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No food for thought

Dubbed fast-food fiction, ‘Tales of the Conspiracy Café’ gets stuck in the throat

By Leigh E. Rich

Tales of the Conspiracy Café: Barcelona
By Lee Shainen
The Patrice Press

Misogyny, thy name is Shainen.

Ah, there are so many ways one could critique what local author Lee Shainen has dubbed “fast-food fiction” with his 102-page Tales of the Conspiracy Café: Barcelona. But let’s just count our blessings (and not our caloric intake of sub-par poppycock) he didn’t decide to super size his “mini-novel for the time-challenged.” This recipe for sci-fi ranks alongside the Big Mac as a likely precursor to heart palpitations right before the onset of angina.

But enough of heartbreaking, corporate American food metaphors and on to more perverse, corporate American cable images. This tale of the Conspiracy Café is equivalent to a Saturday evening with Cinemax, when one can, ahem, singlehandedly waste an hour without ever flexing a single brain cell.

Shainen’s story begins promisingly enough, with his unpolished and unlikely protagonist Bernie T. Urlacker relishing a ballsy torch singer in a Las Vegas bar. Just sprung from an asylum and on a mini-break from his New Jersey day job as a mortician, Urlacker’s narration in the first three-page “chapter” is edgy and vivid: “There was a strange smell in the room of Aqua Velva and steamed cotton. It was soothing and mixed well with Ella’s singing. Just then, like an answer to a prayer, a beautiful redhead strolled into the room, looking like turpentine to old paint.”

A few more heaving breasts of writing pleasure tumble out and offer hope for Shainen’s oddball tale. As Urlacker comes to the morning after, he tries “to get out of bed, only to find that my legs were as useless as straws in a triple thick malt. My memory was coming together like a jigsaw puzzle that had been left out in the rain: curled pieces of cardboard creating a surrealistic picture of reality.”

Unfortunately, this steamy, private dick voice-over is quickly sucked as dry as the Nevada desert with each turn of the page. As Shainen rolls out his story like a peripatetic tumbleweed, Urlacker finds he has been kidnapped by a band of bitches looking to take over the world with the psychotic frenzy of the cartoon lab mice in Pinky and the Brain. These women (buxom and beautiful, of course) have implanted a microchip into Urlacker’s brain so as to control his every move. (Yes, Mr. Shainen, this is every woman’s dream—to control the thought processes of the male collective. Now, if only we were smart enough to take over the publishing houses and prevent such an abominable waste of perfectly good panty-liner material!)

But, never fret, these “Bitches of Barcelona” have a plan to disperse a microscopic phalanx of robotic surgeons into the water supply that will reconfigure the Y chromosome in order to “rid the world of ugliness and aggression.” As these women deterministically figure it, it is the men who are responsible for the wars in the world. And while they’re fixing this, they figure they might as well give these chromosomally challenged men a face-lift from the inside.

And that’s where Urlacker comes in. A mortician skilled in the art of beautifying the dead before burial, the Barcelona women use Urlacker to train their nano-robots in the business of forced plastic surgery.

The remainder of Shainen’s repulsive tale goes something like this: Urlacker longs after Ella, the singer who abandoned her daughter but now goes about taking over the world with nipples fully erect; lusts after the redhead assassin, Sue, who has her way with Bernie but is really Ella’s lover; bumps into Babe, whom he had sex with years before, though she is now the paramour of Betty; and finally is introduced to the scientist behind the technology, Claudia—a “sterile and unaccommodating cold bitch” with the face of a lab rat who somehow manages not to have carnal relations with the unpleasant mortician.

Offensive to the inner core of our bodies, ourselves, Shainen’s only other male character sums up this anti-women, pseudo pro-lesbian tripe: “They should keep to sticking their noses in each other’s business, if you know what I mean, and leave the Lord’s work to the Lord.”

What’s more, the afterword explains that the whole tale began as a joint e-mail project authored by many hands, until the rest lost interest and Shainen commandeered it for himself. He even admits that the line “the room smelled like Aqua Velva and steamed cotton” wasn’t even his. So much for giving Shainen credit where (in the paucity of places) it’s due.

Food or cable metaphor, whichever you choose, Shainen’s Tales should have been called a mini-novel for the taste challenged.

Rich, L. E. (2003, September 11). No food for thought: Dubbed fast-food fiction, ‘Tales of the Conspiracy Cafe’ gets stuck in the throat. [Review of the book Tales of the Conspiracy Cafe: Barcelona by Lee Shainen.] Tucson Weekly.

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