SATURDAY the EIGHTH -
The scruffy park opposite Masty now sprouted blossoms of scruffy humanity and its apparatus - banners and merchandise tables, some still under construction, others in place since dawn. The air was ripe with clashing aromas and the cacaphony of junk wood being sawed and hammered into makeshift stages and booths as Andy, Marty, Jorge Gamba and Fredrika toted crates of nails, duct tape and flyers from a tired, yellow VW bus towards that platform being slowly established facing the convention center.
City workers also milled round the plank stage making sullen gestures towards each other, glancing at their watches or talking, texting and twittering, furtively, on devices while stacking up speakers stamped with the numerals of a junior high school audio visual department; it was warm, already... sunny... and a steady stream of Conks still flowed in and out of Masty Hall. Some lingered beneath the marquee of the Embassy Theatre next door, long dead since that multiplex had opened in the North End - its chipped, red plastic letters still reading "Dea Z ne," "D ath talk r," and "T e Ma c Chr st an"; a few wandering souls even disappearing, inexplicably, into its depths. Others even stopped, a moment, to watch reconstruction of a long-transcended past underway across the street, a decades-gone political Brigadoon... held together, barely, by duct tape.
"How's that place?" Jorge gestured with a hammer. "We want to be next to that tree, it'll support our banner."
"I don't know, man," Andy snarled. "It might be reserved."
"What's all this reserved shit?"
"Last night, Herb said that he was going to organize all the booths of authorized participants, assign all these numbers and things. We were too tired to stop him."
"Well I don't see him. What's wrong with just setting up?" Jorge pressed.
"Dunno," Andy waved. "He had some sort of strategic plan in setting all these people either next to one another or not next to each other so as to ensure safe spaces, and I mean I didn't understand what he was talking about. Kept nodding off. So just set up," he decided on the spot. "What the fuck! Somebody else comes along being offended or talking about their reservations, work it out. That's what everybody else seems to be doing..."
Marty broke in. "Herb’s doggin’ round like some dogcatcher in that security guard uniform of his, with clipboards and all of these cardboard tags with numbers on them, but he's come up to people who'd already dug in and they just ignored him. Oh... and there's some strange Euros, associated with that crazy woman last night, handing out lists of processes that all speakers are supposed to follow – trigger words and phrases that we’re not allowed to say."
He shrugged. Jorge shrugged back and they dropped the stuff by the tree. From the stage, Dion posed and wandered on the oldies station, booming out from one of the City workers' boom boxes.
"God bless Siva's Hammer Printing," Fredrika grunted, setting down a box of leaflets. "If it weren't for their cheap union-busting copies, the activist community in this town would go broke!"
A time-warped hippie with a face brown and wrinkled as a raisin hailed Andy from across the park. "Can you give us a hand with the free food?"
"It'll be OK," Andy promised Jorge and Fredrika. "Just ignore Herb."
He was halfway to the sidewalk where people were unloading boxes from a station wagon, when an earnest-looking young CNC delegate in a blue blazer and nametag intercepted him, asking "Are you in charge?"
Andy waved to indicate the confusion of the construction, dogs and radios and screeching children, lone-wolf political theorists shouting out manifestoes to the strangers and the trees.
"Nobody's in charge of this! But what do you need, anyway?"
A woman joined him... young, freckled, wedding band on her left ring finger. "Excuse us," she apologized, "but this man across the street pointed you out and said that you could help. Funny," she added, peering back towards Masty Hall, "I don't see where he went..."
"You see," the Conk spoke up, "we're from Indiana. We're with the challenge delegation?" Andy's blank face slowed him down. "Anyway, to make a long story short, we made this reservation at the Nite's Inn, all the way out in Miscaway, and they told us it would be eighty-four dollars, but when we got here yesterday the manager said the Coalition discount didn't apply because we weren't on somebody's list and it would be a hundred seventy-two..."
"For one night," his wife tried to smile before delivering her punchline. “Each!”
"Anyway," the man resumed, "we don't have very much money... we had to stay last night at the full rate because there isn't anything else in town. But we can't afford it again, tonight or tomorrow; they're eighteen miles away and there isn't anything available this side of the capital..."
"That man," his wife continued, bouncing off her husband like a tag team wrestler, "he suggested that you knew some sort of lower cost hostel, like a YMCA? It wouldn't have to be luxurious, even comfortable, even; we only need a place to… like they used to say, crash?"
“We have sleeping bags,” the Indianan volunteered.
"Sure! Sure!" Andy repeated, his head beginning to feel like it had just been bounced off a turnbuckle. "I can help you but he's right... it won't be very comfortable. But if you can't find anything else, here's the address." He wrote down the address of the Jefferson Street Sanctuary on the back of a flier attacking resumption of Star Wars deployment... the President's Siti 3.2 Program that had passed the Senate with only four dissenting votes after the meatballs had been passed round. "Ask for Eddie; we don't charge, but do take donations for the community, twenty..." he looked down at their shoes, "thirty dollars, whatever you can spare. For the both…"
"That's marvelous," said the Conkette. "Oh... thank you! Thank you!"
"Like Luke Bryan says, I knew people in town were basically good, or the CNC wouldn't have chosen to hold its convention here," her husband beamed with fresh, Midwestern Pencian optimism. "That must just have been one bad case, that motel manager... not very American, if you catch my drift," he winked.
"Yeah, well it takes all kinds," Andy smiled goodbye. "See you later… maybe..."
He continued his voyage across the park to the free food truck, which Rael, among others, was helping to unload.
"What's this shit?" he sniffed.
"Bagels and raw cauliflower."
"Ugh!" he said, picking up a vegetable. "Look at this black mold, this shit's ancient! It should be going to the old folks' home."
"So we'll just scrape it off," Rael answered, undeterred.
"Fine. Fine!" He tossed the venerable vegetable aside and kicked at a box of bagels, one of which fell off and rolled down the sidewalk and into the grass. A pigeon landed, poked at it two or three times before wandering off, fluffing indignant feathers. "Critics! Where does this go?"
"Over by the Labor party... no, wait... the Workers' booth."
"What the fuck," Andy coughed, hoisting the free food onto his shoulder and starting to walk. "They're all Trots, and anybody who eats this shit's gonna get the trots, too!"
"You're in your usual pleasant mood," Rael shouted after him.
Andy turned, balancing the box of old produce against his neck. "Well, for a start, that reporter kept calling my hotel all night, kept getting Babu's family out of bed so he wouldn't go away until I called him back... that one hanging around City Hall told him and he wanted to know this and that..."
"Terrific!" she brightened. "The animals need publicity!"
"Not his kind. Trust me! He's that jerk columnist who wrote about those squats on West Demoyne and, after the Urinal came out, Pinhead had the cops come round and throw everybody into prison!"
"Oh, him... that, that human! Did you hear anything about the Klan coming tomorrow, to disrupt the demonstration? Those Aryan somebodies, from Colorado? Or relatives of that alt-Jesus fellow in Kansas who used to picket dead soldiers?"
"Just the usual disinformation. I thought they were going to blow up the convention. Or join it as Tillerman delegates... whatever... nothing about these Conks makes any sense!"
He dropped the box in a clearing with other dubious foodstuffs. A thin Old Lefty in a faded red t-shirt memorializing East Germany leaned over the table on which he'd been cutting old carrots, frowning...
"Thanks, man." Andy grunted a reply without looking up, but the guy wasn't finished. "Hey, like... you know we really can't afford another one of those fees..."
"What fee?" Andy said. "You're giving this shit away, right?"
"The forty dollars that these people were askin' for..."
A bug skidded into a fluorescent light, blowing out in Andy's brain. "Guy with a clipboard? Maybe wearing security guard clothes..."
"Nah... we already laid twenty on him, earlier. This guy in a business suit, older, like me... fat, wearin' shades? An' this woman with him, looked like a hooker?"
"Emil!" He turned to Rael, who'd arrived out of breath, toting still more food. "Oh... this is great, fuckin' Emil! Our lawyer's hustling his back fees by shaking down the booths. Hot shit! Listen, you can stay, no matter who comes round. What you do is put out a can for donations, mark it for Demonstration Expenses. That guy or the other one, younger, with clipboards, comes around, they can empty it... tell 'em Andy told you to do it..."
"But," the Ostiephile demurred, "we already have our own can..."
"No law against having two. Or three. You see a cop around? A Turk? Put out the cans... Rael, there's gonna be a lot of this shit round. Three cans! Can you hit restaurant alley and liberate some dumpster cans? Not too filthy…"
"I don't know... maybe if there's enough help at the animals' table..."
"No problemo," Andy assured her. "I've seen it... full of all your rich young liberals from the U. who hate their parents, ergo all human beans." Rael opened her mouth to protest but Andy patted her on the shoulder, blowing a kiss. "It'll be fine... listen, I gotta check out that stage, see ya round..."
SUNDAY the NINTH - 10:14 PM
"Hey, punk," Nelson said through his cigar, "how can you fuckin' think with that damn thing on?"
"Huh?" Dannie answered through “What the Fox Said” on his I-pod.
Helen, heading off unnecessary conflict with little more than three-quarters of an hour to airtime, motioned the editor over. "Hey!" she diverted Nelson's attention away, "take a look at this opening segment of the Catfish speech. Parnell ties in everything, even Baby Claire."
Nelson took the cigar out of his mouth, turned away... the editor squinted into one of the monitors as Helen ran the speech back.
"Thank you, thank you," boomed a disembodied political voice. "What wonderful people! And... I've just learned wonderful news from Florida… the doctors say Baby Claire will make it. How about that... she's gonna make it!"
"He talkin' about the operation? They had it, already, nobody tellin' me?"
"Hell, no! Talking about the money."
"It's not clear from the shot. How does it time out?" Nelson asked, grudgingly.
"Well... maybe," Nelson said, not wanting to give in so easily. "Where the fuck's Billy? Kid, we need a lead... gimme one. Take that damn thing off!"
And, before Dannie could remove the I-Pod himself, Nelson ripped it off and threw the thin, wheedling tones of James Blunt… or, maybe, was it Josh Groban?… across the editing console as a twitchy little man in a safari jacket clattered into the studio.
"As I was saying, where the fuck were you?"
"Needed a beer," the reporter shot back. "And a blowjob. Haircut... whatever! Tried to get close to the victim when the coroner's people rolled up, couldn't. Man in a bloody suit was all I could see. Cops and Turks everywhere! Fuckin' East End's a Costa Rican warzone... crazy out there!"
"Do you have ninety-two seconds of rioting?" Nelson demanded,
"Ninety minutes, if you want it." With fumbling fingers, two of which still held a smoldering cigarette, Billy began pulling cassettes and thumbdrives and junk... coins, a comb, a switchblade knife, a dried apricot... out of his omniverous pockets.
"Helen, you work with him," Nelson turned away. "Kid! I said I needed a lead..."
"How's... uh... this?" Dannie stammered, "...a night of triumph and tragedy in the city. Wait... another possibility, better... a night of triumph and terror..."
"Whatcha think, Billy?" said the manager with a prejudicial scowl.
"Terror... dunno, sounds foreign, like as if Iranians were involved... Irakians? Italians?" the reporter free-associated, finding the cassette he'd been looking for. "'Cept for the Turks, this is strictly homegrown. Take a vizzy..."
Newspeople, even Marla's hairdresser, huddled round the monitor for a peek. Soundless scenes of breaking glass, then breaking heads came and went. A Prius exploded in flames, a nightstick busted open the nose of a girl no older than fourteen; a shirtless man, noting the camera, made an obscene gesture.
"Have to cut that part," Nelson sighed. "Assholes! Always getting into the frame! When do we get to that body?"
VIEW CURRENT COLUMN by JACK "CATFISH" PARNELL... "ENTROPY and RENAISSANCE"
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