Stan emerges from the den victorious, having listened intently to the
entirety of the 'Complete Funhouse Sessions' in a single sitting. He now
feels compelled to get the hell out of the house and burn off some of the
excess energy that he’s acquired. He decides to walk the short distance into
Occoquan, since he is way too wired to drive.
Stan has been engaged in the act of walking for several minutes before
he begins to pay any attention to where he's walking to. Of course he knows
his destination - the fabulous DownUnder Pub. He just hasn't been giving any
notice to the details of his journey.
His surroundings are certainly familiar, but he is accustomed to
seeing them as a colorless blur from his usual drive-by perspective. Stan
rarely walks this way, so now as he looks at the panorama that he’s passing
through, everything seems to expand and grow vibrant with fresh new details.
He walks past the wonderful Sport’s CheeseSteaks and hears the siren
song of temptation. Oh, the odor. Their bread, their steak, and their cooks
are all imported from Philadelphia, but they have no beer license, so Stan
must journey on. He is swiftly approaching the Route 123 Bridge which spans
the Occoquan River, and it suddenly dawns on him just how deeply thirsty he
has become. Of course, he's usually thirsty. Stan speeds up.
There is a long concrete wall on his left side which is rising higher
as he walks, ten feet high, twenty feet, thirty feet. It is home to an
intricate system of vines growing in a spiderweb lace pattern that extends
over the entirety of the wall. The vine itself is very thin and dark, almost
black. Here and there are sprigs of berries, glass bead size and pumpkin
orange. Stan is walking faster and faster, really racking up the speed, and
the wall starts to sharply decrease in height, the wall veers left but Stan
doesn't, and he has to double back a distance after he blows right past
Commerce Street and walks into the weeds.
Stan was wired from hearing too much music, hopped up before he
started on this journey. Why am I walking, anyway?, he wonders.
He walks because twenty-eight versions of ‘Loose’ are raging wild
within his head. All of them have the same spiraling guitar, burrowing
deeper and deeper through thick blue air until the bottom explodes into an
orgy of freedom and feedback. Which version of the song was the best? Damned
if it wasn’t the same one they used on the original album.
Stan checks his watch and is most pleased to see that it is still shy
of six. He has plenty of time. He has all the time in the world. What do I
care about happy hour, anyway?, he wonders.
He cares because happy hour is an American Institution writ large, a
pure and honest time of the day, a time when all citizens come together as
one, genuinely relieved by the impending darkness, and downshifting hard to
relax. People are laying down the burdens of the day. Even depression
becomes a better quality depression. And that’s just touching the surface of
Stan slows his pace as he reaches the end of the packed dirt footpath,
steps up to the sidewalk and takes a right turn into town. Stan is on a
mission, and a happy mission it is. Happy hour be its name.
And Lord Have Mercy if Stan doesn’t need happy hour right now, a
cooling down after spending the entire day with Iggy and the Stooges.
Tonight he will drink his fill, for he has spent the day with a sprawling
sonic masterpiece and sooner or later he’s going to have to sit down and
write about the experience. It might take a few days before he can even
begin. It’s just that right at the moment the experience has given him a
case of the shakes. As well it should have, after fourteen straight takes of
'I've got a TV Eye on you, I've got a TV Eye' sang Iggy, with a
throaty intensity often imitated but never duplicated. All fourteen versions
of 'TV Eye', in Stan's humble opinion, were one of the greatest songs ever
Now as Stan moves on into the heart of the town and can see his
destination looming large across the street, he begins to feel reborn. He is
young again, and he picks up the pace for the last half a block, almost
skipping up to the entrance. He sees a lithe and fast moving blonde shoot
him a smile and scoot down the stairs a few yards ahead of him.
'See that girl? She's in love with me. She got a TV Eye on me….’
Red drives by, honking the horn of his battered blue panel van as it
cruises slowly down the street. The two men exchange half-waves and head
nods. Stan finds Red to be an excellent source of entertainment if
you catch him at the right time, but he makes sure to walk a fine line in
dealing with him. Be too friendly and you'll never get rid of him, blow him
off and you get the stare.
Stan walks down the stairs and into The DownUnder, eager to let the
sensations envelop him. He smells the Shepherds Pie that is being served as
a Happy Hour treat. Mmmm, spicy. Actually, he would never eat the crap if
it weren’t at this place and at this time. It is much like the lowly hot
dog, which is magically transformed into a mouth-watering delicacy when
consumed in the proximity of a ballpark. Space. The fourth dimension of
For a few seconds after he walks into the bar, Stan sees nothing but
the television screens as his eyes begin to acclimate to the darkness of the
space. Then people slowly begin to materialize, fading into view like a room
full of ghosts. He can hear the Jukebox playing George Jones. The Race Is
On, but just barely, as the song is largely drowned out by the dueling
televisions and the general euphoria of laughter, conversation, and alcohol.
As he scans the bar for potential seating, Stan hears a wasted voice
saying “Yeah I've had diphtheria, and let me tell you, it was the worst
three months of my life.” He hears an unfamiliar woman’s voice, perhaps
participating in a different conversation, speaking in a depressed monotone.
“You realize that in order to see the sickness you've really got to get to
know the person. I mean really get to know them. First impressions are so
sketchy, and second ones aren't that much better. They're useless. Do you
know what I mean? Really getting to know someone, the way I look at it, is a
scary and perverse process. You know? You keep peeling the layers away and
looking at an altered person and peeling away more and seeing all the little
tangles of strangeness that lie underneath. I find the entire process too
unnerving. Each layer just keeps getting stranger. Can you deal with that? I
mean, is that the sort of thing you like? Shit. I just can’t deal with
that." Previous guy loudly proclaims "You know, Diphtheria can be fatal."
There is one stool at the bar that is being vacated at this very
moment, so Stan has to move swiftly before anyone else gets a chance to snag
it. A bad space - It looks like a tight fit. Stan is relegated to sitting in
a cumbersome position with the beverage garnishing tray taking up the
majority of his elbow space and a staticky television showing Oriole’s
baseball directly above his head. Fortunately, the volume control is within
easy reach of his right hand. Stan makes a move to turn down the volume but
quickly recoils when he sees the horrified look on the faces of two
gentlemen watching the game from the left side corner.
In the best of positions his aural comprehension would now be limited,
what with the persistent ringing in his ears, but in this particular seat he
is in total auditory overload.
Stan’s eyes are drawn to the sight of a couple regulars who are
possibly trying to say something to him but more likely are just talking
between themselves while watching the Orioles game above his head. He gives
a little wave and they return it.
The air is filled with cheap cigar smoke which is snaking towards him
in pale white, slowly diffusing waves. Cindy arrives, and his taste buds are
hopping with the delightful taste of Jack Daniels Old No. 7, and there's a
delightful tingling sensation brought on by the press of thigh flesh from
the previously spotted blonde who happens to be squeezed into the stool
beside him. Hit it or quit it, Stan thinks, it doesn’t get much better than
Stan has been reading a book entitled “The World and How It Works” by
F Allen Easterson. It is a boilerplate of accusations, detailing the
ongoing crimes of civilization itself, the footnoted story of how we are all
fucked from cradle to grave unless we master a handful of very simple
principles which have been know to an enlightened few since prehistory, but
are hidden from the masses of the world in order to keep them forever bound
in the iron shackles of social slavery. Stan is enjoying the book
tremendously even though he doesn’t feel particularly enslaved himself. He
is not the target audience, he supposes, but the book does give him terrific
parallels with his area of specialization, reinforcing his belief that the
world of music has been enslaved and putrefied by the oppressive
mind-controlling executives of the entertainment industry.
What the hell, though. Stan is relatively sure that most people yearn
for the security of shackles. Slavery is Freedom, as the old slogan goes.
That seems to accurately capture the world as Stan Keaton sees it. But
enough of this philosophical bullshit. Mainly Stan just likes this book for
it's exuberant style, and the way it heads off into wild tangents at a
moments notice. Much like his own writing. He has always professed a love
for chaos. Stan pulls the book from his rear pocket, deciding to consume a
few pages until he can find a better seat at the bar.
Red struts in through the front door and heads straight towards the
food. He gives it a serious looking over before grabbing a plate and a
spoon. Yep, it's Shepard's Pie alright, same as last Friday, same as next
The front door opens once again and three distinguished gentlemen walk
in, still dressed stiffly from a day at the office, ties knotted tight, suit
jackets still on. One of these jokers actually has his jacket buttoned and
work IDs displayed. This group is definitely not displaying the proper
spirit of happy hour. And it is Friday, for chrissakes. A center stool
empties and Stan is there with his drink in the blink of an eye.
Stan knows two members of this league of gentlemen. The one with the
pin-stripes is Riley, looking spiffy as usual, and the other man is a good
natured fellow by the name of Patrick. Lexter Thompson is the stranger with
the buttoned jacket.
Stan watches as they approach, peeking over the edge of his book and
pretending to read while the three men move towards him. Heh, heh, these
guys are obviously up to something. They make their way slowly through the
crowd, patting the occasional back and exchanging greetings along the way.
They are zeroing in on him. Patrick makes a discrete little signal to the
bartender, and Stan is presented with a fresh drink. Stan smiles at this
development and raises his glass in a little mock toast. “Cheers.” Riley
gives Stan a slight punch to the shoulder, and Stan makes a face of intense
pain. They all exchange snippets of happy talk before introducing Lex to
Stan. This would seem to be the purpose of their visit.
Patrick assumes the role of social coordinator. It is his job to
create a bit of enthusiasm.
“Stan’s a professional writer, you know" Patrick points out. "He
actually makes some sort of a living out of it. Isn’t that right Stan?”
“I scrape by,” Stan admits. “Sure would like one of those prestigious
government jobs like you guys. Me, I have to work for a living.”
Everybody laughs, since the thought of a rock critic who actually
works is patently ridiculous. Lex has obviously been told about Stan’s
profession, but Stan enjoys watching the guys run through the setup. Riley
just smiles benevolently and cuts the tip off a cigar.
Lex appears to be quite tense, and hardly touches his own drink. He
tries making an effort to form a bond, saying that he has a cousin so-and-so
who lives somewhere and writes something for somebody. How bout that? Stan
is having a remarkably pleasant time right now, and Lex is a relatively
minor player amongst his sensory inputs.
With only half an ear tuned in, Stan fields questions from Lex.
Yes, that is what I do for a living. No, no other job. Yes, I've been doing
it for over twenty years. No, I can write about anything that anybody wants
to pay me for. Oh, Rolling Stone, Flatliner, Entertainment Weekly,
all the usual suspects. Mostly the local media. Yeah, I pretty much get to
set my own hours, but there are a lot of shows and events that I have to go
After a bit, Stan succumbs to custom and asks the question that is
his social duty to ask. Now, tell me, exactly what do you do Lex?
Uh oh, Stan has unintentionally opened up the gates of heartache.
He is going to find out big-time whatever it is that Lex does. The tales
come tumbling out, tangled tales of an evil bureaucracy, familial
frustration and life filled with disappointments. There is no sign of an
impending abatement. Might as well tune completely out, Stan thinks, if
he’s just going to keep on this track.
Stan watches without disapproval as another drink appears precisely at
the moment he starts working on his second one. It's magic. Lex is still
chattering away, and Stan's attention drifts over to the Orioles game;
Baltimore now with a three to one lead in the bottom of the fifth. Come on
O’s, let’s smash those Yankees.
Lex is still standing up, talking to the top of Stan’s head, so Stan
can't reasonably be expected to give him full eye contact, or even to look
in his direction for very long. With one quick move, Lex moves his body in
past Stan’s comfort zone, startling Stan into paying attention. Lex then
squats down and moves his head dangerously close to Stan, lowers his voice,
and confesses that he could really use Stan’s assistance. In all
sincerity. If you possibly could. Really would appreciate the help. In the
worst way. I know we just met, but I'll make it worth your while. How much
do writers get paid, anyway? Enough, Lex, don't you worry about
it. Another drink materializes when the goodwill ambassadors Riley and
Patrick reemerge, giving renewed witness to the fact that Lex is a really
good guy. A great guy, Stan. Good people.
How much do writers get paid? No need to discuss it, Lex, not unless
we're talking about another Who reunion. Never can tell, you could be the
new freak in my circus. Fresh source material. Let's toss around some ideas.
Tonight Lex is one lucky dude. Fuck charity, although another
charitable contribution is currently being poured. Stan is in a mellow,
conversational mood, which is not an everyday occurrence. Whatever,
Gentlemen, just keep the Jack flowing.
It's tomorrow's technology today.
Pop-up windows, pop-under windows, screens spawning multiple screens.
This technology will make your workforce strong, honest and able.
Mandatory dialogue boxes with prominent timers.
Respond in 10, 9, 8, 7….
The Defense Supply Agency.
Right Item, Right Price, Right Place, Right Time, Every Time
The Best Value Solutions For America's Warfighters
Tiny video windows opening and closing without warning.
Productivity is the name of the game.
Tidbits of useless indoctrination.
Total workforce integration.
Cookies cookies cookies.
Somewhere within the network, a user logs into the system, checks
their email, and decides to play a little game to start out the morning. Oh,
lets just say that it's Solitaire. Sport of kings.
Suddenly a pop-up window appears on their screen with the following
message "This computer is the property of the United States Government. It
is intended for official use only."
The user, of course, is accustomed to seeing this style of message, so
without giving an iota of thought to It, clicks the appropriate response. In
this case, the choice of response is either 'I Agree' or 'I do not have the
proper authorization to continue
and I am in violation of
section 314 of the civil information access code, re: illegal entry of a
federal information re…..
A new and larger window suddenly appears.
The message is familiar, but seems to have grown more threatening:
"This machine is the property of the United States Government. Unauthorized
or recreational use by government employees or contractors is prohibited,
and punishable by Section 503.02 of the Employee Conduct Code as outlined by
union guideline Pub UED98001A."
This, of course, is the moment when the average user begins to pay
attention to what’s happening on the screen, but chances are they end up
scratching their head in confusion. They are only vaguely aware of the fact
that they have a union, and they know embarrassingly little about the
Employee Conduct Code. Section 503.02?
At this point it may strike the user as an excellent idea to close up
the deck of cards and restart the game. But something seems to be wrong
here. Maybe it’s time to check the web for Pub UED98001A. The user is
surprised to find that they aren’t allowed to quit the game just yet. When
they try, they get a third window, this one full screen, red and beeping.
Red and flashing and beeping annoyingly loud, loud enough to irritate anyone
else sitting in an adjacent workspace, and to let those individual know in
no uncertain terms that there is an unauthorized fool sitting nearby.
The new message is quite unsettling: "This machine is the property of
the United States Government. You are in violation of Section 503.02 of the
Employee Conduct Code as outlined by union guideline Pub UED98001A. This
message constitutes an official warning. A copy of this message has been
routed to the Human Resources Office for inclusion in your personnel file.
Please wait while the system blocks the offending program from your profile
and shuts down your machine."
"In order for you to restart this computer you will need to submit
form SF1102 to the Headquarters Help Desk and obtain a new password from
your Terminal Area Security Officer.”
By the time Stan has finished developing the basic conceptual
framework for Fungal Propagation, Lex is totally bedazzled. He is also
totally besotted. Never in his life has he seen a man work with such
amazing speed, and yet, Stan gives the impression of a man barely working at
all. Stan seems like he's only casually involved, spinning off this shit
like gold from Rapunzel's wheel. Lex is ecstatic. “Cheers! Cheers!,” he
shouts. Lex actually starts making a passable Curly noise. “Woowoowoowoowoo.
Absolutely Brilliant Work! Drinks all around”!
Lex is so inspired by this brainstorming session that he is very
tempted to run back home this very minute, get a move on right now so that
he can get started cranking out PowerPoint charts. 'I am the King of
PowerPoint', thinks Lex. 'My charts can be your downfall or your
Lex is ready to get it on right now, the only problem being that he is
now deep into his cups and somewhat uncertain as to the mechanics involved
in paying his check and driving the long five miles home. His friends have
long since drifted on, probably up to the Sportsman's Inn.
Stan, meanwhile, is busy chatting up the Benson girls, fraternal twins
with identical personalities. The two have turned up mighty late tonight,
just in time to join Stan for a nightcap at the table he has sequestered for
working on the Lex files. Stan thinks of introducing Lex to Belinda and
Brenda, but Lex seems completely preoccupied with the project, scribbling
what appears to Stan to be some sort of hieroglyphics. He is drawing little
boxes on the flyer for next Friday night's band, and connecting them with
Stan makes a broad wave, catching Cindy's attention and points to the
twins, himself, and his drink, three fingers to signify a round, and then a
slow arching finger pointed towards Lex, which means stick it on his tab.
Lex is very busy now, giving names to his little boxes, and he doesn't
even notice when Brenda blows her nose on one of the napkins that he has
been using as writing paper. Stan casually wonders why he has been feeding
Lex all these crazy ideas, other than the fact that Lex and his buddies have
been plying him with drinks, not to mention a delicious selection of
appetizers. Lex did ask for his thoughts, after all. No, seriously,
he asked him for his help, and Stan gave it his best shot, a pretty good
effort considering that he really had no idea what Lex was going on about in
the first place.
Stan does enjoy doing his mesmerizing bit from time to time, and it's
extra bonus fun to lay it on a bureaucrat. He really has had a fine and
inexpensive time tonight. Almost free. Almost?
Stan catches Cindy's attention again, and twists his wrist back in a
gesture which means that the single drink which he started the night with
should end up on the Lex tab with the others. He helpfully assists Lex in
the chore of standing up and finding his credit card. It’s a Bank of America
Platinum Visa, featuring a fine holographic picture of Lex himself.
Lex is not being particularly helpful with this whole process. His
attention is elsewhere. As soon as the Visa card is fished out of his
wallet, he is back in his seat, working on his little boxes, and now he has
snot clogging up his ballpoint from trying to write on the napkin that
Brenda had used earlier. Stan brings him the tab and a new pen to sign off
with, and he makes absolutely sure that Lex includes a particularly hefty
tip for Cindy. She’s a good girl, and she deserves it.
The lights have come up and the bar is nearly empty. Two couples are
slow dancing to the jukebox - Patsy Cline singing 'Crazy'. Stan finishes out
the last thirty seconds of the song, taking a quick twirl around the room
Stan slips on his jacket and looks down at Lex. He's hunched over the
table, surrounding his boxes with circles. It's kind of cute. He seems so
Stan and Lex are heading in the same direction, so the two share a cab
and head on out into the cool Virginia night.