Friday, April 1, 2011

The Prologue to The Student's Second Tale

We sat in The Sub-Pope’s Flock, in our usual corner, looking out the window at the Buttermarket Square as a few very determined tourists walked through the Cathedral gates, braving the snow and wind. Over the speakers mounted over the bar, an English folk band wrapped up a song about Plato or something and gave way to some new costumed freak named Lady Gaga. (Well, new to me. She’d apparently been making music for a few months. She looked like a Marvel villain on crack, and that was enough to make me ignore her.)
“You’re not going to start hanging out with them, are you?” asked The Traveler.
He sat across the table from me, wearing a red shirt with a black fist screened on and then some writing in Cyrillic. I assumed he’d picked this up from some market in the Eastern Bloc, but he wouldn’t say anything other than “I got it ridiculously cheap.” Come to think of it, The Traveler didn’t say anything about his trips over the break; he simply stated that where he went wasn’t that special, and what he did wasn’t that special, and any further discussion on the subject would simply be boring. I thought that whenever anyone said something like that, then it would be quite the opposite, but chose not to bring it up.
He was, I think, referring to the glut of undergrads with whom I acquainted myself by joining the cast of Fiddler on the Roof. I say “I think” because there was a good ten minutes of The Drunkard shouting that The Writer was a moron, and The Stalker making uncomfortable-sounding statements about everything going on. Throughout it all, The Student sent text messages on his phone to Rebecca. “What’s wrong with them?”
The Traveler shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, you  know. Undergrads.”
I blinked. “I fail to see what the problem is. I mean, some of the chicks are pretty hot and, you know—”
The Drunkard burst into a gale of laughter. “Come on, man. Don’t bullshit us. You? You can’t talk to an attractive girl to save your life.”
“Guh!” shouted The Drunkard, his mouth agape. “Guh, guh!” He looked like a fish. I hoped that I didn’t look that bad.
“And,” said The Student, continuing to poke away at his phone, “let’s not forget the surely present gap in intellect.”
“What?” I said. “That’s insane.”
“Not really. Think about it: What was your favorite movie as a freshman?”
“Anchorman,” I said.
“And now?”
“Inglourious Basterds, but I don’t see what you’re talking about.”
“Note that you’ve progressed from a film based on the humor level of dick and fart jokes and have moved to a World War II-Western hybrid with intelligent nods to German cinema of the 1930s and ‘40s that holds its characters to no black-and-white moral standard, and, indeed, shows that ‘heroes’ are just as horrifying as ‘villains.’”
“I bet I can find some people in the cast who liked it.”
“Yes, I’m sure, but that intelligence is buried deep within a sea if inanity and asinine likes and dislikes.” The Student clicked a final button on his phone and put it gently in his pocket. He shrugged. “Good luck finding them.”
“That’s... really fucking cynical, man.”
He cocked an eyebrow and took a drink. “I don’t see how.”
“Indeed,” said The Writer, “it’s in the general hu—”
“Shut up, corduroy-wearer,” said The Drunkard.
“What’s wrong with corduroy?” asked The Student.
“Nothing when you wear it,” said The Drunkard. “You’re basically a prof. But when The Writer wears it...” he paused, took a drink from his whiskey, and leaned forward, “it looks like he’s being eaten by a bear; and the fictitious nature of that fantasy makes me yearn that it were true.”
There was a pause around the table. The Stalker stood and slow clapped for a moment. The bartender looked over at us with a scowl and turned up the TV in the corner, and turned down the music. Rugby raised in volume and calmed us down for a moment.
“So,” said The Traveler, drumming his fingers on the table for a moment. “The reason we’re here is I figured that it had been a while – too long of a while, if I may say so – since we’d broken for winter and gone our various ways—”
“Without bringing The Drunkard along,” sneered The Drunkard to The Student, “because The Drunkard would be too destructive.”
The Traveler cleared his throat, “—and I decided that the best way to break in the new term would be to reinstate our contest.”
A general murmur of agreement went around the table, save for The Drunkard, who’d stood up – well, more like staggered up – and gone to the bar to order another Jameson. If we were a hive mind – and sometimes, on the rare occasion when I saw two members of our group with the same facial expression, I believed there was a certain amount of credence to this idea – then the hive would have gone with the idea, even if one member had been temporarily blacked out, i.e. The Drunkard.
The Traveler grinned. “Great, now, the hard part is remembering who’d gone last...”
“Well,” I said, “The Writer came up with that awesome sci-fi story.”
The Writer sputtered. “Aw—awesome? That... that dreck, you call that awesome?” He grew wide-eyed. “I just used a vernacular term.” He pointed at me. “Do you see what you’ve made me do, you bastard?”
I grinned. “The game is mine. And yeah, I loved it.”
The Writer flung his hands in the air and sputtered some more, gesturing between me and The Traveler; eventually he gave up and shook his head, took a drink from his ale.
“Kay,” said The Traveler.
“And The Drunkard had finished up his story about Lloyd,” I said.
“Cloyd,” said The Drunkard, returning to the table. “The kid’s name was Cloyd. Wonder what he’s up to. Probably dead on the side of Second Avenue.”
“Jesus,” I said.
“What?” asked The Drunkard.
“I’ll go,” said The Student.
“Is it your turn?” asked The Traveler.
“Does it matter?” The Student responded.
“Good point, the rest of us said.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sven and The Interloper's Return

It so happened that Giggles, or Will, was in town at the alt rock pub with one of his friends who was visiting from London. I walked into town—the weather wasn’t as bad as it had been in the past week; still bad, but not enough to wish for sudden climate change—walked through the High Street and headed to the alt pub: The Lady Luck. Something about it struck me as familiar, and, with that familiarity, a small amount of dread. But I couldn’t nail anything down, so I ignored it and went inside.
In England, I developed the habit of going into a bar to wait for someone and ordering a drink before I looked around for that person. Since then, it’s made me late for so many things that I can’t count. Essentially: I have a terrible memory when it comes to being at places at a certain time and have a bad habit of wandering into random places. Luckily, it turned out that, as my ale was being poured by the man who looked like he had recently been in a fight with a tattoo artist, I heard Will’s special brand of disbelief-fueled obscenities from the back.
I walked in the back room and saw him circling a pool table like it was a piece of roadkill and he was a vulture. Off to the side, with a shit-eating grin, was a man slightly shorter than I, with a black-and-red beard, black clothes, and what looked to be Hot Topic chain-inclusive black jeans. He took a drink from a cider and said, “Mate, if you can’t accept a loss, there’s no need to swear.” He laughed.
“That was absurd. That was impossible. You’ve never made a shot like that in the past—how long have I known you, three years? You can’t do that, you don’t have the skill to sink three balls at once.”
“That’s what she said.”
Will cocked his head to one side and said, “That doesn’t make any sense.”
I said, “You don’t make any sense.”
Will turned, saw me, “Hey Narrator. This is Sven. Sven’s being a cunt and displaying unheard-of luck right now.”
“We’ve met,” said Sven.
I cocked my head. “We have?”
Then it hit me. Way back at the beginning of the year, I was here with The Student and this guy and an anti-Semite. “Oh. This is the Nazi place.”
Sven laughed. “Luke isn’t working today, no worries. The rest of the people here are cool.”
I looked around. Most of the people here were borderline goths. The remaining people were two extremely out-of-place posh-looking girls at the table closest to the door, and an older biker couple at the bar who were trying to convince the bartender to have a three-way. The posh girls (who I thought I recognized from somewhere) left the pub, and the bartender looked like he wished he could follow suit.
What was important, though, was the music. Over the surprisingly great-quality speakers mounted on the walls, the acoustic, twelve-string version of “Hear My Train a-Comin” by Jimi Hendrix played.
“Okay, I dig.”
“Cool. Want to take over for Will? He’s being a bit—”
“Well, well, well, look at what we have here,” said a disturbingly sadistic-sounding voice. “If it isn’t my chum, Kike McYankerson.”
“Fuck,” I said. I knew that voice. It was The Interloper. I turned, saw the man—this time alone (which meant there would be no reprieve brought on by a friend with a black bag)—and said, “Gayn cacken ofn yahm.”
That froze him for a second. The presence of a language other than English, I’d learned, had a freezing effect on the small-minded. Enough, at least, to confuse them for a bit and possibly allow for an escape.
The Interloper shook off the Yiddish and said, “And these cunts, they your bum buddies?”
“What?” Will asked. “Who are you? Narrator, is this one of the Thes?”
“Kind of. He’s The Interloper.”
“What does that word mean? My name’s Tim. Sod it, Jew, I’m gonna kick your ass.” And then, I shit you not, he rolled up his sleeve like he was a villain from a 1950s high school sitcom.
Sven propped himself up on a stool near the back wall like this was a damn prize fight, and he had ringside seats, and Will leaned on the stick and said, “Narrator, before I go in on your side, I must know if what you did to anger this man is valid.”
By the time he got to “I must know,” The Interloper had reared back and I held my fists out in front of me like this was a 1920s boxing match. (I’d never been in a fight before—the closest I’d been to one was a shoving match when I was in gym class and I tripped a guy during the mile run—and I thought this was how people fought. Now, I know better. I know people fight like in West Side Story, and that’s why I’ve been practicing my snapping rhythm.)
He brought the fist forward, the thought that I was doing this wrong flashed through my head and then, in a flash, a black-draped figure smelling suspiciously of cider appeared between me and the fist. The figure’s hand reached out, grabbed The Interloper’s wrist and jerked it down with such speed and force that The Interloper himself fell to the ground with a quick, “Bloody hell.”
At that same time, The Interloper’s keepers burst through the door of the pub with the trusty black bag and a new addition: a Taser. They skidded to a halt at the entrance to the pool room, saw The Interloper on the ground and breathed sighs of relief. “He was going from kebab shop to kebab shop trying to start fights with people,” said the one in the Led Zeppelin shirt.
I didn’t say anything, I was still surprised by The Stalker, who was now standing to my left. I didn’t notice before, but the scent of cider came from the presence of the pint of Strongbow he’d been holding in his right hand through the entire ordeal. “Yes,” said The Stalker, “perhaps the two of you should consider chemically castrating your friend.”
The two Englishmen looked at each other and gave off a couple nervous laughs. On the floor, The Interloper groaned. “I think me arm’s broken.”
“I’m not joking,” said The Stalker. “Ask my friend here: I don’t joke.”
I shook my head. “He doesn’t.”
“I believe,” continued The Stalker, “that your now-injured friend suffers from an excess of testosterone—or, more likely, he has a deficiency thereof, and thus feels the compulsion to dominate other people around him. A sort of compensatory alpha complex, if you follow my thinking on the situation. In my thinking—and I am no doctor, or psychologist—this could be remedied by cutting off the source of the excess testosterone.”
The Interloper wept on the floor. “Lads, please don’t cut off my bollocks.”
The two Englishmen looked at each other again and, without further commentary, dragged the crying man out of the pub.
After a few seconds of silence, conversation in the pub started back up.
“Did you just threaten to chemically castrate someone?” asked Will.
Sven stood up and walked over to shake The Stalker’s hand. “Brilliant, mate. I’m Sven.”
The Stalker sniffed the air and squinted at Sven. “You should switch to cigars. They’re more fragrant than Marlboros.”
“Er,” I said.
The Stalker slurped at his cider and turned to me. “Narrator. Au revoir. I’ll be seeing you at The Flock tomorrow, yes? I hope you’re prepared in the event that it’s your turn.”
I turned to the side to drink out of the glass ale I had, said, “Whose turn is it?” drank, and turned around to see that The Stalker had vanished.
“Is he Batman?” asked Sven. “He just... was gone.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “One thing I do know: He’s a dangerous man, and God help us all if he turns against us. If that day comes, he’ll be as bad as the people he fights against.”
Will and Sven turned to each other. “Who does he fight against?” Will asked when the moment of confusion was over.
“What? Oh,” I said, “sorry. Got on a Batman track there, quoting Commissioner Gordon.” I coughed. “Right. Next game?”