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June 17, 2024

The Decline

By Jon Herring

The automated doors of Free-Mart swoosh open. This will be a quick venture. Get in and get out. I didn't come here for the discounts, the buy one get ones, or the cheap produce. I came for what is perhaps the greatest achievement in film of my brief hitherto culturally abject existence. I've been waiting months, ever since I first bore witness to The Decline in theaters.

I knew it would be great, of that there was no question. How could an adaptation of my favorite book, directed and produced by my favorite auteur, Rafozzi Barafalo, be anything less?

After first reading Rudolph Postolos' classic, The Decline: Madness in the Purple Sands, I was so taken by the text, so seduced and affected, so unabashedly swayed, that I stole my parent's Civic and drove all the way from Philadelphia to the middle of West Colorado in hopes of speaking with the author. I made the trip in two days, driving like a disciple en route towards some newly found messiah. Unfortunately, Mr. Postolos had blown his brains out the week before with a rusty twelve gauge. There was no resurrection.

Beneath the fragments of broken bone and brain scattered about the kitchen where he'd lived his final moments and taken the majority of his life's sustenance, was a terse letter of farewell, voiced with an air of grandeur, typical of Postolos' -- a tone bearing the influence of his great work's anti-hero. The letter reads as follows:

A poorly lit and desolate table ... It is here I take
my final bow.
I leave you not in sadness, but with acceptance.
I have long worn a tempered smile -- the distinguishing mark of those
who live beneath the shadow of Janus.
Are scenes of horror not revealed by the same sunbeams that shine
on pine trees and rolling hills?
Is it not the light that gives life to drifting dust?
It falls now before me ... a legacy we share.
Farewell pigs.


The film was equally magnificent as the book. It succeeded in capturing the authorial tone without solely relying on narrated quotations, as lousy Hollywood biopics tend to do. Postolos' vision was instead brought to life organically, through simple techniques, such as the placement of objects and contrast of colors, emanating the attitude of the story on a more authentic level. Rumor has it that Barafalo is to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. He won't win. Barafalo is an anarchist with a bad temper and an unwavering disdain for institutions -- not to mention his seemingly annual accruement of citations for public drunkenness and history of rough handling women. The network running the affair will never allow it. Although it is a nice gesture all the same, I suppose.


While The Decline is not a happy tale, it is a true one. One that only Postolos, the long time limo-driver and confidant of the tale's protagonist, could have written. The story recounts the late-life escapades of famous American author Winston Elliott III and his journey into madness. Elliott was once the most respected writer in America, renowned for his humanist enterprises and tales of moral heroism. Upon being diagnosed with a rare disease in which his brain would continue to swell usque ad mortem, an identity crisis ensued whereby he fell into cahoots with an esoteric man named Soren Slyly. Having succumbed to the inexhaustible fear that his life's work would fail to transform him into the immortal giant he wished to be, Slyly, who was a sculptor by trade, manipulated Elliott's malleable desperation, convincing him to perform a range of deplorable deeds with the promise of everlasting legacy. Namely, to hire a mercenary army, conquer the Erisian desert, enslave its people, and erect the world's largest statue of his own visage out of an indestructible substance called Tithonite, found only in the mines of the conquered land. The tragedy of the narrative is that in the end, Slyly delivered on his promise. He sculpted Elliott's image in the enduring stone. Elliott received his immortality, but not for his writings or humanitarian works. It was his stains for which he was to be remembered. As a subjugator of man and oppressor of the innocent.


Even though in Free Mart there are exactly one hundred checkout lanes, only two or three of them are ever open. The rest of the aisles, dark beneath unlit numbered signs, remain coned off, preventing an easy escape or access to the multitude of grotesque tabloids and sugary treats whose brightly colored wrappers tempt the sticky claws of shopping cart children. The floors possess a perpetual tackiness. A result of the thin veneer of congealed drool and sweat leaked off stationary customers in line, as they pant with exhaustion from a hard hour's labor of leaning off their scooters to reach bulk items on the shelves. The only reason I came here is because movie stores don't exist anymore and I didn't feel like waiting for an online delivery.

My rubber-soled shoes squelch on and off the grimy floor. A perfect storm of body odor, dirty feet, and plastic sifts into my nostrils, harmonizing in a scentphony of vile miasma, resembling the stench of a vomit-covered children's ball pit.

Indulgence moves freely -- overflowing carts of overwrapped unnecessaries, pushed by overstretched tank tops in overstuffed jean shorts. This is what crowds are made of. The sight leaves me feeling amazed that accomplishments such as The Decline are even possible in this age.

Venturing toward my destination I pass a greasy-haired mouth breather sporting a shaggy Free-Mart uniform. He struggles to stock a shelf with extra-soft toilet paper. The kind that clog the pipes and leaves white crumbs around your hole after wiping.

His uniform is a tan-colored wrinkled mess in the process of evolving into a camouflage pattern as his armpit sweat bleeds an array of pepperoni colored stains throughout his ensemble. I make passing eye contact with the man and smile. He crinkles his nose and licks his upper lip displaying a striking set of sewage soaked teeth. Below the elastic cuffs of his unloved sweatpants resides a pair of mouse-chewed socks that serve as the culminating crown in what may rightfully be called the perfect uniform of the uninspired.

I imagine the employee's premature demise and the dull look on his face as he chokes on his own tongue. I see clearly the post-mortem path of the uniform and the poor bastard that, out of some unimaginable desperation, arrives garnered in the sartorial sins of this slob. I am certain that the uniform will live on. My faith in the matter is Catholic in its assurance. How could a legacy, so well sculpted and defined, fail to echo interminably?


One of my favorite parts of The Decline is how Elliott's moustache grows longer and longer as he seeps deeper into mania. My favorite part of the greasy Free-Mart employee is that he didn't smile back.


At last, I think. The Entertainment sign dangles over the next aisle. But I receive interference. My focus is overrun by a bombardment of excellent deals. The screaming hues of a five-dollar movie bin seduce my senses. Resting on top of the bin, I spot a copy of Casablanca. Frayed cellophane dangles off the bottom of its cracked plastic case. The disc rolls around loose inside. I toss the broken thing back into the pile and awake from my slumber, seeing clearly the travesty before me. Disc after disc. Each one containing lifetimes of work, sacrifice, and expression. Cheap plastic corpses waiting in a mass grave to be desecrated by dirty fingers.

A small Asian boy approaches from my left and grips the cage of the five-dollar landfill. The boy yells something at his mother in the aisle over. She yells something back. The boy yells again, this time in a more high-pitched voice. The mother screams back. The boy sneezes on his hand, a spider web of mucous visible as he spreads his snot-covered fingers apart from one another. He wipes his filth onto the top of the bin leaving a trail of mantis green sludge across a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

After smearing his phlegm over a few classics, the boy takes notice of my presence. I bare my teeth and growl at him, lurching forward. He runs to his mother crying. His mother smacks him in the face and tells him to be quiet.


Across the aisle, I spot the sign for new releases. There it is ... what I came for. I approach the rack and remove a copy. I hold it in my hands. A blue sticker in the corner reads $19.99, well worth the price. Branded across the top: A Rafozzi Barafalo film. The cover design is striking. A pastel drawing of a black statue starkly poised against the Erisian desert. The sand is purple, the sky is orange. A ridiculous moustache jolts out in sharp points, east and west, beneath the sun, framing the calligraphically-styled slogan Only his sins survive. I read the credits printed on the back, names of all the men and women responsible for creating something genuine and meaningful, an authentic object in an age of disrepute. I rub my fingers across the case in admiration.

Behind me a manatee belches. Her husband, fingering his bellybutton, responds with a grunt and flicks a piece of naval lint on the floor.

The film falls from my fingers. It falls through time. I follow its course: twenty dollars, down to ten in three months ... Further it falls, finding its way into the five-dollar graveyard, tattered and disrespected. Lastly, this particular dream of man arrives in the inevitable landfill where all human strivings find rest. The communal legacy we share. Immortality par excellence.

Article © Jon Herring. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-12-29
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
3 Reader Comments
Fred Foote
01:18:13 AM
Droll and delightful. A wonderful read.
01:49:56 AM
You know, the first part of this story was so well done that I actually googled Rudolph Postolos and Rafozzi Barafalo just to make sure that I hadn't somehow lived a sheltered life unaware of such great talent. There was nothing, of course, but I remain convinced that I have shopped at Free Mart.
08:44:08 PM
You write like magic.
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