Red stood by the bakery bin and was poking at a Boston Crème filled donut
with his index finger. These fuckers at the Seven-Eleven were always trying
to rip you off. They’re buyin these things down at the day-old shop right
before the farmers feed 'em to the pigs.
"Do not touch the donuts please. I now cannot sell them to anybody
else." Mohammed was standing with his arms folded and a cross look on his
face. He was invading Red's space. 'If you touch the donuts, they are
useless to me. I must then throw them out."
Selar came out from
behind the Doritos display and stood in Mohammed's shade, arms to his side,
stern look on his face. Imitating the Master.
What to do, what to do, this is another confrontation, and Selar so
hates confrontations. It is the very worst part of his job, spotting a
shoplifter or underage drinker and having to confront them. This, as
Mohammed would say, is a bummer. A bummer being defined as an event which is
demoralizing in such a way as to lower consciousness and perspective.
Selar recognizes the red-faced man who is befouling the donuts, and he
has a great feeling of dislike for him. One day the red man had yelled at
Selar for not giving him the twenty cent discount on the two pack cigarette
special. Selar had just forgotten on that one occasion. As Mohammed told
him, It happens. It wasn't intentional and it never occurred again.
Red stared at the two
men. Foreigners. He stood very still before speaking. "Hey, fellas. I'm just
checking to see if these things are still fresh."
"No no, you do not understand. I can not sell the donuts if they have
been contaminated by human poking."
"I ain't contaminatin your fuckin donuts."
"Yes you are sir. You are contaminating my fucking donuts. Is it your
intention now to buy these donuts?"
Red was caught off-guard, and Red was redder than he had been all
week. These towelheads were trying their damnedest to get him mad. There was
no need for this sort of behavior on their part. He had a God given right to
determine product freshness. These bozos were just asking to be punished.
Mohammed motioned for Selar to get back behind the counter, where a
line of customers had begun to queue up. Once there, Selar was straining to
see what was happening at the bakery bin, which caused the other customers
to watch as well.
Red knew, without having to see physical proof, that there was a
special red button underneath the countertop, a button that would bring the
police here at lightning speed. Did he need that trouble? No way. This
fucker was asking for it, though. Hell, he was begging for it. He needs a
good ass-whippin and he needs it now. What to do, what to do, this is
another confrontation, and Red needs to steer clear from confrontations for
A man in a blue Nike jogging suit pushed past Mohammed and Red, and
proceeded to pick up the donut tongs. Mohammed took him gently by the arm
and said "I am sorry sir, but we have just sold completely out of donuts.
This gentleman will be buying them all."
The man turned
around to look at Red. It was New York Jimmy. Fuck.
"How you doin, Red. Whatcha gonna do with all those donuts? You mind
if I take one before you clean them all out?" Jimmy is smirking.
"Yeah yeah yeah, go ahead, take as many as you want, Jimmy."
"Pardon me sir, but I would be remiss to allow you to purchase any of
these particular donuts." Red was going to have to kill this asshole. "You
understand, this gentleman has had his hands on these donuts and I am afraid
that they might now be contaminated."
"I did not contaminate the goddamn donuts." Red was beginning to speak
a little too loud. Red's complexion was now a hue not normally found in
nature. He noticed that Jimmy was looking at his hands, and realized that
they probably were a little bit black from motor oil.
Sheesh. They really did look bad. Maybe I shouldn't be touching the
donuts, Red thought. Trying to fight back his temper he spoke in his most
"Look. I've bought donuts here before that were stale. I was just
checking to see if these were fresh. I did not contaminate the goddamn
"Yes you did sir. You have contaminated our goddamn donuts. I am
making you a deal. You may now purchase all of these donuts for twelve
Jimmie had edged away from the scene and was now preparing a cup of
coffee. He turned around, arched an eyebrow, and asked Mohammed with a
chuckle, "You sure this coffee is okay?"
Red took a quick count of the donuts. There were fifteen. At eighty
cents each this worked out to a savings of nothing. Red was becoming acutely
aware of the fact that the bored people in line were all staring at him.
"Okay Ahab, you win. Ring em up. And give me the two pack special,
"I was at the weirdest club on Tuesday," says Susan, rattling the ice in her
Bacardi and Coke. Cindy promptly pours her another one.
The DownUnder is packed tight for a Sunday night, yet somehow there
always seems to be a stool available for Stan Keaton, and once he takes it,
it would be plain bad manners to not let Susan slide in.
smoke is as thick as the fog in Brigadoon.
'White Girl' is
playing on the jukebox, the stand-up bass emitting large round notes,
challenging the woofer. Soul Coughing is performing a chunky blend of
hipster swing and bluesy sixties psychedelia, transporting Stan back to a
time he had never known. So digging it. What if someone was playing the
whole disk? Then he would be hearing 'Soundtrack to Mary' next. That would
be excellent. And then, a couple of tracks later, they would play 'Lazy
Bones'. That song tranced him out.
Stan is feeling all right tonight. At this moment, Stan may be the
mellowest resident of the continental United States.
Now he is musing on the structure of natural aesthetics: the way that
Susan looks in the context of this room at this moment in time. He is
thinking that Soul Coughing seems to capture the essence of Susan. Does that
make sense? It does to Stan.
Stan would rather be musing on Susan at the moment than actually
conversing with her. She has been chattering away, but up until now she has
required nothing more than an occasional nod or grunt.
Stan's thoughts are wandering around something fierce, but it’s all
Susan has been rambling on for quite a while about her upcoming vacation.
She hasn't been out of town for ages, unless, of course, you want to count
the occasional press junket with Stan. Okay, I guess you have to count
those. The junkets, she had to admit, could be an awful lot of fun. A couple
weeks ago, at the premiere of 'Glitter', she had turned a whole section of
the theater rowdy with her infectious laughter. And then they fed her
This trip is a big event to Susan. She will be reuniting with her
recently divorced sister Sonia, who she hadn't seen in nearly three years.
Why Stan won't join them is a mystery.
“It’s no mystery,” Stan had told her. “There is no way in hell I’d be
comfortable going on holiday with the two of you.” Good Lord, he thought,
what was she thinking about? Her sister had decimated him.
Lord, Susan thought, It’s only a five day cruise, a little bit of fun down
in Cozumel. We used to party together all the time. It’s a mystery why Stan
won’t join us.
Someone is playing the entire CD! 'Soundtrack to Mary' kicks
in, and Stan ascends to a new personal best in mellowness.
Apparently, Susan is attempting to send him some sort of a signal.
was she saying?
"Like how weird?"
“What? How weird what?”
you went to a weird club. I’m listening to you.”
"Yeah, I think I said
that about five minutes ago. Earlier this week, Stan, right after my
birthday. Okay? Tuesday. Remember? I went downtown and met Melinda and
Vickie? You’ve got a blank look on your face, Stan. We went to that new
club, Permissions. Remember? You wrote a review of the place a few weeks
ago, remember? Yo, Stan!"
sorry, you are absolutely correct, I did write a review of Permissions. I've
never been there, though. Just called around. What was so weird about the
They hit me with a ruler!" Susan rolls her eyes. She arches her eyebrows
magnificently and leaves her mouth slightly open in an expression of
surprise, a sure sign that she has a totally excellent story that you're
absolutely going to want to hear.
guy standing over there?” she asks, pointing at Red. “The hillbilly with the
brown hat and the plaid shirt, see him? That's what made me think about
Permissions now. He was there! You know that guy? I know that you know that
guy. You’ve introduced me to him before. I've been with you when you were
talking to that guy. Old whatzisname."
"I dunno, I don't really know that guy." Of course he does. "They hit
you with a ruler?! What the hell was this, a Catholic school party?" Stan
can't believe that he hasn't heard this story before. How could that have
"Hey, that's exactly
what it was, kind of," Susan says, her eyes wide and sparkling. She tries to
stop her laughing, but busts out twice more before she can control herself
and continue her tale.
"They had all these…
I don’t know what you want to call them, facilitators or hostesses or
something, dressed up like nuns, and if you tried to order a drink without
waiting the proper amount of time they would whack you with a ruler! We had
to drink like ‘proper young ladies and gentlemen’. You were allowed one beer
or drink every forty minutes. Seriously, they timed you and made you blow up
balloons before each new drink. Of course, if you didn't get another
drink after forty minutes they would come around and whack you for that.
They were like 'We are trying to run a place of business here and
you are loitering'.
“Anytime you did anything they considered impolite they would whack
you. If you swore, they whacked you. If you danced too close, they whacked
the shit out of you. Your fat friend over there was getting whacked a lot.
Everything he did was 'Whack! Whack! Whack!’ It was hilarious."
Susan continued in
high dramatics. "Your friend tried to dance with me. But he couldn't manage
to pull it off."
"You danced with him? No way, not with him." This was totally beyond
the realm of possibility.
"Oh, man, you should have been there to see it. Tell you what; I'll go
back again if you'll go with me. Maybe you really should go, Stan, since
somebody has already paid you good money to review the place. What the hell
did you write about, anyway?"
Susan doesn’t want an answer.
"Stan, Stan, you would have died. All of the guys were wearing these
little black shorts and little black ties. Me, I got to dress up as a
schoolgirl. I was quite fetching, you know. That guy, your big buddy over
there, huh, I can't mistake a belly like that.”
“You don’t think!
Don’t bother thinking. It’s him! Listen. I wasn’t exactly enamored with the
idea of dancing with him because he looked so totally groady, but the whole
place was ridiculous. I had fun. Some lady who looked like Mrs. Thurston
Howell encouraged me to be more sociable. How could I refuse? So anyway, he
started to dance with me, but he kept getting whacked! I nearly lost it I
was laughing so hard. Ask Melinda, she saw the whole thing. She and Vickie
were making faces at me from across the room."
Stan is not
at all convinced. "Yeah, well that guy over there, my big buddy, that's Red.
Somehow I just don't think that he's your guy."
"He said his name was Milton." Susan starts sputtering before she
breaks out into full-bodied belly laughs. “Milton!”
a funny name.
"Milton? I guess it could be Milton… Nah, his name is Red." Stan is
chuckling to himself now. And then, actually laughing out loud, “What else
could it be?”
Where to begin? "Red is a self-styled tough-guy, mountain-man style.
He will kick your ass! "
"He didn't look like he was going to kick anybody's ass when I saw
him! He had big fat knobby knees."
"Oh no, Susan, Red's bad, he's really really bad, just ask him."
"You know! It’s true. Sometimes… I do get a charge out of talking to
Red… I mean, sometimes, but you've got to be prepared for some mighty
extensive jawboning once you start. Dude can really shoot the shit. One
thing that you might find interesting about Red, he really is a lot smarter
than he sounds. Or looks. You listen to him for a little while and you'll
know what I mean… He’s very well read. You wouldn’t think so to look at him,
would you? Isn't that weird?"
“He’s just weird, period.” Susan was giving Stan an analytical look,
which was starting to make him feel a little uncomfortable. Here he goes,
she thought. He’s going to tell me all about this guy that he denied even
knowing a couple minutes ago. There’s more than one weirdo in this house…
"Red is odd, Susan, authentically strange, and he has a
paranoid intensity to go with it as well… Like if you're making a joke,
you've got to telegraph it to him - 'Hey, joke coming up here' - or else, he
thinks that you're bustin on him and he proceeds to get upset. So you have
to break things down for him and then he’ll start laughing. Which really
makes it pretty ease to goof on him without him noticing, when you think
about it. Because you can tell him just about anything."
"I'll tell him he makes for a sweet little schoolboy."
“Yeah, right… If we are to believe your story.”
“Believe it Stan. If I say it, believe it.”
There was a harshness to Susan’s tone which shifted him into belief.
Holy Cow! He was going to have to check this club out. “He is most
definitely strange, though. So he must be bizarre all dressed up.”
“You’ve got that right. So what about him do you find so
Stan strokes his chin, and focuses on the man in question. “Red acts
like he knows all the news behind the news, like he’s got a source somewhere
deep. Everything sounds like a secret, and you'll be sitting there thinking
'well, yeah, he certainly seems to know what he's talking about', but then
he starts getting deeper and deeper in the weeds, and before long everything
turns into some kind of a big conspiracy theory. Always. Every time. No
matter what you've been talking about, politics, baseball, whatever - it's
all a conspiracy to him. And he is the one guy who has got it all figured
“Does he ever make any sense?” Susan is genuinely curious. She lights
a cigarette while she watches Red talking to someone across the room. She
enjoys it when Stan takes the conversational lead for a change. It releases
her from the pressure of always having to perform.
Soul Coughing kicks into ‘Disseminated’, which Susan instantly loves.
It reminds her of cartoon music from the forties. She wonders if Stan knows
who performs this song.
"Sense… I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Red makes sense. That’s
kind of a stretch. But some of his theories are fascinating to listen to.
They’re elaborate, and then while he’s in the process of talking he'll be
making new connections and corrections on the fly. It’s in his face. He'll
sit up straight and you can see the light bulb going on over his head. The
truth has been revealed."
“You know, I've come home after talking to him and written down some of
his rants, remarkable shit, really. I don’t know if I’ve ever shown you…”
Of course, he hasn’t shown her.
“…I figure I could stretch them into a great book one of these days.
I’ll show you some transcripts at home. But I tell you what, after about the
third or fourth time you've talked to him, you just know where everything is
going to end up. It's all going to come back to the conspiracies.”
“Conspiracies,” Susan echoes. She is thinking about Stan.
“But it can still be a lot of fun listening to him reach his
“Call him over here. Let’s buy him a drink.” Susan cups her hands into
a megaphone. “Oh, Milton…”
“Quit it.” Stan nudges her. “You would not be able to stop
laughing, Susan, and you can't be laughing at Red, or he’ll kick your
“Bullshit. No way he would kick my ass. I’d be hiding behind you.”
“I’ll deny I ever saw you before.” Stan signals for a fresh beer. “Hey
Susan, you know what one of the funniest thing is about Red’s rants - and I
swear to God this is true - sooner or later, they almost always get around
to Bill Clinton. No kidding, Clinton is like some sort of a God-like figure
to him. Or some kind of demon. It’s as if Clinton is everywhere, like he's
pulling all the strings, he's responsible for everything evil that happens
in the world. I thought he would change his tune when Bush finally got into
office, but even now, eight months later, he still thinks Clinton is
controlling things, somewhere, somehow in the background."
"Good then" says Susan, "Fun. That sounds like most excellent fun. I'm
ready to rumble. I need to be entertained. Constantly. I have a constant
need to be entertained, you know, Stan. So why don't you just call him over
here and introduce me to him again? This time you can say that I’m Stan
Keaton's glamorous girl friend. Tell him I’m from Iceland or somewhere and
I’ll do a funny accent. That could be an awful lot of fun, don’t you think?
Come on. Want me to call to him again? Ohhh Milllllton. No? I
shouldn’t call him? You don’t like that idea? So, okay then, tell me
something. Because I’m kinda curious. You seem to know this guy pretty well
for someone you don’t really know. Have you ever talked to Milton about me?
Told him about the little woman?"
Tell Milton what? Bullshit. Now this was an easy question. Stan had
never mentioned Susan to Red. Nothing serious, anyway. Not when he was
sober, anyway. On the other hand, he didn’t need to tell Red anything. Red
knew. Red always knew everything about everybody.
"No" he says.
"That’s good Stan. You’ve done well. Don't ever talk about me with
anybody who looks remotely like that, or I’ll kick your ass. I
wonder, though, do you think that your buddy might recognize me from
"That's the club with the Nuns. DooDooHead.”
This is good. Susan is laughing again.
“Oh, you should have seen my little man Milton there. He was the
funniest looking person in the entire place, except maybe for me. He had on
one of those little beanie hats, it just needed a tiny propeller and he
could have flown around the room. Stan! These big hairy legs sticking out of
his little grade school shorts, his little tie reaching about half way down
his chest. It was a riot. He told me" [affecting a low growl] "You've got a
couple of the prettiest blue eyes that I've ever seen in my life."
“They’re green.” The nicest shade of green.
“Thank you for noticin, Darlin.” Susan was starting to get a bit
boisterous with her laughter. Red turned around and looked directly at her.
He almost grinned.
"Melinda told me that while I was dressing, he blew his top because
his drink was too weak, and they sent him off to stand in the corner for ten
minutes. And I still haven’t told you the shit/fuck story!"
"No way, Susan! You've got to have him mistaken for somebody else."
Red walks up to the bar. "I need another
"Way", says Susan.
Melinda rouses herself
from a jarring daydream. Something sharp. The details are gone but the mood
still remains. Her face is inches from the mirror and her eyes are not her
own. Her breath has created a mist. She jerks away from her reflection and
Melinda writes a few quick
lines for her journal and carefully saves them on a diskette. She thinks
that she might have written something yesterday, but she's not sure, and if
she did, she can't find any trace of it. It must not have been all that
important. But yeah, she thinks, maybe it was, so later she searches for it
in vain a second time.
'I feel an irresistible
force pushing me" she writes. "Manipulating me. I feel drawn into a pattern
of behavior which I am trying to escape through ritual. Trying to defeat one
pattern with another. I play the game to try to avoid the force, but I think
it may be the force that is making me play the game.'
Melinda looks at what she's
written, and it strikes her as just plain stupid. Bad, adolescent poetry. It
captures a feeling that still lingers, but it expresses no tangible meaning.
She immediately wants to rephrase it. It is inelegant. It does not really
capture what she wants to express. It will not resonate with truth when she
rereads it. But in reality she rarely rereads anything that she has written.
To look at the journal would somehow transform it. The journal belonged to
another time and place, not now in her current life. It belonged to a time
when she would no longer need it.