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.