In Progress Stuff

Cinéma Vérité

Ding dong.
    I looked at the clock. 8:19. Almost 20 minutes past the official, government-sanctioned end of trick-or-treating. Don’t these parent have watches? Of course they don’t. They have cell phones which happen to show the time, if they cared enough to actually check it, that is. Perhaps if I ignored them, they would just...
    Ding dong.
    Or, it might have been some older kids flying solo. If so, something told me that if I didn’t answer, I’d be on the receiving end of a trick. What the hell. I had candy left. So I figured I might as well get up and make their day by unloading my remaining stock. I had to move anyway. Sheila would be over soon, and I needed to get my costume on.
    Ding dong.
    Coming, coming, I thought as I grabbed the bowl and opened the door.
    The first thing I noticed was they seemed tall...taller than the menagerie of monsters—ghosts, fairies, and Darth Vaders—who had formed a near-constant progression over the course of the evening. They also were bigger than the typical too-cool-for-a-costume teens who, nonetheless, apparently were neither too cool nor too old to beg for sugar.
    The second thing I noticed was the one to the right held a video camera, and the one to the left had one of those movie-set clapperboards. He took a slight step forward, said, “And....action!” before snapping it shut.
    The third thing I noticed was the one in the middle’s strange attire. He wore knee-high black leather boots, tan jodhpurs, a white shirt with a silk ascot, comically oversized sunglasses—the foot-wide kind one finds at a novelty shop—and an undersized black beret. In his left hand he held a megaphone.
    The fourth thing I noticed was that his right hand held a pistol, leveled at me. He fired. Something slugged me in the gut, and I blew back into the room, Butterfingers and Snickers scattering across the floor.
    “Please tell me you got that,” said the one in the middle, to the one with the camera. “I’d hate to have to re-shoot. He’d probably hate it even more.”
    “I’ll bet there are a million questions running through your mind right now. Is there a god and, if so, why would he choose a name so similar to dog? Are Pamela Anderson’s real? Pssst. They’re not. If a man falls in his own house, does he make a sound?” Removing the sunglasses, he bent down and aimed the barrel at my face. “If he’s smart, he won’t.”
    “Oh, that question. OK, that’s an easy one. Allow me to introduce myself. I am The Director. And my colleagues are,” he said motioning to either side, “Who gives a rat’s derrière? No one cares who the minions behind the scenes are. If you really want to know, wait for the credits.”
    “Another good question. Have you ever heard of  cinéma vérité?”
    I had, of course. But I was in no shape to offer up my interpretation of the art form, nor discuss the merits of simple reportage versus artistic expression through subject manipulation.
    He continued, “Well, I am filming a cinéma vérité oeuvre titled, ‘Bleed.’ And being that it’s cinéma vérité, it has to be...well...cinema,” he said, tapping the shoulder of the one with the camera.
    “Mr. Director,” she said, “you made me jiggle.”
    “Sorry, Susanna. Film on, my dear. And it has to be vérité, or true. And what better way to capture the gritty, desperate reality of a man who has been shot in his own home and lies there bleeding than to...well...shoot a man in his own home and let him lie there and bleed?”
    My mind wanted to sort it all out. The first thing I needed to do, though, was stop the bleeding. As luck would have it, when I fell, I kicked one of my house slippers back, and landed on it. Adjusting my position slightly, I maneuvered the exit wound over it, and then shifted once again, placing my weight on it. It seemed as though I had managed to somewhat stanch the flow of blood from the back. But the front would require a dedicated effort. I reached into my pocket for a handkerchief, and then applied as much pressure as I could. It seemed to help a little, though I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue for long.
    “Oh! Very good” The Director gushed, clapping. “See how he makes an heroic effort to save himself. His survival instincts have kicked in. I’m glad. This would have been such a dull endeavor if you had just quickly and quietly expired on your off-white—but now flecked with red—carpeting.” Looking directly into the camera, he said, “Let’s get to know our victim...our subject, shall we? Tell us something unique about yourself, slowly dying guy. Any hobbies? Funny jokes? Last requests?”
    I had elevated my head slightly to look at him. But it began to tax me. I dropped back and looked at the ceiling. I could feel my pulse increasing and weakening. I had entered stage 1 of clinical circulatory shock. 
    He knelt down at my side—so the camera could see us both—and began shaking me slightly. “Hold on, Sarge! Hold on! The medics are on their way. Don’t give up. Fight. Fight! Remember, Sarah Lou is back home, waiting for you and not sleeping with the mailman, and the twins are on their way. Hold on!” He then flopped down next to me. “I...I see...a light. It’s so beautiful. So warm. Grandpa? Is that you?” He returned to his original position. “Don’t do it, Sarge! Don’t go to the light! Fight it, Sarge! Fight! Fie! Oh, this is getting boring. Do you have a deck or cards, or an Xbox, or something?”
    I may not have seen “the light.” But I began to see stars.
    “Hey!” he said as a switchblade slipped from his sleeve and settled into his palm, “It’s Halloween, and I have not yet carved a jack-o-lantern.” He waved the weapon—still closed yet still menacing—an inch from my nose. “I don’t want to forget that. Do you have a pen and paper I could borrow?”
    He seemed completely serious. I nodded toward the desk near the door.
    “Splendid,” he cried as he absently dropped the weapon, just out of arm’s reach. The camera followed his motion. Ignoring the pain, I reached out, snatched it, and slid it under my left thigh.
    With a great flourish he sat down, uncapped a pen, and began writing. “To do. One. Wait for this guy to die. Two. Escape. Three. Carve jack-o-lantern. Is that hyphenated, or with an apostrophe, like an Irishman? It probably doesn’t matter. I think I’ll be able to figure out what I meant. Hello! What’s this?” he said as he lifted a photograph of Sheila and me taken—incidentally—at a Halloween party last year. She wore a police uniform to complement my “traditional” white-and-black-striped prisoner costume. This year, we had planned to reverse roles. My outfit, in fact, lay over the arm of the couch, wrapped in plastic, just to the left of where The Director sat.
    He followed my gaze and spied it.
    “Ah, clever!” he said, holding it up, examining it, and—apparently—mistaking it for real. “Last year you got to be the naughty one, officer.” His face assumed a look of mock fear. “Oh no, kids! We just shot a cop. We’re in trouble. He’s going to arrest us! Come to think of it...nah! He’s too busy expiring. But this! Ooh la la! What a tasty dish,” he said as he stuck out his tongue and licked her photo.
    “Why you...” I flicked the switchblade open and flung it at his back. I hit my intended target squarely. Unfortunately, I had retaliated with a comb, rather than a blade.
    “Good trick, huh? You are a feisty one. Stupid, but feisty. I like that.” he said as he walked over and bore down with his heel on my wrist. I sucked in deeply—or tried to—but couldn’t get enough breath.
    “You’re making...” I gasped.
    “A movie! Yes, I know. To be honest, I really thought this would be more interesting. Do you think you could crawl around, or something? Maybe even try to escape?”
    Honestly, I could not. I could barely speak. But I still managed to eke out, “I’m cold.”
    “It is chilly in here. Rufus, close the door.” The clapperboard guy obliged. “Better?”
    “No. I’m still cold.”
    “Prima donna! What would you like me to do about it? Reverse the calendar back to summer?”
    “Could I have a blanket?”
    “No. Sorry. This is cinéma vérité.”
    “In real life, a person who has been shot and is bleeding out gets cold. There’s always that scene where the person says, ‘I’m so cold,’ just before dying. So covering me with a blanket would be a logical plot element of the story.”
    He thought for a moment and said, “You’re right.”
    I motioned toward the back of the couch.
    “That ugly thing? Your call. But I suppose if you’re going to get blood all over something, it might as well be something that’s already hideous.” He covered me. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes. We’re trying to come up with something more interesting than this...still life that is your life. Team...ideas?”
    “We could put his hand in warm water and make him pee.”
    “Well, it’s only funny if you can see it. And he’s now covered with an ugly blanket.”
    “We could put make up on him,” offered Susanna.
    “We could pee on his carpet.”
    “Invite the neighbors over and shoot them?”
    “Intriguing, Susanna, intriguing. But complicated.”
    “Ooh!” gushed Rufus. “Why don’t we—”
    “I didn’t—”
    “But you didn’t even let me—”
    “I just know that it’s stupid.”
    Rufus pouted.
    “Hey bleeding guy. How about you? Know any good jokes?”
    “How many idiots does it take to make a movie? Three. And they’re in my living room right now.”
    I knew I was pushing. I meant to push. I assumed I would die. I was going to bleed to death. The only question in my mind was whether or not he would torture me. Plus, I held out the small sliver of hope that if I died sooner, rather than later, they would leave before Sheila arrived. So I paid homage to the scene in True Romance where Dennis Hopper, realizing the same thing as I had, goads Christopher Walken into putting a bullet in his head.
    “Nice try, Clifford,” he said, a clear reference to the name of Hopper’s character in that film. “I’ve seen the movie. But, hey! Here’s another famous scene.” He then maneuvered around to my wounded side, and began performing a little soft-shoe while gaily lilting, “I’m singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain...”
    I closed my eyes and waited for the series of kicks to be delivered. They didn’t come. I opened my eyes. He was right in my face. “Never rub another man’s rhubarb.”
    All I could do was moan.
    “I know,” he continued. “It’s getting really boring. Can’t you do something else? Do you have to just lie there? I really should have scripted this thing out. Come on! Think, think, think. Hey! Halloween is a time for parties. Couples parties. You don’t suppose that tasty little treat over there,” he said nodding in the direction of our photograph, “is the liberated kind? The kind who will come by and pick her man up?”
    I flinched.
    “Well, well. A cameo appearance. A walk-on. The mind reels at the possibilities. Let’s to work that in? I could shoot her knees and then put her somewhere comfy to let her watch you bleed, unable to help her beloved Romeo. That’s gritty. That’s tension. Or perhaps we just handcuff her to the desk. You must have a pair lying around somewhere,, I’ll come up with a clever name later and just Foley it in. Handcuffs? Wow! That opens a whole new world of possibilities with regard to how we could get into the movie. All of us. Susanna...remind me. Do you like girls, too? Or just boys?”
    “I’m flexible.”
    “So then the only question becomes sequentially or simultaneously? I can work on that.”
    “You fu—”
    “Shut up!” he said, kicking me in the side. Mercifully, the side without the bullet wound. “Susanna, let’s visit the prop department and find those cuffs,” he said as he marched into my house. “Rufus. Stay here and keep an eye on him.”
    Though I didn’t hold out any real hope of any real accomplishment, I decided to try making small talk with Rufus. Not that I cared to know anything about him. My motive, naturally, had nothing to do with human compassion, and everything to do with information.
    “So, Rufus. How long have you been working with The Director?”
    “Um. We got in the car to come here around 8:00. It’s now about...” He stared stupidly at the wall clock—the kind with hands—before searching around for a digital model. After an unsuccessful minute, he simply looked down at the floor and began whistling. He then picked his nose and flicked the output in the general direction of the wall, confirming once and for all that he wasn’t worth the effort and energy. I rested instead.
    After several minutes The Director announced his reappearance with a joyful, “Whoo-ee! I feel so relieved.”
    I opened my eyes to see him zipping up his fly.
    “I tell you my friend, I thought that picture of your girlfriend was hot. But the one on your nightstand? Hubba-hubba.”
    “Tell me you didn’t...”
    Susanna nodded morosely.
    “Don’t worry,” he added, “I wiped it all off. Oh, but you might want to get your carpet cleaned now.”
    Susanna made a discrete finger-gagging gesture behind his back. Perhaps she could be more useful to me, I thought.
    “Mr. Director?” I asked. “Could you please get me a glass of water? I’m really thirsty.”
    “I’d love to help. Really, I would. But I have a lot of trouble working faucets. That’s why I have ‘people.’ It’s a nice perk.”
    “There’s a glass over there,” I said, pointing weakly at the chair where I had been comfortably, peacefully sitting 15 minutes ago.
    He sighed. “Oh, why not?” He walked over, retrieved the glass, returned, bent down carefully, brought the glass in close, and then threw its contents in my face. I didn’t really expect him to hold it to my lips and serve me. At least I managed to catch some in my mouth, which would not have been possible had he simply poured it on the floor.
    Rufus raised his hand. “Mr. Director?” he asked sheepishly. “Can I go see the picture?”
    “I don’t know. Can you promise you’ll control yourself, and not sully that lovely woman’s face with your sticky biological fluids?”
    “Great. Let’s go. Susanna, my dear, you stay here and keep filming. See if you can make him do something. Perhaps you can get a rise out of him. Oh, that might have been a bad choice of words, considering...” he said as he adjusted his private parts. “Ta-ta!”
    I didn’t hold out great hope for reaching her, either. But I had to try.
    “Susanna, isn’t it? So, have you gone to film school? Or are you self taught?”
    “Come on. You can talk to me. The Director said to make me do something. Talking is something.”
    “I’m not supposed to be in the movie. I’m just working the camera.”
    “Oh, there are plenty of instances in  cinéma vérité where the crew is filmed, as they are filming.”
    “I like staying behind the camera.”
    “I understand. Hey, I have an idea. Turn 45 degrees to your right.” She did. “What do you see?”
    “Your desk.”
    “Above that?”
    “A mirror.”
    “You know what I see? I see a woman who can’t be an accomplice to murder.”
    She paused, then lowered the camera and stared at herself. Seeing her full face for the first time, I noticed she was pretty. And scared.
    “You don’t want to go through with this, Susanna. You can’t. It’s not in you.”
    “Why don’t you pick up that phone? Pick it up, and dial 9-1-1. When they answer, just whisper, ‘Please send the police.’ Then hang up quietly. That’s all you have to do. In a few minutes it will be over. For both of us.”
    “You don’t understand!” she said as she faced me. I then noticed her black eye. “He controls people. He just gets inside of you.”
    “Susanna, listen to me very carefully. I know people who can help you. My girlfriend is going to be here soon. I’m surprised she’s not here already. But when she does get here, she—”
    Susanna gasped slightly, her frightened, heightened senses able to hear his footsteps well before I could. She wiped a tear, and resumed her position.
    “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
    “Wow! And I thought I was prodigious,” The Director exclaimed. “If I ever decide to make those kinds of movies—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—I may have found my star.”
    Rufus grinned stupidly.
    “I’m glad you both were able to relax,” I said sarcastically.
    “So tell me, Susanna...anything good?”
    “No, Mr. Director. He just lay there with his eyes closed.”
    “Too bad. Maybe I should cut off his eyelids. Of course with the switchblade comb, it will take some time and effort. But I suppose it would be well worth—”
    “Uh-oh. Mr. Director? I think my battery is running low.”
    “How can that be? Did you forget to charge it?” he spat out.
    “No, sir. I did. But it’s an old camera, with an old battery. They don’t hold charge that long. Maybe we should wrap up and go.”
    “Are you revising my script? Are you trying to muscle in on the writing credits?”
    “No, sir.”
    I could tell. She was terrified.
    “Cut!” he yelled before turning his back to her and impatiently tapping his foot.
    “Yes, sir, Mr. Director,” Susanna said. She set the camera on the floor, and produced from her back pocket a small kitchen knife. She pulled up a sleeve of her sweatshirt, which exposed an extensively scarred forearm, and drew the blade across. She exhaled softly as her eyes closed and fluttered, her face a mixture of pain and pleasure. A small crimson line appeared in the blade’s wake.
    The Director, to that point unaware of her little mutilation ritual, turned back, sighed with disgust and said, “Susanna, Susanna! You put the camera down! Where are your brains?”
    She looked down, and stifled a sob. “Sorry, sir. Sometimes I—”
    The Director pressed the pistol against the side of her skull and pulled the trigger. A complex grotesque pattern of gray and red joined my wallpaper.
    “Oh, I found them! They’re over there,” he cackled. Looking back at me, he added, “I have got to talk to the agency. These interns they’re sending over are just dead weight. Get it? Dead weight! Sometimes, I just kill myself. Oh, I did it again!”
    So engrossed was he in his self-amusement that he failed to notice the knife had hit the floor just in advance of Susanna’s dead body, bounced twice, and landed a literal inch from my hand. I reached out, snatched it, and secreted it away under the blanket. Now, I just needed to bide my time.
    “Rufus,” he said picking up the camera, “I am giving you a field promotion to head cinematographer. I know you’ll come through with flying colors.” Glancing at the wall, he demurred and said, “Hmmm. Maybe I should rephrase that.” He then clutched his comrade’s shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks.
    “How do I work—”
    “Just look through here and squeeze that. Good boy.”
    Perhaps the time to discuss the merits of simple reportage versus artistic expression had come.
    “You know,” I said, “this movie is going to suck.”
    “Pffft! Actors do not question The Director. I direct. You act. Got it? Good! Um, what do you mean?”
    “You’re driving the plot. That’s not vérité. Vérité should be more like a documentary, where you merely record what happens. You should be a fly on the wall. But you didn’t do that. You walked in here and shot me. How often does that happen in real life?”
    “More often than you would think, chum. You know, chum is the term for shark bait. Why would we call our friends something like that?”
    “You’re not making cinéma vérité. What you’re doing is more mock-umentary. Or muck-umentary. Or suck-umentary. Hey! Maybe you could coin the phrase. Own it, like Pat Riley does ‘Three-peat.’ Then, whenever some future filmmaker creates a piece of garbage like this, he’ll have a name for it. And you can collect royalties.”
    “Careful, friend.”
    “What are you going to do? Fire me? You can’t fire me. The Screen Actors Guild will have me back on the set before you can wet yourself.”
    “Fuck the Guild!”
    “Ah-ha! You’re not a member. That’s why you’ve got a chip on your shoulder,” I said, a little strength and a lot of resolve returning. “You can’t even get into the union. Of course, they do have standards. And one of them is that you actually need to be a part of a real film, instead of this hokey, two-bit home movie you’re shooting.”
    “Why you!” he shouted as he straddled my chest and began choking me.
    It was now or never. I pulled out Susanna’s knife, plunged it into the side of his neck, and twisted. I labored to move past the mere metaphorical concept of “twisting the knife,” and endeavored to open a huge literal hole. Though I am neither a doctor, nor do I play one on television, I have a pretty good idea as to the location of the carotid artery. Direct hit. He screamed and grabbed his neck in a vain attempt to stop the spray.
    He fell off me, and rolled onto his back. After several seconds of gargling his own blood, he stopping moving and stared silently at my ceiling.
    Rufus, to this point either paralyzed with shock or as slow-witted as he had seemed all along, yelled, “Hey!” and moved in toward me. I tried to roll as he swung the camera at my head. I did manage to avoid what easily could have been a fatal blow. Nonetheless, he did connect solidly with my cheek. I heard the bone snap. He raised the camera high above his head, preparing to bear down with a much more savage strike. There was a single gunshot, and a small red jet issued from his chest. He slumped to his knees and then collapsed to the other side.
    I looked toward the door where Sheila stood, still in uniform, her service revolver clutched firmly in both hands.
    I smiled feebly. “That’s a wrap,” I said, before drifting off to sleep.

Never Mind The Nonsense, Here’s The Sex Truncheons

I walked along briskly, purposefully, with my hat pulled low, my eyes cast down. I didn’t want any passersby to recognize me, though in this part of London and at this hour of the evening, that chance was not too likely.

    A scant two hours prior, I was not certain that it would take place tonight, as I had not received any correspondence on the matter. Then around 19:00, I received an IM. (If you’re not current on the latest technologies, that acronym stands for “Instant Morse.”) My inside contact sent me an address and a time: 290 High Street Beckenham, 21:30. I had barely enough time to wash up and hurry out the door.

    I had considered taking the Underground, but opted to shun it, lest one of the station’s DVRs were to capture my image. As someone with no artistic talent, I am amazed at the ability of the Dedicated Visitor Recorders to sketch a person’s likeness so quickly.

    As I made my way east on Beckenham Road, across the roundabout I saw the looming granite facade of the Odeon Concert Hall. I was momentarily taken aback. I could not believe that they would choose such an obvious and established venue for so subversive an undertaking. Such seemed to be a proposition that was fraught with peril. However, I soon realized that 290 High Street was in actuality several addresses away.

    I walked up to the double glass doors and peered in. The inside was completely dark. I stepped back and read the name above the awning: Ernest M. Ingle Jewellery. Puzzled, I took another glance at the piece of paper, and confirmed that I had not erred. I was, indeed, standing in front of the address I had been provided. Was I sent incorrect—or false—information, I wondered.

    I then noticed a small, nondescript white door to the left of the jeweller’s window. The panes of glass were dark, or rather darkened. Whether their opacity represented an intentional obfuscation, or a fortuitous byproduct of the activity within, I could not say. Nonetheless, it served its purpose. I could see nothing, save for a dim glow emanating up from below.

    The door was unlocked. I took a quick glance around, entered, and pulled the portal shut behind me.

    You have come this far. You should not turn back now, I reassured myself.

    I descended the rickety staircase quickly though cautiously, fearing for my safety. I was concerned about both the potential for their imminent collapse, as well as the prospect of encountering a contingent of ruffians at the bottom. Suffice to say, upon reaching the cellar level I was pleased and relieved to find a sedate gathering of young ladies and gentlemen, all properly attired and observing general decorum. There were perhaps 50 assembled there. I would have guessed that most were approximately of age 18, with a span of two years either way.

    The light was dim, and the air heavy and thick. The pall was not due to the crowd, however, as the clearly expectant youth had not yet begun the maniacal gyrations reportedly associated with these happenings. Rather, it was a result of the stoker feeding a boiler near the front of the stage, to the point where it nearly glowed.

I paused for a moment and appreciatively began taking stock of the apparatus. It was one of the stranger contraptions that I had ever witnessed in my entire life. From one side of the boiler there jutted out a two-foot-long metal pipe. It ran into a large, wooden-handled bellows. From there, another pipe was laid out and across the front of the stage, disappearing a large wooden box—perhaps six feet in height—with a face that appeared to be made of some sort of thin fabric. Though I could not see clearly the contents of the box, there appeared to be several circles within, stacked on top of each other.

    At that moment it occurred to me what a brilliant choice of location this was, on several counts. First, being that it was in the vicinity of the Odeon, their appearance would not have been out of place. Second, since we were situated in a cellar, very few sounds from below would have filtered up to the street level. Finally, assuming they began promptly at 21:30, the full orchestra performing at the Odeon most likely would have been in their third—often the fortissimo—movement, which effectively would mask the sounds coming from this locale.

    I was forced to admit that I had to admire the cleverness of the lads.

    After a few more minutes of toil, the stoker called back. “Oi!” he yelled, quickly establishing his Cockney roots. With that, the curtain parted, and four dignified young men took their place, center stage, to polite applause. They bore in their hands the instruments typical of the string quartet.

    The crowd hushed. The spectacle was about to begin. I had heard about them. Now I was one of a select few experiencing them firsthand: the Sex Truncheons, live.

The first violin—who sported a shock of red hair, though it bordered on orange—raised his Strad to his chin. After making eye contact with the others, he put bow to instrument. After pausing for a moment, he drew across the D string, and launched into, if I recall, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major. The others quickly filled in.

The notes were sweet and pure. Clearly, they were talented and accomplished young musicians.

    As the first movement reached its crescendo, the first violin stood bolt upright, and with a flourish insouciantly kicked back his chair with one leg.

    “1 2 3 4!” he yelled as they four of them abruptly launched into a different, more uptempo number. The sound intensity grew tenfold, as it appeared to be somehow emanating from the box center stage. I looked over and saw that the stoker now was furiously working the bellows. After a brief musical introduction, the first violin put down his instrument and began singing a tune, one which was quite unfamiliar to me. Certainly, though, it was not based on any composition of Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach.

I do pray the almighty god to save the queen.

I do not believe that she is a human being.

I consider it an exercise in wasted time

Contemplating England’s dreams.

    “Queen,” “being,” dreams.” I never a fan of slant rhyme. It just seemed too...unconventional and free-spirited for my tastes. But my opinion hardly counted. The young ones who had gathered for this concert clearly were enthralled by it.

    After several minutes—a rather short time, by musical standards—that piece ended to raucous applause and even foot stomping. But rather than acknowledging the audience’s gratitude, and bowing to them as one would have expected, the leader called out, “1 2 3 4” yet again. I assumed they were beginning the second movement. But, though this work shared the same prestissimo, agitato tempo and mood as the first, it sounded as though it were being performed in a completely different key, if the musical training of my youth still holds. So I was forced to conclude that it was an entirely different composition all together.

We endeavoured to holiday in a sunny warm clime,

In the Channel Island of Jersey.

But we were less than successful,

And they requested that we depart.

    The crowd was now agog, even worked into a froth, one could say. I could see why. The lyrics were scathing, scabrous, even scandalous! Corsets, long gloves and cravats all went flying. I felt as though a riot were imminent, and wondered how they planned to reclaim their own garments and, failing a successful retrieval, how they would explain the items’ disappearance to their parents upon their return home.

    The audience then began a strange dance, the maniacal gyrations I referenced earlier. Rather than following any traditional, formal steps, they simply jumped straight up and down, repeatedly, without making contact with any specific partner. It was a most bizarre sight. I decided to coin the term “lifting,” a reference to that relatively new American invention, the lift, which simply takes one up and down.

    Then, some adventurous young men climbed onto the stage. I thought for a moment that they had planned on assaulting the musicians, who clearly were decimating musical convention on multiple fronts. But rather, they faced back toward the audience and hurled themselves with abandon through the air. I expected that they soon were to meet a rude impact with the floor. But, quite surprisingly, the assemblage spontaneously raised their collective hands and caught the falling free spirits, who then rode along on the sea of supporting hands. I immediately labeled those two actions “stage hurling” and “crowd sailing,” respectively.

    After two more pieces entitled, as nearly as I can tell, “Civil Disobedience For Mother United Kingdom” and “Comparably Uninhabited,” the lads stood and bowed politely to uproarious applause, whistles, and shouts of “Huzzah!”

    The leader held up his hand to silence the throng, and said, “Now sod off!” before leading his mates backstage.

    The audience then began chanting their name and igniting and holding aloft their Döbereiner's lamps. I did not understand the significance of the ritual. Perhaps it was to help them find their way out, now that the performance had ended.

    After a few minutes, though, the oil lanterns were brought up to a collective “Awww” from the spectators. Realizing that the show apparently was over (why that would not have been obvious when the musicians left the stage, I am not certain) the youth began crawling around on the floor in an effort to retrieve their carelessly cast aside wardrobe components.

    It was then that I finally spotted Martha, my eldest sister’s niece (by virtue of her husband’s side of the family tree) who had been my confidant, and who had sent me the IM earlier this evening.

    “Malcolm,” she said, taking my hands and kissing my cheeks, “how are you?”

    “Martha, my dear, I am well. How are you?”

    “I’m all out of breath,” she said, putting an ungloved hand on her white, heaving bosom. I had to struggle to remember that I am engaged to be married, and quickly averted my eyes from her excessive display of skin. “What did you think of the show?”

    To be honest, I was not certain. Clearly, the music was dreadful. The words “noise” “racket,” and “dissonance” came to mind. Still, there was no denying that the audience found them appealing.

    “I was intrigued,” I said, diplomatically.

    “Would you like to meet them?” she asked.

    “I suppose that would be proper.”

    “Let’s go then,” she said, grabbing my hand.

    “Please remind me. What are their names?”

    She rolled her eyes.

    “The first violin is Jonathan Joseph Rotham. Second violin, Philip Stephen Jones. The viol was played by James Paul McCooke. And finally, cellist Simon ‘Sid’ Virtuous. He replaced the original cellist, Glen Flintlock, who was asked to leave after repeatedly insisting that Antonio Salieri possessed a far superior talent to Mozart.”

    “OK, Jonathan, Philip—”

    “He prefers Stephen.”

    “Stephen, James—”

    “He prefers Paul.”

    “Paul and...” I said, waiting for a correction, which was not forthcoming. “Sid.”

    “Jonathan, Stephen, James, and Sid. Right, then. Let us go.”

    “Hold on one moment,” she said, scanning the floor, before locating and retrieving a single off-white glove. She then hurried me around the stage.

    A burly gentleman with crossed arms stood in front of a door. She winked, blew him a kiss, and bent over slightly.

    He stood aside, and she pushed her way in.

    “Hey, mates,” she called out as we entered.

    “Oi, Martha,” said the cellist. “How are you this fine evening?”

    “I’m swinging, love,” she said, adopting a working-class accent that clearly contradicted her upbringing. Seeing that Jonathan was eying me suspiciously, she proactively offered, “Let me introduce you to my cousin, Malcolm. I’ve told him about you, and he said he wanted to see you perform.”

    “Mate,” said Sid, offering his hand.


    “Pleased, sir,” from Stephen.


    “Nice to meet you,” said Paul.


    “Oi! The honor is all mine, missus.”

    I must admit, I was not building a favorable impression of Mr. Rotham. But I decided to give him an opportunity to redeem himself.

    “Enchanted,” I forced myself to say.

    They looked at me blankly for a moment. I suppose it was my “move.”

    “Right. Well, chaps, that was an engaging recital. One cannot deny that your audience enjoyed every minute of it. Tell me, do you have designs on performing at any larger, more established venues, perhaps closer to the central city.”

    “No,” said Jonathan.

    More silence.

    “Right. Well, you’ve chosen a most catchy name for yourselves. No one, certainly, will forget it. But don’t you think it might be a bit radical?”

    “How about the white globes, then?” he asked, overtly ogling Martha’s exposed flesh.

    “You nasty, evil boy!” she exclaimed, seemingly not offended by his utter disregard for decorum.

    “Yes,” I said, trying my best to contain my growing ire. “Both are quite clever. But the Sex Truncheons, I believe, is too...inflammatory. How about something like the ‘Fab Four?’ ”

    “Sounds too cheery,” said Sid.

    “Sounds too cheeky,” from Stephen.

    “Sounds too mopey,” said Paul. “We’d be known as the ‘Mope Tops.’ ”

    “Mope?” I asked. “How does ‘fab’ sound mopey?”

    “Fab? Oh, I thought you said ‘drab.’ ”

    “His hearing has not been so good lately,” said Jonathan. Then he began an exchange with     his incapacitated mate, one which I could imagine that he delighted in oft repeating.

    “Oi!” said Jonathan.

    “Eh?” inquired Paul


    “Oi? Bugger off!”


    “I said, bugger off, Rotham.”


    “I’m warning you mate, keep it up, and you’ll be picking your rotten, stinking teeth up off     the floor.”


    I sensed that violence could be forthcoming, and wanted to ensure that Martha was witness to no part of it.

    “Ahem,” I said. “Well, chaps, it was lovely meeting you. I believe that you have tremendous potential, and I envision that you will have great success in your musical endeavours. But for now, I must bid you all a fond farewell. But I hope that I can partake in another performance in the near future. Martha, shall we?” I said, offering her my arm.

    “Of course, Malcolm. Until next time, lads,” she said coyly.

    “Until then, love,” said Jonathan. He then slapped her on the derriere. I was moved to contemplate mashing him for his ungentlemanly effrontery, but opted against it recognizing that I was outnumbered, four-to-one, or five-to-one in light of the burly gentleman at the door. Besides, I'm far more skilled with a foil than with fisticuffs.

    After we ascended the stairs and stepped outside she asked, “So what did you think?”

    “To be honest,” I said, “I was not impressed.”

    “But you had said that you wanted to represent a musical act!”

    “It certainly was an act,” I said. “With regard to music...”

    “They’re going to be huge I tell you. They’re the latest thing. Soon everyone will be talking about them.”

    “That may be so,” I said. “But I doubt that people will be talking about them in a favorable way.”

    She frowned a bit.

    “Please do not misinterpret my words, Martha. I sincerely do appreciate the opportunity. I just do not believe that I am of the temperament to successfully manage these men.”

    “Oh,” she said, obviously dejected.

    We walked the rest of the way in silence. When we reached her door step I bade her goodbye and said, “Give my best to your mother. And again, I really do appreciate your assistance. If nothing else, some day I will be able to say, “I knew them when...’ ”

    “Well, then, good night, Malcolm. Cheers.”

    “Good night.”

    Once she was safely ensconced in her manse, I felt free to share my real opinion of the Sex Truncheons. As there was no one else about, I had to share it with the gaslight overhead.

    “What a bunch of bollocks. It will be a cold day in hell before anyone gives a rat’s ass about a group of loud, obnoxious, untalented punks like that.”


    The Sex Truncheons barged into the general consciousness of the British populace on May 23 when they performed a concert on a...well...barge, floating down the Thames past the Westminster Pier and the Houses of Parliament. Clearly, it was their intent to make a mockery of the Queen, who had announced plans for a similar excursion, officially named the “Diamond Jubilee,” in celebration of her 60th birthday the following afternoon. When their skiff docked, they were instantly arrested by the local constables, and pelted with eggs and tomatoes by their adoring fans. Immediately, their reputation as iconoclasts and easy targets was cemented.

    Soon, all of London was a atwitter with tall tales of clandestine concerts within improbable locations, such as Westminster Abbey and the Clock Tower. (If you ask me, the Tower of London would have been a more appropriate choice.) To hear it, you would think that every person under the age of 20 witnessed them live at some venue or other.

    Several weeks later, Jonathan’s claim that the Sex Truncheons were now more popular than Buddha caused another stir, primarily because his proclamation required the citizenry to undertake extensive research in order to determine exactly who Buddha was.

    Unfortunately, their flame was one which burned brightly and quickly.

Shortly after announcing plans to tour the haberdasheries of several European capitals, Sid died from an adverse reaction to opium administered during a routine dental procedure. His three mates vowed to forge ahead. But, alas, they could not compensate for the loss of Jonathan, who several days later was conscripted by the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom to serve in the campaign against the Boers.

    And so ended the sordid saga of a singular phenomenon, the likes of which the world will never see again.

Tarantulas On Leashes

(About 50% of it.)

    It was a nice day, so I decided to take “Harry” for a walk. “Want to go out, boy?” I called. He scooted across the floor and over to the door, jumping up and down (as best as he could) in anticipation, wagging his...well, whatever that back section of his is called. He was so excited. Harry loves to get out of the apartment, even though to him, it’s quite spacious. He immediately complied when I said, “sit.” Those obedience lessons really paid off. I then stooped down to put on his harness, no mean feat when you take into account all the legs. Suitably leashed, I opened the door and he dashed down the hall, pulling me along as he ran. When we reached the elevator his excited demeanor immediately changed. I could never understand how, but his grain-of-salt-sized brain just knew that the elevator somehow was related to the fact that we live on the 12th floor. And he was deathly afraid of heights, something I found odd because many of his brothers in order Araneae live quite high up in trees, or even on the window ledges of skyscrapers. But Harry wouldn’t even go near our windows. Of course any tarantula owner knows that most members of the family Theraphosidae reside near the ground. So I suppose it really wasn’t that surprising.
    Aside from heights, the only other thing Harry feared were wasps. As well he should. As any caring Tarantula owner knows (or should know), you constantly have to be on the lookout for Pompilidae, or hawk wasps, which have a particular gruesome evolutionary need to sting, paralyze, and lay eggs on helpless pets like Harry. So naturally I sprayed him with some Off before we stepped outside. My vet had suggested a pill which offered season-long protection. But Harry hated pills. I couldn’t even sneak one past him by hiding it in a fly.
    A few blocks from the apartment, Harry stopped to sniff a dead worm. Or maybe it was a dead centipede, or a really old French fry. It was hard to tell. But Harry found it fascinating. I was so engrossed watching him that I didn’t notice that Sybil was approaching.
    “Hello! Hi!“ she called out, startling us both.
    Sybil was nice enough. And sort of cute. But she had a praying mantis, Thespia. Could there be an uncooler pet? And ugly...those bulging eyes, those weird backward claws. And a definitely unsavory mating ritual. They say that pets take on the personality of their owners, and vice versa. That being the case, she was definitely not a girl you wanted giving you head.
    “Hello! Hi!” she said again. Sybil always was cheerful and chipper, bordering on chirpy. It was somewhat annoying, though I had to admit, somewhat admirable. Her positive attitude and all. “How are you, Will?”
    “I’m well. How are you?”
    “I’m good,” she said, clearly not realizing that saying you’re “good” means that you’re a good person, which would be kind of insulting if I were to take the reverse implication that I’m not. Of course, I suppose she could mean she’s good in bed, but I doubt that was her intention.
    “And how’s my cute little Harry, today?” she said bending over to scratch his head, and displaying an ample amount of bosom in the process. It was pretty, and interesting, though a little discomforting. But what was I going to say? “Please either stand up or wear a turtleneck next time?” No, I just waited it out, while she spent so much time fawning over Harry that I was able to count five “punch bugs” passing on the street.
    Finally, she straightened up. “Nice day,” she said, meeting my eyes.
“It is. A great day for a walk.”
“You know, I see you walking Harry at this time of day a lot. Maybe some time we could meet up and walk together?”
“Um, yeah. That would be nice.  Right now, we’re off to the park.”
Harry’s hiss caught my attention. I looked down to see that Thespia had entered his personal space, which Harry guarded very closely. It was hard to tell, but I could swear that Thespia was licking her chops.
“Thespia, no!” she scolded, pulling back the little green monster. “Sorry.”
    “It’s OK. Harry went to the vet yesterday to get his shots. So he’s not quite himself today. We should go.”
    “OK. Well, see you around,” she said, touching my arm gently, and winking.  With that we said our goodbyes and continued on our separate ways.
I probably should try to make more of an effort to meet women. But I just have no luck. I wish I could “get” women. Understand the signals of interest. I just don’t. Insects are so lucky, since they can just use that whole pheromone thing. I wish human women could be so overt. Oh well. I once read an article in, I mean Men’s Health, which said that a great way for singles to meet is to get a spider...a common bond, something to tie you together. I guess I can get that. But I didn’t get Harry for that reason. I actually stumbled upon him while running to my apartment from the bus stop one day in a downpour. In fact, I almost smooshed him running up the steps. But at the last instant I saw him, crouching and shivering near the door, just before the fatal foot was to fall. He looked so sad and cute and pathetic, all dripping wet, that I had to take him. So I brought him in, gave him a bath, dried him off carefully with a nice little towel, and let him run around to catch and eat the ants that my landlord can’t seem to get rid of. We’ve been pals ever since.
I suppose I could try to take advantage of how adorable he is and use that to meet women. But I just don’t relate well to women. To be honest, I don’t relate well to normal guys. Most of my buddies are what you charitably would call geeks or nerds, and then whisper “dorks” behind our backs. Most of my social interaction involves conversation that would make an average grown-up roll his or her eyes.
“Have you ever noticed that there are no bathrooms on the Enterprise?”
“Of course not. They don’t need them.”
“Why? Don’t people need to relieve themselves on star date 41254.7?”
    “Sure they do. But they have transporters.”
    “Transporters. You know, ‘Scotty! I need to go. Please beam by pee into space.’ That’s what they do.”
    “Dude, that is so stupid! If he’s off by, like, a quarter inch, he’d beam part of your bladder. Then you’d be hurting!”
    “Shut up!”
    So as you can see, it’s really for the best that I don’t talk much...

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