Chaos                                                                      GREEN  8.1

 

      Stan strolls struts on into the DownUnder and shouts out a hearty hello. He is all smiles and giggles tonight. Ready to buy a few rounds.
      Only a couple folks even bother to look his way, and no one offers a real response. There is no sound aside from the television and the whir of the smoke-eater. It’s a weird scene, man. Everyone is transfixed, up to and including the busboy, who Stan is surprised to see seated at the bar. What are they watching that’s so fascinating? It looks kind of like a Godzilla movie. Fire and smoke and people running.
      No one is drinking beer tonight, it's all shots and calls. There is a long uncomfortable moment where Stan realizes that he is invading something private and sacrosanct. He feels wildly out of place, as though he's the only person in the room who isn’t getting the joke. Cindy turns to him and mouths the question 'Jack and Coke?' If Cindy isn’t speaking, Stan feels pretty certain that he shouldn't speak either, so he nods his head instead of answering.

      What appears to be happening on the television makes no immediate sense to Stan. On closer inspection, it doesn't look that much like a movie after all. No, no way, there are no production values. He can see the CNN logo in the bottom right hand of the shot. The screen is filled with images of thick smoke and shooting flames, massive piles of rubble, and stunned people covered in white ashes walking around like zombies.
     As Stan tries to get his bearings, the picture changes. A plane is flying directly into one of the World Trade Center buildings. It scores a spectacular bull's-eye. Whoa! What was that? I don’t know, but look, the other building seems to already be on fire. The commentators are blithering, stepping all over each other's lines. Cindy brings over his drink – he can tell it’s a strong one, it’s practically clear - and Stan catches her arm, loudly whispering "Cindy, what the hell is going on?"
      Red overhears the question and turns around on his stool to face Stan directly. "What's goin on? You just crawl out of a cave or somethin, Junior?" His face is angry and bemused at the same time.
      "We're under attack. You heard me. The United States of America. That’s what’s goin on. The fuckin Arabs are attacking us. You believe that? Bunch of murderin towelheads. They killed several thousand people in the World Trade Center.”
      “ Look at that,” he says, pointing a brawny finger at the television. The tower is disintegrating. Stan watches a time-cut series, watches as it falls.
      “They hijacked four of our airliners and used em like flying bombs. Where you been all day, anyway?”
      Stan just stands there.
      “They crashed one of our planes into the Pentagon, too. Killed a bunch of people down there. Flew the fucker right into the side of the building. Stay tuned, they’ll be showin the fires burnin down there again, soon. Traffic’s all cut off, if you got any plans of headin into town tonight.”
      “Crazy towelheads even tried to hit the fuckin Capitol Building, what they’re sayin, but that plane ended up crashing in Southern Pennsylvania. Don’t know what happened to it, but good fuckin riddance. They said the hijackers were plannin on circling back around to DC. I’m about certain that was their plan.”
      Red stares at Stan like he can’t believe what he’s seeing.  And in a way he can’t. Stan is all right, but the sonofabitch is clueless. “The fuckin president has been hidin out somewhere all day. Makes you feel secure. Sayin earlier that they was tryin to land a plane on his ass. Or somethin. Stay tuned, I’m sure they got reports on that story comin up. It’s fuckin chaos… I guess old Bush is just flyin around up there in the sky, keeping the big watch tickin on Air Force One." Red arched an eyebrow. "If he's still alive, that is. Hard to say… Bet Hillary is probably givin your boy Clinton a hummer right about now. You don't think so?"
      Red's voice sinks down into a low rumble. "More bad stuff is probably comin up. All day long, man, all day long. Nobody has a clue what's gonna happen next. Drink up." Red downs a double shot of Jamesons and turns back to face the screen, speaking to himself. "Dumb motherfucker".
      Vickie turns to Stan, her face pale and worried. "Frankie’s doing some work down at the Pentagon this week. We’ve been trying to get him on his cell phone all day. You know Frankie, don't you?"
      Stan nods. Frankie is a contractor and a regular here. Friend of Vickie's? He’d have to ask Susan.
      Riley speaks next. "Lex's wife works there too, you know. And Maggie's son. She still hasn't heard anything about him. I don’t know what Lex’s situation is."
      Stan is trying to take all of this information in…

      As though he had sensed someone speaking his name, a pallid Lex walks into the bar and takes a stool next to Riley, who silently buys him a drink and lays an arm across his shoulder. Not many people here knew much about Lex before today, but they all feel that they know him pretty well now. He is a player in the current scenario, touched by it, and they all look his way expectantly. He knows what he is supposed to say. He has been saying the same thing since two-thirty this afternoon, when Connie finally managed to get hold of a phone for long enough to reach him. It has turned into a very long day for Lex; he looks his age and then some.
      "She's all right” he says solemnly. “My wife is all right. She works in a different ring of the building than the one that was hit. I didn’t hear anything from her until hours after I heard about the crash. They had us all huddled downin the basement for a while at work, and then we evacuated.”
      “You were sent home,” corrects Red.
      “Connie says that the halls are pretty smoky…” Lex pauses, to light a smoke of his own. He fumbles with his lighter, and Cindy reaches over the bar to assist him.  “And it’s loud. I could barely hear her over the racket. She's feeling a little jittery about everything, but since she's considered essential personnel, she's going to have to stay there at least through tonight."
      Lex adds, with a little bitterness in his voice which nobody picks up on, “She’s got work to do.”  Could she have been so busy that she needed several hours to reach him?
      Lex slaps Riley on the back and moves over to take a seat beside Stan, briefly clutching his forearm.
      A murmur of support and encouragement runs through the room in a small wave, and Red unexpectedly buys Lex a drink. “We’re gonna stomp those bastards down like fuckin ants” he proclaims. The room returns to quiet as the screens flicker overhead.
     “God, you wouldn’t believe my day” Lex begins, speaking quietly to Stan.

     Red has been at the DownUnder since the moment the bar opened, two hours earlier than usual. Before that, he had waited in his van across the street, smoking cigarettes and listening to the flow of news from the radio.
      Now, as he watched, the television screen was consumed with fire. There was a  mammoth blaze, burning out of control, and for a moment Red saw the flames morph into a likeness of his wife, yellow fingers reaching towards his face. Red raised two fingers and Cindy brought him another Jamesons.


      Stan returns to his house on Northrop Street feeling all shook up. He has never been more sober in his life. He can hear the television set playing in the den, and he immediately spies Susan sleeping on the recliner, a blue blanket pulled up to her chin. He cringes. Forgot all about her…
      It is still early evening, only 9:40. Stan bends down to lightly kiss her brow and Susan stirs awake.
      “I didn’t know where you were” she says groggily. “I tried calling you all day and I couldn’t reach you.”
      “I am so, so sorry. I had no idea what was going on today. Out there. I’ve been sitting here at home, writing like a maniac all day, non-stop. I didn’t even have a clue.” Stan tries to think of what to say next. He doesn’t feel much like bragging about the sixty-four pages he's written.
      Stan glances over at the phone display. The light is blinking. There are eight new messages.  “I had the music on pretty loud,” he sheepishly explains.
      Susan shifts the recliner into the sitting position and yawns. “You were probably loaded, Stan, and sending the neighbors into an even higher level of panic if they happened to see you dancing around. Well, good for you. You were lucky to miss all this shit. A lot of people at work were scared to death… I was scared to death, a little bit anyway. We didn't know what was going to happen. We watched the TV in the break room most of the day. Then they sent everyone home early, about three, but most of us went across the street to Don Pablos until the traffic thinned out. The roads out of Tyson were a real nightmare...”
      “You know, I've got to get a cell phone. You should probably carry one too. If things get real bad.” Susan stretched and tossed the blanket aside. “For you, maybe we’ll get one that vibrates.”
      “Would you make me a drink, please? A big healthy one. I stopped by the Liquor Store on the way back. Talk about crowded. There’s a bottle of Jack in the kitchen.”
      As Stan turns to go make drinks, Susan speaks with uncharacteristic reticence ”Are you scared by all of this, Stan?”
      Stan tells Susan about how he had gone to the DownUnder and the sobering scene that he had encountered. He had been ready to call her as soon as he got settled. They could celebrate, her trip and his book.
      He had smoked a joint on his way to the bar, for God's sake. It had been most unsettling for him to come across such an unexpected  and horrifying situation… And to be so high and unprepared to deal with it all.

      He had felt that he needed to stay and talk with Lex for a while, he told Susan. He just walked into the situation. The guy had come straight over to him, even though they had only met one time before. He couldn’t just get up and leave Lex sitting there. At times as they had talked, he had found himself wanting to giggle at some piece of video streaming from the television screen; this was a reflex action of his, a kind of nervous tick that he often had in the face of sudden tension or harsh emotion. He was certainly glad he had been able to suppress it. But that guy, Lex, what a crazy dude, he was talking about everything under the sun, and Stan was just trying to soak in the images from the screen. It was hard. It was disorienting.

      Good. Stan found the fifth of Jack Daniels in the kitchen cabinet, and filled two tumblers with ice. He brought out the glasses and the Jack and placed them on the edge of the coffee table along with a plastic bottle of Coke. Only half a pack of smokes? He returned to the kitchen and shook a fresh pack out of the carton from on top of the refrigerator.
      Stan sat cross-legged on the floor with Susan, and they smoked and talked above the chatter from the television. Sometimes they would stop and stare at a fresh image of the disaster. Stan told Susan that she should go ahead and take her cruise. (If he had waited another twenty-four hours, he would have known that the proper phrasing was ‘If you cancel your vacation, the terrorists will have already won’.) Susan has absolutely no desire  to get on a plane right now, but she also doesn’t feel like staying this close to the District. She doesn’t know what she wants to do at the moment. She wants another drink. The whiskey is filling her body with a sweet pleasant warmth. She would like very much to sleep now.


     Stan moves his desk chair into a position that will allow him to see the television while he types.
     Stan is writing because he is not sure what else he should be doing. He thinks that he will be up for most of the night. He can always write. It’s not much. He hasn’t absorbed things yet. He just feels that it would be best for him to go into record mode. Most of what he types over the next several hours consists of words and phrases that he picks up randomly from CNN.

      "People are running in sheer terror… Those numbers can run into the thousands…. The other airplane that crashed near Pittsburgh…. The explosion of 1993… Warned three weeks ago… [Gulliani is mournful, his eyes dead]. My focus is on as many lives as possible… closing off the airspace around Manhattan… The United States is much stronger than they would believe… barbarians… [giant metal fingers] I want to commend the mayor of New York City… we want New Yorkers to remain calm… [the President has returned from wherever]  Well, this is a horrible attack… We will continue to have a great and free country... [just lights, searchlights] Save as many as possible… large number of firefighters lost.  The city is now closed, the airspace around the city is closed… trying to get inside the buildings... reinforcements soon. We have 1500 people at Fairy Park moved by EMS… [young child in dirty bandages]  Saint Vincent singles them out and commends them… blood donations… [blur] It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen in my life. 75 Barkley Street … trapped… finally went through a basement and found clean air.  If you really want to know what New Yorkers are all about… turned off the gas in nearby city buildings… whether they're injured or still trapped inside… compared to Pearl Harbor… one of the most heinous attacks in world history… war support… people can't do this to us… vicious cowardly terrorist can't stop us…   Keep the schools open, keep the children in the schools. Children with metro cards will be able to do it.  If any children don’t have parents to pick them up… all NYPD officers are now on duty… Apparently, frequent CNN commentator Barbara Olson managed to make a phone call to her husband Solicitor General Ted Olson just minutes before… Described boxcutters… Get rid of the clothes…get rid of the clothes…  instead of frightening people now, these actions should make people feel more confident. We have people in the command center right now… [Cardinal Egan] Please. Everyone in their own way should say a prayer…. [who] Vicious cowardly terrorists can't stop us..."

      Stan's drink has become a memory. All of the flavor has long since faded. With the ice now melted away and his throat scratchy and parched, Stan has no choice but to return to the emptiness of the kitchen. He walks with his ears on alert.  Listening for what? The cubes from the ice maker rattle like bones in his empty glass. It is deathly quiet outside.
     Stan is able to pour most of the remaining Jack Daniels into his tumbler. Forget about the cola. A belt remains, and he downs it straight from the bottle. He looks at what he has been typing and wonders what it will mean to him in a day or a week. It doesn't matter. He simply feels that he should try and catch this moment. There is nothing else for him to do.
     Stan has always had a reverential attitude towards chaos. He holds it in awe. He tells people that he thinks that chaos is the natural order of things. He thinks that today might be a test of that concept. Maybe…

      Stan’s ashtray is overflowing. He finds himself feeling short of breath, as though he had been running for miles. His heart is pounding and he finds himself hyper-alert. A dry heave comes, and then another. He has not had a panic attack for a good twenty years. Is he having one now?
      No, probably not. Nothing that dramatic. Just too many cigarettes. He empties his ashtray into the wicker trashcan beside his desk, lights another smoke, turns the televisions closed captioning on, and restarts the Funhouse cycle up again, this time at a much lower volume. Between songs, and in the rare quiet moment, he can hear the CNN reporters talking excitedly. Ron Asheton's guitar howls as the fires burn and the update lines scroll across the bottom of the screen.
      It is a nightmare. It is perfect. It is nature.

      "You know every airport in the country is shut down right now…  Chapter 5 of the NATO charter. Laying the groundwork upfront… green light and support to do whatever we feel is necessary. All 19 members…  A copy of the Koran and a videotape of how to fly a jet… a terrorist cell in Boston. Two men, both of them cab drivers, plotting around the millennium…  Just 18 minutes later… suddenly Washington became a target….   The first of the two trade centers collapses… just gives away… horrendous number of lives… people leaping, horrible, people leaping to save their own lives, people leaping from the building in sheer panic.  …Just before the crash a passenger called 911… we see the debris of it here; soot on the walls… leaders in the basement, it is so unstable - they worry about tripping and they worry about collapse… What do you expect?… very sorrowful day for our country… dastardly and cowardly act… This was a sophisticated and complicated planning operation. There aren’t many groups with that level of sophistication.  A handful… President Bush has denounced the dastardly act… what kind of a society can we continue to have… protecting human lives versus protecting their civil liberties...  No more curbside luggage check-in...  An act of war of the worse kind, an act of war against the Pentagon. So we have to know who those people are… resilient proud country such as we are…  American life has been changed, I don’t want to say forever…  we will get rid of them… we are not going to change our lives for these people... They have to have a safe haven somewhere, so lets go after them... You put two and two together and it's not entirely unreasonable to come up with four..."

     Stan sleeps with his head on the desk for a long, long time. His dreams are just short meaningless scenes, populated by the voices of Iggy and CNN. When he does awake and turns off Funhouse - God, he hates that album - he sees a female reporter dressed in a red pantsuit speaking to Mayor Gulliani.
     "Do you think the skyline will ever be whole again?", she asks. 
     What an idiot.
     "Standing by from what used to be the World Trade Center….  as close as you can get to what used to be the world trade center…."  

 

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 
   6.0 Blue Mondays       7.1 The Gown       7.2 Lost in the Future

8.1 Chaos