"The Dictator's Inbox" and "The Artist"

The Dictator’s Inbox

The first thing the Dictator does when he wakes up is to put on the red silk robe and gold embroidered captain’s hat that makes him look like Hugh Hefner in his heyday, only much handsomer. After a slow turn in the mirror, he takes his morning cup of whiskey with coffee from the attending attaché’s tray and checks the inbox on his smartphone.

Standard incoming emails:

1. Twitter report.

2. Personnel changes.

Following this, he normally uses his Edicts tab to provide instructions for the day.

Today is not a normal day. In addition to the standard emails, there are several unsolicited emails. He hates unsolicited emails. Unsolicited emails normally result in personnel changes beginning with the person or persons responsible for making sure he does not receive them.

The first one is good news. Another dictator is in big trouble and wants to know if he can come to the  Dictator’s country until things calm down. In other words, he is playing the dictator-to-dictator mi casa es su casa card.

The Dictator immediately tweets an insult with the hashtag #fuhniatoybsadhbs. He is very proud of that hashtag. Since he first made it up, it has found a permanent place in both his country’s vernacular and its official dictionary. It is simple to understand, translating easily into the phrase f*** **u h*** n* i a* t** o*** b**s a****d h*** b*****s. He is the only person in his country allowed to use it, upon pain of death.

A few seconds later, he retweets his tweet with the hashtag #wnormottp which almost no one understands, but which everyone knows nearly always results in the near-term death or disappearance of the person or persons to which it refers.

The second email is not good news. It is an email to him from him using his own email account that says, “This is your leader. An impostor has taken my place and left me in the hands of a family located who knows where who is taking pretty good care of me, but refuses to untie my hands from my feet, remove the blindfold from my eyes and the football helmet from my head. Find my real immediate family. By that I mean take care of them. Also, locate and free me so that I may exact revenge on everyone involved. The longer this takes, the greater the revenge. You have no idea how hard it was to type and send this email.”

He immediately calls an emergency cabinet meeting in his bedroom. Within minutes, his cabinet has formed a semicircle around him, every member standing at attention with the thumb and first finger of their straight right hands pressed sharply against their respective eyebrows in salute. About half of them are clothed in a respectable fashion. Several are missing pieces of clothing. One of them is in pajamas. Another is naked, covered in soap suds.

No one knows what the email’s sender means by “take care of them”. It could mean get rid of them or it could mean to actually take care of them in some way.

Since no one wants to ask the Dictator or the imposter, whichever one happens to be in the room with them, which of these interpretations apply, and since no member of the group has any recollection of ever having met a single member of the Dictator’s family, they meet in the hallway afterwards and after a short discussion decide to follow their usual protocol with slight modifications: abduct the person or persons who are suspect and interrogate them by first asking them what they want. Then abduct the person’s family and friends and ask them the same question. If the interrogators cannot get a straight answer, they ask them what their plan is and who else is in on it. If, after some amount of torture they confess, they “take care of them”. If, after a similar amount of torture they do not confess and they seem harmless enough they still “take care of them”. If they fully confess before torture is even mentioned, the interrogators will know they are either intimately familiar with the Dictator or just lucky guessers, will see them as potentially innocent, maybe even family, and take care of them. They unanimously agree that any choice they make will probably get them all killed because this thing has shitshow written all over it.

Just to make sure, they look up indecision in The Dictator’s Employee Handbook:

At intermittent intervals, one or another high-ranking government minion will get it wrong. The Dictator usually makes an  example of him or her and then sends all that person’s family and friends to a re-education facility which is another term for a one-way trip to a slave camp at an unknown location where they don’t burn your body after they kill you, but harvest it for replacable body parts and various other recyclable medical products. It is all part of the Dictator’s desire to create a sustainable economy.

Always remember:

Do your part. Be decisive. Never make a mistake.



The Artist

He is wearing his favorite suit, the one that makes him feel like he is in a black and white photo with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Alice Prin aka Kiki de Montparnasse, explaining what it is like to make art in the twenty-first century.

GPT-AI: He is sipping a dry martini, extra dry, with a twist. He is thinking about how he is going to change the world. (12/18/2022)

“To be an artist is to not care whether people like or even understand what you do. Of course, your behavior is yours to decide. The liking part is someone else’s. Artists in the twenty-first century have it easy in this regard. No one cares if you are a drug addict or alcoholic. There is no such thing in contemporary high art as a slut or whore, no ethnic slurs, no sexual identity or sexual proclivity putdowns, no judgment with respect to your life choices, at least not in public. That kind of behavior is simply not acceptable and that is a good thing. The only requisite for a contemporary artist in the twenty-first century is that your art not be teeedious and boooring to the people you want to like you. As long as they like what you do as art you’re good. If it converts to money, status and power, so much the better. For them if not for you.”

After more than a few long, awkwardly silent seconds, the others applaud him.

He says, “Thank you, but what did you think of the ideas behind the concepts behind the ideas?”

Many Ray answers casually,  “Sounds the same as now. Ever, actually.”

Standing there in a bold pose, he realizes all of them saw it as performance, but now they are not so sure. He smiles because, like his friends, he knows that if something is bad enough, it becomes good again. Those able to discover, regardless of form, the absolute opposite of what everyone else thinks of as art or religion or politics, recreates the possible by making it less boring. It is also a meta thing: a single idea made manifest, able to contain everything around it and still be different from anything it contains. A great achievement for any artist. He exits the photo, returns to the place he was before he was in the photo, and stands there, looking like a million bucks in his new suit, with nothing else to do or say.

Handy little things, these asterisks.


Dear Editor,

The time of men is over, the time of the Orc has come. There are some for whom there is such a thing as too many adjectives per noun. Or too few. Bereft of a sufficient number and variety of adjectives, it is possible to find oneself alone on the streets, pockets empty, baroque for all practical purposes.

I speak from personal experience.

I have to believe there is some individual or some organization out there keeping track of all the writers in the world, categorizing them by style, ism, genre, adjectives and other measures not entirely related to sales, awards, endorsements and agent and publisher hookups.

These are not the only ways for people (e.g., artists) to be. There are infinite ways for people to be. Human existence is a continuous realtime stream of data that grows exponentially larger over time, feeding a global collective intelligence that takes many forms: organic, artificial, panpsychic, etc. To describe that intelligence  is impossible since it is only visible to us through our senses and our minds, both inadequate for the purpose.

At this moment you may be thinking, “Who the hell is this yahoo and why am I still reading this letter?” Attached please find what I just said, expanded into a novel with well-developed characters, lots and lots of adjectives and adverbs, multiple, interleaving plot arcs and a plethora of action sequences.

Thank you for your consideration.


75b9f086f2c1403cbd4dc285c96af9a4519e252022e2e7e3c4dfeb704a9db538 (My name as a SHA256 cryptographic hash)


In 1952, 2.5 billion people were alive on Earth. Now, in 2022, 8 billion people are alive. In a single lifetime, 5.5 billion new people and I am one of them. How extraordinary to exist, to breathe and all the rest. To think and then think about that, over and over. Regardless of what I do or don’t accomplish in this life, after death I will remain, the faintest of winds, softer than a whisper, surfing the surface of an ocean made entirely of memories and dreams, of us by us.



Michael Harold

Michael Harold often writes under the name Michael Aro, his father's Spanish birth name. He is a poet, novelist, visual and conceptual artist, educator, computer technologist and inventor. He recommends The Providence House.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Friday, April 21, 2023 - 09:47