Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Prelude to Journalism

Fiddler on the Roof rehearsals were going well. They were a lot of fun – as I believe you’ve got the impression – and, even though there was a lot of odd emotional and… er, well, drama stuff that went on within the cast, it kept being fun.

I’ve been told that I should not have been surprised by the severe shifts in mood that I saw during that time from the cast members, but I still was. I’d like to believe that I’m a pretty stable guy when it comes to emotions. They confuse me, by and large, and I try very hard to remain Dude-like, to abide.

Of course, I don’t succeed all the time. Not even El Duderino remains Dude-like all the time.

Anyway, it occurred to me about halfway through one karaoke night at Rutherford that I needed a break from the outings with the drama students. I knew that because, when “Don’t Stop Believing,” the Glee version of course, came on and I thought, “I’d kill for some fucking Slayer right now.” 

The drunken squeals of delight that followed the entire Musical Theater Society as they rushed up to three microphones and performed the song surely didn’t help. Nor did the palpable wave of hatred that came from everyone in the bar.

And so, to find the polar opposite of MTS, I went to The Drunkard.

It occurred to me that I had never seen a single journalism student at Kent aside from The Drunkard. It didn’t bother me so much as confuse me. Surely the University would not allow a single-student discipline.

In my confusion, I called up The Drunkard. “Drunkard,” I said.

“Narrator,” he slurred.

“I need to speak with you.”

“Of course you do,” he said, punctuating the sentence with a gigantic belch. “Find me at Mungo’s. There’s a group of freshers here, and I’m analyzing them. Seeing which ones will give into nihilism first.”


I made my way to Mungo’s, ignoring The Drunkard’s new-found past-time. What a man did in his free time was his own business, and as long as The Drunkard wasn’t overtly bringing these freshers to some depraved depth, then I wasn’t going to interfere.

Mungo’s, now that the term was in full swing, was back to normal. Pints of Carlsberg and Strongbow flowed forth from taps like waterfalls of sub-par alcohol. The tables were filled with loud drama students in equally loud garb, and off in the side rooms, meaty individuals were playing FIFA on X-Box.

The Drunkard sat at one of the barstools on the raised portion of the bar’s dining area. He wore a hoodie, not dissimilar to The Stalker’s, and had in his right hand his customary double Jack Daniel’s on ice. I weaved through the tables, ignoring the screeching sounds of Katy Perry bursting over the speakers, and the smells of Mungo’s burgers.

He spotted me as I mounted the stairs and nodded. “No drink?” he asked, nodding at my empty hands.

I shrugged. “Still a bit hung over from last night.”

He shook his head. “You’ll never get anywhere with that attitude. Luckily for you, I managed to have some foresight and ordered another whiskey.” He pushed a tall glass filled with amber whiskey - no ice - to me.

“This is pretty big.”

“Quad Scotch, yeah. It’ll do ya.”

I pulled up a stool beside him, facing the dining students, and took a sip. It was rancid, but I felt my headache subside just a bit.

“What do you need to talk about?”

“Your degree.”

The Drunkard arched an eyebrow at me. “Checking up on my marks, Narrator?”

“No. I’m just confused. You’re the only journalism student I’ve met. Now, you can’t be the only one - I don’t think the University would allow a one-student discipline - so, logic tells me that there must be others. And I wond--”

“Stop,” The Drunkard said. He turned to face me full-on. “You’re entering a dark world. There are things you are not privvy to. Things that would change the way you view everything you’ve ever read or heard. Non-fiction, as a whole, if you choose to pursue this path, would be forever altered for you. Do you wish to continue? You’ll only get one chance. Choose wisely.”

I snorted. He was clearly being over-dramatic.

At least, that’s what I thought before I read the man’s eyes. There was a hardness there. Gone was the usually present mirth - however buried beneath self-loathing it may have appeared to be - and it was replaced with something dire.

I gulped. I nodded.

“Very well.” He knocked back the rest of his drink. “It so happens that there is a meeting of my kin this evening. I’ll vouch for you when we arrive, but it is imperative that you, above all, remain cool. No matter what depravity you witness, you must remain collected.”

“Depravity? Drunkard, you may fool the freshers in this room, but I know you. You drink, but that’s not depraved.”

“I am but a learner.”

“So where’s the meeting going to be held? I don’t think journalism has a building.”

“It doesn’t. We don’t require a building.”


“Look,” The Drunkard said, leaning forward. “There are several things you must know in order to explain why we don’t need a building. They all have to do with the difference between us and you literature students. To wit:
  1. We understand that everything we do is pointless. Our degree is a massive con. You do not need credentials to be a journalist. You need a sharp eye and intelligence, things that cannot be learned. You Literature students are much the same way, but you actually buy into your degrees.
  2. We understand that we will never amount to anything. Most of you have pretensions to being something other than starving, debt-ridden pseudo-intellectuals. We journalists embrace the knowledge that we are the middle men between information and consumers. It may wreck our livers, but we acknowledge the fact.
  3. Because of points one and two, we are more willing to engage in self-destructive behavior. When you realize that everything you’re being told is a lie, there is no recourse other than to live life in a Bacchinalic frenzy.
  4. Because there is no possibility of our becoming anything in society, we are driven to take down the sons of bitches in power. Anarchy, of a sort, is our creed.

Do you get it?”

He’d been gesturing frantically throughout his list. He was sweating, and as he began his monologue, his speech sped up to a frenzy. I don’t think I understood his last points, and so I just guessed at it. His final words came out more as “Jageddit?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I get it.”

“Good,” he said, calm again. “Meet me in Woolf Courtyard at seven. Be prompt, for time will be short.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Epilogue to The Narrator's Second Tale

“For Christ’s sake,” said The Drunkard. “Will you stop this? I’m going to crush your skull beneath a double-decker, so help me God, if you don’t stop.
“As retiscent as I am to agree with The Drunkard on anything,” said The Writer, “I agree. This… thing is a travesty against all literature and story-telling.”
“Yeah,” said The Traveler. “What the fuck was that?”
I knew I’d gone horribly wrong when The Traveler, of all people, was attacking my story. I shifted in my seat, not entirely sure of how to get out of this horrible situation I’d stuck myself in. Granted, there was no real consequence for botching a story that badly, but I knew, deep in the back of my head, that there was no way I was going to win our competition now. (“The hell were you going to win anyway,” said the crotchety voice in my head.)
“Uhm,” I said.
Silence from the table, save for the soft sound of slurping from The Stalker.
The bartender cleared his throat and said, “Scuse me, gents. Don’t mean to pry into your conversation, but you,” he said, pointing at me, “if you tell another story like that, I’m going to have to bar you from coming into this pub.”
“You’re shitting me,” I said. “It was just a story.”
“Mate,” the bartender said, “that wasn’t a story; that was a hate crime against English literature.”
I threw my hands up in defeat as the other Thes laughed at my expense.
The Writer looked at his watch. “I should be heading back to campus. The busses aren’t running today, and if I want to make my appointment with my advisor, it’s hard going.”
The Drunkard shook his head and grunted. “Telling you, man. You just need to bone her and get it out of your system. Clear head.”
I snickered.
“What?” asked The Drunkard. “Oh, gotcha. Fist bump.”
We bumped fists.
“Yes, well,” said The Writer, flustered. “I… yes.” He left.
The Stalker watched him leave and said, “Would you like to hear about his pornography collection? It’s quite impressive. The man has many hang-ups. I suppose he nurtures them under some bizarre impression that the more neurotic he is, the more creative he’d be.”
I think you can imagine that none of us wanted to hear about The Writer’s porno.
“Dude,” said The Drunkard, “what, exactly, do you do for your degree?”
The Stalker grinned and slurped at his cider for a moment. He looked at our faces, one and all, for about ten seconds each, much as he had done in the past. When he had made the circuit around the table, he said, “That’s all very confidential. Let’s just say that I am in the middle of a serious and confidential study of very serious and confidential material.”
“Right,” said The Traveler. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head off. Making a dash to the STA branch in town to see if they have any specials on.”
“Need to get out that badly, huh?” asked The Drunkard.
The Traveler nodded. “It’s getting bad. I look around Canterbury and Rorshach’s opening monologue from Watchmen starts playing in my head.”

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Narrator's Second Tale

It would not be too tall of a tale to say that in my journeys with my friend, Sherlock Holmes, I have come across some indivduals who might be better off had they been committed to the lunatic asylum, Bedlam, from the moment of their birth. Of course, on the other end of the criminal spectrum are those career criminals, such as Holmes’s nemesis, the inimitable Professor Moriarty, who has—on more than one occasion—been the utter bane of both our existences. (That is not to say, though, that there is not some odd respect and esteem between the two masterminds. The criminal no doubt esteems the detective for his mind and analytical prowess, just as Holmes, for all the times he has been placed in physical peril at the hands of Moriarty, has no doubt the same respect for the Professor’s plots.)
But there is one case that strikes my memory with a specific resonance this afternoon as I sit by my grounds-facing windows and gaze out upon the fog creeping across the fields that stretch to the woods. The case took place not too long after Holmes rejected yet another audience with the Queen—this time after he foiled a plot to assassinate prominent Captains within the Royal Navy. It was hatched by a few rather headstrong anarchists and Holmes, ever ready to solve a mystery and leap into action when called for, had dashed headlong into the anarchists’ den when it was clear that Scotland Yard was not yet on the scene with their armed division.
I received the summons via telegram—as Holmes was wont to do as of late—around half-nine in the morning, just as I was prepared to write an article detailing a new procedure to cure headaches that I’d witnessed while traveling around the Continent for a period of time in the previous month. It was to be one of my better pieces, I felt, and would surely make a splash, as the Americans say, in the community.
The door rang and my maid answered, and brought in the telegram. The note was customarily brief, saying only that something rather perplexing had occured in North London, and that I was to make haste to  221B Baker Street, losing no time and with great speed. I called for a taxi, donned my jacket, it having been a cold morning and there being no respite from rain, according to the forecast in the newspaper, arranged for a few matters to be taken care of in my absence that day, and exited my home to find the cab waiting outside. I told the driver my destination and stepped into the back and was on the way.

Minutes later, there being surprisingly little traffic along the way, the horse and the cab pulled up in front of the Baker Street home and I paid the cabsman. The sound of a faint, solo violin moved through the air. Holmes was in thought and, if I was correct, the music was Bach. He was not melancholy, nor was he in a manic state, but this did clearly mean that whatever had transpired to bring Holmes to summon me was something of great import.
I opened the door and walked into Holmes’s apartment. His study door was locked, and, thus, I knocked thrice. The music continued for a moment before Holmes opened the door and looked through the door. He had not slept the night before, so much was obvious from the pallid complexion of his face and the slight bags under his eyes. “Ah, Watson. Good to see that you received my telegram. I do wonder about the agency sometimes. There are few times that the fellow taking my instructions has seemed attentive. Please, enter.”
I walked into the study. It was in its typical state of disrepair. Newspapers were askew; books from the many shelves were laid open upon tables; Holmes’s violin case leaned up against the window facing Baker Street; a chemist set was constructed upon a table with some blue liquid bubbling in two beakers. “I see you’ve been reading the morning’s news,” Holmes said.
“Oh? How did you deduce that? Shall I try to guess?”
“Please do. It is often a source of much-needed amusement to me.”
I looked over my hands for stray marks of ink. That would not normally be enough to tell a person that one was reading the paper—as very few individuals make a point to look over one’s hand unless shaking the hand—but Holmes, as the reader may know, was uncanny in his observations. At any rate, there were no maks of ink on my hands—or my clothing for that matter. I glanced at Holmes, and he put a grin on his face that said he was amused by my search. I then ensured that I was not actually holding a copy of the newspaper—it having been a bit of a rush to get out of the door and into the cab, I considered that a real possibility.
Assured that there was nothing to directly give away my morning’s reading habits, I said, “Well, I am afraid that you have the advantage once again, Holmes. Tell me, what told you that I was reading the newspaper this morning?”
“You’ve been paying attention to their haphazard, fool’s guesses to the weather,” he said, gesturing at my jacket. “You’re wearing a jacket with enough bulk to imply that it is padded and protected to some extent against the rain. Having glanced at the news myself, I saw the forecast calling for light rain later this morning and, after having summarily dismissed it as little more than the guesswork that it surely is, filed it away as something that my dear Watson would no doubt act upon.”
“Once again, I’m not entirely certain that you are not insulting me.”
“Absurd,” Holmes said. “I am merely stating that you are a practical fellow with other things on his mind than memorizing the almanac.”
“Indeed,” I said to my friend. “One of which happens to be the rather urgent note I received this morning.”
Holmes nodded. He picked a pipe from the recesses of the clutter in the study and proceeded to pack it with tobacco. “It was urgent for a very good reason. Watson, in our time together, we have seen many things that would stun, shock, and, I feel I can say this without being accused of hyperbole, sicken many a men.” He lit the pipe.
“I would agree with you, except having been in the service, I’ve been confused rather than sickened by many of these sights.”
Taking a puff from the pipe, Holmes nodded. “Your steel nerve has time and time impressed me, Watson. However, we digress from the more pressing issue. I wonder: Did you read the news-paper beyond the ‘prediction’ of the weather?”
“Alas,” I said, “I did not. I was preparing a rather delicious breakfast and had intended to read through the news, but was distracted by familial matters until the point when I looked at the time and realized that I had a very limited period in which to complete an article for a journal.”
“Then, I understand, you did not see the drivel that passes for reporting on a series of robberies and assaults in Dagenham?”
I shook my head. “I did not, Holmes. I instead prefer to get my bad news from you.”
Holmes chuckled. “Well said, Watson. Suffice it to say, there have been a series of uncharacteristic crimes in that small parish, and Scotland Yard has asked me to look into it. Normally, I would not, as such crimes are frankly not worth my time. However, this being such a quiet and idyllic place, I must say that my curiousity has been piqued.”
I had only a cursory knowledge of Dagenham, despite it being so near to Blackheath, but what I did know was that it was the very image of a peaceful parish town. Though there were rumors of industry making its home in the area, the most mechanical means I could remember hearing about was farming equipment. Thus, like Holmes, I wondered what drew a criminal to the area. There may have been a mansion house, but the ease with which one could procure illicit materials in London proper surely far outweighed whatever goods were out in the country. I said as much to Holmes.
“Precisely,” Holmes said, his fingers tapping his pipe. “Precisely, Doctor. Why take all the time and effort to travel to Dagenham when you have the vast expanse of London in front of you?” He glanced up at the wall clock above the mantle. “We must be going if we are to meet the new detective in Dagenham.” He gathered his coat and made ready to leave.
“Is the good Inspector not joining us?”
“No. He feels that absconding to Dagenham would be putting his regular duties in the City at risk of being foiled by lesser minds.” Holmes chuckled at that. “To an extent, I agree with him. Of course, if there are lesser minds in Scotland Yard, then they are only lesser by the furthest stretch of imagination. But come, we must depart.”

We arrived at Dagenham some time later. The details of our journey were dull, and, aside from some specifics on the case, are not relevant at all. Most of the crime reports had it that the perpetrator was a man around sixteen to nineteen years of age with abnormally clear skin, hair arranged in a bizarre, “crest-like” fashion, and clothing that was almost, but not entirely unlike grey wool with odd symbols on it. I wondered, partly in jest, whether or not we were dealing with some sort of new cult.
Holmes snorted in derision. “Once again, Watson, if we were dealing with a cult, they would either be located in the middle of London where they could find more recruits or victims, or they would be in the countryside, where they could practice without interference from individuals like you and I. No, we are dealing with a very abnormal individual. The mode of dress does, I agree, suggest some sort of uniform. However, I see no reason to believe this is the work of any secret society.”
The crimes had been a series of robberies as individuals walked around parks and the outdoors around dusk. According to witnesses, the assailant would rush out of undergrowth and make demands in a queer accent, reminiscent of a Cockney’s, but malformed and twisted. Holmes, recounting this, did not pay much heed to the “poetic flourish” in the description, and was willing to grant that the assailant was a man who lived in the Eastern sections of London and had made his way out here.
“It is perhaps,” Holmes said as we rode in the carriage, “the case that a vagrant has crossed criminal elements in London and been driven out of wherever he resides. I would further suppose that his odd mode of dress is a means to an end, of sorts. Attempting to make the best out of means by way of a uniform color and fabric would certainly make life easier than possessing a full wardrobe, yes?”
I nodded. “Indeed.”
“The blasted question remains, though: Why come out to Dagenham? A vagabond would not have the means to easily come to a region where one cannot live as easily as one could in London.”
“Holmes,” I said. “I’m not entirely sure what you mean. Would you like me to remind you of the time we spent splitting a flat due to the rent? Would you like me to tell you how much I am paying currently?”
“Watson, you are not what one would call a man of extravagant tastes. However, compared with a man of no means at all, you are a fop.”
Shortly after arriving at Dagenham, we walked to the police station. It was a small cottage, nothing like the imposing building that one saw in London proper, but not too far of a stretch for an area of country gentry. The officers of the law in Dagenham had, until recently, been graced with a very easy post. They did not need to worry with crime organizations. In fact, by my reckoning, the very worst crime that Dagenham had to deal with had been an escaped goose that wrought merry havoc at a market three Wednesdays prior. With that in mind, it should not be entirely surprising that, when faced with true crime, the inspector in Dagenham tendered his resignation.
We met the new inspector, a young, fat, bright-red faced man with straw-coloured hair and mutton-chops, as well as small, circular spectacles, who went by the name of Donalds. I was surprised when meeting him that Holmes did not launch into an impromptu, and accurate, biography of the man based on his appearance. It was his wont in the past, after all. Holmes, though, did show a measure of distate for the man from the onset, which may have been a reason for the lack of usual pleasantries.
“Chuffed to see you,” Inspector Donalds said, pumping our hands with excessive enthusiasm when we entered the cottage. “We’re all in a pickle here, and, I say, it’s a rough time with this my first case.”
It seemed that Holmes’s nature was to get some measure of the best of him, though: “For a man from King’s College, I’d expect that you would have the intellectual capacity to handle this yourself. No, don’t bother gaping like a fish. You have a King’s College insignia on the ring that seems to have been welded onto that sausage you call your finger. Give me the details of these robberies, and my colleague and I will do our utmost to assist the Metropolitan Police.”
The Inspector blubbered for a moment, blinking in consternation, and then nodded and gave us the details.
It transpired that the newspapers were accurate about the crimes. Much as Holmes had told me, the crimes took place at dusk and were the result of one oddly-dressed man. The Inspector suggested that we lay a trap. Holmes, not to my surprise, said that he had intended to. He then turned to me and, again not to my surprise, told me that I was going to be the bait. “I am not declining,” I said, “but I would like to ask, ‘why?’”
“Simple, Doctor,” Holmes said. “You are the man among us who looks least threatening to the individual in question. We could not use the Inspector, or any of his officers, for the fact that they are known throughout the area. I could not be the bait, because I must remain in shadows to advise the Inspector on how to better himself as an officer of the law, as well as to ensure that you are not harmed by this individual.”
“I suppose, then, that my use of my service revolver is out of the question.”
Holmes raised an eyebrow. “Did you bring your service revolver?”
“Well, no.”
“Frivolous questions are never appreciated, Watson. You know that. Come, it is time that we set the trap.”

We walked to the park where the robberies had been concentrated. Holmes and Donalds went into the undergrowth and I sat down on a park bench that was near a newly-installed gas lamp. It was a pleasant evening, and, being of a reflective nature, I must confess that I spent much of the time on the bench thinking of things other than the case. Thus, it was a surprise when the man in the gray clothing appeared at my side and shouted at me.
What follows is the best approximation of the man’s speech I can deliver:
“Oi bruv you got some chips for us then?”
I looked up from my reverie and saw a man about six foot three with abnormally clear skin. He wore a grey, loose top that was wool. His trousers were a material I had never seen before, nor since. They were white with blue stripes down the sides of the legs. He kept his hand in a pocket in the front of his hooded shirt. He was the robber, that was for sure. I looked at his hair and tilted my head to one side. “Sir,” I said. “What sort of pomade are you using to have that effect?”
“Oi posh fuck, give us a quid then? Fuckin cold out here innit mate’s gotta get some fuckin beer to keep warm.”
I shook my head. “Terribly sorry, can you repeat that? It sounds as if you requested a cephalopod.”
The man took out what seemed like a spring-loaded knife and waved it in my face. “I ain’t fuckin wif you bruv.”
At that point, Douglas and Holmes rushed out of the undergrowth and knocked the man to the ground. The man then let loose with such a horrid string of obscenities that, were I to write them down, there would be severe reprecussions. Soon after—

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Prologue to The Narrator's Second Tale

It was like Hoth outside.
I walked outside of D Block that morning and was pelted in the face with the biggest fucking snowflakes I’d ever seen. The wind had the naked trees nearly bent in half, and the sky was overcast with clouds that looked less like fluffy cotton balls than a sheet of gray metal. I expected to hear the opening bits of the “Battle of Hoth" suite at any moment. I buried my head in my p-coat, threw on my headphones, and shoved my trilby further down on my head.
There was no way that the bus was going to run today, I thought as I crossed Giles Lane. Sure enough, I made it across campus, across the ice rink that the roads had become, and there was a sign posted on the bus stop: “Nope,” is all it said.
I walked down the hill into town.
Twenty minutes later, I trundled into The Sub-Pope’s Flock about ten pounds heavier from all of the water that I’d collected. The Thes were already in the back of the pub, gathered around the water heater and shivering, for the most part. The Stalker appeared to be quite happily slurping from his cider and studying the people around the table. I nodded to the bartender, who nodded back, and then flipped on one of the TVs. A couple portly men in seats near the front windows chatted in low voices and then turned their attntion to the rugby match between two teams I didn’t know, and wasn’t really that interested in knowing. I walked to the table, took off my coat, and said, “Gents.”
The Drunkard took a big gulp from a glass of what appeared to be hot cider and nodded.
The Student clutched the cup of coffee in front of him and said, “Narrator, hello.”
“You’re not drinking hot cider?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “After consuming vast quantities of vin chaude last night with some French comrades—”
The Drunkard moaned.
“Not them,” said The Student. “Don’t worry. I need something other than booze, you see. Coffee’s good. Coffee heals.”
“Right,” said The Traveler, clearing his throat. “Glad to see everyone made it down for our weekly gathering.”
“I should be preparing with my meeting with my advisor,” said The Writer.
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” said The Drunkard. “Just bone the bitch and get over it. Fucking hell, if I have to see one more of your damn facebook posts about how excited you are for the next time you get to discuss the state of your novel with the love of your fucking life.”
“I’m sorry, Drunkard,” said The Writer, “but perhaps you sho—”
“Okay,” said The Traveler. “Who’s next?”
The Student whipped out his phone and tapped the screen a few times. “Give me one sec. The spreadsheet has to have some time to load ever since I added a few new pages to it.”
“Pages of what?” I asked.
“He added pages that detail the amount of times I have creeped him out, the numer of times The Narrator has tried to stammer his way out of doing something uncomfortable, the number of times The Drunkard has blacked out, the number of times The Traveler has gotten that far-off look that says he’d rather be in another country, and the number of times The Writer should have been punched in the face,” said The Stalker. He punctuated his aside with a very loud slurp from his glass. “And then there are the, ah, other pages that he’s added. But I don’t think The Student would want me to share those, would you?”
The Student flushed and grumbled. “Narrator, your go.”
“Shit,” I said.
“Better add another tick mark to that worksheet, Student,” The Drunkard said.
“No, no. I, er, I got this, yeah.” I looked around the pub. To one side of the register, there was a volume of Sherlock Holmes stories. Entering the pub to the sound of the clanging bell at the top of the door were two men in track suits. “Right,” I said. “This is called, “Sherlock Holmes, and the Case of The Gangster, Gangster at The Top of The List.”
“The fuck?” asked The Drunkard.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Karaoke Night

Thanks to The Student for filling in—for what that was worth. (No offence to him, but I never quite intended for this behemoth to be as much about literature as all that. ...Granted, my M.A. is in Ranting in Literature, and I’ve talked about that quite a bit. No matter, though.)
As he mentioned, the Fiddler on the Roof rehearsals were amping up, and I was beginning to think that I’d entered into something I wasn’t quite perpared for. Not regarding the lines, or the music, or even the dancing (I was actually improving on that! Couldn’t quite understand how a person was supposed to be able to alternate what foot to lead with, but whatever). No, I was, for the first time, understanding just how out of my league these English were when it came to binge drinking.
See, The Student had warned me a bit. Since he’d been abroad to England before, he’d seen just how bad the English could be. However, my understanding was that he hung out in Coffee & Corks a lot more than chav bars, so I don’t think he quite understood. You see—and you probably already know this, but bear with me—there is a world of difference between the ways people drink in an urbane sort of place like C&C and the English equivalent to a club where the prevailing sound is the pumping of bass pouring out of speakers and raping your eardrums.
Which is, essentially, what I discovered the young people are into nowadays. You see, in terms of academic standing, I was the oldest person in the cast. (That of course doesn’t apply to time, where I was somewhere near the top, but not quite near the top, and it frankly doesn’t matter because I’m a sixty-year-old trapped in a twentysomething’s body and I’ll shut up now.) This meant that I’d been through the two and a half years of excessive killing-my-liver that was Freshman through half of Junior years of college, and was very much in the mindset that one did not have to pickle one’s brain in whiskey to have a good night.
However, this view was not particularly prevalent in Musical Theatre Society. Maybe it’s the venues they chose. It’s hard to relax and talk when the Black Eyed Peas are screeching about what a good night it’s going to be (not to mention randomly throwing in Hebrew into their songs, the schlubs), not to mention the difficulty of expressing oneself when one is being jostled every which way by people on insane and unhealthy amounts of drugs.
And thus, most times when rehearsals were done on Thursday or Friday nights, a portion of the cast would wander over to The Venue or Massive Mungo’s. (Massive Mungo’s was a, er, massive event that was the closest I’ve ever seen to a rave. I hated it. The beer was served in plastic cups—Guinness in plastic cups should be a crime—the people were whacked out of their minds, and no one could hear my awful jokes.
I did see The Drunkard around the crowd, though. He seemed to fit in quite well, but judging from the amount of times I saw him get slapped, I guess he wasn’t having a fun night.
Anyway, there was one thing that MST did that I could get behind: Karaoke nights.
(A brief digression:
When I was in high school, I had the extreme honor of being in the top ten percent of my graduating class. This meant that I did just enough homework to have a low A as my GPA. It further meant that I was able to go on a trip to Gatlinburg, paid for by the school.
Gatlinburg, and the nearby town of Pigeon Forge, for those who don’t know, is an awful place. It’s like the redneck Alps. Set rigth at the foot of the Smokey Mountains, the town is made to look like some bizarre hunting village. The illusion falls apart, though, when one sees the giant Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tourist trap right alongside the hundredth consecutive bauble vendor.
Pigeon Forge, though, is worse. There are three types of buildings in Pigeon Forge: 1) Go-Kart Tracks; 2) Fast food restaurants; 3) Big cubes that hold clothe stores and the like. They all look similar, and, after spending an hour in the town, one is tempted to rip out one’s own eyes.
Anyway, the reason I brought that up was because there happened to be a karaoke bar attached to one of the big cubes. My fellow nerds and I went to this karaoke place one afternoon. Others chose to sing songs that people knew—pop hits and the like. I, however, said “Nope,” and went with a string of Bob Dylan. I was not liked.)
The karaoke nights at the University of Kent were held in Rutherford Bar—in Rutherford College, it may surprise you to learn. A guy and his wife had a catalogue of karaoke tunes you could howl along to. Speakers were set up in one corner, and it was free to get in—which was a huge plus.
So, Tuesdays after rehearsals, the cast would go down to the bar and proceed to monopolize the whole thing. I’m fairly certain that everyone else who showed up, not expecting to see a horde of hyper glee-club types, hated the cast for filling the request queue with Elton John, Phantom of the Opera, and other musicals. And frankly, I could understand why. There were a few people who sang the same songs every week, and some weeks, twice in one night. They viewed it as their signature songs (I’m thinking of one odd guy who chose “Hallelujah” every week and, my friends, was not Leonard Cohen). Everyone else viewed the songs as the reasons why they couldn’t get up in front of their friends and sing a horrible-on-purpose rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
And this Tuesday was no different. I showed up a little later than everyone else, having to stop by the Gulb and get some post-dancing coffee and think about a few songs I’d try to sneak in between the society’s onslaught of Broadway songs. The society seemed to be already drunk—which I thought was amazing, considering rehearsals had been over for only half an hour—and I was greeted with several unintelligble shouts.
To my left was a portion of the cast, huddled around one person clutching a microphone for dear life. They all yelled lyrics to some song from some musical I’d never heard before. I looked over to my right and saw Dixie hanging around with somepeople I recognized from American Society,[1] so, not really wanting to deal with the voices of a dozen drunk English students, I walked over to his group.
“Yo man,” I said.
Dixie turned around. I could tell he was quite drunk already. “Hey!” he shouted. Then he introduced me to the group of people surrounding him.
Turned out they were all Americans. It was strange, how Dixie seemed to be a cultural attache to American students studying at Kent. The Student hadn’t mentioned such a thing when he was here a couple years ago, so I assumed that it was a new position put up by the Student Union in conjunction with the American Society. Or not.
Anyway, the three people around him were Miles—from South Carolina, he looked a bit like Rivers Cuomo if he were taller—Jeff—a man who, I assumed, had followed The Dave Matthews Band around the States—and Flynn—looked a bit like Neil Patrick Harris. We drank, and discussed the many ways we preferred England to the States.
Now, it turned out that Flynn would be one of the founding members of the Man Squad, along with a man who—I believe—was directly descended from Thor himself. The Man Squad, you see, was a loose confederation of a few people who enjoyed video games and acting like jackasses. The founders of Man Squad determined that it would stand for the Fourfold Path: Coffee, Beer, Hockey, and Internship. Further, meetings of the Man Squad went about going down in pubs and over Risk.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At that time, I’d just met the guy and was more trying to convince Dixie that him getting up and singing “Stand By Your Man” was a good idea. It didn’t work, sadly.
I was interrupted by Lucie, who demanded that we sing a song together. I said, “Yeah!” We decided on “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles” by The Proclaimers, I went to get a Jack Daniel’s, and she disappeared.
“Well that’s odd,” I thought. I then went back to talking shit about the South with the Americans until having to go up to the mic and sing two parts in a two-person song. The good thing about the Proclaimers, you see, is that both of the singers sound exactly the same, so it might as well be one person.

[1] You remember them? No? Well, it has been a very long time since I mentioned them. Right. American Society were a bunch of Brits who, for whatever reason, had an odd fixation on American society and culture and decided to form a club around it. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Student Fills In

Um, hello. Yes. Hello, then.
You probably realise that I’m not The Narrator. That is, if you’ve read the title above—which I hope you have, since it’s a very good... yes.
Look, sorry. I’m not used to these blog things. I’ve never started one myself, and I don’t know anyone who has. Well, except for The Narrator, who’s apparently started two of them. That’s a bit excessive, don’t you think? Having two blogs covering the same time span—one (this one) much longer than the other. Of course, not being privy to that blog, you wouldn’t know anything about it, would you? Frankly, I’m not sure who’s reading this one. The Narrator, you see, didn’t give me any instructions vis a vis posting this to any website, and all of my JSTOR and LexisNexis searches have turned up nil for most of the more unique sentences in this thing. So, point being, I’m not sure anyone is reading this.
Though, on the other hand, someone must be reading this, for if not, then why would The Narrator be asking me to “fill in” for a gap of time in posting? And, more importantly—once again—to write “like myself” as opposed to the more flowery and traditionally, shall we say, Victorian style that The Narrator has adopted elsewhere. And on that note, one must wonder why, exactly, The Narrator, a largely unVictorian sort of man when it comes to everything except romance (though, frankly, I have never spoken to the man about such topic, and have only this blog, and the other, to go on—though when considering the proposition inherent in these blogs [that is, that they have fictional elements (such as the scenes wherein The Narrator is drugged and taken to some absurd dungeon)], neither may very well be an accurate portrayal of The Narrator’s feelings)—yes, apologies—one must wonder why The Narrator has chosen to adopt said style.
I shall have to query him about that the next time we meet, and I am not in a mad rush to the library.
The one thing The Narrator did suggest is that I take this time to introduce myself to you—whoever “you” may be. So: Hello again. My name is The Student and I am studying the correlation between classical and neo-classical mentalities in the literature of Joseph Conrad.
Well, studying that at the moment. It may very well change. I despise Conrad, you see. I know, I know. There are legions of academics who would lynch me for saying that, but there is something utterly despicable about the man’s utter and overwhelming desire to be seen as British instead of his native nationality. Why, I do not know. Perhaps it was because of political turmoil, or some self-loathing instinct. But when an author such as Kafka—one of the greats, and there can be no doubt of that—willingly identifies himself with such an obscure nationality as Hungarian, then why must Conrad divorce himself from a nation that has played a large role in European affairs like Poland? Such a confusing mental state, if you were to ask me.
But you didn’t. No doubt you want to hear more about my love life or something.
It’s dead. Is that short enough for you? Dead, blasted, and buried. Fucking paratroopers. Yes, yes, yes, I know, he may not have had the anxiety that defines me to such a whole extent, and may in fact have had more people skills, but that’s all nonsense.
Also, if you are of the clever sort, you may have noticed the tense of that phrasing up there. I’m writing this well after the fact of the year in Canterbury that the five of us underwent. I’m under strict orders to not tell you what The Narrator—or anyone else—is up to (though I can assure you it is nothing amazing and is quite dull), only that I may say what I am doing. I am working on my Ph.D in Comp Lit—focusing on what I mentioned above.
I believe that there was some mention of my hatred for Conrad in this narrative before, so I shan’t dwell on it. I will only say that it is sometimes easier to talk about what you hate more than what you love.
Right, anyway.
The Narrator left off talking about the time Tuna, The Drunkard, and he broke into the Inquire offices. That much is true—and we know it is true because the next day, the new issue of Inquire had the headline of “DIE INQUIRE IST TOT, DADA UBER ALLES”, followed by bricks of text in the Wingdings font. It was, for lack of a better word, mental.
No one got the joke, it seemed, except Literature students—and even then, only the ones who really cared about what they were studying. (So, that is to say, there were about ten who got the joke. I was one, along with six other post-grads, and I think I overheard a couple of third years in Mungo’s discuss the implications of the return of Dadaism.) Regardless, The Drunkard saw this as a triumph against the forces of mediocrity on the paper—and, in a way, it was. The editor was let go soon after the issue was released, and the assistant editor, who I knew as a third year who was more focused on buying three hundred pounds’ worth of make-up along side a couple hundred pounds’ worth of accessories every month, was put in his place.
The next issue—which came out a month after the Dada issue—resembled more of a celebrity gossip tabloid than anything else. The Drunkard foamed at the mouth and tried to encourage his French flatmates to rise up and break out Madame Guillotine. (The veracity of that account of events, wherein The Stalker was almost decapitated, is still in question in my mind. If I remember correctly, it was around the time when The Drunkard first discovered mead, and shared it with The Narrator, and both were quite drunk when the former told the latter the story. I believe if there were such a thing as Madame Guillotine, The Drunkard would have used it upon The Writer by now.) As evidenced by the lack of murder, The Drunkard was not successful in his appeal, and, the month after that, another issue of Inquire came out—this time focusing on an all-Lady Gaga issue. The Drunkard disappeared for a week after that.
Anyway, I think that The Narrator intended me not to give you a full recounting of those events, but more of what he was doing after the break-in.
For whatever reason, talking about rehearsals makes him go twitchy. I don’t know why. He seemed fine and happy at the time, so why he should, a year and a half after, feel the need to overdramaticize the events—or whatever it is that he is doing by having another peron write about what happened to him—is beyond me. Here. This is what he wrote:

On October 4, 2011 at 1:23AM, wrote:


I need some help from you, buddy.

Been working on that blog, right? (No, not the one you saw when we were in Canterbury—that one’s long over since I’ve finally stopped reading fucking Coleridge. The other one that I may have mentioned to you a couple times. And if not: There’s a second blog. Layers upon layers upon layers; turtles on turtles on turles; INCEPTION.)

Anyway, I’m hitting a rut with it, and could use someone else to write a bit for me. I’m going to start with you, then, depending on how that goes, go to the others.

But yeah, I’m about that point in the spring term when Fiddler rehearsals were ratcheting up, and I don’t want to talk about them. Yes. I know it’s weird. I have my reasons. Please stop judging me.

-         Narrator

On October 4, 2011 at 8:32AM, wrote

You wrote that at 1:30 in the morning? Narrator, don’t you have a job? Are you okay? Dear Lord, man. Seek help if you have insomnia and don’t worry about your bloody blog.

Yes, I will write a guest chapter. Just, please, get some sleep.

And so, that’s why I’m here now. Talking to you about my hatred for Joseph Conrad, The Drunkard and Madame Guillotine, and The Narrator’s worrying insomnia. That’s... about it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Breaking In with The Drunkard

I walked out of Block D at 11:01 PM wearing black trousers, dress shoes, and a black button up shirt. It was chilly out again, but surprisingly not too bad. I guess there was so much pot being smoked in Woolf that night that it created a sort of warm air bubble around the college, trapping in some heat. There was a group of people in the courtyard in front of my block. Two of them wore black hoodies, one wore a black pea coat and a black fedora. The other, obviously The Student, wore a sweater, jeans, and black tennis shoes.
“Look, dude,” said The Drunkard, one of the people in the black hoodies, “I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong, but you need to rethink your outfit tonight.”
“You said ‘wear black,’” said The Student. “I’m wearing black. I fail to see what the problem is.”
“The problem is you look like normal. There’s nothing to disguise you fro—oh, fuck me, really, Narrator? Are we going to shul tonight?”
“What?” I asked. “You said ‘wear black.’ I’m wearing black. I fail to see what the problem is.”
“See?” asked The Student. “Thank you.”
“Can I ask you something?” said the other man in a black hoodie. He had what could be described as a Jew nose, and in the brief glance I got of his eyes in that dim light, I saw unpredictability and the desire to watch the world burn. “Why are all your friends idiots, man? They’ve got cameras. Everywhere.”
“Yeah, Tuna,” The Drunkard said, sipping out of a flask, “I know. They’re all pretty law-abiding people, though. Not their fault—they just haven’t had the same experiences we’ve had.”
“I’ve taken drugs derived from rhino shit,” said the man in the fedora.
I squinted. “Traveler? Is that you? Why do you look like a spy?”
“They said to dress in black. This is all I had.”
“Man,” said the guy named Tuna, “this isn’t Spy Vs. Spy.”
“Nor is it Let’s Dress Like Chavs Night, but you two seem to be under that impression.”
A silence passed over everyone. “I’d kick your ass,” said Tuna, “but you’re funny. Come on let’s go, I’m bored.”
“We got everyone?” asked The Drunkard. He looked around. “Yeah, looks like we do. Let’s head out.”
“Where are we going?” asked The Student.
“Wait,” Tuna said. “You just showed up because he told you to?”
The Student looked down at the ground and cleared his throat. “Well, my girlfriend just dumped me for some other guy, and I don’t have any essays to write at the moment, so I didn’t have any reason to not to go.”
The Traveler shrugged. “Sounded like it’d be fun.”
Tuna nodded approvingly at this. He turned to me. “You?”
“Erm,” I said, scratching the back of my head. “Well, he, uh, told me to show up.”
Tuna’s eyes narrowed. “Sheeple.”
I gently coughed out an apology.
The Drunkard moved towards Giles Lane, and we followed.
The door was unlocked. This made our job a whole lot easier, and made me think that perhaps we weren’t breaking and entering. Maybe someone was pulling an all-nighter on the paper staff and left the door open so they could go grab a shitty burger at The Kitchen.[1]
I’d never been in this building. There hadn’t ever been a reason for me to come in, honestly. Some people I knew said I should have gone in, dropped off a stack of my writing, and demanded a job—but that was absurd. I’d read Inquire. The paper was put out on a monthly basis, chock-full of typos, and had leading stories such as “Students At Kent Want More Opening Hours for The Venue.”
Put short, I don’t think they would have appreciated my style. Granted, I’d had an Op-Ed column at The Unversity of Tennessee, so one could make the case that there was precedent for me being a part of this particular student publication, but that would be omitting a very important fact: I was fired from that job after turning out a column calling governors useless and demanding that they be pitted against each other in something akin to Thunderdome. That was my style. Power outages? A lesser columnist would have called for the University’s administration to do something to upgrade all of the generators. I, however, claimed that I’d seen Gremlins mucking about in them, and that they were—obviously—readying themselves to kill everyone on campus. The worrying state of Hollywood? Well, I said, at least they’re not remaking Red Dawn. (This being several years before the announcement that they were, in fact, remaking Red Dawn. I’m a Prophet, you see.)
Anyway. The point is that I was not familiar with this place, but that The Drunkard seemed to be. He led the charge up the staircase immediately in front of the door and held Tuna back when he, in some barbarian rage, almost headbutted down a door. “Save the hatred,” The Drunkard said, “that’s the wrong door.”
Tuna grunted and clenched and unclenched a fist.
“Narrator,” asked The Student, “are we going to die?”
“Well, we will all eventually die, Student,” I said. “It is just a question of when and in what state.”
“Thanks. That helps a lot.”
“No problem.”
“I don’t think we’ll die,” said The Traveler. “There is no doubt that our new Turkish friend is built like The Goddamn Batman, but there’s no reason—” he said as Tuna screamed and kicked down a door, “—that we should be afraid. You know, just don’t stare into his eyes. That might be a sign that you’re challenging him.”
“Good man, Tuna Shark,” said The Drunkard.
The two stepped into the large room on the other side of the door, and the three of us, languishing behind and not really sure why The Drunkard wanted us along, followed behind.
The room, when The Traveler turned on the lights, was the top of the Student Affairs building stuck onto the end opposite the bookstore. It, I guess, was the headquarters of the Inquire newspaper. There were three flimsy, plastic desks on top of which sat old computers with CRT monitors. Against the wall to my left upon entering was a gigantic printer, out of which—I reckoned—came the newspaper every month. The rest of the room was given over to some large desks on top of which sat tools for measuring out and aligning the paper before it went to print. It was one of these tables that Tuna threw out the window.
The alarm sounded, The Student fled, and The Drunkard sighed. “Jumped the gun, man.”
Tuna said, paced back and forth along the windows. “You call me up and you say, ‘We’re gonna wreck some shit.’”
“I said ‘We’re going to engage in sabotage,’” said The Drunkard.
“Same thing. You say that, and then you want me to not wreck some shit? You need to work on your communication skills.”
“Well,” said The Traveler. “I’m—I’m going to head out, now. Don’t really see the point in hanging around only for Campus Watch to swing by and arrest me.”
“Man, Campus Watch aren’t worth the badges they wear,” said Tuna.
“Be that as it may. Narrator, you want to head out?”
I looked at Tuna and The Drunkard. The Drunkard was haphazardly smashing at a keyboard on the largest desk, and Tuna had pulled a face that said, very clearly, that if I left now, I would forever be branded a coward, and would not have his respect. And I knew, then, that not having Tuna’s respect would be a dangerous thing. (I didn’t know at the time that Tuna was actually a really cool dude—except when someone insulted one of his friends—who listened to opera, of all things.)
“Nah,” I said, “I’ll stick around. Y’know, bar the door and rappel down the side of the building if needs be.”
The Traveler raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to rappel down a building? Y—look, your funeral.” He lowered his hat over his eyebrow, dug his hands into his p-coat, and left the building.
“Where do you get your friends?” asked Tuna.
“We tell each other stories,” said The Drunkard.
“What, like some gay shit?”
The Drunkard looked up with a quizzical look on his face.
“Man, I’m joking.” He turned to me. “Your name is The Narrator, right?” He now had to scream as the alarm’s volume grew.
“Yeah,” I shouted back.
“What are you here for?”
“Ranting in Literature.”
“What the fuck is that and why are you doing that in grad school?”
“It’s like everything in the School of English,” I shouted. “It’s an excuse for otherwise unemployable people to gather around a table and talk bullshit for three hours a week. At the end of it, we’ll get a degree that means nothing except that we should probably go for a PhD if we want to accomplish anything in life.”
Tuna laughed. “I like that.”
“All right!” shouted The Drunkard. He swiped a bunch of stuff off of the desk in front of him. “Let’s head out.” He walked to the door.
“What were you doing?” I asked as we passed the door that Tuna had almost headbutted.
“Tweaking a few things on the next issue of Inquire. See, this organization?” he asked, drawing the hoodie tighter around his face as we approached the door. “This place is unbelievably shitty, as you well know. Gents,” he said to the two tall, obese Campus Watch guards who were standing outside the building, looking up at the broken window.
They looked at us and said, “You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?”
The Drunkard laughed a merry laugh and put on a shitty posh accent. “Why, what a humorous question. My friends and I were just locking up at the Societies Room, what, and happened to overhear what seemed to be the most awful crash—pip pip, what? When we looked out into the hallway, we saw some uppity Yank storming out. Believe he had black contacts in and looked just on the pallid side. God save the Queen.”
“God save the Queen,” the Campus Watch said in chorus. “This American,” the one on the right—who had the extremely thin hair—said, hatred dripping out of his voice at the word ‘American,’ “how tall would you say he was?”
“Oh,” said The Drunkard, scratching his chin. “About my height. A bit thinner. Pallid. So very pallid. As if Death himself were about to swoop down with his mighty scythe and take off his head. Would be worried if he weren’t going around breaking through windows, what what?”
“Indeed,” said the two Campus Watch officers in chorus.
“Oi James,” said the one on the left—the one with the ginger hair. “Don’t that sound like that one who been peekin through windows, what?”
“So it does, Carl. So it does. Lads,” said the one on the right. “We thank you much and get home safe, now. See any more Yanks around causing trouble, you tell us, and we’ll head over and beat em down for you.”
The Drunkard thanked them, and we went on our way.
Right as we were at the border between out-of-earshot and still audible to the Watch, Tuna began going on a tirade against the Brits’ and their “post-colonial mentality.” I didn’t quite follow him all the way, since I think there was just some need to vent at something there, but as long as he was content, that was cool.
We got back to Woolf and Tuna went to “watch Dark Knight, because I need to see something blow up tonight.” The Drunkard and I hung around the courtyard for a bit longer, discussing what was going on in our lives. This was aided by a bottle of Scotch that The Drunkard procured from some deep recess of his hoody, and two cigars—which also magically appeared from somewhere in his hoody. (I’ve never quite understood the way that clothing garment manages to always have much more storage capacity than it should.)
He was having nightly confrontations with the Frenchmen about their smoking habits and the odd pamphlets he’d seen sprinkled around the house. “If I’m translating them correctly,” The Drunkard said after a puff of his cigar, “then they’re tracts calling for the upheaval of the cultural cesspool that is the British royal monarchy and complete reversal of the current hegemony.” He sighed. “I don’t know what the fuck they’re studying.”
“Revolutionary Cliches?”
The Drunkard shrugged.
There came a ruckus from Block E. We looked over and saw the two morbidly obese Campus Watch officers pulling a screaming and flailing Stalker from the building. “Fascists!” screamed The Stalker. “I have rights, God damn you! Where are my rights? I demand a barrister!”
The officers didn’t respond, just dragged him out of the building and tossed him—as if he were a rag doll—into their golf cart. They sped off and The Drunkard and I looked at each other.
“That’s not good,” I said.
“No,” said The Drunkard. “That’s probably because of what I did.”
“Probably,” I said.
“Think I should do something about it?” he asked.
Time passed. “God damn it,” he said.

[1] It is a well known fact that there are very few places—per capita—to get a good burger in the UK. I guess it’s because they are—overall—healthier than the U,S,m and thus, the urge to eat fat-ridden red meat is lesser. Still. As an American, seeing the profusion of the cardboard the Brits called hamburger patties was a horrible thing. Next time you’re in the UK, tell them that they don’t know what a good burger is. They won’t listen and insist that Yanks are too stupid to talk about food, but you’ll at least be trying.