a writeup of the
well over a year ago and subsequently abandoned it, but I guess I've come back to rereading this terrible shitass book and writing about it! (So you don't have to. YOU'RE WELCOME.)
So, that having been said, welcome to Under the Knife: A Guided Tour of the streets as filtered through the terrible crime dramas of the nineties.
It begins with short fiction, bad 90s comic art of a domme stereotype with sunglasses and a corset and electrical tape over her nipples because really what else do you even do with electrical tape , and a FUCK YOU DAD quote from a song by Ice-T.
Yes, *that* Ice-T, star of both Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. (No, really. I looked it up on Wikipedia! Also I guess he was on Law & Order.)
Okay, so. The fiction! The fiction opening this chapter concerns a runaway living on the edge with her tough drug dealin' boyfriend who disappeared to pursue "this Lebanon thing," and reading it is pretty much like playing Darker and Edgier Bingo.
Russian/Middle Eastern drug dealers with "their Uzis and their freedom in a pipe?"
Learning ALL TOO LATE about birth control because of her stupid suburbanite parents, teen pregnancy, thinking about an abortion but miscarrying?
Slumlords, survival sex work, lines like "High school was numbing but at least nobody there was going to try to kill me for my boyfriend's stash?"
The kids from her old life totally persecuting her for her blue hair? Dropping out of school because she totally knew more than those condescending sheeple who called themselves her teachers?
Finding out (again, ~ALL TOO LATE~) that ~the streets~ are dark and scary and unknowable and probably contain all sorts of hidden dangers and etc.?
(oh gosh I think I got a bingo)
And so the chapter begins! It begins with that, and then there's a ~tour of the streets~ starting with this little gem:
"So what's your story, whitebread? What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this, as they say? What're you looking to score here, sweetheart? Drugs? Cash? Guns? Love? Everyone runs a scam here, girl, and if you think otherwise, you don't know shit."
So begins the narration by "Blue Sonya!" Now, there are a handful of themes running through this chapter, and they're all pretty dumb.
First , you don't know anything. Fuck. Goddamn shit fuck ass you don't know nothing about the streets which BY THE WAY are a jungle and it'll totally gobble up you MTV-fed suburbanites slumming down here but I do and I GUESS i'll lay it out for you GOD (obnoxious, and yet not nearly obnoxious as the narration in pretty much every chapter of The Orphan's Survival Guide)
Second , some people are born in the ghetto or sink into poverty and it's really depressing, but others? They descend to the ghetto because society is a rat race and even if you succeed you only get THEIR PIE and THERE'S ONLY SO MUCH OF THEIR PIE TO GO AROUND MAN and unlike the rest of the sheeple who DON'T EVEN QUESTION AUTHORITY BECAUSE IT'S SIMPLER they're brave enough to escape the great rat race that is literally everywhere else and the streets are a vast hidden world full of danger but also possibilities and "the opportunity to forge an existence according to your rules, according to your values."
Third , is there really such a thing.......as right and wrong? How...can you even judge? After all, THE FOUNDING FATHERS WERE CRIMINALS IN THEIR TIME AND PROHIBITION AND ANDAND AND "a new breed of gangster" who "hangs out, fully strapped, on the corner of Houston's 5th Ward, public enemy number one and he just don't give a fuck," he's a patriot too okay he's just defending his home
(Fun fact, there's a quote from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil later in this chapter but his name is misspelled as "Neitsche" and I honestly can't tell if that's clever self-parody or just....y'know.)
In fact, everything is relative! "Drive-bys and carjackings and beating lonely masochists for pay (????one of these things is not like the other) might seem horrific to someone whose main worry is whether the neighbor's lawn is more expensively manicured then her own!" A college education doesn't make you better than street folk! You don't know us, so don't judge us! etc. etc.
This section comes to a close with a bit about how blah blah sheeple binary worldview once you commit a crime the veil is torn from your eyes and you'll always see ~the underground way~ to do a thing, and then...and then there's the amazing suburban racism trifecta that is the final paragraph. (See, this is familiar to me! This is familiar to me, because I live in a city with racial tension and de facto segregation so bad the fucking BBC did a special on it, and I have heard people talk in complete seriousness about how jail is CRIME UNIVERSITY and improving the horrid public transit system here will mean those people coming into the well-to-do parts and doing crime and don't you know *those* people are all croh fucking hell)
So this last paragraph, it starts off telling you about how "most street people hustle a little bit" (golly, 'street people' who 'don't get acquitted,' i wonder what they mean here!) They don't really think it's crime crime, and all their cool friends do it, too! Like, take this lady. She works in a liquor store, and it pays the rent and "lets her drink her supper with an employee discount." But if she has a date, she might take public transit to a mall across town and shoplift lingerie! But then if she gets caught, "women like her just don't get acquitted." But it's okay, because jail is also CRIME COLLEGE and plus she can meet new people to do crime with!
"Sometimes, the city is very cruel. Sometimes there are no jobs to be had. Not as a clerk in a liquor store. Not even as a part-time bagman. Many denizens of the streets try not to get too attached to anything they own, for fear that someday they'll have to sell those possessions for basic food or shelter. It's living close to the line. Sometimes you have nothing left to sell but yourself."
The fourth theme is...sex work. Sex work everywhere! The writers simply cannot stop talking about people forced into survival sex work. The lexicon from the intro, the opening fiction, leading into the dumb ~~freedom of the streets~~ thing by asking "why a 14yo girl would suck cocks in bus stations when she could be anywhere else" and why anyone would "choose to have a baby knowing she couldn't provide for it without selling her body..."
And then sex work gets its own section! (The first of two in the book.) Goody.
"Oh, it starts off easy." First, showing your breasts for a twenty, and then fucking fucking, and the next thing you know it's "high-rolling people who like having a dick up some crack whore's ass while watching her furiously scratch her head while thin blood runs down her emaciated flanks."
Now, it tells us, it isn't all bad! Sometimes you make a lot of money and you can fuck dudes in fancy hotels or move to the suburbs or a kindly rich john will buy you (yep, it actually says this) or you can afford to turn down Rapey McStrangle once in awhile!
At the other end of the spectrum, though....well, some "whitebread loser" with "his semen still warm in some 14yo boy's mouth" (whyyyyyy does the writer keep coming back to fourteen-year-old prostitutes that's kind of weirdly, frighteningly specific) might tell you that prostitutes are victims, but...but the bottom of every profession is always victimized, right? A whore or an actress letting someone tie her up and beat her and also have sex with her out of desperation, a writer doing work on spec? Saaaaame thing.
When "a girl has sold access to every orifice of her lily-white bod," though, she can always sell her blood! Or smoke drugs and then sell her blood. And maybe she'll find a man who likes her enough to give her lots of money for her blood! (But he might murder her instead.) Or she can sell her organs! Or other people's organs. (Organ-legging? Snuff films? Child porn rings? PROBABLY A THING I MEAN YOU KNOW HOW THE STREETS ARE)
The next section is blessedly short -- ~street people~ go by ~street names~ like "Needle Dick the Bug Fucker" and anonymity is important, because people want to keep a low profile! And, we're told, it's one thing for a career criminal to have sex with three ladies who weren't even paid okay , but it's another thing to "take the fillies back to your place" (which is both kind of confusing, because the segment before last said that pretty much everyone on the street is doing *some* kind of crime as a regular thing, and kind of gross, because....*fillies*? Is this proto-ponyporn? This being a Mage supplement and all, are they magical realist thug ponygirls? I....what?)
Some people can't or won't keep a low profile, like "the pimp with the zebra-striped Cadillac and the whores with missing fingers" (ooooooof course.) and "the barkeep with the purple hair who always knows who's holding." Also I guess if you drive a nice car in the ghetto you're "likely able to muster swift and hideous retribution, even from beyond the grave," but driving a nice car in the ghetto is also dangerous because just like in the Wild West someone will want to earn a reputation by shooting you for your fancy car.
Five! There's all kinds of things to find on the streets. Most liquor stores don't card! Most nightclubs house secret illegal gambling dens and more prostitutes because of course and more still! Ethnic restaurants are probably fronts for organized crime (a deli might hold the books for the secret mafia numbers racket, a Chinese restaurant is a triad business hall, etc.)! There's a secret mob clinic where you can buy new faces in every city! Businessmen with weird sexual proclivities can "descend into the underworld" and get their erotic asphyxiation while dressed like a sheep on, ~creatives~ who "require the heartbeat of the city to be creative" can do art things if they don't get consumed by the dark streets or become junkies, charity workers can get warmfuzzies even though everyone can totally "see right through to the way certain folks like to apply their bourgeois values to things they have no right to even try to understand, see right through the way these people try to dictate and even legislate what they can't understand" (UGH GOD MOM), thrill-seeking normies can "risk it all in an anything-goes environment..."
In the next section, somehow we get from callous slumlords to squats to gangs murdering everyone in squats and turning them into stash houses to "I *guess* a person could go to a mission in the winter instead of becoming someone's sex slave in exchange for a place to stay or getting sent to jail 'til not-winter, BUT THE DO-GOODERS RUNNING THOSE TOTALLY HAVE AN AGENDA i mean i don't know about you but SOME OF US value our freedom gosh" to mutant alligators and wetbrains in the sewers.
Fun fact, there are stats in the back of the book for wetbrains ("decaying semi-human beings, reeking of rot, shit, and disease," WELP) and baby alligators what got flushed down the toilet, grew to massive size, and now "devour raw sewage and occasional repairmen, vagrants, and cops." And vampires.
Then we get a quote from Demian and a picture of a lady in a microdress and fishnets hanging out in what may or may not be the Stonehenge exhibit at the city museum but she's in someone's crosshairs (literally!) because ?????.
Okay, number six . There are a lot of crazy people on the street. Tons of them! Some of them came from overcrowded mental wards, some just...they're there! They're crazy! Their insanity terrifies everyone around them on a basic, primal level! Blah blah the Dark Ages never ended in the hood blah bluh crazy threatens to tear apart the fabric of reality etc.! It's okay, though, because sanity is a liability! If you're sane, and you still think like a member of society, you're harmless and you're totally going to be mugged and raped or maybe you'll be snapped up by a snuff film ring or someone'll steal your kidneys or rich kids'll set you on fire or maybe, maybe you'll run afoul of a serial killer! (The narration does mention that you probably won't get killed by a serial killer, though, because serial killers usually kill people because boner reasons and homeless people usually aren't, uh, 'appealing' enough. It goes on to say that homeless people usually aren't serial killers themselves, either! Because, uh..."starvation tends to deaden the sex drive." Did I mention that one of the sections with ready-to-use NPCs has a serial rapist/murderer complete with a prefab unhealthy childhood and an unsettlingly detailed MO for you to insert into your Mage campaign?)
The chapter ends with some discussion of how gang members "don't want to kill a homeless person any more than they want to kill a four-year-old" because it's bad PR and UGH THE PAPERS ONLY TALK ABOUT DRIVEBYS WHERE CHILDREN DIE THEY NEVER TALK ABOUT THE ONES DONE IN RECORD TIME WITH LASERLIKE EFFICIENCY UGH NO EYE FOR THE FINER POINTS and....this.
"Well, if you still want to cruise this asphalt, you're probably a moronic do-gooder who hasn't understood a word. You might last the night, honey, but you won't go home unscathed. At the very least, you won't make a difference. If you want to change things well, look at stuff from street level. Don't waltz in and tell everyone how to make their lives better. How the fuck do you know what a pre-op transsexual prostitute wants? Ever been one? Ever cared about one on a personal level? All right, then. If you wanna learn to stay alive, learn to empathize."
A TRANSSEXUAL PROSTITUTE. BOOM. DROPS MIC ON STAGE.
So that was terrible and I need a shower or three. Next time, Nowhere to Go But Down (Culture) !