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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
 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.