~ Do I attract weird people? Someone at the show tonight (an open mike I went to by myself, thank you very much, I can't stalk Verena as a full-time job) was wearing a shirt with an overview picture of our fair city. It (the shirt) looked homemade, or home silk-screened, whatever you call it, and had points labeled on the city with arrows leading outward. Each arrow said something. Palace. Pyramid. Sun Tower. I forget the others.
We were standing at the bar and a very drunk Dude-Bro in front of us was ordering drinks for like, ten people. Maybe it wasn't that many but he was having trouble enunciating and the other guy saw me staring at his shirt. So on a whim I asked him about our local geography.
“Not geography,” he said. “Locational Iconography. That's what I call it.”
“So there's a bird I noticed recently, in a building that I frequent,” I said.
“Marieke Shem,” he said, interrupting me. “In the Rasmus building, yeah, that's famous. But subtle.”
“Can't believe I missed it for so long,” I said.
“That's its purpose,” he replied. “In the story taught to 5th degree Blaanid's, the bird flies the world through space, so they symbolize it by subtle placement.”
“I understood only the second third of that sentence,” I said.
“Second third,” he nodded. “You a comedian?”
“Well,” I gestured around, “isn't everybody?”
“I'm just here for the architecture,” he said, “meet some buddies later and we walk a path.”
I nodded, then glanced back at the bartender who gazed at us with pained longing.
“That guy?” said the shirt-wearer, pointing to the Dude-Bro, “he's from The Committee.”
“What?” I asked. It was the only thing I could say.
“They know I come here to wait for something with very specific timing, and they're trying to thwart me,” he explained. “But what they don't know is,” he raised his voice and leaned toward the Dude-Bro, “I'm early as shit, dumbass.”
I turned away, hoping that my body language might not give away that I was just talking to this guy. The Dude-Bro froze for a moment, then regained his drunken posture, grabbed whatever glasses were in front of him and walked away. We got to the front of the line. I immediately shook it off as coincidence, or that the shirt-wearer was just fucking with me.
“What'll you have?” he asked. I liked him. He was chubby, with dark hair and a beard and glasses. Somewhat darker. Reminded me of a young Fidel Castro almost. Still, he seemed awkward yet forthcoming in a way I found amiable. That last sentence doesn’t sound like me.
“Oh uh, Jack and Coke,” I said.
He ordered his drink and then doubled both of ours. “Don't worry about the tip either,” he said. “I got this.”
“Thanks,” I said, “I was planning on staying for most of the sets, um you're meeting - ?”
“Yeah, but I don't know when,” he said. “Let's grab that table over there. I always watch the show until it comes time for walking. Of course, I'd love to go up there myself, but I got nothin' to say.”
“Hold on,” I replied, “you just told me a mouthful about . . . hang on, Localized Iconography. That's something.”
“Yeah, but it's not funny,” he said.
“Oh, people will laugh,” I replied.
“That's probably very true,” he said. “Maybe I should just go up there and be totally honest about my interests, and that'll make me the best comedian in the world.”
I sipped my drink. Strong. Good. “Best don't mean shit,” I said. “The best comedian is fucking hoeing a field somewhere. No one will ever hear him . . . or her.”
He nodded. “You signed up tonight?”
“Nah,” I said. “Still doing research. I've got a . . . date with a friend for when we're gonna go up. At Inderjit, I think.”
“First time for both of you, huh?” he asked.
“No. Not for her. She's been doing this for years. I think. First time for me. I been working on stuff for quite a while, though,” I said.
“Nice. Don't worry. I'm not gonna ask you to try out material on me,” he said. Then he pointed. “You see that chandelier?”
I made the affirmative gesture with my head which irritates me when I see it written in books.
“That's a design following the Tryphon patterns. He was an ancient Greek mathematician/occultist. Known for kind of, jumping the gun on stuff. He talked big without knowing much and reached insane conclusions without any evidence. However, someone traced these drawings of his in an unlabelled notebook and well . . . people who claim to have done that, or be involved with it in some way mysteriously vanish. Theories vary from the designs being so strange that they scramble your brain, or that they're passages to other worlds that no one can come back from. You notice how no one stands directly underneath it.”
“Yeah, well, it's a chandelier,” I said. “People notice that it's extremely jagged and instinctively don't want to be vulnerable.”
“But look,” he insisted, “there's always a clear circle underneath it. That can't just be reptile-brain activity.”
“Why not?” I asked. “It explains a lot of what we do.” I sipped more of my drink, which was now half-empty. “Check out Dude-Bro dancing.”
“What?” he asked. “Oh, him.”
“Sorry,” I said, “that was how I labeled him in my head. Hey, wait a minute. What's your name?”
“What's my label?” he asked.
I thought for a moment. “Fidel.”
He laughed. “Okay okay, that explains the behavior of airport security around me.”
“You really get stopped?” I asked.
“Commonly enough that I have to plan ahead for it,” he said.
“So what's your name,” I asked, “is it suspicious at all?”
“Linos,” he said. “It's Greek, but that doesn't matter to some hillbilly TSA agent. If it ain't John or Mike, then it's suspicious.”
“Alright, Linos,” I said. “What's all this about The Committee?”
He leaned forward as if discussing something confidential. “The Committee is an affiliation of people designed to . . . cause unrest.”
“Like, incite riots?” I asked.
“Far more subtle than that,” he said. “They trace people's movements, and then hinder them by inconvenience. They'll send cars to make sure you don't cross the road in time for your bus. They'll have people wait in line,” he gestured to Dude-Bro, “to make you late for something else. The more ballsy ones will remove objects from your pockets or backpack that you purposefully packed for a certain outing –”
“Hang on,” I said. “The resources to pull this off would be tremendous. How come no one's talking about it?”
“We're talking about it,” he said.
“But . . . but the sheer number of people who would have to be in-the-know about this . . .”
“It's staggering, I agree,” he said. “But think about it. The vast majority of people who go to college never graduate and end up stagnating at some job that they hate. Tons of people think that they're geniuses and don't go to college at all and somehow expect the universe to recognize their greatness and take care of them. As life grinds these people down, they use the internet to search for, um . . . unconventional lines of work. Nowadays, it’s just an app. The assignments start simple. Usually driving. Good salary. For instance: Be at this intersection at this time to make sure this person is on this side of the road. If they are, you get a bonus.”
“Look,” I said, “your logic of down-on-their-luck people taking immoral jobs I have no problem with. It's just again, the scale of this operation. And you said a salary. Who funds this?”
“Money comes from way up top,” he said, lifting his hands. “But they don't really know what it's for. Politicians, lobbyists, rich power-players who for some reason have noticed that by funneling money through these routes, power is sustained, or even increased. Eyes are not focused on them the more people's petty problems consume them.”
“So, Dude-Bro is here, getting paid to mess with you . . . and now he's just fuckin' around on the clock?” I asked.
“I don't work for them,” said Linos. “His assignment was compromised by me not being in a hurry.”
“So why are you a target?” I asked.
“Because I noticed,” he said.
“Sounds like confirmation bias,” I said. “You want to see a pattern, so you do.”
“Well then finding confirmation bias is a result of the same fault,” he said, sipping his drink.
There was something wrong with his statement, but I wasn't sure what, nor did I want to argue with him. He was friendly and interesting. Instead, my drink gave me an idea.
“Want me to get rid of him for you?” I asked.
“Excuse me?” he replied.
“Dude-Bro,” I said. “Look at him. The guy couldn't be more clueless. He's dancing alone, and not in the cool Billy Idol way. He's a joke and everyone can tell.”
“He'll never admit to being part of it,” said Linos.
“Oh, I know that,” I said, “because it backs up your story. I have a better idea. Wait for me.”
I got up and walked across the dance floor. Apparently this was not a sacred space that would push away people like me who have never danced. There was no Cool-People-Only bouncer. No one even noticed.
Despite what I thought of him, Dude-Bro looked like a successful person. Sure he had the douchy hair, but he was clean-shaven, his clothes were nice, his teeth were white. Every move seemed so effortless. He was probably buff. Someone whose self-image consumed their almost every thought. I wished I could look like him. I wished I wasn't embarrassed to take my shirt off in front of people. I am by no means fat, but I'm not toned. I wished that people wanted to be me, the way I wished that I could look like him.
He was occasionally flailing in ways that made other dancers give him a wide berth. I tapped him on the shoulder. “Hey Dude-Bro,” I yelled into his ear.
He turned to me and smiled. Actually smiled. “What up man? You lookin' to party, I ain't your dealer you might have me confused with someone else, but best of luck to ya,” he turned back to his invisible partner.
“No,” I yelled, grabbing him by the shoulder. He turned around, his face a mask of fury. “Look up there,” I pointed.
While he was distracted I pulled him three steps forward to directly underneath the chandelier. I couldn't quite bring myself to look up as well, despite the silliness of Linos' warning. Dude-Bro froze and went slack. His jaw drooped and his head lolled forward slowly. I didn't even think about it then, but I'm sure all the music stopped. It was like I turned off a robot. He stopped breathing. I involuntarily followed his gaze down just in time for him to lift his leg and stamp on my foot.
“Motherfucker,” I screamed into the echoing unfocused silence and I involuntarily looked into the design of the chandelier.
The clanging began all at once. My head was full of marbles trying to escape and the sound skipped around like static on the radio. I felt myself falling off a ledge and I stepped back, and was back on the dance floor. Normal music, normal feeling, normal . . . everything. Except that, Dude-Bro was gone.
I looked around, saw enough to notice that I was on the edge of a circle on the dance-floor that no one was occupying. Linos half-got-up out of his chair. I practiced walking and found I could do it.
Linos seemed cautious of my presence. He waved his hand in front of my eyes. “Hey. Can you hear me? Don't go anywhere, I'll stop you, I swear.”
“I'm not . . . I'm fine. I'm not leaving. Why would I leave?” I said, surprised I could talk.
“Dude-Bro took off,” he said. “It all happened so fast that no one noticed, but I saw you pull him into the Tryphon Design. You looked too. What happened? You actually pulled him, like, he had his heels up and everything but when he saw it he almost knocked you over fleeing. But you looked too.”
“It's just loud in here,” I said. “He stomped on my foot and it hurt more than I was expecting. That's all. But, it turns out, we're both still on this mortal plane. So, no passage to other worlds, eh? Too bad.”
“I dunno man,” said Linos. “He looked pretty freaked. I got a few pictures of him, so we'll see what happens?”
“What are you expecting to happen?” I asked.
But Linos was looking behind me and waving to his buddies. They joined us and my adventure will continue but goddamn my hand is tired.