for them to flee quickly. I figure I'd have my run of the place until the fireworks were over -- ten minutes maybe. I'm sure I could get more than thirty people, fifty or sixty if I tried hard"

Abraham helpfully collects building plans for the bank, excerpts from sniper rifle catalogs, clippings describing past celebrations, aerial photos, and a brief primer on decibel levels to supplement the basic plan. It's that attention to detail that really sets "Cleaning House" apart.

But there's more. Other scenarios include a Japanese-cult nerve gas attack at a Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game; a reprinting of the classic _Progressive_ h-bomb plan issue, combined with maps of the twenty largest US cities together civil defense nuclear attack causualty estimates; a plan to bomb the Liberty Tunnels in Pittsburgh with a fertilizer-bomb laden truck. The scariest scenario, from a civil engineer, involves leaving a concentrated mutagenic agent in a bucket with a hose left in it -- under the right conditions, the water from the hose will back up into the resevoir. Thousands of people will be exposed to the mutagen, which leaves its victims untreatably cancer-ridden in a month -- too slow for the authorities to realize what's happening until it's too late. In a note of black humor, Abraham (who has several relatives who are Holocaust survivors) calls up a German company to consult on the best way to kill of several thousand diseased cows. They suggest -- you saw this one coming -- gas chambers and incenerating ovens.

The zine also features a letters column, which is half filled with insightful comments about the feasibility of some of the plans, and half with ranting letters telling Abraham to stop before somebody loses and eye, metaphorically speaking. Abraham usually offers a cryptic defense: "Is there not some quality of aesthetic appreciation among abbotoir designers? Is there not beauty in recounting the great battles of the past? Should we ban talking about the Holocaust for fear some tinpot dictator will say, "Gas chambers! Now why didn't _I_ think of that!"? Is not forewarned truly forearmed -- wouldn't you rather know which belltower the psycho is likely to be in when you hear the shots, instead of guessing randomly?"

This is bound to be a hate-or-love product. Either you will find it sickening and an egregious abuse of the first amendment, or you will be unable to put it down. It's only a matter of time until one of these scenarios gets played out to some extent in real life, and everyone involved with _Cleaning House_ gets sued back to the stone age. I have news for you: people would kill without it. Enjoy the book while it lasts.