Friday, March 19, 2010

The Drunkard Flips Out

We parked half a mile away from the college and piled out—The Student, lacking coordination, tumbled out of the back seat and laid groaning on the ground. The Traveler took The Drunkard aside and whispered. Dee walked to a guardrail near the river running through the city and I followed.
“So. What do you study?” I asked.
She turned—I was normally ambivalent about blue eyes, but here, I melted—and said, “I study the genetic mutations between generations of e. coli bacteria in conditions that resemble Arctic winters.”
“That’s cold.”
“Yes. Very cold. You?”
“I, er, I do a special branch of literary criticism.”
“Which is?”
“Well, it’s a new field. Kind of ridiculous. There’s no real term for it. It’s… well, it’s studying how what makes something literary.”
“Ah, and what are your conclusions?”
I took off my hat and scratched my head. I had problems with this in my essay—it is incredibly hard to come to a conclusion about anything when no one knows what they’re looking for—and, certainly, had problems explaining it now. “Erm,” I began, “you’ve got some stuff that’s High Literature, and some that’s not. Some of the literary stuff is good storytelling—but a lot isn’t, and descends into rants about something or other. Some that’s not High Literature may be good storytelling—but, at the same time, a lot isn’t.”
Dee nodded slowly. The sort of nod one gives a madman. I recognized that look and despaired. “I see,” she said. “And what makes something literary?”
It was an incredibly hard question. “So far, research indicates that being George Orwell, Mark Twain, Alduous Huxley, or Sinclair Lewis helps.”
“And you?”
“Are clearly none of them. So.” I shrugged. “If you have any suggestions, feel free to send them my way.”
She nodded—this one warmer, less of the I’m-talking-to-a-madman slow nod I got earlier. “We should head back. It looks like your friend’s recovered from his near-coma.”
We did.
After we rejoined them, I up to The Traveler and said, “Two questions.”
“What’d you tell The Drunkard?”
“I told him to keep drinking, but if he starts freaking out, we’re leaving him.”
“Fair enough. Second question: What did I do last night?”
“Oh, you’d like to know, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes. Very much so. Please tell me.”
The Traveler took a deep breath as we left the car park, walked onto the sidewalk and followed Dee through double-decker-filled, pedestrian-laden streets to Christ Church College. We passed by multi-storey bookstores, specialty shops, and a variety of tourist gift stores. “I don’t know. I kind of like you freaking out like this.”
“What did I do to you?”
“Absolutely nothing. This might be a subconscious sense of schaudenfreude that I don’t show enough.” He looked around, dodged a couple of running children and their running, shouting parents, and said, “Yes, I believe that’s it.”
I grumbled.
“Relax,” said The Traveler. “We’ll tell you. Eventually. Maybe.”
We passed by a gatehouse. Looking through, into a courtyard, we saw a large, circular, domed building. “Hey Dee,” I said. “What’s that?”
“That’s the Camera. It’s one of the main libraries.”
“Looks like an observatory,” said The Traveler.
“Can we go in? Can we go in?” The Student’s eyes dilated and it looked like he was on the verge of leaping up and down.
“I wish you could, it’s lovely in there. They’re very particular about their libraries here, though, and non-students can only get in during certain hours.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Unheard of! Absurd! It is a universal, human right to check books out of a library. The thirst for knowledge cannot go impeded by petty things such as university tuitions.”
 “Why did you just speak in a speech bubble?” asked The Drunkard, blinking rapidly and leaning towards me. “Are you a comic character? Are we in a comic?” He turned to the stone wall and licked it. “We’re not in a comic. That has a taste.”
The Student pointed to The Drunkard and said, “Dee, should we bring him with us?”
“Probably not,” she said. “I’ll take him for a walk around the grounds while you guys are inside.”
The Drunkard turned to her and smiled. “Pretty lady take for walk?”
Dee gave him a pat on the head. “Yes, when we get there.”
It was another few minutes before we got to Christ Church College. The college was located behind walls the size of Canterbury’s city walls, and I assumed that we were near Oxford’s castle (Oxford has a castle, right? Every city in this country has a castle) before Dee walked us through a black wooden gate and into the college grounds.
The grounds looked like Hyde Park—if you were to ignore the giant building to the left. It looked like a manor house from a period drama—an impression helped by the grounds. Immaculately landscaped, there was a large field—there were a couple games of football, a few people flying kites, and people lounging around on blankets. It was a nice day for it—the cutting wind so prevalent in Canterbury was not here, and the sky (joy!) was a rich blue. There was a lake in the middle of the field. Gravel paths stretched to the other side.
Closer to us, near the entrance gate and leading to the college itself, there was a lovely garden, bursting with colorful flowers. “Okay,” said Dee, “you’ll go up to that gate over there—” she pointed to an archway in building, and, after that, told The Traveler what to do.
I didn’t pay much attention because I was preoccupied with The Drunkard. He stood next to the flowers and gazed. I can’t describe it in any other way: he simply gazed. Then, he started crying and crouched on the ground. I walked over and said, “You okay, man?”
“They’re so beautiful.”
I looked at the flowers. They were pretty nice. I wasn’t going to disagree with The Drunkard on that. But there wasn’t, as far as I could tell, any reason for him to break down in tears at the sight of a well-manicured garden. I nodded. “Well, sure. I guess. They—”
“Must be set free,” he mumbled.
I couldn’t have understood him correctly. “What?”
“They must be set free,” he said—quite clearly this time. He stood up, looked around him, and yelled, “They must be set free!” He hurled himself into the flowerbed and began ripping and tearing at the flowers, sending them flying behind him like a dog digging a hole.
I stood in awe for a moment, my eyes widened, paralyzed. The Student rushed over, shouting, “Drunkard, what the hell are you doing?” He tried to pull The Drunkard out of the flowerbed.
“They must be set free—yesyesyes—and I am the man to do it,” The Drunkard shouted as he grasped the flora.
I came to my senses and hurled myself into the fray. We managed to jerk him out of the bed, and I saw his face. It was beet red and he was twitching. We pushed him across the pathway—past our fellow shocked and cowed tourists, who stood, looking on, cameras at the ready. “Nothing to see,” I called. “He’s just a fan of flowers.”
“They’re imprisoned for their beauty!” shouted The Drunkard. “We all are! We are all beautiful creatures in the jail of reality! Free yourselves!”
“No we’re not,” I said. “Most of the people here are hideously malformed.”
A low rumble went through the tourists. I looked for The Traveler and Dee, and it seemed they had disappeared off towards the gate. How they managed to not hear the commotion was beyond me. I turned back to the crowd. Turns out, a lot of them were hideously malformed. “Just saying that to calm him down, folks,” I lied. “He gets a little excited when we let him out of his cage.”
The Drunkard sputtered, and we let him crash to the ground. He burst into tears. “I am scum,” he stated. He clutched his head in his hands. “I am scum.”
Finally, The Traveler and Dee ran over. The Traveler knelt down near The Drunkard and looked up at me, his face a mixture between confusion and anger. “What the fuck did he put in his absinthe? Acid? It shouldn’t make him flip his shit this much.”
I shrugged. “I’ve never touched the stuff.”
The Traveler grunted. “Well, fuck. Dee, you go in with The Student and The Narrator. If this schmuck freaks out again, I can handle him.”
“Are you sure?”
I snorted. “You should’ve seen him yesterday. Traveler went all Apeshit Bird Man and kicked the shit out of him.”
She raised an eyebrow at The Traveler, who shrugged. “I landed a couple of good kicks and managed to convince The Drunkard of the error of his ways. Anyway, guys,” he said, “it’s five quid to go inside. And, apparently, it’s where they filmed bits of Harry Potter.”
“Joy,” I said. “My favorite film of all time.”
“I thought so,” said The Student. “You seemed like a Harry Potter freak. Running around, playing quidditch, casting spells and whatnot.”
“Okay,” said Dee, who, I’m guessing did not share our joy in making things up about each other. “Shall we go?”
“Lead on,” I said.
She did and we followed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Next Day

I woke up around noon shouting, “Vodka!” I was in a cold sweat and smelled like a distillery. I looked around me at the vaguely familiar walls, saw that I was inside a virtually destroyed sleeping bag (it looked like someone had taken a knife to the thing during the night) and, further, that I was in the room alone. The rest of the—intact—sleeping bags were vacant and the bed was made up. The door was closed. At my feet were the two empty mason jars, on their sides.
It was a good thirty seconds of lucidity before the massive headache hit me, and I clamped my hands to the sides of my head and groaned. After a few minutes, I got used to the feeling—as used to intense, throbbing pain as one can get, at any rate—and got out of the sleeping bag. I stood, stumbled, saw a note on the floor, picked it up and found that the headache made it completely impossible to read.
I pulled on my jeans and opened the door. The others were sitting around the table—The Student leaned against the wall—and drank what smelled like the best damn coffee in the world. “Raurgh,” I said.
The Drunkard turned. “Ah,” he said. “There he is.”
Lena, wearing white pajamas, turned and said, “Well hello, loverman.”
This pierced through the headache. I’d never been called that in my life. Not even in irony. It just wasn’t the sort of moniker people attached to me. “What—” I asked. That took a lot more effort than I’d hoped, and I groaned, took a breath, and started again. “What did you just call me?”
“Woah,” said The Student. “You don’t remember anything?”
My face contorted into expressions I can only describe as utter confusion—mixed with a supreme yearning to know what I did the previous night. I think—and it’s very hard to remember what your face is doing of its own accord—my left eyelid shut halfway and my eyebrow rose up a few inches. “No. What’d I do?”
The Student grinned, rose the cup to his mouth. “Oh, nothing. Hee hee.” He drank.
I spun and turned on The Traveler. I pointed at him.
He shrugged, grinning.
“Fuck all of you.”
“Oh,” said The Drunkard. “That’s slightly inaccurate.”
Now it was time to turn to Lena. “Did we…?” If so, that might have been bad. I hadn’t bought condoms since I was eighteen. Some might call it dangerous—I, knowing full well my habits, knew that I wouldn’t need them, so I called it fiscally sound.
She shrugged, raised her eyebrows, and sipped from her mug.
“This just isn’t fair. Not one Goddamn bit, guys.”
Dee walked in, windbreaker over a pink shirt and black jeans, and said, “Hey there, loverman.”
“Damn it!” I shouted.
“Er,” she responded.
“Right,” said The Traveler. “Shall we go?”
“Go where?” I asked.
“Christ, you didn’t have that much to drink.”
“Oh, wow. Now that you mention that, all of my memories come flooding back. Where are we going?”
“Christ Church.”
I tilted my head to the side. “We’re going back to Canterbury?” There was another university in Canterbury called Canterbury Christ Church. It was—by reputation—a haven for unique individuals with unique ideas and habits. I remember, about a month before we went to Oxford, The Student took me to meet a friend of his from when he was here before. We met in a pub on the High Street that catered to metalheads and Goths, and The Student and I were supremely out of place. We met his friend, who was with some people whose faces seemed to be made of metal rings, things escalated, and I was told that “if [my] Jew ass knew what was good for [me], [I] should leave.” So, I did. Steered clear of that place—and CCC, where those guys were apparently from. (I got an apology from The Student’s friend. Really, the incident is a testament to my ability to conjure up hatred from peopl. Anyway.)
“No,” said The Traveler.
“You serious?” asked The Student.
The headache started throbbing harder. “Look, I need you guys to pretend that I’m much dumber than I actually am. I don’t have the capacity to make logical conclusions right now, okay?”
“Christ Church College,” said The Traveler, “is the epitome of Old-World education—at least in England. It’s kind of like a massive fraternity in that, in order to be admitted to the college and allowed to live there, you need a juicy bank account.”
I must have had a blank look on my face, because he followed it up with:
“Also, it’s where they filmed bits of Harry Potter.”
Ignoring this—I didn’t feel one way or another about the books or the movies—I got my stuff ready and leaned against the wall.
The others gathered their stuff together, put away their dishes, and said bye to Lena—who was staying behind to do some coursework—and we filed behind Dee like ducklings. We got back in the car—Dee up front with The Traveler to give directions to a car park near the college—and I was in the back with The Student and The Drunkard. The Student was crushed in the middle, while The Drunkard spread himself out.
I turned to The Student—who was glaring ahead with an expression of absolute, unmasked displeasure—and said, “So, how’s the girl?”
He beamed. “Oh, she’s great. Fuckin’ great, man. You know, I’m really glad it worked out that I kept getting shot down at the beginning of the semester. It all worked out pretty well. Makes you think that, maybe, just maybe, the Chassids might not be completely insane when it comes to their philosophies on—”
“—Yeah, that’s great,” I said. “What did I do last night?”
“Really bothering you, isn’t it?”
I nodded.
“And you had no interest in how things are going with Rebecca and I, did you?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Hmm,” he said. He scratched the beard that was slowly starting to appear. “Too bad, then. Seems I can’t remember what happened last night.”
“Oh come on,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Oh, get the fuck out. Drunkard,” I said, leaning forward. “What did I do last night?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
If Dee hadn’t been in the seat in front of me, I would have punched it with all the fury of… a man suffering from a blackout and trying desperately to remember the occurrences of the previous night. “You will pay for this, Drunkard! Do you hear? By all that is holy in the world, you shall pay for your transgressions this day!”
The Drunkard threw back his head and laughed. “Right. I can’t wait to read about what you have to say about me in that blog of yours.”
“How is the blog going?” The Traveler asked.
We turned a corner into the central part of the city—the part of Oxford that I thought of as “The Older Part with the Cool Buildings”—and immediately stopped due to a massive traffic jam. “Pretty well,” I said. We moved an inch and The Traveler, displaying his Americanness, laid on his horn, leaned out the window, and shouted that we were trying to drive here.
“That’s good,” he said, after bringing his head back into the car.
“Yep,” I responded. “Up to two followers, now.”
“Oh,” said The Drunkard. “A whole two! Tell me: out of those two, how many are your parents?”
One,” I whispered.
“Aw, sweet,” he said. He leaned back, took a flask out of his jacket, and sipped.
“Drunkard,” said The Traveler, moving us up another couple of inches, “how’d you find the flasks?”
“Your mother,” responded The Drunkard.
I looked out the window. It was another nice day. Clear blue sky—one of the ten legitimately clear blue skies I’d seen so far this semester—with a nice, non-biting breeze. People were out on the sidewalks, walking through the gardens of the town, and here we were, sitting in a car inching along one of England’s stupidly tiny roads. (This, I thought, was why Europeans are in better shape than Americans: They’ll do anything they can to avoid driving.)
“Drunkard,” The Student said, “why are you giving The Narrator shit about the blog?”
“Pah, I’m just fuckin with him.”
“He doesn’t know that.”
“What?” I said, turning to The Student. I did know it—kind of. But, damn it, I was not to be made into an overly-sensitive nebbish Jew in the presence of a gorgeous woman. I glanced at the rear-view mirror and saw her grinning. “Fuck off, this is what we do. Right, buddy ole pal of mine?” I reached over The Student and punched The Drunkard on his shoulder.
“You do that again and I’ll curb stomp you.”
I swallowed the fear—my brother forced me to watch that scene from American History X twenty times one night when I was little—and said, “Yeah, yeah, says you. I’ll break your still.”
What,” said The Drunkard, his voice dropping what sounded like eight octaves and reaching into the realm of the demonic. “What did you just say?”
“Kids,” The Traveler said. “We’re almost there. Refrain from killing each other in the presence of our lovely tour guide, please.”
“Mmhmm,” said Dee. “If you don’t, I’ll take all of you to a nice bagel place right across the street from the college.”
“Bagels!” the three of us shouted in unison. There were times like these when I thought, just for a moment, just in a passing fancy, that we were the same person, just split up in some arbitrary manner, but these moments passed.
“I’ll ignore the still comment,” said The Drunkard. He took another sip from his flask. “But that’s only because the halo around your head is a pleasant shade of blue.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Public Service Announcement from The Justice Trio

SQUIDJEW and ALEKSANDER—28, pasty with curly black hair, wearing a black pea coat, jeans, and boots—stand at a bar in a roadhouse. It is dimly lit, with a few stools near the bar, some tables and chairs scattered around. Rock music PLAYS from some speakers around the walls.

SquidJew turns around, faces the camera, and READS from a teleprompter, as before.

Oh, hello there. I did not see you come in. How about this
service, huh?

He LAUGHS, timidly.

We’re here today to see you—wait. To see that you don’t—wait.

It’s on the fucking prompter!

I can’t see for shit, this lighting is the worst.

Aleksander turns around.

Da, I agree with cousin Jew of Squid. It is hard to see.

He SLAMS his fist on the stool next to him.

And where is innkeeper? I had better service in Russia.

There is no innkeeper, there is no bartender. We’ve told you,
this is a soundstage. Do you want brighter lights? Would that
make it easier for you guys?

Hey, sorry if having it so your stars can see is a hassle.

Da. If I want to be blind, I will drink!

He BURSTS into laughter and SMACKS SquidJew on his back.

SquidJew doubles over in pain.

Son of a bitch, Aleks.

The lights go up.



Aleksander takes a silver flask from his pea coat and takes a swig.

Da. Much, my friend.

What is that?

What? This?

He points to the flask.

Is vodka, my friend. Would you like some?

You can’t drink on the set.

The director SNAPS his fingers and a CREW MEMBER, 19, walks on to the set, takes the flask, and walks back off.

You will pay for that.

I’m sure. Go from the top.

The two turn back towards the bar. The music STARTS BACK UP.

SquidJew turns and smiles at the camera.

Ah, hi there. Didn’t see you.

He jerks a thumb at the bar.

SQUIDJEW (cont’d)
How bout this service, am I correct? Hey, Aleksander,
Look at who’s here.

Aleksander turns. He glares at the Director, saying his lines in an even deeper Russian accent.

Well. Hello there, fellow Houstonian comrades. We did
not hear you come in, what with the raucous drinking.
Ha. Ha. Ha.

Cut. Look, Ivan, can you cut the threatening tone? This is a
P.S.A., for God’s sake.

Fuck you.

…Right. From Ivan’s last line.

We came here for a drink, but as long as you’re here, we
have something to tell you, right Aleksander the Drunk?

Aleksander still stares at the Director.

Da, cousin. Drinking can be fun, but it can also be
dangerous. I will kill you, Mr. Director, for taking my flask.

Cut. Fine, give the freak his flask back.

The crew member returns the flask. Aleksander breaks into a grin and holds it up in the air.


He drinks from the flask.

From the last line. Action.

Drinking can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. After
all, not everyone, like me, can drink Death to death.

That’s right. Nor should they even try, because that would be

Bad idea.

They mimic a baseball umpire’s ‘out’ motion.

And we don’t like bad ideas, do we?

Niet, cousin. Bad ideas are bad. As we say in motherland--

He pauses, cocks his head to the side.

We do not say that in Russia. We do not call it motherland.
I am insulted by your insensitivity.

Cut. I don’t give a rat’s ass. You got your flask back. Read the
lines so we can get out of here. Action.

As we say in motherland, “A bird in hand is worth two
in bush.”

Aleksander, once more giving the Director a death glare, takes a swig from his flask.

I hear that. I wouldn’t have been able to take down
Dr. Omnikill if I’d been blind drunk.

SquidJew cocks his head to one side.

SQUIDJEW (cont’d)
I didn’t kill Dr. Omnikill. Killman killed
Dr. Omnikill.

It doesn’t matter. Next line. Keep it moving.

So remember guys and gals: Don’t let good times
go bad by drinking too much.

And always remember friend water.


STAGE HANDS begin ripping apart the set.

DIRECTOR (OS, cont’d)
Finally. I’m getting tired of being stuck on hero duty.
You fucks can’t act worth a damn, you know that?

You want for to make act? I will make act outside head!
You will think rock is dog!

Aleksander takes a bottle of vodka from his flask and chucks it at the Director, who flees the set.