Fray Bash: The Morning After
03/16/2009, 11:42 AM #
The sun breaks cold on our old farmhouse, cresting over mowed cornfields so vast you can almost see the curve of the earth on the horizon. Color bleeds into the landscape, such color as there is at this time of year, the reds of an occasional stand of trees resume their vigil over the sere tans and browns of dead earth, and the blacktop, so bleached with years it's now nearly white, stretches out toward the west in a straight thin line, toward the half-remembered connections this place originally had: a mailbox, a road, a strand of wire stretched out along a lonely line of telephone poles. An engine hums in the distance, heard down the road before it is seen. In the budding daylight, it's a significant sound. The destination is inevitable.
There has been, up to now, no traffic to speak of. We can infer the passage of cars, from drift and flow of the crowd, there's been an occasional drive-by and people have been noted for their comings and goings, but the path in or out hasn't ever been connected very clearly to the bash. Like any good gathering, it's firmly set in terms of place and company, a zen-like eternal now, oblivious of the exits. The best parties are somehow able to hold the passage of time at bay for a while. The night seemed to last years somehow, more than a night's worth of tragedy and discover snuck in from the outside (although the paths are obscure there too) shared in the communal space, and changed us, but somehow the party has kept going. Who knows, maybe in the long night, in the twists and turns of conversation, the labyrinth of human contact, time itself stretched out beyond its natural capacity. On the old country road, morning sunlight glints on chrome.
From the driveway, only one broken window is visible. The remnants of a few rolls of toilet paper float lazily about. Some porcelain is visible just off in the bushes, and the ground is dug up with a few dozen escaping feet. Minimal property damage, perhaps. The long sedan is black, and as it gets closer, the bent antenna becomes visible, and the one wrong-colored door, obviously salvaged, and the shattered left headlamp. As it pulls in, the engine bucks a few times and stalls, and disturbs some late-season birds from their morning gathering. A woman who'd been quietly sitting in a lawn chair with her lap blanket sighs and folds up her sketchbook and watches one tailored leg stretch out of the mismatched door and crunch the gravel. The driver does not acknoweldge her.
Pushing open the door is difficult, however, and it takes a good shoulder to dislodge the nearest drift of cups and plates, sherriff's badges, discarded clothes, empties, props, food, paraphernalia, cans of potted meat, obsolete electronics, cigarette butts, socks with glued-on googly eyes, hairballs, cancelled checks, bile, and, apparently, the snoring body of some unsightly vermin who yelps and scurries away through the litter when the door hits him, muttering something incomprehensible. The speakers are emitting a loud staticky N-R-R-R-R-R, and as the door grinds open, MaxFischerPlayers, alone in the booth at last, cracks a red, bleary eye and smiles acidly before putting his head back down. Below him, a mound of jewel cases shutters and spills, and a hand emerges to claw at a bundle of wires. The pop of the speakers feels climactic.
The visitor dusts off his sport coat. Was it this bad when he left? He looks down and gingerly takes a step forward into the debris, tottering a little in his Italian shoes. He looks up just in time to see a woman powerwalk into him, poking nervously at her iPod. The bump on his shoulder sends him wheeling--he's still a little unsteady on his lifts--and one second it's all worried face and disheveled hair, and the next it's untucked blouse and the back end of a briefcase, apparently stuffed with grass and leaves, dripping strawberry-colored liquid from one sodden corner. Rundeep slams the door before the visitor can address her, but off to his right, a grunt of feminine disdain can be heard.
Topazz is a model of composure in the scene of general chaos, or would look so if you didn't carefully take in the details. She's perched on a chair, and precisely touches up the corners of her mouth with lipstick as she accepts the vistor's glare. "Well? What did you expect?" The makeup is perfect, but Topazz' clothes are tattered, and behind her is an entire tier of exhausted male bodies, all of which look older, hairier and fatter in the morning light than they did even a few hours ago. The visitor starts to splutter "we lent you this barn, and, and--" Topazz sniffs. "If keeping order was your job, then you clearly didn't do it very well." "Ingrate! Just get out! Leave! Now!" The rebuke stings: topazz, who, quite beyond her control, starts to mist up, rushes for the door, looking for something to throw herself onto. "Fuck you, Geoff," comes a voice from the pile, followed by a half-empty Molson, which sails within an inch of the guest's head and shatters behind him.
The noise is enough to rouse a few more of the squatters. Inkberrow and Archaeopteryx tumble out of the back room in a reeking cloud of cigar smoke. Run75441 creeps out of the basement hatch, and then tiptoes away quietly. A moment later, and Ellen, shamefaced, still in her safety mittens, climbs out after him, hustling away in the opposite direction. After another pause, ci-inc and Dreambird follow the first pair, and if run and Ellen were embarrassed, these two are downright mortified.
Geoff turns back to the bottle-thrower but only sees the last couple of bodies heading out the door, and Schadenfreude poking in just long enough to offer him a sumptuous middle finger. Hearing new rustling behind him, Geoff spins yet again to find another collage of guilty faces, which break like billiard balls under his gaze. There's RonB52 wheeling off in one direction, spilling chessmen behind him, and there goes skeptical, chattering in Spanish to JackD, who's shirtless and slowed down by his soaking wet goat leggings. EnsleyHill caroms off the wall, and breaks right at the last minute, while Appolonius races out toward the nearest window, and as he leverages his reedy body over the sill, several of the other bodies just disappear in puffs of smoke. Gypsy is left standing there in the exact center of it all, and for good measure, Geoff orders her to leave directly, which she does. He sighs. This isn't really satisfying, and despite his intentions, he's going to leave here reeking of skunked beer. He shakes his moist pant-leg and almost tips over again. He grunts and picks his way over to one of the back windows.
The scene outside is disturbing, and Geoff pulls out the handkerchief from his breast pocket and swabs his head with it in discomfort. The huge black crater, he thinks, is a big part of the problem here. A few charred bodies still circle it, slowly. Urquhart is identifiable by the shattered monocle hanging from its ribbon, the stem of a martini glass, and the British officer's helmet, which is somehow still immaculately white. He raises his baton as if for a charge, but the backswing doesn't end, and in a moment, he's laying asswards in the rubble. Demcon and LaurieAnne are standing arm-in-arm on the rim, and they're close enough to the window for Geoff to hear their conversation. "It's really embarrassing what damage people will inflict to express their single political issues," he says. The female voice responds: "I don't understand why people can't be open-minded and forgiving, like we are. I should talk to Geoff about it." As they walk away, Geoff's Blackberry buzzes, and rather than answer it, he unclips the thing and tosses it without affectation into the general pile of refuse. The decision is what it is, then. No surprise, really.
He edges his way to the back door, and kicks it open with a ruined shoe. He looks over at the crater, and despite some lingering smoke, all of the bodies have managed to shamble away, perhaps to do battle elsewhere. There are still some stragglers from the party lurking about: Isonomist and TheBell are giggling and passing back and forth what looks like a shoebox with a length of PVC pipe stuck in the top, while Schrodinger stands over them both with his arms sternly folded. WasLTT is trailing Sawbones around, trying to cadge some free medical advice under the guise of questions about guitar equipment. Sarvis is sitting by himself on a rock, with a keyboard on his lap, chanting "the dwarves are for the dwarves" as he types, whatever the hell that means. An intelligent-looking crow flits down onto a branch and squawks "Nevermore" once, before it flies away again to points unknown.
What the fuck do they expect from me, thinks Geoff as he moves across the yard to the small toolshed. I wasn't the first to get here, and I wasn't the first to leave. Hell, I was just the guy who was dumb enough to answer the phone when it kept ringing. He roots around for the jerry cans in back. I'm just doing the job I've been asked to. It's not my fault I was doing ten other things when they asked. Any one of them would have done things exactly the same way, I'm sure of it, at least either of those two that are sometimes halfway worth reading. Don't they realize I'm doing them a favor? What insignificant morons. No one knows how badly I feel inside about this. He unscrews the lid of the first one, and makes his way back across the now empty lawn.
He moves around the side of the building, pouring. Sure, the structure looks sturdy, he observes, but it's outlived its original purpose, and played out its swan song too. Maybe it could be used for something else, but hey, space is cheap here, and tenants are even cheaper. The circuit takes him under the bathroom window, and out into the driveway again. The last cars appear to be pulling out, and weaving along the country road. Good, he thinks, and rips off a match. When things are going along nicely, he gets in his car and motors along too. The sun hasn't even reached its apex.
If seen from above, the smoke would be observed to stretch out in a cone over the empty landscape, a gray blot stretched out over the old fields and eventually dissipating. But it's not something anyone really notices. No one around can smell it, and the farmers, wherever they are exactly, have all packed it in for the season. The conflagration can't really be said to be observed by the hundred or so partiers either, but it's sensed somewhere behind them, and taken with them forward to their homes--maybe switters' farm is out here somewhere--or maybe to new parties. There's a wedding to look forward to, and looking back, the excursion to Birdland had been a lot of fun after all, and the California thing ended badly, but then this is ending badly too. No, this is worse: it's ending stupidly, but everything does come to a stop eventually, and it's not like no one saw it coming. That this party could keep twitching for a good year after the plug was pulled tells me it was a hell of a run. I'll see many or most of you in other digs, I'm sure, and it won't be the same, but it probably won't be worse. Take it easy. Drive safe.
Ah, there's nothing like a Monday morning hangover!
03/16/2009, 5:39 PM #
I'll pick up the story where you left off.
The BOTF building is a smoking ruin. Police cars, ambulances, and little white trucks surround the property. Outside the police tape, a crowd of gawkers has gathered. Ender sees the crowd forming, talks his way into a police uniform and goes to meet them.
"Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Move along." Lowers voice and starts passing out cards. "Here, take this card. It's my new web site..."
A couple of investigative reporters from the Washington Post arrive and start questioning those still inside. The police, ambulances, and little white trucks have been hauling people away since dawn and there are still more than 60 people left inside. Amazing.
The reporters enter the building and look around. There is a strange disconnect between the smoldering remains of the once-illustrious hall and the patrons who are still partying as if nothing has happened. At the first table they come to a man sitting by himself, polishing a machine gun.
Reporter: "Excuse me, sir, did you see what happened here? Can you tell us how it started?"
Predicto: "I sure can. I was just sitting here, minding my own bizness, when this group of illegal Mexican liberals came barging through the door and..."
The reporters move on looking for others to question. They see a wild-eyed little lady talking fast and excitedly. They ask her if she knows what happened.
zinya: "I sure do. We were just having a calm rational discussion when this group of neocon Nazi terrorists came barging through the front door and raped all the women, and some of the men (the cute ones), then they planted these explosives and left, snickering about how they would blame it on the radical left-wingers."
This girl appears to be the cool, calm, collected, voice of reason so the reporters write down every word she says (3 notebooks full) and then continue to question the patrons. Amidst the beehive of activity they spot a sedate looking fellow sitting quitly by himself so they wander over to question him.
Reporter: "Excuse me, sir, can you tell us what happened here?"
Schadenfreude: "Sure. Pot, kettle; mote, beam; that kinda thing"
Reporter: "Excuse me?"
Schadenfreude: "The emporer's new clothes; the boy who cried wolf; chicken little--sky falling; the Department of Truth; looking for Mr. Goodbar. Do you get it...yet?"
Reporter: "...ummm...no, I guess not, but thanks for your time, just the same."
Schadenfreude: "No problem. Glad I could help."
Before the reporters can advance any further they are distracted by a woman who has climbed up on the soapbox in the center of the floor and begun to recite:
Tempo: "There once was a man from Nantucket..." [howls, whistles, and jeers] "...0h shut up, you assholes...just SHUT THE HELL UP...you're just jealous because I'm a REAL poet, like you all wish that you were but aren't...IMHO, of course..." [laughter and more howls, whistles, and jeers] "...unlike you bloviating blowhards, I *have* been everywhere and really *have* done everything...I've been an editor--a REAL one for a BIG magazine--an electrician, a carpenter, a consultant, a realtor, an artist, a deisel mechanic, a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut, a hooker..."
After a few minutes of arguing with the audience, Tempo resumes her recitation:
"Little Bo Peep has lost her creep
And now must go look for another
But where will she find
In these sad hard times
One who's different, yet just like the other?"
[A mixture of cheers and jeers]
The reporters, mesmerized by this performance, recover their faculties (such as they are) and resume their interogations. They approach a small crowded table near the center of the room and speak to the person nearest to them.
Reporter: "I'm wondering if you can help us...?"
Daveto: "Not likely. I'm a Canadian, eh?"
Reporter: "..ahhh...right. Thanks anyway. Have a nice day."
Daveto: "Sure. Why not?"
In the center of the room, near the soapbox, Tempo has finished her recitation (finally) and catnapping prepares to climb the box and recite. She whispers to the next in line behind her, JackDallas:
"Well, that'll be a hard act to follow, but oh well, the show must go on! hehe"
The two reporters are becoming frustrated but they soldier on and approach a large table, that you can tell at a glance is populated by former star posters of the top echelon, and they address a lady who is obviously the focus of their attention and subject of their admiration.
Reporter: "Can you tell us what happened here and who is responsible for this carnage?"
Gostofa-z: "Well, that depends: was that a sincere question (to which I could assume you want a simple [and possibly truthful] answer), a rhetorical question (to which you already know the answer [or think you do]), a metaphysical question (based upon faulty constructs and untested hypotheses [or unworkable social conventions--I don't know which would be worse, but that's another question]); or a trick question (I don't play those kinds of silly word games, thank you very much)?"
Reporter: "Ummmmm...it's just a question."
Ghostofa-z: "Define 'just a question'."
Reporter: "We'll get back to you. Thanks."
The reporters are becoming desperate. They scan the crowd (all 60 of them--they're all present and show no signs of leaving) looking for someone who looks like they might have useful information and might be inclined to share it. Over against one wall they see a couple of guys huddled together and talking in low voices.
Days: "You realize this was an inside job, don't you?"
Justoffal: "I know it and you know it, but no one else will believe it."
Days: "That's true. People believe what they want to believe and their minds are closed to the truth."
The reporters glance at each other and frown, but decide to approach them anyway. At least they seem like two who might have been watching and just might tell what they saw.
Reporter: "Excuse me, gentlemen, can you tell me what happened here?"
Days and Justoffal look at each other and frown.
Days: "Why don't you ask that guy over there? [He points to Fritz-Gerlich, sitting at the former-star heavy-hitter table] He's a judge from Alaska, a real smart guy, and I'm sure you'll believe him more than us, anyway."
Justoffal: "Oh Days, don't be so gullible! He's really a beer-swigging truck driver from Alabama who likes to dress up and put on airs!"
Days: "Oooooh...no...I didn't know..."
The reporters give up on them and continue searching. In one corner of the room a fist fight has broken out but no one pays attention and back at the old soapbox it's JackDallas's turn to recite.
JackDallas: "Good evening, friends and felons, my first poem tonight is called 'A Sentimental Look at Torture Chambers of the Past'..."
The reporters come to a group of people standing near the back door and speak to the one who has just finished speaking.
Reporter: "Can you tell us what happened?"
Cicero/Hauteur: "Of course I can. So could anybody. It was that miserable little prick that you call an editor, Geoff, and you are among his cohorts and enablers so you're also responsible, as is your boss, his boss, and everyone else in your unholy alliance of gangsters and thugs that call themselves by the group names: Slate and Washington Post. But if you want the arsonist himself, I'm pretty sure I saw Geoff running away from here with an empty gas can just before dawn. He shouldn't be hard to find. You'll probably find him sitting on a stool in some gay bar bragging about his misdeeds, the arrogant little turd!"
Reporter: "Um, thank you, we'll check it out." The reporters look at each other and frown, and continue their circumnavigation of the remains of the room. Over in a dimly-lit corner tending bar is a non-descript individual who is watching everything and everybody with great interest. They decide to give it a shot.
Reporter: "Excuse us, Sir, could you tell us what happened here?"
EnsleyHill: "I could but I won't. It's not worth the bother. And I've been over it so many times already. I'm tired. Would you like a beer?"
Reporter: "No, thank you."
EnsleyHill: "How about some cheap California wine? It's not too bad, really, once you get past the taste...and the smell."
Reporter: "Maybe later. Thank you."
The reporters decide to make one last try for a one-on-one interrogation. They approach a skinny fellow with a handkerchief tied around his head, strumming a guitar and humming.
Reporter: "I'm really really hoping that you can tell us what happened here over the weekend!"
Appolonius: "I can tell you anything that you want to know. I know everything about everything and I've forgotten more than the two of you will ever know, if indeed, you ever knew anything, which is doubtful. Don't ask me how I know. It only matters that I do know. I am the custodian of all the ancient mysteries and if you two confused airheads had any sense you would have come to me first instead of last. I'm sorry, what was the question again?"
The intrepid Wapo reporters are really annoyed by their lack of progress so they go to the center of the room where JackDallas is wiping his eyes with a white hanky and sniffing as he recites a series of short love poems about carpet bombing, waterboarding, hellfire missiles, and so forth. They push him off the soapbox and one of the reporters climbs onto it and shouts in a booming voice:
"Look, you people, we dont care about the building, and we don't give a rat's ass about the fire, the shootings, the noise, or the sex or the booze or the narcotics or any of that stupid shit! All we want to know is this: Who the fuck pulled the fire alarm and made all of those fucking calls to 9-1-1? It's a simple question! Does anybody know?"
Sixty hands immediately spring into the air and wave frantically as a hubbub ensues with everyone talking at once. The two reporters shake their heads, run out the front door and disappear into the night. They were last seen in Canada, working for the Department of Parks and Recreation for the Province of Ontario.
Note: BOTF is the only thing in this organization worth reading (with rare exceptions), pretenses to the contrary notwithstanding, and if they wish to shut it down they will injure only themselves. They've injured themselves already by messing with an idea and a vision that worked and had great potential until they took over and undertook so many "improvements" and it has been dying the death of a thousand small cuts ever since. But it was great and has survived (to this point) all attempts to starve and strangle it to death. It's been a slice.