Happy Hour                                                             GREEN  4.1

      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 the topic.

      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 ‘TV Eye’.
      '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 recorded.
      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 food.
      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 this.

      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 Friday.
      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 to.
      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.

      Fungal propagation.
      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.
      Instant Messages.
      Ticker tapes.
      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 redemption'.
      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 arrows.
      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 with Belinda.
      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 sincere.
      Stan and Lex are heading in the same direction, so the two share a cab and head on out into the cool Virginia night.
 

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