Back in October of 2008, I ran into an article about the Jejune Institute on Laughing Squid. “Hmmm, smells culty ... I should think about exploring that for a half-second then be distracted by a small shiny thi– OOOH NICKEL!!!” While enraptured by my new friend Coiny, months passed. Then one day while I was travelling to my then-galpal’s house to give her a giant leaf in the tradition of centuries-old courting rituals except for the giant leaf part, I saw an odd sticker at the BART station. I took a photo of it. It’s sort of a habit of mine. There is something amusing about minimalist human icons in imminent distress combined with a passive warning that amuses me. On a road trip across across the US awhile ago, I stopped in at a John Deere lot approximately mid-country and asked if I could take photos of the big lovely machines. I felt the subterfuge was necessary, it’s always hard to explain my obscure fetishes to people. There was one machine that looked like it made the rows in the mellifluous phrase “a hard row to hoe,” and it had a warning sticker showing a giant spring barreling straight toward the hapless icon’s head/chestal area. That photo didn’t come out, because this was during my error-ridden SLR days. Next time I’m in Kansas I’ll stop in again. Anyway, warning signs and me: we’re tight. I am not alone.

Was this some random band or graffito artist’s sticker? Way more text than usual on such a thing. “Microwave harassment emanations”? Hahaha! “Elsewhere Public Works.“ I made a mental note to look the name up which was immediately replaced by a lingering memory of being bit by a zoo swan when I was seven. I posted the photo to a popular electronical photo retention service and got on with my beach-bum life instead of yours because I don’t have your keys ... yet. A few days later, I received a black envelope in the mail.

In the envelope, a card with spooky writing that read:

Interim Sanctuary     580 California St.   Suite #1607   watchword: jejune

Damn. I never turn down invites because you know, free food. Now I had to go.

I called up a friend, Scout, and told him we had to go to this thing – like pronto – because I was worried it would close down at the end of the year. Scout and I had been puttering around with various pie-in-the-sky ideas about starting up some sort of team effort involving short filmic pieces that one could watch via a futuristic electronic machine that you yourself may be in possession of. We were thinking of getting a day place – a warehouse space – even though we had no money and were also broke. I would design a “false front” that looked like a normal business and we could sell conceptual things that no one would buy and I would be in hog heaven. Me and a bunch of hogs with wings and halos, rolling around in gold-flaked mud, processing butchers into hot links.

The last day of the year, we finally set out on our little unknown adventure. On the way there, I took some photos of “street stuff”: a restaurant front, a sticker for “Pile Drivers, Divers, Bridge, Wharf & Dock Builders No. 34 AFL-CIO,” and the remnants of a flyer espousing the benefits of some whack-a-mole contrail-conspiracy-like froo-fra called “Vital Orbit.” Then we walked into 580 California. It’s a 23-story building in the financial district of San Francisco, a dynamic Californian metropolis steadily licked by the Pacific Ocean.

“There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.”
A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein (pg 115)

You know these places ... stuffy people walk around with ramrod steel spines, pretending they know exactly what’s going down but it’s all this enormous paper-shufflin’ fantasy, a ... game. Maybe you’ve noticed this on the news as of late. We didn’t belong there, it was obvious. We were scruffy; we did not have colorful pieces of fabric tied around our necks. We did not pretend to know much. The security guard gruffly took our information and went up to fetch a representative; we sat down with our backs to a giant tapestry. A bit later, a woman in a white lab coat came into the lobby and beckoned us forth. We forthed. I had this crazy idea that she wasn’t going to tell us anything, and since we were in a very nice elevator with lustrous Carpathian elm wooden panelling, this gave me a chance to again push my short video idea to Scout. The entire set would be the interior of an elevator; cheap set, easy to light, tight enclosure with its own strange set of socially awkward rituals. Perfect! He indicated his displeasure with this concept by moving to LA, but not right then. When we entered the 16th floor office, I started asking questions and sure enough she batted them away with phrases like “all will be revealed” which followed the earlier, similar phrase “all will be revealed.”

We bartered: I gave her my ID, she gave me a key. The ID thing I was really uncomfortable with, but you know, it’s what all the kids are doing these days with their painfully open lives look at me look at me. Me, I’d rather be an onion. You know what’s at the core? No. Of course you do not, because I did not Facialbook it.

The key had a large circular ceramic fob attached to it, with instructions, directions, and a disclaimer about being recorded. Hey, more uncomforting! But the fob, it’s such a great Object. Weighty, solid. Scout read the fob and gave me a withering look that was easily decoded because it was accompanied by his voice: “What the fuck are you getting me into?” Though I was wondering that myself, we shoved on. We entered the induction center and the 1970s, apparently. While we processed the out-of-sorts decor a disembodied British female voice welcomed us to the Jejune Institute.

“Greetings. Welcome to the Jejune Institute San Francisco Induction Center. Please enter the room, and close the door behind you.”

There was an oscilloscope hooked up to the audio, which reminded me of my geek friends irreversibly turning TVs into cheap oscilloscopes back in college using a pair of wire snippers and booze. They did this to great excess for/during parties, like it was some type of nerd drug. “Duuuuude, niiiice TV you have here ... ” [FX: slowly caresses top of TV]

There was only one chair. But. The chair. How could there be another. It was The Chair. Scout sat on/in It (voice: “now have a seat in the lounge chair provided for you”). I roamed around taking photos, spotted the sort-of-hidden hidden camera, and made sharp observations like “hey, a giant tooth.” I didn’t want to get sucked into the video, let Scout do that part. No one’s going to make me sell flowers at an exit ramp again, thank you.

[videos: Capt. King]

Of course the video is bizarre and funny, but all the while there was a tiny voice inside my head saying “it’s cool. You know from cults. And if this is an actual cult that has gone hilariously meta, you’re ready with your shiv.” DAMN! I had forgotten my shiv.

The Jejune Institute certainly had a lot of impressive technology! The bit about Octavio coming from real actual culty stock sent up the fake red flags. Halfway through the video, Scout figured out the whole thing was a joke and it became “the best thing ever.” He pointed out Octavio was sitting in exactly the same spot as the TV and it felt as though we had just missed him.

“Now ... here is the answer to your question. Yes. You have been selected. You, in particular have been chosen because of your unique abilities ... and other irregularities ... [FX: ZOOM CUT] you know what I mean.”

Octavio asked you to fill out an "initiation form" near the end of the video. The best part was that he sat and silently waited for you while you filled out your little form and the clock ran out. It was very polite. We scribbled our personal information on the surveys with a minor amount of trepidation.

I made up my 37,000th alias right there on the spot (“Hamburger”). I answered everything “YES” to indicate how Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (INDUSCO) I was, and we dropped the surveys into the box. There were five or six other slips inside. Ours were better.

So this was where the “Vital Orbit” flyer came from. So much to digest, including the remainder of the card – which Octavio stressed not to read/tell anyone about/follow. It looked complicated. We whispered confused half-sentences to each other.

The disembodied voice came back. “You have successfully completed the induction process.” We’ve been inducted! YaaaaayYY! “Please exit the way you came in.” There was only one door. I like to think that it was a crack about not leaving via the window. We exited the non-window and stopped at the reception desk for my ID on the way out.

Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
Her: [slight pause] “Yams.”
Me: “Yams.”
Yams: “Yams Moongood.”

Scout was puzzled by Yams’ pause, as if she was pondering how to answer. Yams Moongood. YAMS SODDING MOONGOOD? I think this is when my interest in the situation jumped two notches. We took the psycho-sensual elevator back down to the first floor while reading the instructions on the card.

We quietly snuck away from the security guard, through the bowels of 580 California. Scout recorded the “EPW guidance tags” while I shot sexy plumbingwerk fotos yes? “Elsewhere Public Works.” I was confused ... this was part of the Jejune Institute? The pipe had another type of EPWA sticker, and above it, some weird ring with prongs. Dunno. The metal floor made even the quietest of steps clangy. We exited without incident, deposited onto Kearny via a nondescript service door. Following the instructions, we passed an electrical service box with another of those "microwave emanation" stickers on it.

While trying to find something called the “Timecraft 13 Loading Anchor,” we occasionally saw more of those circle-prong symbols. The anchor itself ... was it a hitching post at one time? What is? And there’s prongring again. No wait, it’s a duck. No ... a ring with a bad combover. The metal ring was stamped “TIMECRAFT 13 ANCHOR” on one side and “QUINCY” on the other. What was a/the “Timecraft 13” and why did it need to be anchored? “Quincy“ was then used in the next step that we eventually figured out was Quincy Alley. Do you capitalize “Alley”? I do. Alleys deserve it. ALLEYS DESERVE OUR SUPPORT

Quincy the cat appears at the end of the Alley, riding an invisible bike. Very nice! Also, there were a large amount of poles spelling out “Nonchalance.” There’s that phrase again. “Divine nonchalance.” Why so many poles? They keep vehicles from falling through the flimsy grating, I suppose. I see nothing wrong with that. I was tootling around Kuala Lumpur one day and there were some plastic grates over deep, human-sized holes in the sidewalk. They had bounce to them. It was frightening enough that I started jumping over the holes. HEY LOOK AT THE JUMPY AMERICAN

At the end of the poles, a light pole. Another pronged ring, another clue. Third floor.

The third floor of St. Mary’s Garage that is, where a metal lockbox had to be rotated to reveal a code that opened a second lockbox.

The second lockbox had a bunch of graffiti written by earlier visitors and two laminated pages, the first filled with – as the instruction sheet indicated – a “rant”:


Quiet and motionless, I can slightly hear it. His 3 Principles of the People? Rip Off. The Revive China Society? Sham! Kuomintang (Nationalist Party)? TRAVESTY. National Assumbly of the Republik? Bogus. When Dr. Sun was exxiled from the motherland (four treason!) he sought refuge [here] in the GREAT SNAKE {U.S.A.} where he undertook countless dubious endeavor, INCLUDING YET NOT LIMITED TO: Unmasonry (Occult / Black Magic), Associations with Diabolic Lords of State, and general exploitations of humble personage for the furtherment of his own nefarious aims. SUCH AS: when Dr. Sun was exposed to DIVINE NONCHALANCE during his stay in Hawaii, while casually interloping on the surf-play of the natives. Instead of recognizing the true-spirit-gifts of the savants he had encountered, his malevolent instinct was to attempt to harness their powers for himself &&so he stole their teeth! This is the only way his mind could conceive of interacting under the presence DIVINE NONCHALANCE; and subsequently there have been generations of the Lost Tribe who just wander the stratosphere, like Kane, But Toothless.

So far, very nonsensical ... couldn’t remember reading anything about Sun Yat-Sen performing rogue undesired dentistry, and there’s that “divine nonchalance” thing again. The rant went on, and the very next sentence rang some bells: “Gangster Computer God Worldwide Secret Containment policy made possible solely by Worldwide Computer God Frankenstein Controls.” That’s Francis E. Dec right there, and it continued with Dec-like flailing while the type got smaller and smaller. I ran into DecTalk for the first time back in the 90s on a New York City telephone enclosure ... I figured it was an early Dec fan spreading the love.

And those pinball bumper symbols ... they’re from the Whampoa Military Academy he founded. I thought they were ... pinball bumpers.

The second page mentions a “metal man” and to look behind him. After taking the elevator to the sixth floor, we emerged to face a metal statue of the crazed-ass tooth yanker doctor himself. Wow! That is one dynamic statue. Had no idea there was even a park there.

At the back base of the statue, there was another one of those blue shield stickers and a strange plaque that matched the “rant” from earlier. The “nonchalants” really don’t like this guy! The treacherous duo of Grant and Yat-Sen must have collaborated around 1882, while the latter was in Hawaii attending school and the former was destitute in New York City, writing his memoirs. Sure, Sun Yat-Sen was 16 and Grant was 60, but that’s just whom you don’t expect, the fresh-faced kid and the old codger. Working together in ... treachery!

After filling in the blanks we rolled through a nearby alley, taking note of the multiple ring symbols plastered on posts. St. Mary’s also had chalked symbols with arrows, pointing down the street. So we went down the street, we’re easy that way. And then we were at 614 Grant, but since the address was 614.4 we figured it was a strange little empty space between the church and a gift shoppe.

The brick was mysteriously difficult to spot, even though it was near eye level and sticking out a bit. We finally found it on a side wall, gently kissed by graffiti. The next bit of information indicated that we were to find a store with “beautiful things.” Scout was on it – he knew exactly what store that referred to, so we rolled in and flummoxed around looking for the envelope. Basement? No. Ground floor? No. Basement? No. I walked up to the cashier to ask if she knew where it was and immediately saw it right next to the cash register. One of us scraped up $1.09 (BON VOYAGE COINY) and we took it outside to rifle through the contents.

The back of the envelope featured three “sponsors” of the postcard series. Is that a “real” Rorschach image? Couch doctors don’t just make up their own Rorschach images, there is a small finite set of them (ten (10)) and “non-psychotic”/“psychotic”/etc interpretations have been assigned to each. So what is our little one here supposed to be?

I see a killer Cyclops clown surrounded by twin flying New Jerseys. Is that good? [SFX: flip flip flip flip] Oh. It’s not a “real” one. The middle entry ... “Red’s Fish Monger” ... smoked kippers ... red herring. We skipped that, though I think it was either that Scout figured it out or we just vetoed travelling that far; I know I didn’t decode the reference. Finally, the Louie Chen entry gave an address to explore.

838 Grant is the “China Trade Center” and where the Empress of China restaurant resides on the sixth floor, but we stopped on the fourth. There wasn’t a #415, but there were two Louies – Calvin Y. Louie and Harvey Louie. Wrong Louies. We meandered over to the balcony, perhaps Right Louie was having a smoke while waiting for his office to wink back into existence. The view was superb.

The envelope contained a coated die-cut two-sided four-color postcard. We took it out and filled the holes with the “Corporate Goddesses” of 580 California and Coit Tower. Lillie Hitchcock Coit, Octavio Coleman Esquire, Europa, Pheloma, Sybil, Muriel Castanis ... a flood of new names to consider.

Scout remarked that he was glad he got to see/do this before moving to LA. Those goddesses looked ... familiar. There was also some chalk writing on the cement railing. Do you call it a railing if it’s a big glob of cement?


(click for bigger)

The symbol appeared again, on the blank wall of a building in the photo on the Coit Tower side of the card. It wasn’t there in real life, but what was there? I added another entry to the List of Unfinished Business.

After taking the elevator back down to street level, we wandered around the immediate area looking for a pagoda-themed phone booth so we could call Eddy. These have been slowly disappearing from Chinatown, unfortunately. We didn’t find anything, so we expanded our search gradually, until we had covered most of Grant Avenue-based Chinatown. Then we came back and tried the whole thing over. We wandered so far we ended up going back in time! [SFX: whooshy going-back-in-time noises] Time travel is always embarassing, but maybe it would help us find the damned phone. We went back to 2003 and saw a phone booth right by St. Mary’s Church where the Unmason brick was. It didn’t really look like the ideogram. We kept going farther back, all the way back to 1999 ... and we ran into another phone. It was right outside China Trade Center! This had to be the phone!

We hurried back to 2008 and went to the same spot. Ah. This would be why we missed the phone earlier. Because the phone was gone. One more down, maybe even the last one. [Later we discovered Eddy’s business card in the envelope. Oops ... we could have avoided that whole time travellin’ nastiness, had we been a bit more thorough. Could have used one of those “Time Cameras” as well ...] After finding seats outside a restaurant, we called Eddy and got his answering machine. He said to “definitely come down to the lunch counter for a free bowl of chow mein. It’s on me!” and had a more specific message for Louie Chen – indicating that he had put some flyers in Cooper Alley "just in case" for an investigation they were working on. This was good, because I was getting hungry. 2009: free food is the new sex.

Then we got a phone call. It was Octavio!!! (!!!) He indicated his displeasure with our decision to tackle the induction form and told us to “... Proceed at your own peril. Now you’re on your own. Farewell.” [SFX: click] Wow. That’s the probably the shortest stretch of time I’ve ever been part of a fake techno-cult. Also the longest. How did he know? Was he spying on us? Cults don’t do that! [SFX: seven-minute laughing fit]

Obviously our #1 goal right then was to figure out where this bonus chow mein was. After thinking very hard we ended up shrugging our shoulders and set off for Cooper Alley to see Eddy’s handiwork instead.

Cooper Alley was very narrow. Svelte. The posters ... Wow, Eddy, you’ve outdone yourself. Does Louie run some sort of surreal detective agency? These can’t be the right posters. This alley ... needed some exploring.

The alley had a series of cemented-up window alcoves ... in one of them, the flyers Eddy was talking about. This is how Eddy distributes flyers. Always working in angles for his own thing. So Eddy. Oh Eddy.

Oh! Oh my! We’ve got to find ... this chow mein! Man, this Eva gal has been missing a long time. Keeping our priorities in order, we flipped out of Cooper Alley to Star Lunch, which was only a few doors down.

What? What? Splutter splutter splutter ...

“Where’s my fucking chow mein.”

Okay. TANSTAAFL. On the window of the cafe, there was note from Eddy to Louie, along with a photocopy of Dr. Hewitt’s business card. Eva’s flyer had Chen’s number ... we didn’t really have any new information for the detective, but we called him anyway. His message indicated that Eva had possibly “been in the San Francisco area as recently as September of this year.” She was also "possibly a danger to herself and others" and had been diagnosed with "severe mental disorders." Hrm. Chen continued, indicating that Eddy was missing as well! For almost two years! Well, that explained Star Lunch. Who will give us our chow mein? Who?

After all this, it was obvious that we had to visit Dr. Hewitt. Back to 580 California. This time we didn’t have to sign in, but there was something on the card that we were supposed to do ... oh yes, the “scenic route.” We looked at the tapestry ... looked ... was there something about the tapestry? It was a tapestry. Tapestry: check.

Back up on the 16th floor, no one is around. A sign on the reception desk indicated that cellphones shouldn’t be used in the reception area, so we hid in the break room and called the receptionist from there.

“We are hiding in the break room.”

While rummaging in the staff refrigerator for chow mein substitute, Yams (YAMS) found us and said Dr. Hewitt couldn’t meet us. Dr. Hewitt had given Yams something to give to us but it wasn’t like she pointed to it on the carpet, that was later during the photo shoot, I mean there wasn’t a photo shoot of Yams pointing to the carpet, it was of the key:

I do not know why this diagram blew a circuit in my brain, but I just wasn’t processing it properly. There were only three icons! A key, a circle, the Jejune Institute logo! But I had the key and we were at the Jejune Institute! Which one is where we are? Where do we go? Why is the key green? This key fob is also a nice key fob like the first key fob. What? What? What? I let Scout handle it while the noggin cooled down from the frothing. “Just follow Scout.” Goooooood brain. Christ. I like diagrams. We’re tight. We’re like this [FX: overly-complicated hand gesture implying close intimacy with diagrams].

I followed Scout. We ended up in a long hallway filled with lockers. It was just like the bus station, all that was missing was the faint odor of urine. Lockers. Why lockers? Do businesses that share a floor always have lockers? I know nothing about this lockers concept for companies. So. We had a key. We had some lockers (lockers?). Which locker?

After finding the correct locker, we were greeted by Cerebus (“Yo, s’up”), a step stool marked “16-14,” and another key. Locker 16-14 had a peephole in it topped by some decorative mirrors; when we looked in the peephole, there was Eva’s bifurcated face slowly twirling around in a deep-red pastoral scene. Eventually her half-faces pivoted out of the way to reveal the word “3LS3WH3R3.” The card’s dying gasp seemed to imply Eva was rumored to be due back sometime and also by the way L-O-G-I-N. Ah. We had a lot of work ahead of us.

Why Cerebus, mythical protector of the Gates of Hell (because they don’t just let in anyone, sheesh)? What/who is/are the EPWA? And lastly ... who’s doing this? Who’s putting on this show? And ... why?

Say, why not continue on to the next part: Firehose.