he did not want to be just another face in the crowd, or just another carcass slouched on the couch watching the latest shows.
when he was born, and when was a little boy, he never thought he would be.
he grew up in a big house filled with servants - the last such house in the city.
he had a tutor, mademoiselle grandier, who had been hired to teach young joe and his twin sister jeanette about the modern world, and to ease their inevitable passage into it.
but mademoiselle spent most of her time under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and paid little attention to the children.
in addition to servants and a well-stocked wine cellar, the old house had a library.
left to their own devices, the two children spent a great deal of time in the library, which was entirely filled with volumes from an earlier age.
jeanette particularly enjoyed books on philosophy, science, magic, and witchcraft, as well as biographies of famous women like cleopatra and joan of arc.
joseph read more haphazardly, but particularly enjoyed books about such figures as alexander the great, napoleon, tamerlane, and genghis khan.
he read and reread books about their lives and exploits, and dreamed of emulating them.
when he was finally sent to a school, he quickly discovered that such dreams were not acceptable in the world he had been born into.
the teachers were horrified by the child’s avowed predilections, and it required all of his grandfather’s declining influence to prevent him from being forcibly “deprogrammed”.
young joseph learned to dissimulate and keep his own counsel, and passed through the school without much incident.
a surly child, he was largely ostracized by the other students, but also feared.
to the extent, that is, that any child could be “ostracized” or “feared” by another in the school’s rigidly controlled atmosphere, in which the students were supervised every minute of the day and night by the teachers and staff.
joseph came to realize that his dreams of emulating alexander or tamerlane were impossible in the modern world.
but he discovered books and films about heroes of a slightly lesser sort - al capone, john dillinger, the kray brothers, john gotti, el chapo - as well as mythical characters like professor moriarty, fu manchu, and the joker and the penguin.
he now dreamed of becoming a great criminal.
when he was told that these ambitions, too, were melting in the glare of mass surveillance and human “progress”, he refused to believe it.