Your mom is right: breakfast is the most powerpacked meal of the day. Jerry Rig never quite learned that, so he was taken entirely off-guard by the totipotent combination of egg scrambled and imbricated with soft, wet potato. Wrapping it in an oven-warmed tortilla had proven far too puissant for his gin-wracked morning body, and he had made for the dubious comforts of the porch couch, bolstered by running the boom box' power cord through the window and fortifying himself with his all-Boston mix tape and the cleanishest glass from the kitchen (for a lengthy series of red beers).
It wasn't like he wanted to vomit, or die, or go back to bed, exactly. It was like his heart wanted to vomit, his eyes wanted to die, his neck felt made of splintering beestung granite. Flickers of flashback guttered over and through him like choppy seas surging amongst chunks of calving iceberg.
"I dunno. I loved the first one as much as anybody, but I genuinely think identity-fuckery combined with musings about that which is real versus the ersatz and the simple sadness that the satisfactions of the latter may well be more profound and accessible than the former is/was a bad choice for sequels--indeed, for a franchise. A certain dilution has occurred, and the subtlety of the original formulations has been lost, has become mere obfuscation..."
Humidor stared, straddling the beach cruiser he insisted upon riding everywhere. "Akka/Dekka...I am stunning. That was...easily...the most nuanced thing you have ever said. On anything."
Dekka shrugged and yanked at his backpack straps. Squinted into the early evening sun and muttered around a cigarette. "'Man said it. I just read the note he passed me."
The four grunted quietly as their respective bikes creaked under them, empty beers forgottenly stuffed and leaking their can-leavings in four men's bags, the last single-screen theatre in Portland receding behind them, the marquee grimly inflicting TOTAL RECALL 3 on any eye turned to the east on this sunday afternoon. Any eye at all: the letters were vast pillars of an eternal eldritch flame, dozens of cubits high.
"Fuck you, buddy!"
Rig rolled his eyes and adjusted his fanny pack. A stub of cigar worked its way around his mouth as the dank, starkly underlit club shook itself to pieces around him. Leather squeaked inaudibly everywhere, piercings gleamed and flashed, fishnets more a uniform than an accessory. Rig liked the flesh parade, bodies colliding as though they were in a large, invisible rock tumbler turned on its side, but mostly he just filed away the flickering cleavage and pale thigh meat for lonely later use. His mind fixed on strange, pointless things as he strained to avoid the things that actually bothered him. How had nobody ever noticed that the main riff in this tune was lifted directly from "woodpeckers from Mars"? Did nobody have ears?
In this way and by maintaining a very strict regimen of one tallboy per song was Jerry Rig able to avoid thinking about how a cover band--Hedgehog's Dilemma--had become a huge success playing songs his own band had never had a whole lot of luck playing, even as that cover band cavorted photogenically on the chest-high stage at Duckworth's. It
had been a long day. Bike ride to their favored theatre for a free noontime screening, mile upon mile to the east. A brief post-film visit to the graveyard, a hustling exit before being rousted by the paracops, some amiably unsuccessful attempts to grill in the back-yard, followed by a sighing abandonation of tantrum-stricken Akka/Dekka, who'd climbed up on the roof for no reason anybody understood as everyone else jettisoned themselves into the remains of the sunday. Energy expended leaves a void to fill with alcohol; this cavity sours quickly, home to a sullen rage, the lashing pout of the naturally overlooked and underappreciated.
Rig had passed out on the couch, running the boom box cord out the window. He came to to a monday afternoon spalled by the flinty tenor of Akka/Dekka, raised yet beyond its usual car alarm heights. "My loan!? Her birthday? This is bullshit! What do you expect to talk about next--period panties, the glass ceiling and mascara ads? This is asshole shit walking!"
As Rig fussed with his musty lab coat, sweat-moist from drunken, overfed couchsleep, Dekka's unfocused eyes strayed to the corner where walls and ceiling met. One arm hung limply from a bum, bruised shoulder. Almost no time passed. "Uh-huh. Okay, yeah. You're right. I will. Today, I promise. Today. TODAY. Right now. Love you too, mom."
Scowling, Akka/Dekka hung up the phone and repaired to his war room. All the rage and despair locked within that craggy frame would have to wait another day. Afternoon lost time like shedding hair and evening slid over the High Style like mustard on a biscuit. Sweating and shaky, Dekka clambered out of the stifling, repurposed mud room. "Ha-HAH!" his rough cry, a flat lozenge held above his head with his working arm. "They said it couldn't be done. They later retracted that statement and lengthily questioned my abilities, my suitability for the task. And yet I stand. Here I stand--victorious."
Jerry, drinking on the porch and enjoying Boston's late period, nearly audibly ignored Dekka. Humidor was long
gone to the bar and Mudman lurked below, still playing games alone. Grumpy and underappreciated, Dekka intoned "Yup. Cool. Is. The. Word. What I got right here is probably the best thank-you note any man ever wrote to his aunt. For kicking down a little cash when she makes like a million dollars a minute. And I am currently between jobs. Which she expects to be paid back in like 2 months." When this proclamation somehow failed to win the spectacular response it merited, Akka/Dekka dropped his envelope hand and went to rummage the couch for stamp change. Still grumbling.
His night both ruined and fulfilled, his face lumpier and bloodier than usual, Rig slumped on the ped access platform of the Steel Bridge. About a third of the way across it (going east) there's a spot of black between two lights. Rig was treating his soul to one of his beloved punk rock picnics, a Black & Mild smoldering, bebourboned Plaid coffee half
forgotten, a filthy handkerchief around a fistful of ice held to his bleeding brow. Occasionally he'd toe the rear tire of his jounced and battered mountain bike to hear its comforting ticks. As the ice melted through the handkerchief, blood from his eyebrow seeped around and covered the stains from the 5 fluids from all 4 of his body's front's primary emitters of same.
It started in a tavern. It always starts in a tavern. Humidor hadn't noticed anything odd or interesting about the Pillbox when he's stopped in as afternoon lost a savage match against evening. Had he noticed two pairs of ember-eyes hotly glowing from corner shadows, he would simply have waved to Jukeboxer and Ritch Tapestry.
Who sat beclouded by smoke and gloom. Back by the pinball machines.
Humidor approached the bar. All he heard was two old men at talk. "Wow, your ex?"
"Yeah. Dating my girlfriend's stepson."
"They came in here?"
"Right up in here. Said they didn't know I drank here. I felt like a Mexican in a bookstore, for sure."
"Awkward. I felt very awkward."
"You're a fucking asshole."
Armed with a tall yellow beer, Humidor beat a retreat to the
pinball forest. "Humidor. Sit." Ritch Tapestry stood over the pinball machine like a stalk of bamboo. The ball hurtled through the gates and switches, careened off throbbing obstacles and caused lights to strobe. The score mounted, grew intimidating. Though his hands were in the customary and appropriate place on the table, his fingers never moved, the buttons never were pressed, and his eyes always burned, never straying from Humidor's wan, swarthy face.
Jukeboxer leaned forward creepily and got to the crux. "It is time, El Humidor. To be tutored in the ways of power. For example, you can walk down the street drinking a beer. Right out in the open."
"No! That's not true! That's impossible!"
"You know it to be true."
Time passed. Humidor's mind was further blown. The jukebox transmorphed into a pulsing vortex--something like a screen saver or a particularly good visualizer--eldritch spectra frying eyeballs over comet/planet collision drumbeats. A phalanx of guitars grinding like cavalries churning across the steppes. The portal didn't open so much as simply appear; by its very presence the dingy tavern was changed.
Humidor in a strangled voice asked "You mean...like some kind of...Eternal Champion?"
After a pause, Jukeboxer answered him. "Yes. No. Well, an overnight champion, one could say. A midnight warrior of a sort, chosen to battle once--"
"And only once." Tapestry followed his interruption with a freight train of a glance and a brief monologue. "You must understand. Grim forces abound. Occasionally a man is
selected to help another throw one or another dire yoke. You wear the mantle of the midnight warrior like a rank, and sally forth on some yet unknown sortie, like so many before you, so many yet to come. No one knows who will be chosen, or when, or where. Except us. Jukeboxer and I have the honor of introducing you to tonight's task."
Cued, Jukeboxer said "There are ways, Humidor, ways of power you have been introduced to. Ways any of us can, for one moment, hold the whip hand."
"Yes. And save another." Tapestry sat back and smoked. Jukeboxer glanced at the portal somehow disgorging Creet.
Humidor knew why he had been chosen. "What...what must I do?"
"Her. Buy her a beer." At Jukeboxer's point, El Humidor steeled himself and swallowed hard. Then he swallowed beer. A lot of beer. Then got up, squared his shoulders and his recollection of his bank balance and headed to the bar and the slim young lady waiting there.
Akka/Dekka woke up in free fall.
When a man falls asleep on the roof, he will sometimes wake up on the ground, or nearly so.
Creet smiled. "Hey, El Humidor."
"You have on me a disadvantage. I think we haven't never met."
"Oh, I was at a party at your house a while back. Don't get out much now."
"Nah. Dumb desk day job thing. Dress code, the whole bit."
Humidor finally caught the bartender's eye. Thickly he thumbed at his envelope, impressed at a distant remove by the bulk of his rent money. "Hey..." distracted by the jukebox, omnipresent as the surf and powerful as summer thunder, "Can I get another? And whatever she's drinking? And some quarters?"
Receding to the shadows, Jukeboxer mumbled a question at Ritch Tapestry. "You think he's got a shot?"
"I think he'd better."
Gorgeous late-summer monday afternoon in Portland. Cloudless sky, everything's clear, blue and green. The air has a magic sweetness rarely attainable by lesser cities, even near Jerry's cigar, on a porch that could be promoted to ramshackle with a few free hours and a pressure washer. "These Dreams" blared, because Jerry's view of "all-Boston mix tape" is as whimsical as everything else.
Dekka and Humidor mounted the porch from opposite directions, both struck by Rig's struck face.
"The fuck happened to you?" Akka/Dekka gently inquires. "You fall down getting the mail again?"
Pinball, jukebox and vast accessible alcohol took the night out back behind the barn, shoved a rifle in its mouth, delivered an Oscar-worthy disquisition on the topic of renting oneself, and loosed two shots. The second was just for effect. Creet and El Humidor laughed with newly-won familiarity as last call happened, and delivered their orders with glee. Somehow they'd spent most--55, maybe 60%--of the night talking about Creet's "dumb day job".
"Seriously. Not one person there will drink a beer at lunch. At least three people have told me they don't understand why I'd rollerblade to work instead of owning a car. They decorate their cubes and can't understand why I dress the way I do. I get there in a good mood from my ride; by lunch I'm furious. Every night I roll into my pad and just go to bed I'm so tired from dealing with all the bullshit."
Humidor shoved his cigarettes across the table. Creet spoke around one, absently clicking her Zippo a few times after lighting the tube.
"It's like getting beat up. My life is getting abused. Bruised. They won't let me be who I am when I'm there. By the time I get home, I'm too exhausted to be who I want to be."
Humidor cleared his throat quietly. Now was the crucial moment--as the midnight champion, he needed to strike a blow for the forces of freedom. He could just tell.
"Would you excuse me for a moment?" Creet's eyes were focused on some dimension unknown to most as she unfolded her lanky frame and vanished out the front door. Humidor slumped, crushed by the weight of failure as Jukeboxer and Ritch Tapestry appeared behind him, radiating thrill and not a little surprise as the bar's get-out lights suddenly shed harsh illumination on outing's end.
"Well done." And they were gone. Confused, Humidor finished his quarter-inch of beer, eyed the surround, shrugged and downed Creet's last inch. As he attained the pavement, Creet rushed him. "Wanna hit the Plaid? We have like 6 minutes."
"Thought you worked in the morning, not?"
Creet moved her cell phone like a tambourine. "Nope. I just called them and quit. Let's grab a sixer; I want to show you that anime I told you about."
"Well, I don't entirely know. I remember going in to La Dolce 'Gina for a second, and getting kicked out for getting blood on the stage."
"The hell did you get the dough to go to a peeler bar?"
"I wasn't there for long."
Rig was lying. He'd been there for about a hundred bucks. And he knew perfectly well what had happened to his face, now that a raft of red beers had reassembled his sundered memories. As Hedgehog's Dilemma had wound up their second to last number, Rig's voice had unleashed the mightiest known heckle. "You're not very good!" The words wheeled around the room like predatory birds. The Bowie knockoff known as Kludge had hurled his keytar to the ground and leapt feetfirst onto Rig's grinning, furious face. He'd hung out alone on the bridge for a bit, then paid to look at naked women. But your roommates don't need to know everything.
Words by C. Collision, drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes