SATURDAY the EIGHTH -
The ruins of dinner strewn about their table like bones in a wolverine's lair, Andy sat back, feeling his stomach settle after a rare, somewhat frightening hour. Table talk still buzzed in his ear like gnats. Glenn. Whining, boasting... one or the other. Always!
"...so, you see, you'll always be a prophet without honor because you don't know how to do deals, compromise. So you... I'm talking in the general sense about the protest people, that is... retain your integrity but, while you do, real people suffer and some die. And it’s your fault," he pointed.
Andy replied without conviction... unfamiliar food and drink having muddled his stomach and head. "So what's that prove? We let Ratso’s people register voters at the Sanctuary. I'm not against registration... hell, if you're not registered then not voting is simply laziness instead of an act of conscience."
"Glenn," Anne needled, "I don't see you volunteering to join the New Lincoln Brigade and get your head shot off in the jungle."
hope I'm not that stupid. Besides,
"Yeah," Andy continued slowly, "that Washington situation’s too weird for me but still boils down to guys all fighting over who gets to be in charge, no real difference between left and right anymore. Heat, but no light. Spooks staking out turf, dogs pissing on hydrants... you'd have to be a doctor of spookocracy to figure out what's really going on. Or let the Russian hackers explain it for you. Or the Ukrainians. Or Chinese. I'm not a doctor or a spook, don’t have a computer, and I just hope I’ll never be one of your useful idiots..."
"You're too pigheaded to be useful..." Anne assured him. “You’re eminently qualified to serve in Congress!”
"No way!" Andy picked up one of the bones... the lamb was gone but there was a little skein of gristle to strip off and worry. "Zealots I know would kill me for eating flesh here, and those others... they'd do it for eating bacon in a pig restaurant with a couple of pigs... some of 'em would kill each other because they can't agree what would be the more important reason for killing me. I mean... welcome to the century of the sensitive people, the violently sensitive! And it ain’t just Pakistan or Libya… they called Pinhead's health inspectors down on the Chinese market, not because of the plague, you see, but claiming that the vendors oppress their chickens, ducks, frogs, turtles, crabs and clams. They grok the psychology of clams! Set fire to the Zika virus research lab at the U. because either they were saving mice or... some of 'em, even, the uber-sensitives... say that mosquitoes deserve self-determination." He burped, looked away. “My… this girl, woman called me a cisgender fossil; I don’t even know what she was talking about. Only cis- I ever heard of was what they called the Soviet Union while it was breaking up, before it went back to just plain old Russia again, so am I some sort of Russian? Is that bad?”
"Catfish says that people who narrow their political focus down to single issue obsessions," Anne changed the subject, "suffer from information overload."
"Naah," Andy snapped back, "they’re just tuned in to the loudest frequency. March off to wherever on their own wavelengths like ghouls from one of those zombie n’ werewolf movies following the voice of Wolverine Jack on the Nazi punk station, but with crummier music. I have to deal with them all! Pro-choicers, dirt-eaters, lost Obamaniacs, Make America Greaters… people who protest electric bills, tree-spikers, gun nuts, anti-gun nuts, missing children anything to prove to themselves and somebody out there that they matter ... all that concerns me for the next few days is whether they’ll have their plot of God’s green earth to sleep by night after ranting by day… maybe a slab of cardboard, too, if they’re lucky…"
"Well, that's what Anne meant," Glenn stressed, "...you either specialize or fall into whatever parade's passing through and wind up in a Disneyland of lost causes. Do you think the Coalition's above all those distractions? Not so! We’re winning, but we still need help…"
"Not innarested! Wanna know what the demo’s about, what I got tossed in jail for? Coupla months ago, before this permit thing blew up, people we knew were gonna rent the Embassy for these forums people wanted on everything under the sun... just the logistics, sublease out the politics to anybody who wanted and came up with the cold, hard cash and no firearms permitted in the building. OK, first to get this application in is some gay group... and part of their workshop is the role of sadism and masochism in our society. Shoulda invited Pinhead's police n' a certain bureaucrat but, anyway... part of the committee says no, can't do it, it's degrading to women. So you got lesbians on one side, feminists on the other... then the animal-righters step in and say we gotta kick the workshop out because they kill animals to make their leather whips and motorcycle gear. Shoulda been easy, right, but different people banning workshops for different reasons each want their position on top on the letters of rejection... out of the three factions, which two do you think get into actual physical bloodletting?"
"The humane communities?" Anne guessed.
"And this goes on and on... Feminists for Fair Play for the Taliban gets into the act, endorsing their fatwa on that little girl in Pakistan, over there, and, finally, nobody wants the responsibility of setting up workshops; everybody else is too busy trying to find some PC way of shutting everybody else down. It’s like the great Occupy Wall Street protests that fizzled soon as it turned cold, just like everybody knew it would. Nothing gets done! Ever!"
"I draw the line at civil rights for fish," Glenn said hesitantly, "they may have feelings but God made them healthy to eat. If he'd meant for them to pick up the gun, he'd have given them fingers."
"And that's another element of the problem," Andy said, "the whole health nut kick. They’d have banned donuts on campus but, then the police… you know?"
"Jack goes along with that. He says the only reason governments get away with imposing fascism is that they're promising the big "I", Immortality," Anne explained. “And that cost us a pile of Bloomberg money.”
"I think he's on unsteady ground," Glenn clucked, "it's provocative, but ultimately detrimental, to argue against safety. Look at those Republicans who refused to wear masks and vaxx up, they’re going extinct. Some of them..."
"Why?" Andy responded, taking out his GodMartTM pack. "Before I have to go outside for another... don't want to sound like a broken record, but I thought all we used to go through was to force some kind of breakthrough, for liberation! OK... there was the war and the assassinations, Nixon and Reagan and Trump... and then what? Terrorism! Now what? Concentration camps in the desert for melanomically-incorrect kids caught holding a bag of kat, or just plain flaked while the beautiful people caught with one of those Federal raps on weed get lawyers and community service and a month in ritzy rehab? The National I.D.? Palm swipes for Whole Foods? Microchips in the necks of felons… which your Catfish person supports, by the way? Savings tax? Dictatorship of the Insurocrats? Pill grannies smuggling in cancer drugs, tracked by the cellphone companies and jailed for twenty years? UN observers in the black helicopters snooping everywhere... how many terrorists have they captured recently? If you can find a job, you still have to drop your drawers and piss in a bottle whenever the boss feels like jacking you off because the Supremes said private corporations aren’t subject to public laws. If you can't, they make you go through psychological testing from eighty thousand a year government shrinks or that yacht racing guy to get forty dollars’ worth of rent stamps that they tax the people who do have jobs for. Makes me glad I can't afford a car... what with all those tattletale computers inside and cheerful gestapo roadblocks every fifteen miles looking for Mexicans but they have to stop everybody because it’s against policy to profile Mexicans. Then they bring in the drug dogs, and, if they want your car, shit manifests. That or having it get ripped off be sold for scrap cause no one cares how many alarms you put in..."
“That’s cynicism,” Glen demurred. “People like you are what’s wrong with the left…”
“So does that make you what’s right with the right?” Andy plucked the last handroll from its bed. "What the fuckin' liberal idiots in Washington are after is the extinction of humanity... in the sense of souls, if not bodies… absolute elimination of every difference in thought, mind, size or character that differentiates one individual from another. Robo-world! They’re the Souljackers. Just like the Taliban. Or Chinese social credit. Or Nanny-state Communism... but without the free healthcare and cheap rent. Vote for Shmoomberg or Bloomberg and they’ll save you from those diabolical Cokes and slap you into jail for child abuse if your kid goes outside without a helmet. Live forever, feel nothing and spend your last three decades in a bed full of piss and shit, hooked up to IV 'n TV... that way murder and genocide isn't any worse than turning the light off when you leave the room. For chrissakes, the numero uno movement at the U. is the pedophiles against circumcision, circulating their petitions against cutting babies' weenies off. Not that I disagree, it sorta makes sense... but with all these wars on, millions of people sleeping in the streets, vandalizing synagogues on behalf of outlawing the bris?"
"I always wondered," Anne mused, swishing wine around in her mouth, "if the guests at these Jewish ceremonies ate brisket afterwards..."
"That’s racist, Anne. If you're not doing anything wrong," Glenn pointed back, "you should have nothing to fear. Suicide and liberation are mutually exclusive in Christian societies. Unless you're Jim Jones or Abbie Hoffman. Or some of Tillerman's crazier militia people, slinging terroristic threats..."
"Mark Cobb?" Anne taunted him.
"That's not fair!"
"Well, when the Coalition was in an earlier phase... Tillerman used to be much more powerful... it had a rather, how shall I say, patriarchal flavor..."
"Oh yeah, that Rocky Mountain Mafia!" Glenn shot Andy a conspiratorial smirk. "Funny thing... now Anne's supposed to keep, what is it... lines of communication? Open? With Tillerman and his survivalists you read about in the papers..."
"Who is Tillerman anyway?" Andy inquired. "Most of those who want to come here and protest don't know what to make of the Catfish, some of them even sort of like him... but they all say Austin Tillerman is Hitler reincarnated but with a full set of junk. Or Trump, if he believed in global warming. Quoting from that manifesto… narcissists don’t write policy papers, they write manifestos… from that militia guy who killed all those migrants in New Mexico? Except a few way-out Earth First types who've stopped coming round... says in the Urinal he likes to have the Marlboro Man theme play when he gets introduced. Wasn't that like Gary Hart… I mean, if he was some sort of swinger, he couldn't have been that bad..."
"Fascist accusations have been slung around so often, they're worth less than the air that it takes to breathe them," Anne replied, and somewhat angrily. "Yes, Tillerman is rich and he gets high marks from Hannity and Glenn Beck and that crowd and used to be a regular on O’Reilly before that Green New Deal flameout, even gets grudging respect on Drudge… yes, he's concerned about the environment, but without sounding all preachy and Al Gorey. And if you dig deep enough, I've no doubt someone will pull skeletons from his closet. But he and some others... not all from the burnt out boonies in Colorado... they did start the CNC and the Catfish, well he just sort of moseyed into town after he had to quit Congress, liked what he saw, and took over."
"And thank the heavens and all little fishes that he did!" Glenn said. "Want to know what Tillerman's really like? Ever watch Dynasty - Next Generation on the cable? That mean old white-haired billionaire? That's Tillerman! Flat taxes are too liberal, let’s bring back Maggie Thatcher’s poll tax and the debtors’ prisons… Jack proposed it as a joke, Tillerman’s serious. Wants to seed the Arizona border and its failed wall with landmines... even got Senator Joe Arpaio hollerin’ ‘hold on, there’! Some friend of the Earth!"
"What an awful comparison!" Anne shuddered.
"Debates don’t matter to me; don't have cable," Andy shrugged. "Don't even have TV at the shelter anymore... except for the sound... and when the FCC cuts off the U’s low-power feeds we won’t even have that. Don't have time to watch, anyway, always somebody around to tell you what to think, some crisis to make you do what you have to do.. What does Ratso think... whoever he's for, I'm against."
Glenn sidestepped as best he could, coughing lightly. "Uh well... as you know, you don't always get to choose all your allies. Look, Tillerman's bunch all have that fresh-scrubbed, pink cheeked John Denver look... brains all full of snow and Kaopectate and eagles' wings, flapping 'round in nature's boundless void. Atheist Teavangelicals! They’re nothing but reincarnated alt-Trump Youth with a side of Paris climate accords; rather be right than be, or support, the President… sorta like your bunch, come to think of it. Henri… he's always on the side that's winning.”
"Hey, I'm no expert, but I know that! Ratso teamed up with Pinhead's Health Department to close down a lot of the old hotels here, downtown, where poor people lived, a lot of elderly? Said they were bringing them up to code, then slapped on a paint job and sold them off as grad student condos. The supposed public senior housing never got off the ground, so we get those throwoffs all the time at the Sanctuary, the ones that nursing homes won’t take with all those new neO-bamacare rules. He's a piece of shit... and anyone who collaborates with him… they’re shit, too."
"OK... OK!" Glenn answered. "This shit's for dessert... anyone else? Piece of pie?"
"I'll order if you do." Anne gathered her purse. "Have to pay a visit to the little girl's room..."
She left as Glenn gestured the waitress over to clear their plates and bring dessert.
"Try the blackberry. It's great. Trust me! Three..." Glenn decided for them all before Andy could reply, "and three coffees..."
He shook his head. "When you have something valuable to protect, maybe you overreact, sometimes. You remember how Anne behaves around men."
"More or less..." said Andy, poker-faced.
Glenn shot an incriminating glance at the table of Turks, chewing their sensible meals thoughtfully and conversing in low, glottal Baltic Sea tongues, brought his hands up to the table, rested them there while his fingers performed imaginary machinations, as if they were part of an assembly line. "She's supposed to be doing confidential work with one of Tillerman's lieutenants - Rinker, this communications slick. Nothing dishonest. Just keeping them happy and on the team when they lose... which they will. But I don't know, I just hope she's keeping the personal and political separate..."
"Sort of like undercover work?" Andy volunteered.
"That's an unfortunate analogy..."
Andy raised his hands. "Sorry!"
Glenn raised an eyebrow to indicate Anne's imminent return. "What you do and what I do isn't so different, except that what I do matters... and I get paid for it. And, by the way, don’t knock Bloomberg. He’da been a terrible President, but he’s part of the strategy…"
“What strategy?” Andy scowled.
“Rayna’s strategy. It’s all in the Catfish books and Don Jones Index lessons… flood the election with minor parties, single issue candidates, favorite sons… it dilutes the field, shakes people out of their mindset that they’ll always have to choose between Republicans and Democrats. And then…”
"Hello... you look terrible!" Anne said, kissing Glenn on the forehead. "Was the fish that bad?"
"I did want to thank both of you for the permits," Andy struggled. "From what I hear, you went to a lot of trouble with that Congressman. I hope it didn't hurt you in other ways..."
Glenn's eyes flickered coldly. "That... no, we'll get by..."
The pie arrived, a welcome respite.
"I didn't think we'd agree," Andy said, digging in, "but you wouldn't be where you are without people in the streets. I'm certainly not as smart as you, I don't have connections... hey, I'm just stating facts. You don't get reform without the specter of revolution hovering in the background!"
Glenn spat out his forkful of pie. "A seed! This sucks." He raised his voice for the benefit of the waitress, who'd moved on to another table. "Sucks! You and people like you, you don't solve anything," he turned back. "All you do is obstruct and get hauled away to prison."
"Without Malcolm X threatening revolution and the Pantheners cleaning their nails with switchblades," Andy reminded him, "Martin Luther King would've been just another preacher in a slum congregation, worrying about how to raise money to fix the church roof."
"Andy, you've never known what you're talking about," Glenn said, shifting his glare to stare Anne into putting down her fork, "...and I think that you are going to have to face the fact you are probably never going to have any influence about what happens, anyway."
"Maybe it's that I'm just too busy dealing with the shit your influenza people keep throwing at us to sit around and plan the big plans. Like this guy... killed himself at the Hall of Justice this morning? Paulie, from the Sanctuary... head case, nobody that you'd be proud to admit knowing. Just a half-pint junkie thief who hated being locked up... wouldn't have made it in one of the Catfish concentration camps either. System's fault, or just his own?"
own!" Glenn responded, cold as liquid helium, swirling around in vapors on
anniversary news footage from the
"Fascism didn't march in with flags, bugles and parades... it crept in overnight, on little cat feet. Americans make less real money than they did in 1952, blacks and women less than back in 1928. Top dogs used to make more than workers...per capita... than anywhere in the developed world except Brazil, if you call what's down there with the burning the Amazon development, then those labor guys overthrew the government, again, took over and pulled them past us so we're dead last. Forty-fourth of forty-four. And like your Catfish says in that Don Jones crap… hey, they still got public computers in the library, I keep up… bottom of the barrel in healthcare. All that food stamps and rent stamps do, while they last, is keep the poor alive to do their robberies and shit and keep what's left of the middle class hating the poor instead of uniting against the rich... I didn't cause any of that shit, I protested every step of the way, even with that vacant-smiling prick in the White House..."
“That’s racist!” Glenn stood up, throwing his fork into the pie and spattering dark, grainy sauce over the tablecloth. “I mean, if you’re talking about Obama,” he backpedaled…
"While you were protesting, we worked. And I still have appointments!" He leveled a finger at Anne. "You'd better be back upstairs before ten, making those calls. I'm going to be checking on you!" He gave her an eye/finger threat wielded, a few years ago, by DeNiro against Ben Affleck - Andy tried to remember - or was it Ben Stiller? Ben Folds? Fumbling with his wallet as he rose, Glenn extracted two folded dollar-bills and tossed them towards the table. "That's our tip... don't throw the cunt a penny more. Doesn't matter whether or not you sell out," he told Andy, already halfway through the door, "only whether the check clears."
“Incel!” Andy snorted.
"Shit!" Anne exclaimed, contemplating the filthy money now draped across her gooey plate.
"Sorry..." Andy began apologizing.
"Oh, not that... he has the credit cards!"
"Uh huh..." Andy said, spotting the same guard lingering by the entrance. Finally he sighed, took the paper bag of cash from the City settlement out of the corduroy jacket and motioned the waitress over to bring them their check.
"A man of substance!" Anne whistled. "Listen, I have to get some details out of the way and hit the ATM, but we should get together. Later. Can you meet me around tennish?"
"I guess so. Where?"
"I, I don't know..." Anne realized. "Everything's changed around here. Aren't there any places open we'd remember?"
Andy thought. "There's Santo's. But it's changed... sort of. It's an oldies bar, now."
"Well, so are we! At any rate... Santo's in an hour. I love a man with a fat bankroll in his pocket..."
They clinked coffee cups. Andy paid the waitress, leaving a generous tip as the unsmiling security guard poked his watermelon-sized head into the Oak Room.
"Shouldn't we do something about that?" Anne said, gesturing to the blackberry goo-covered money still on her plate. "I mean... if we left it she might think it some kind of an insult."
"You're right," Andy said. He picked up the bills by a corner where they were still somewhat clean. Outside a wizened little bum, an old Charlie Manson lookalike in a thin green shirt and shit-stained trousers, sat, rocking back and forth, against the mass of the Ivona like a mad mullah contemplating the destruction of America. A styrofoam cup sat before him, anchored by pennies, dimes and nickels and a scribbly cardboard sign. "It's Homless, Hungrey And Alone Jesus, Lovs You!"
"Buy yourself a bottle," he said.
The little hobo stared and shook his head. "Can you spare more, it's three dollars now for a shortie. Wine tax; From the fires in California..."
"Mmmm," was all Andy could say.
VIEW CURRENT COLUMN by JACK "CATFISH" PARNELL... "ENTROPY and RENAISSANCE"
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