909                                                                            GREEN  5.2

      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 while.
      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 reasonable voice.
      "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 donuts."
      "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 dollars." 
      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, Winston Lights."

 


      "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.
      The 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 good…

      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 lobster!
     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.
     Good 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.
      Hmm?
      Apparently, Susan is attempting to send him some sort of a signal.
      What was she saying?
      Recall.
      Respond.
      "Like how  weird?"

      “What? How weird what?”
      “You said 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!"
      “Oh yeah, 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 place?"
      "God! 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.
      "See that 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 happened?
      "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.”

      “I don’t think 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!”

      Milton is 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."
      Susan nods.
      "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 strange?”
      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 out."
       “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 conclusions.”
      “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 ass.”
      “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 Permissions?"
      "Permissions?"
      "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 Jameson's, Darlin'".
      "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 orients herself.

      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.

 

Prelude    1.1 Be My Guest    1.2 LTMTSKW   1.3 Suzan   1.4 DownUnder   2.1 Melinda   2.2 Lex Makes His Move   2.3 Fungal Propogation   3.1 Letter Perfect   3.2 Funhouse   3.3 Red   3.4 Permissions    3.5 Menthol   4.1 Happy Hour   4.2 The Reporter Speaks   5.1 You Can't Win If You Don't Play   5.2 909
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