“So then,” said the Internet guy with the baseball cap, “what is my choice for the best short barrel carry conceal revolver? I’d have to go with the Ruger over the Smith and Wesson. Keep in mind that’s just a matter of personal choice.”
“Whatcha’ doin’?” Rika sing-songed. She didn’t so much walk into Alvin’s room as sashayed into it, hips kind of flowing left and right more than they usually do.
Alvin quickly turned off the computer monitor. “Nothing. Just stuff, you know, watching porn.”
“Oh, okay, as long as it’s a healthy endeavor.” She sat down on the bed. “Guess what day it is.”
“Peruvian New Year.”
“How many guesses do I get?”
“Two, shut up. It’s my birthday. I’m twenty-three today.”
“Twenty-three?! Why, that’s my favorite prime number.”
“Mine too!” Rika exclaimed in overwhelmed amazement. “So, I have something,” she began and pulled a baggy out of her pants pocket. “And I’ve been saving it for a special occasion and to share with a special person. Now, to be clear, Rory is that special person.”
“Of course. I’ve also found him special.”
“But since he can’t be here tonight because he’s got a paper he has to work on, even though it’s my birthday and we were supposed to celebrate my birthday together, which renders him consequently dead to me, at least at this moment, I was wondering if you’d like to fill in as special person.”
“Where exactly are we going with this?” Alvin asked with some degree of concern while wondering if Rika was drunk.
She held the little baggy up in front of Alvin. “Ever do shrooms?”
“Psilocybin mushrooms. Ever do ‘em?”
“No,” Alvin said. “What do they do?”
“Make you feel different.”
“Then I’m intrigued.”
Rika beamed and wiggled her eyebrows. She left and returned with two small glasses of water. She dumped half the herb-looking contents into one glass and then the other. She mixed them both with a spoon.
“Cheers,” she said, holding out her glass, and Alvin tapped it, then they both drained their glasses.
“You have to go look in the bathroom,” Rika said, following a lengthy jaunt there and back an hour later.
She leaned toward him. Her eyes got wide. “It’s white!”
“It’s always white. It’s the bathroom.”
“No, no,” she countered. “No. It’s real white.”
Alvin took the bait and headed for the bathroom. Rika was correct. The bathroom wasn’t white, it was real white. The white shower curtain was glowing. So was the toilet. Alvin sat down on the floor and studied the toilet seat. He’d never seen anything that white before, or so perfectly curved. He pulled the handle and made the toilet flush. It was incredible. He wanted to stay longer but he felt a prolonged absence would be rude, so pulled himself away from the incredible miracle of physics that was the toilet.
“Wow,” he said, sitting back on the floor next to Rika.
She smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Really pleased,” he said. “Like a happy balloon.”
The phone rang. Rika took a glance at the number. “Oh, it’s Rory.”
“And here comes the pin.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Let me go, I’ll be right back.” She patted his hand, said hello in the phone, and left the bedroom.
Rika had put on a CD an hour earlier but now it had reached its conclusion. Alvin had no idea who the band was, but they were really great, whoever they were. He wanted to put on another CD but it seemed an extraordinarily complicated procedure, especially since it required standing up again. Turning on the radio was manageable, being within arm’s reach, and so he did that. It was set at Wisconsin Public Radio and so he anticipated something classical. He just hoped it was something other than Mozart. But he wasn’t inclined to be picky and if it was the announcer just humming If You Knew Susie Like I Knew Susie into the microphone, that would be fine.
It was, however, right at the top of the hour and there wasn’t music, but talking instead.
“Good evening, I’m Mara Hunt with the top of the hour news report.”
Alvin had his back against the bed but then keeled over sideways and rested his back on the floor. “The horror…the horror,” he mumbled. “The news.” He looked at the ceiling, studying the graph formed by the blue lines all one foot-apart that weren’t there yesterday.
“Roger Stillman, convicted just last month of insider trading was released from prison today following a pardon by President Frake,” Mara informed. “House minority leader Deborah Main says she strongly opposes the pardon and will pursue further action against the president for abuse of power, including a call for impeachment.”
“I like peaches,” Alvin said quietly. “Peaches are good. Mints too. Peach mints. That should be a thing. I’m peach mints.”
“In Los Angeles employees of the Department Of Reconciliation And Inclusion cemented over the hand imprint and name of entertainer Al Jolson in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This follows in the wake of other actions this month including the removal of all statues of Mark Twain as well as the removal of the statue of Man O’ War from the Kentucky Horse Park at his grave. In a similar action, considered long overdue by members of the National Organization of Women, all members of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. And in Washington, protests continue over the Monumental Women statue. The statue depicts Susan B. Anthony listening to Sojourner Truth speak and with pen in hand prepared to write down Truth’s comments. Detractors of the statue says it implies that Truth was illiterate and had to have a white lady write things down for her. Members of the NRA Women’s Auxiliary counter that it’s inappropriate for Anthony to be put in the subservient role as scribe for whatever Truth is dictating. All sides agree, however, that given her racist opinions, the image of Elizabeth Cady Stanton needs to go. Given the cost of removing the image from the entire statue, the Stanton image will be sprayed-painted black and be referred to as The Unknown Suffragette, representing all those women of color who favored votes for women but weren’t famous or white enough to get their name on a statue. Said New York mayor Ed Beancounter, ‘Nobody knows what Stanton looks like anyway, so it should be fine.’
“Following on the heels of this action, in California, given the rude things Leland Stanford said about Chinese and Native Americans, the name of Stanford University, wherever applicable, will have a dot put after the ‘T’ and will henceforth be known as Saint Anford University.
“In Torchahippie, Mississippi, ban the Beatles protests and record burnings continue in the wake of John Lennon saying the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. While Lennon was making a private comment that stated that a rock and roll band shouldn’t have so much influence over the youth of America and the fact that they do indicates that perhaps there’s a problem with American youth’s priorities, nobody cared.
“Persecution of teachers and intellectuals is moving forward swiftly in China as Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution sets forth a new path for the country following The Great Leap Forward which had accounted for thirty million deaths.
“In England today Alan Turing, whose unending work and genius was responsible for cracking the German Enigma code and thus ending World War II and saving the lives of millions of people, was convicted of homosexual activity and sentenced to chemical castration.
“The screen writers’ group known as the Hollywood Ten, were sentenced to one year in prison today by the House Un-American Activities Cartel for their involvement with idealistic notions.
“Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, one hundred and sixty thousand Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps for the duration of the war as there was a hint that one of them might be a spy.
“In Russia, following a successful overthrow of czarist rule and the implementation of a socialistic and humanitarian order, which the Hollywood Ten went to prison for because they thought socialism was basically a good idea, the new government hierarchy headed by Vladimir Lenin, murdered the entire Romanov family in a basement, including the five children, as well as their maid, cook, doctor, and footman.
“News from France reports that feminist playwright and abolitionist Olympe de Gouges, long a leading proponent for women’s equality, was executed today after having been convicted of having said that despite her support for the revolution, executing members of the aristocracy was wrong.
“And finally, in Egypt, Pharaoh Akhenaton, formerly Amenhotep IV, decreed today that all the gods presently worshiped by the Egyptian people don’t really exist. Said Akhenaton in an interview recorded earlier with WPR, ‘There is only one god, and that is the Sun. And when the Sun goes away at night then it’s me.’ Destruction of all images of all previous gods has now begun in earnest, including Anubis, which is the one that has the body of a man and the head of a dog, which is too bad as I always thought that one looked pretty cool.
“That’s the news at the top of the hour. I’m Mara Hunt. Have a good night, stay well, and damnatio memoriae.”
Alvin stretched out his hand to see if he could hit the off button on the radio but he was short by a foot.
“Good evening. This is Connie Gullickson with evening classics.”
“There we go,” Alvin muttered, returning his hand to his body.
“Following our two hours of music, later tonight at nine we want you to stay tuned to WPR as we bring you All Things Considered. Tonight Ari Schapiro continues his twelve-part series on the difficulties and challenges faced by African-American men playing in the NBA. Then after that, Jim Hedge will be taking a closer look at the uphill battles faced by people dealing with Chronic Bad Decision Disorder, or CBDD. And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow at seven for Fresh Air as Terri Gross interviews Valerie Sorbin who turned her life around by going from being a meth addict to being on the New York Time’s best seller list with her memoir All the Weird Things I Did When I Was a Meth Addict. That’s at seven. Also stay tuned afterward at eight o’clock for a special non-biased and objective discussion about the federal government’s continued stance of not granting citizenship to illegal aliens. The hour will feature arguments in favor of maintaining that stance, as well as personal interviews with six illegal aliens who argue in favor of being granted citizenship while Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings plays in the background behind them. And tomorrow morning, tune in to Morning Edition as we continue interviewing every person in France about the recent Paris massacre and asking them how they feel. That series will continue until something really bad happens somewhere else at which time we’ll drop it like a hot potato and pretend it never happened. That’s all coming your way tonight and tomorrow.
“But to start off your evening and the program tonight, we have music by African-American composer William Grant Still. William Grant Still was the most prolific African-American composer of his time.”
“How hard could that have been?” Alvin thought aloud. “And Hank Greenberg was the greatest Jewish baseball player of the 1930’s.”
“We always like to introduce William Grant Still as an African-American composer. This lets people know that African-Americans composed classical music too, sort of the same way we always point out that Amy Beach was a woman, in case anyone was confused by her androgynous first name. But we always want to make sure that people know that William Grant Still was an African American composer, as opposed to just an American composer. Now, some people might say that it would be much more respectful to William Grant Still if he was just noted as an American composer, and thereby given a proper and equal seat amongst all of the other American composers. While that may be true, we find it doesn’t satisfy our particular liberal white social and political agenda. While we believe that skin color doesn’t define a person, here it kind of works for us, so we don’t really have a problem seeing him as an object rather than an actual human being.”
Alvin lifted himself off the floor and found the off button. “I don’t like William Grant Still. Whatever color he was. He’s kind of a fuddy-duddy. Just my opinion, missy. I don’t like Mozart either. So, we’re square. I guess.”
Alvin walked down the hall to Rika’s bedroom. She was still on the phone, sitting on the bed.
“No! I did not insult your mother!” Rika protested into the phone. “That’s not what I said. No, she was out of line what she said to me! Why are you taking her side? No, I do not hate your mother. That’s unfair. Why—”
Alvin wrapped his knuckles on the doorframe twice to get her attention. She turned and pointed to the phone, employing the international symbol for “I’m still on the phone.”
Alvin spread his hands far apart, employing the international symbol for, “What the hell? I thought we had a pretend date.”
Rika returned an apologetic wince, the international symbol for, “I’m sorry I’m dating an asshole. What is one to do? Alas.”
Alvin walked into the bathroom and sat down in front of the toilet. He pulled the handle. He watched the maelstrom. Then he watched the water slowly fill up the bowl. “Fascinating,” he said. As the water filled up the bowl, he heard a glorious two-pitch harmony comprised of angelic altos and tenors. On and on it went, each group holding their respective note for what seemed longer than humanly possible. Then suddenly! Silence! No quieting preface or slow trailing away, just sudden nothingness. And Alvin was amazed at how loud abrupt silence could be. “Wow,” he said, and he flushed the toilet again.
Note to the Mother Ship
I was watching an old movie. Lillian Gish was sitting on her porch in the dark, rocking in a chair, holding a shotgun, protecting her inherited brood of two children from the psycho who lurked behind the distant trees. There was quiet for a moment, then an owl hooted. And then the owl spied prey on the ground below it. And nature ran its course.
And observing this, Lillian Gish sadly and quietly, though always having known, said to herself, “It’s a hard world for little things.”
I can’t think of anything that better sums up Earth.
The poker game was going into its second hour when Alvin emerged from his bedroom to get a beer from the fridge.
“Alvin, come play,” said Nick, dealing a new hand. “We’re down one and need a new fifth.”
“Where’s Jason?” Alvin asked.
“He went to the bathroom to kill himself.”
“Are you playing for money?”
“Naturally, there’d be no point otherwise.”
“I’ll pass, thanks,” said Alvin. He poked around in the refrigerator, moving beer cans around in a hunt. “Where’s my Miller Genuine Draft?” he asked.
“Um,” said Tristan, “that might be gone. There’s Hamm’s in there.”
“I don’t want Hamm’s. You drank my Miller Genuine Draft?”
“I’m sorry, was that yours?” asked Aaron.
“Alvin’s very picky,” said Nick to the others. “Sorry, Alvin,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Have a Hamm’s. Hamm’s is good.”
“No,” countered Alvin, “Hamm’s is not good. Hamm’s is cheap.”
“Cheap is good,” said Nick. “Just think of it as being imported—from China.”
Alvin poured himself a Hamm’s in a glass. Then he found a bottle of bourbon and poured half a shot glass of that into his beer.
“Hello!” called Rika as she and Rory came through the door.
Nick turned to Rory. “Hey, Ace,” he said as Rory approached the table. “Why don’t you sit down. We need a fifth and Alvin’s chicken.”
“I think I will,” said Rory.
“You’re gonna play now?” asked Rika, holding a vinyl record in her hands with the plastic wrap still on it.
“Just a couple hands,” he said.
“I thought we were going to listen to the record,” she said.
“Absolutely. Give me a couple hands and we’ll hit it. It sounds cool.”
“Rika,” Nick called, “come on, get in this too.”
It took her an unusually long time to respond. But eventually out came a displeased, “No thank you.”
“Suit yourself,” said Nick.
Alvin stood leaning against the sink drinking his Hamm’s au Bourbon. Rika turned to him, then looked back at the poker table as her boyfriend took off his jacket and put it across the chair. Then she looked at Alvin again, then the floor.
“What have you got?” Alvin asked her.
“The Doors,” she said, looking back up to him.
“Really. On vinyl.”
“Oh, you want to listen to that? I’ll listen to that.”
She beamed. “Okay. Do you know it?”
“Some. Never heard the whole thing from beginning to end. Let’s do it.”
They went into Rika’s bedroom since she was the only one in the house with an actual record player. She took off her shoes and socks. Alvin sat on the floor against the wall. Rika put on the album and then joined him on the floor, resting her back against her bed. His outstretched legs ended at the side of her behind, and hers, his.
“So, how come you’re not playing cards?” she asked. “I thought with all those cards you have you’d be a big-time card player.”
“I don’t like playing games for money. Gambling is an ill-conceived venture, from a mathematical perspective. Also, and I have played poker before, I think to be good at it you have to be good at deceiving people. Not really my strong suit. Also, you have to spend a lot of time figuring out if other people are trying to deceive you. I find that kind of exhausting. Also, I like playing cards with myself more than with other people, or another person.”
“Well, mainly because when you play any game by yourself, you get twice as many turns. And there’s no waiting.”
“Or, by playing games with other people, or another person, you engage in a worthwhile and pleasing social interaction.”
“I disagree. I like rummy. Do you know how to play rummy?”
“Indeed I do.”
“I don’t want to cramp your style, but do you want to play?”
“Sure. I’ll get a deck,” he said, starting to get up.
“Oh, no, no, no. I have a deck.” She got up and grabbed Animal Kingdom from the top of her dresser.
Alvin sighed. “Hm. Little fonts. I don’t know.”
“It’ll be great.” She dealt. “Wanna smoke a doobie?”
“No, thank you. You go ahead though.”
“You don’t smoke?”
“I did a long time ago, but I had to quit. It made me feel weird.”
“I’d get paranoid for some reason. Then one night, I came home, after getting high, and I had this houseplant, you know, little thing, and it started undulating. Like it moved back and forth on its stem. Like a hula dancer. It was kind of creepy. I didn’t like that. So I quit.”
“Yeah, I thought so too.”
“Weed isn’t supposed to make you hallucinate.”
“I agree. Maybe I have some sort of weird chemical imbalance that responds negatively to marijuana.”
“How were the shrooms?”
“Shrooms good,” Alvin said with a positive nod.
Rika smoked her joint. They played. She won. Then he won. She flipped over the record when the first side was done. They started another game. Alvin won again, and he noticed her game faltering. She began taking far too long to make a decision, as if she didn’t even understand what the rules were. She stared at her cards like she was looking into a mirror. Alvin looked at her and he knew she wasn’t just stoned and confused by being stoned, but just somewhere else. And then a tear rolled down her cheek.
Alvin grabbed the end of her pants’ leg and jiggled it. “What?” he asked.
“He’s such a shit sometimes.” Her head bobbed to either the music or the affirmation in her head as she just looked at the floor. Alvin was unsure which one it was.
She picked up the album cover and waved it. “Present!” she said. “Present! Let’s go listen to the present I bought you. Asshole. Let’s go be alone. Asshole.”
“Maybe you could do better,” Alvin said, and it wasn’t so much a suggestion as advice.
“He loves me.”
That was too quick, Alvin thought. Too automatic.
“He loves me,” she said again, looking at the floor. “I need that. It’s important.”
He tapped on her toes to the beat of the music, then gently wiggled the finger in a bit so that it was between her big toe and the next one. He wondered if that was going too far. He wondered if it was too suggestive. But he didn’t wonder too much because he was on his fourth beer. And she didn’t react. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t do anything to suggest she objected. She just observed it. And Alvin absorbed the words that were coming from Jim Morrison like they were a directive—Break on through to the other side! Break on through to the other side! Break on through! Break on through! Break! Break! Break! Break!
And when it ended, it didn’t.
After a half hour, both sides of the album having been played, no knock on the door having come from Rory, Rika said it was time for her to go to bed. As they both stood up, Alvin lightly grabbed at her shirt collar and pulled up and down on it a bit. “Talk to me,” he said. “If you want to.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
Alvin came back into the poker area. It had thinned out a bit, but Aaron and Rory and Nick were still present.
“Alvin, change your mind?” Aaron said.
“No, I’m good,” Alvin said. “I need a walk.”
Break! Break! Break! Break……………
Alvin put on his leather coat. The weight in the right-hand pocket caused the coat to rest slightly down and askew on his body. He pushed his hand down into the left pocket to balance things out.
The apartment was just off Langdon street. All the fraternity houses were on Langdon street. And while Alvin didn’t care for the degree of human noise and human music that frequently billowed forth, it also had the most trees. They made a canopy over the sidewalk, creating not so much a city block but a magical movie set. Alvin liked this. It made him feel elsewhere.
When he ran out of any more Langdon street to traverse, he turned off to the next. This was less magical, more normal, but still reasonably tree-lined and pleasant. Darker though, and considerably more bereft of human activity. About fifty yards ahead, a group of three males left their dwelling and turned down the street, walking further away from him. They were probably students, given that pretty much everybody who lived in this area was a student. As the distance between them grew to about sixty yards, a pair of males approached the trio on the same sidewalk but from the opposite direction. As all of them came together, the pair heading in Alvin’s direction moved to the left side, and the trio formed a single file on the right side. It was just automatic and normal. No words were exchanged. The trio were engaged in some amusing conversation, laughing and being boisterous with a random, “No way! Fuck! Ha!” and that did not break even as they formed the single line on the right side of the sidewalk. The pair coming in the opposite direction were not talking to each other, though. They continued toward Alvin, and silence between the two of them continued.
Threat Level: 3 percent.
As they neared Alvin, now twenty yards distant, the pair separated. One moved to walking on the lawn on the left and the other moved to the lawn on the right.
Threat Level: 50 percent. Warning required.
“Same side, gentlemen,” Alvin said as he continued his approach. And he gestured to the one who had moved to the left side to move to the right so he would not be passing between them. They seemed not to hear the request.
Warning ignored. Threat Level: 80 percent. Discontinue advance. Second warning required.
Alvin stopped. He smiled, though not a friendly smile, more of a sarcastic smile. He assumed his perception of the situation would be appreciated and so felt no need to emphasize it with overt anger—just directness, “Same side, gentlemen,” he repeated, and again waved for the one on the right to move to the left and join his partner. Then he put his hand in the right-side pocket.
“It’s cool, man, we’re cool. No need to be afraid.” When they got to Alvin both of them stopped, one on his right and one on his left, and both difficult to see at the same time.
“Hey, man,” the right side began, “Do you know where Emmerson Street is? We’re looking for Emmerson Street.”
Question could have been asked of the three other males at the time they intersected, but was not. Threat Level: 100 percent. Immediate response required.
Alvin pulled out the gun.