The Fall 2016 issue of OPOSSUM proudly features “Darker, More Real,” Allison Bulger’s wickedly hilarious and brainy tribute to Black Metal, the brutal musical genre that originated in Norway in the 1980s. We’re also happy to present it here, led off by a selfie-video Allison made of the first section of the story, then printed in full, peppered with a selection of Black Metal videos she curated for us, each of which, she says, is “arguably the Black Metal Anthem.”
If you haven’t been closely following the evolution of metals since it was just, you know, heavy, here’s a tip: if DEATH Metal is the music of a guy with one of those testicular mustaches who’s about to shoot you in the face with a sawed-off shotgun, BLACK Metal is the gurgling, screaming song of a warrior who’s lying in a field with a pike stuck in him and crows trying to get at his eyes. Maybe he’s cursing you, maybe he’s remembering glorious days of pillage and murder. But now he sinks into darkness as he always knew he would, as he’s always longed to do. In Allison’s story, our Black Metal hero, Cy Stanton, isn’t sure he’s as committed to the darkness as he supposed to be.
Without further ado, here’s “Darker, More Real.”
Darker, More Real
by Allison Bulger
Cy “The Loon” Stanton is afraid to leave his dressing room. No one understands why but the Turk, and the Turk isn’t answering his texts. Soon he’ll have no choice but to heave up and waddle onto the floor and scope out the situation. But moving is his last resort. Goal is to remain as still as possible for as long as possible. Cool as a cucumber. Difficult task, laments Cy, when you are fat and fit to burst. When you are creamed sausage-tight into a pleather condom. His set chair’s already been elevated on four cinder blocks to accommodate the length his platform shoes add to his legs, and he’s gained at least 12% body mass since the last time he wore these pants. One wrong move and lights out, folks. Hollywoodland entombed in flesh.
Cy throws his phone at the vanity. It lands next to the styrofoam bust that models his hood. Cy eyes the thing with suspicion. His steel-plated gimper is the Loon’s trademark. A needly thing––it has a mouth hole only and looks had-its-way-with by cenobites. The studio asked him to wear it but Cy refused. It would limit his peripheral vision onstage, which makes him uneasy. His set chair is at a forty-five degree angle to the mirror where his corpse paint, their compromise, shines wetly. Cy tucks a braid behind his ear and looks away. He knows to avoid mirrors. And gazpacho, and larger puddles, and all the glaucous Melrose eyes that mock his RayBans and his pain. Reflectivity gives an imagination, already psilosybic with anxiety, untoward spatial reign. If Cy drops vigil he will conjure their faces, sitting side by side on the purple divan. Faces with the knobbed cheekbones, and the pale skin stretched tight over––
There is a knock at the door. The intruder does not announce himself, nor does he await invitation. “Loon?” asks a man with a jawbone and a yellow sun-visor. His eyes do not leave his clipboard. Cy remains inclined towards the mirror. He is wearing leather greaves pinned with ninety-three back-screw chrome spikes and a ringed chest harness. “Loon,” the aide affirms. “You requested a perimeter. Short of it is we don’t have the personnel. We’re also not sure what perimeter means. We’ve got Keiko and Johns on East and South respectively. We’ve got your typical crowd monitor fortified with one body, albeit trainee. And I’m your one-to-one man––”
“You?” Cy asks, noting the gun on his waist.
“Name’s Blair. Now as for the perimeter. I know on Law & Order they might––”
Cy, back still to the man, closes his eyes in a gesture he hopes will translate into AUTHORITATIVE DISMISSAL. The door shuts. Fine, good––but this was abnormal, the Turk’s continued absence. Cy begins to dream about the Turk’s possible slaughter. The obvious perps have been incarcerated for three years but Cy knows murder can happen at any time. He knows murder has the domino effect. Say, for instance, some bleached Hollywood bunghole murked his Turk (this would explain the tardiness), Cy would have to murder the bunghole in turn, would have to repay the sanguinary whims of this busty, B-list rapress, persona so spiraled-out she believes herself an archangel––or simply hard. Cy places her in the Turk’s waiting room. She’s popping Skelaxin, fiddling her bits while the Turk’s blood drips off a terra-cotta shard. Perhaps she didn’t like his interpretation of a dream. The Turk’s occupation, Cy thinks, is too dangerous for such a slightly built man. No way he’ll survive a lifetime of these deranged celebs without a mishap… Cy sees soil on the floor, blood trickling cross a vine, and in the rapress’s eyes are identical faces––coin-like, gleaming… Faces with the knobbed cheekbones, and the skin stretched tight over––
“Shut up,” says Cy, and the man in the mirror blinks.
He has officially lost his cool. Heat breaks over his body, initiating a series of kinetic compulsions. Cy cracks his neck, frowns down at his pecs, inspects a braid. He runs his thumb over the cold grooves of his belt, X-linked with full nickel bullets, with nickel tips. They are dummy bullets but even so Cy drove down from Berkeley to avoid the demoralizing experience of explaining to a TSA agent why he presumed hospitality while carrying on a satchel of concertina wire, “for aesthetic reasons.”
It has been a long time––ten years long––since these tragical logistics were a part of Cy’s life. So he was surprised upon his return to Los Angeles how often he was recognized (despite his age, his years of inactivity, his civilian dress), the most recent episode occurring just that morning, not three blocks from his hotel. He’d been craving a latte from his old haunt, that co-op with the hemp milk and the nipple-studs-chick. Reaching for his beverage he locked eyes with a man dressed like a bible salesman who, to Cy’s horror, dropped his briefcase and descended into a complicated feudal bow. With the rest of the coffeehouse staring lazily on, the man posed for the exact duration required for Cy’s career to scream train-like before his eyes. Then the man picked up his briefcase and sauntered onto Wilshire without a backwards glance. Cy was so rattled he forgot his Splenda.
The Loon had not entered retirement of his own free will. He had not gone willingly into that good night. And why would he? He was at the top of his game. He had given a face to something subversive. He was magnetic and garish and that fucker you paid to hate. They still played his music videos on TV.
Oslo, late eighties. That’s when the madness began. With two fair-haired brothers who would one day kidnap a Norwegian cop––a purk––and keep him chained in the basement of a wooden stave church for four and a half months. But long before this more public transgression, these two brothers––identical twins––carved a tiny miasma into the smooth skin of Scandinavian youth culture with their band, Sibbilith.
Exasperated by the monotony and materialism of a Christian and Westernized Norway, they grew their hair long and dressed only in black. Castigation from their parents and figures of staggered authority only had the unwitting effect of making the boys more hungry. The sound of Sibbilith––and the subgenre that materialized in their bitter wake––was characterized by a seemingly illimitable capacity for aggression. They played their guitars at hysterical speeds; drumming was less about keeping time than pounding home a firm policy of mania; and the vocals were distorted beyond all recognition, an assortment of projectile shrieks and growls straight from the illiterate heart of a putrid, witch-toothed everyman. On principle the production quality of the music was terrible because the music was not under any circumstances to be produced. Best to record on a four track in the middle of the woods near Schweigaard, in the dead of winter, where only animals can hear you scream.
Of course Goth and Satanism had been trending in the West for decades, but the darkness remained safely skin-deep. Enthusiasts of Sibbilith and their ken set themselves apart during this embryonic stage by their unflinching morbidity. Their brutality was unprecedented. On Sibbilith’s first LP, the screams of anguish are real. The twins tortured each other with Mother’s iron. And in the house where they lived the boys sprinkled cemetery-soil into their shared bed, so they would smell how death smells.
Cy wasn’t in Oslo in the late eighties. But that was OK.
Oslo came to him.
A sobbing rings loudly out––and with impossible despair. The stadium acoustics are fierce. The sob is bald and earsplitting. It obliterates all discretion over a planet of echoing air, up high into the monstrous thighs of the battened steel columns that support the IcePlex’s retractable roof, and down into the lightless coves of sticky in-house bars. The audience becomes instantly self-conscious. Their chests tighten with fledgling shame. The massive venue has drawn to a still and barring the evolution of gentle machine-generated fog, the stage is empty.
Presently he, the Loon, perched on a pneumatic cylinder, rises from the pit. He is hunched beneath a shapeless robe. He weeps openly now. A snotty, convulsive weeping that approaches medical concern. But right when the kids are beginning to blush––emotion is a buzz-kill for people wearing so much leather––the sob transforms to cackle. The crowd erupts with approval, with affirmative bellows of aggression. A ghastly cough erupts from the Loon’s depths. “I DEEM,” he growls. (Cy has to wind up his abdomen for these noises like a pitcher.) “I DEEEEEEM!”
ABNORMALLY DEAD TOUR / TAMPA ‘95
They gathered to drink like always in a secure tented parking lot behind the IcePlex. Home was always their last stop. End strong, end beloved, end drunk. Danny from make-up was already stumbling when Cy emerged from the green room. He pretended to reach into his saddlebag for a sponge but Cy held up a hand. “I’ll wash off at home. Celebrate, I command thee.” The kid lifted a grateful beer over his head.
Spinoza, the bassist, slapped Cy’s back and selected an open bottle of whisky from the table of spoils. “Loon’s got a date with the moms,” he slurred.
“That I do. And I’m going to eat pie.”
“And he’s going to eat pie!” Spin’s pupils dilated. “Nothin’ wrong with that, my man. Nothin’ wrong with that.”
A grey minivan pulled up to the security booth, and Cy slid open the door. The back seats were folded into their berths, and a navy tarp creased with plant debris was spread over the carpeting. Ms. Stanton, owner and operator of Solaris Nursery, was a veteran at traveling with a barbed and bloodied man in her vehicle. Cy collapsed across the tarp’s length with audible relief. Desiree watched him, eyes glittering in the rearview. She said, “I would kiss you, my son, but I don’t need a lip pierced.”
After his bath Cy coated the tub with hairspray and fistfuls of oxygenated bleach. He dragged in a humidifier to leave on overnight with the doors closed. Desiree invented this prophylactic years ago after accepting that her son’s penchant for dipping himself into enamel-corrosive tinctures was not a passing phase.
The Stanton house was located in a rural town outside Tampa called Seffen. Cy grew up in that house––a ranch style two-bedroom with frosted windows, a wraparound porch, a one-car garage and a backyard stretching a half acre. When things had started to take off, Cy offered to set Desi up in one of those fancy Spanish colonials along the beach, or even move her out to L.A. so she could be closer, so she wouldn’t be lonely out in the middle of nowhere. But Desiree didn’t want to sell the nursery. “Plus I don’t get lonely,” she said. “And I like my garden.” So did he.
Central to the yard was a telescopic pergola woven with Confederate Jasmine. The path carved by the arching lattice spanned the whole lot, starting immediately once you descended the porch steps. But the arbor had been unintentionally built at a diagonal, which meant the big empty sky and the close-cut bristles of grass in the empty fields beyond weren’t visible from the entrance, even if you crouched on the ground and squinted hard. The way led elsewhere, some cloistered zone. Cy called it the tunnel.
He sat barefoot on the porch swing out back. It was warm but he’d wrapped his chest in the pink afghan, the one he used to spread in front of the set as a kid to watch music television. It smelled like menthols because Desiree still smoked. She appeared now wearing an apron and a quizzical look. She was holding his spiked leather gauntlets.
“There is a trail of carnage down the hall,” she said.
Cy did not look up. “I lavish you with gifts.”
“Got to admit, they could aerate my lawn.”
Desiree left to put them away and joined him. She lit a cigarette. “You’re spooked.” She frowned at her son’s steam-flushed cheeks. He was staring trance-like at some imaginary focal point above the tunnel.
“But you never skip the big todo.”
“Sick of it. Plus I missed this white-trash air.”
Desiree combed fingers through his damp hair. When he said nothing more she kissed his ear and resigned. From the kitchen, a few minutes later:
“There’s this movie on later, if you want.”
They’d seen the news last night in Texas. Austin was the last stop before Tampa and the band was shot. After the show they went straight back to their stupid Austin-themed hotel. (Metalwork, chickens.) Cy was on the phone with Irene when Spinoza and Rape banged on his door. Irene’d been crying about the usual topics. She missed him terribly, mercury was in utero––or something––and the house involved too much glass. She could barely move without feeling stents itch to shatter. What vanity propelled them to buy a house made of glass––!? With his ear to the cell Cy looked through the peephole. Spinoza’s pubic- mop, Rape’s glistening cue. Rape was a fitness freak, even his frown had biceps. Tonight he was particularly dour. Without a word, the drummer turned on the news. The news anchor was pinched and blonde. She put on her morality face to talk about crimes. “A bittersweet scene this morning in Norway…” In his ear, Irene was being adamant that a man in a white tuxedo just walked past the driveway for the second time. Cy said he’d call back. He was glad Irene didn’t believe in television. Parental advisory warnings flashed beneath footage of a church congested with police activity. The anchor’s voice droned over the crime scene. “Five months ago respected Oslo police officer Arnodd Klepp vanished after a low-key night at his neighborhood pub. This morning Klepp was found alive in the basement of historic Høyjord stave church, where he’s been held captive since his abduction. Electricity was shut off when the church was condemned in 1989.” They were back in the studio, now. The anchor stared into the camera to deliver her punch. “Officer Klepp spent one hundred and fourteen days in complete and total darkness.”
Cy felt ill. He looked around. Spinoza’s eyes were glittering discs.
“––too, allegedly, an iron collar. Medical examiners found unaccounted-for signs of mutilation on Klepp’s body, suggesting protracted torture––”
“Enough,” said Cy, but Rape motioned him to wait.
And there it was, that infamous photo of the twins crouching feral in the snow. Only one notices the camera. He is a blur, half rising to object.
“Speculation leads many to believe the perpetrators are tied to anarchist music group Sibbilith. Though connected to numerous crimes of a sadistic and anti-Christian nature in Norway throughout the past decade, due to lack of evidence the brothers have never been indicted––”
Rape powered off the set but the photograph stayed in Cy’s brain. How behind the boys loomed a horrible tree, charred black and pierced by swords. For many hours they sat together on Cy’s hotel room floor, the TV watching from the dresser. Arnodd Klepp was sad. They didn’t endorse that kind of stuff. They had respect for Sibbilith––their music was vicious––but the twins were out of control. They had taken a step that couldn’t be untook. They’d descended into a world where Cy and his crew sent no envoys. Yes, Arnodd Klepp was sad. And that’s all the crime would have been, sad––plus bad press for metal––if they hadn’t heard rumors the twins were in the states.
“Bazerath said they’re looking for us,” croaked Spin. He lit a cigarette with trembling, warty fingers. “Why would they be looking for us?”
He was the youngest, Spinoza. A baby really. Still got neck-zits and had fun doing blow. But Cy had no words to console him. It was Rape who had to speak up.
“Spinoza, kid,” he said. “You know why.”
Cy left his childhood bed. He wouldn’t be sleeping tonight, either. The house was animate as an icebox, settled deep into that cold dimension particular to country hoods. Kernels of popcorn sat in a pool of salt at the bottom of the bowl they’d left in the den. When you move through a house at night, Cy thought, one that is abandoned for sleep, it is important to glide over messes like a burglar––like a fugitive.
In the kitchen Cy stood before the fridge debating whether or not to open the door for beer. He decided no. Too much frost and thinking for this hour. He wanted badly to be unconscious. The porch light was still on. Cy walked outside. Everything wilted greenly in the heat. A rude, watery fog pressed down on the garden, and in the moonlight the Jasmine was a twisted organ flung from above, stippled and purple.
On the swing Cy mulled over what he should have said instead of nothing, what he would have said if he’d any guts at all: “First of all, Spin, they aren’t looking for us. They are looking for me. And they are looking for me, Spin, because Sibbilith pruned the world down to a manageable size, but I fucked up the math. I––Cy Stanton––in my distanced creation of the Loon, in my inflation of darkness to cartoonish scale, make Sibbilith feel small…”
He must have dozed off because he was waking, now. All dark in the garden but beneath the whirr of the house’s generator Cy heard spitting language. Shadow like a rolling door grew from the tunnel’s mouth. He was not alone. They had large nostrils, bulging, red-rimmed albino eyes, a froglike facial chassis. They had cro-magnon brows, Mr. Potatohead noses, cadaverous cheeks, shiny and wiggish hair. Identical machine guns, wet with humidity, were slung over their shoulders like bows. The twins stood on the porch like hounds, hyper-attuned to their environment, odors, change. Now they began to speak, and both at once. Cy watched the holes open and close. His reclined position on the swing was vulnerable and yet he was near-delirious with calm.
“I don’t speak Norwegian,” he announced. “Would you like some pie?”
The twins ate like Spartans. Muted, eyes tracking their food. Perhaps the twins were hungry. Perhaps they had not had a square meal in days. Their elbows were caked with dirt and skinned pink. Cy imagined them crawling marine-fashion across state-size grafts of mud, crystal blue police lights ferrying the horizon. One of the brothers finished eating a few minutes before the other. For some reason this inequity made Cy feel terrible.
The One Who Finished Last pushed away his plate. “We come to see who you are,” he said. His accent was thick but he spoke English with confidence. “On television there is a man who claims to be a lunatic. An ugly man. Infected surgery… all on his face.” The One Who Finished Last sniffed in disgust. “The lunatic wears a straitjacket and sits in a dead field. Friends arrive. They carry large weapons and act hysterical. Guitars appear. Are they magicians?” Last shrugged. “Who knows. The Loon is in the coat of a medical doctor, somehow. And has found a microphone. He breaks into singing. It sounds bad.” Last leaned back and re-crossed his legs. “But look. Here I see no straitjacket, no chains. Here I see a boy who sleeps on sheets laundered by his mother. A boy who eats pastry in fuzzy pink robe.”
Cy rubbed the fabric of his robe, which was indeed soft, under the table. “The Loon is a musical project,” he said.
Last spat on the floor. “The Loon is perversion. Americans are children. Charades and cake until the day you die.” Louder, face reddening: “You fear discomfort more than death! You lack inner fire!”
Cy took this last bit as a cue to stand. He picked up the dirty plates and brought them to the sink. Over his shoulder: “Please be respectful. My mother who launders my sheets is sleeping.” Dumbly he squeezed orange soap onto the dishes and stacked them under running water. His robe fell open when he turned around but he didn’t fix it. He leaned against the counter––cool as a cucumber––and tossed Desiree’s Newports onto the table. The twins exchanged a look but accepted the offer. Cy considered this a win. He lit their smokes from afar with a suggestive stove lighter. “It’s called fantasy,” he said at last. “It’s a thing sad people need.”
A smile thinned the lips of First. He ashed onto the counter, speaking for the first time. “If you were selling anything else––” The brother stood and picked up his gun. “But you’re not. You’re selling us.”
First was the more disturbing twin. Cy decided at once. His demeanor was vulpine, affected on a metaphysical level––as if he were merely playing the part of dim-witted sib so less was expected of him when actually, Cy concluded, First could withstand the most pain.
“We have been on American news station,” continued First. “You have seen us?”
“A small place, heavy chains,” added Last. “We found one in a field nearby. Just like your video. Don’t you see, Cy?” The smile was brief and tactical and Cy registered teeth shaven to points. “You can quit this ugly charade. Really be the Loon.”
First raised his gun and aimed it in the direction of the hall where Desiree lay sleeping. She’d used earplugs ever since that first electric guitar. Cy reeled for a moment at the taunting circularity of his life, this meeting of men and pie late at night, of tall boys with different toys plotting like commies ’round Courage’s table. First made a noise like poom and feigned blowback. He lowered the gun and winked at Cy, lip lifting to expose a filling.
“Darker, more real,” finished Last. “It’s what we gave Arnodd. It’s what we’ll give you.”
“Please,” Cy said––but he couldn’t think what came next. It dawned on him he was a hostage, that this was a hostage situation.
Last picked up a fork left on the table and leaned forward in his chair. He pulled back the saran wrap and took another bite of pie. His brother was behind him, sitting up on the counter now, muzzle nestled lovingly in his groin. First had discovered the gauntlets Desiree set on the counter atop some newspapers and was trying them on.
“There is nothing to ask that you don’t already know the answer to,” stated Last, anticipating Cy’s vague desire to supplicate. “We know where you are, where your girlfriend is, where your mother is”––a cherry dropped from Last’s mouth in a gelatinous sac––”so if you still want to be the Loon we will take you now. My brother and I would like nothing more. But we are all of us men of free will. This is your choice, and your choice alone.”
Cy was speechless. The moment yawned, filled with Cuban heat and locusts shrieking.
“May I use the head?” interrupted First.
Last turned sternly to his brother. “No, you may not. Besides. I think we have reached what they call in American politics An Understanding. Or at least”––he glanced at Cy––”that is the meaning I will grant its silence.” With that, Last secured his gun and walked outside.
First, who’d started with the arduous taking-off-process of the gauntlets, stopped. “Say,” he said. “Can I keep these?”
“I lavish you with gifts.”
First detected a thing in Cy’s voice that he could not decipher but without-a-doubt hated. His face began to crumple into ugliness but he caught himself. He gave an amputated laugh and quit the counter. Cy did not watch them disappear into the tunnel. He stayed exactly where he was and after a long while in which he did not move at all he opened the fridge and selected a beer.
Without Irene Cy pruned the Berkeley house––that’s what they’d called it privately, the Berkeley house, as if they planned on collecting the whole set––down to a more manageable size. He ate his meals out of the bathhouse kitchen, slept in the cavernous den. The band had been disintegrating anyway through normal processes. Solipsism, alcohol abuse, girls. His mates did not put up a fight. They stepped quickly beneath the arcs of loss into a more comfortably trodden future. Pregnancies, solo albums, dwindling importance to press. Still, at night, the years never quite stacked quickly enough between metal’s manchildren and that window into neverland the twins cut with their sharpened milkwhite teeth.
In Cy’s glass mansion the Loon remained quarantined on the second floor. Downstairs was Cy’s world and it was simple. He spent a lot of time with his dogs. When he got really lonely he would sometimes wander upstairs and pick up a guitar, but the room always felt too dark, the carpet too plush between his toes, and he would set it back down and retreat to the safe zone like he heard someone knocking, when really a draft had chased him away.
The Turk is inside the building. Has been all along. He is stalled in the vestibule, waiting for the desk attendant to verify with production that a psychologist is on the list as insisted because: “He’s not on my list, and my list is the only list I have, and if he’s not on my list we’ve got to check with Diane.” At last located, Diane comes down to wave the Turk through. She thanks Mrs. Dupree for a dauntless vigil and ushers the Turk––who she mistook for Cy’s manager––down a corridor so vast the nurse thinks he espies a buzzard. Now his permed and headsetted guide makes thinly veiled threats. Cy is being paid a great deal for his appearance, she says. Or in broadcast-speak, his exclusive. A reunion would have been phenomenal, of course––but the past is the past! Condolences, too, for Rape’s death last year. Heart disease, that killer. But Spinoza is doing well, yes? As a maker of, what now, sustainable lawn décor? No doubt in her mind, by the way, that Cy’s secret is worth the price––
The Turk touches Diane’s mouth with two smooth fingertips. A shadow ages the woman’s face. She does not speak again until he is deposited at the dressing room door.
“One hour. And he’s out of that chair.”
Cy’s first session with the Turk was compulsory. A verdict of mental illness was the only way he could default on his contract without hemorrhaging cash. The Label wanted to see if Cy was actually, as he claimed, losing his mind.
At the time, the Turk conducted all his sessions out of a private residence on Abbot Kinney Street in Santa Monica. The path up to the door was a winding pan of gravel. Cy’s boots on the rocks made a sound like grinding change. He found the noise irritating. He was twenty-nine years old.
The Turk opened the door with one hand caressing a cup of tea. He was lissome and yogic and had the shoe size of a child. “No make-up today,” he observed.
Cy said: “It’s called corpse paint.”
Inside it was pleasantly breezy but Cy observed no fans. An abundance of flowerless plants bubbled on every surface in clean terra cotta pots. The two men faced down on identical couches, the foam kind suited for waiting to see your dentist. Cy eyed the Turk with suspicion. He hunted scruples. Beneath the luxury of the Turk’s emerald green turban were dazzling teeth, a row of tiny faceless cards. Something about him inexplicably said to Cy: VEGAS.
The Turk said, “It’s ironic, isn’t it?”
“The Loon attending therapy.”
The Turk frowned. “I think you know it is. I think you know it’s very ironic.”
“OK,” Cy said. “It’s ironic.”
“Because of course loon has always signified lunatic. As in, ‘He throws the loons away into the loony bin.’ Not the aquatic bird of genus Gavia.”
“A so-so bird, really, the loon. Essentially a duck.”
Cy wanted to end this before things got weird, as they are often prone to do, so he said: “You know I’ve made a lot of money. I’m a very rich man.”
“Mmm.” The Turk, concurring. “It’s nearly outlandish, isn’t it? And at such a young age. You’ve been wildly successful.”
Cy grumbled. “If you define success in terms of fame, then yes. I am successful.”
“Your tone leads me to believe you disagree.”
“Well, if the assignation hinges–”
“Do you mind?” In his slender fingers the Turk produced a cut cigar. He did not wait for a response. After a moment the Turk made an encouraging loop, like you may go on––but Cy felt disoriented. He coughed, face wreathed in smoke. The cast of agency that held his thoughts in such a manageable shape outside the Turk’s door had vanished. He’d come with a specific task but now he was giving way––almost happily––to a type of synaptic diffusion. The Turk was saying: “I implore you, really. I’m on the edge of my seat. It’s why I wanted a cigar! These malignant pleasures, I always crave two at a time. Flat white and a fag, noodles and HBO.” The small man added gravely: “Why is that?”
Cy fingered the banana spikes around his neck––his outfit was unremarkable otherwise, black T, black jeans––and leaned into one of the sourceless drafts. “I disagree with a success that hinges on fame,” he said. “I disagree with any definition of success that universally hinges, but fame can still be a symptom of the successful man’s achievement.” An oft-forgotten fact about the Loon: He studied philosophy at Berkeley, undergrad. He graduated summa cum laude.
The Turk, leaning in. “How so?”
“It all depends on your original goal,” Cy said, encouraged by the Turk’s genuine interest. (He’d concede that much, this shrink was a damn good listener.) “People scoff at Dreams with a capital D…but to me that cliché is the only way to define success. The bringing-into-being of a dream-self. Or rather, a ghost. That ghost is a me that does not yet exist. It is the Cy of the future.” The Loon handled an invisible sphere. “I project him inside myself like a hologram. He spins in place. But as long as future-Cy is just a hologram, present-Cy means nothing.” Cy leaned over the coffee table and watched his sneakers through the glass. He spoke as one speaks a mantra or a private refrain. “So you take the necessary steps, however painful. You sacrifice what it is necessary to sacrifice. And you build yourself a body. Success is the achievement of a body.”
The Turk considered. “The body of your dreams, so to speak.”
“You could say it that way, yes.”
The Turk considered further. “So your point here, if I understand correctly, is that it doesn’t matter whether your dream is to be a school bus or a prisoner-of-war. As long as you take the necessary actions to reach the intended destination.”
Cy nodded. He was secretly thrilled to be talking this way again. He hadn’t had a conversation like this in years. “Whatever your holographic blueprint may be, as long as you actually build it, you are a success.”
“Then technically, if I desire to be a distributor of high-grade cocaine, and I do become a distributor of high-grade cocaine, I am a success.”
“And even after I am caught by the FBI and end up in maximum security prison with a twenty-five year sentence and a sexually liberated cellmate I can think to myself, you sir, you are a success.”
“You know what I am going to ask you now.”
“And you? Are you a success?” The Turk, intoxicated by his own perspicacity. “That lantern-jawed grin of yours––which I have yet to see but have not relinquished hope!––has been canonized on T-shirts and skateboards and bedroom posters around the world. With the iconoclastic chipped teeth, the sinister caverns that are your eyes. And with your fame has come significant financial bounty.” The Turk paused, looking up at the ceiling as if he were seeing the movie of Cy’s life projected in vintage temperature. “But it wasn’t just the fame, was it,” he said carefully. “It wasn’t just the money. You have a stroke of idealist in you. Something mathematical. You could have been a scientist. Maybe I’m wrong.”
Cy spoke like the logician Cy of his past. “You know what? I am a success. I had a vision and I made it happen. I kissed ass to people I hated. I got treated like a clown. But in the end, everything that was not the Loon, I kept it out of the frame. Because anything is worth it to accomplish the ghost. Anything is worth it to know you have won.” He paused. “But––”
“It’s like what happens on stage begins to seep.”
The Turk wrote down the word SEEP in all caps on a blue sticky note in an ink of darker blue. This was his only apparent form of notation, a single oversized blue sticky note out on the coffee table for both of them to see. He drew a box around the word. He retraced the box several times and then put the pen between his teeth to think. After a few moments, he pointed the utensil assertively at his lap. “So now here is the thing that puzzles me. Is the Loon what you projected inside yourself, however many years ago, as the Cy of the future? Or was it a Cy who created the Loon?”
Cy looked up at the Turk, grinned his lantern-jawed grin and in a tone of deflated wonder, said: “You bastard.”
The Turk nodded as if Cy had answered in exact conformity with his expectations. “Despite the short tenure of our relationship I have concluded that you are not unstable. Indeed, contrary to the allegations, you display a remarkably cold grasp of reality. Your treatment of the sensible world is at once nuanced and complete, exhibiting the quiet chill of a disciplined mind. You are a businessman, Cy––a professional, like me––and it shows.” The Turk beamed paternally before switching gears. “My question now––and believe me, do I hate to admit it! Being stumped, as they say, agrees with me poorly, bad for digestion. My question now is the same as my employer’s. Why, Cy? Why do you want to quit? Why do you want to dissolve the contract? Why now? It’s not because you have lost touch with reality, we know that much. You are perfectly aware that you are not the Loon.”
The things Cy had briefly forgotten in the windy living room returned to him now with the violence of a thing thrown off which later, by law of centripetal force, must catastrophically return. “Darker, more real,” he murmured. “Their words, not mine.”
“Whose words?” The Turk’s brow, for the first time in months, furrowed. He was a man disused to confusion. The Turk had a God, and her name was clarity.
“Listen,” put Cy. “You’re a strange cat but I like you. You don’t take shit from me. And I want nothing more than to put all my cards on the table but it’s a risky play. Risky for both of us.” Cy sighed. “Man, I don’t want no blood on my coat. Is the label recording this? We have doctor-patient confidentiality, right? ”
The Turk began to laugh uproariously, actually holding his concave belly with his hands. If Cy hadn’t been so stunned at this reaction he would have watched the Turk’s vibrating tonsils in something like a bonnet of dread. When at last the Turk caught his breath he said, gaspingly: “Oh no, I’m not a doctor. Just a nurse.”
Embarrassed, but not sure for whom, Cy turned away. He stared unthinking at the dark blue word on the lighter blue post-it note.
“But I’m sorry.” The Turk removed his glasses to wipe tiny, perfect tears from his eyes. “I never answered your question.”
“No, Cy. This is not being recorded.”
And in his mind’s eye he saw them, lank and showered, staring down at their eggs in a Hollywood diner. One dismissed his breakfast, pushing it away with violence. The other quietly spooned sugar into his tea.
It is important to note before we go any further that the Turk’s becoming an invaluable tool for the Label was directly related to a musical landscape shaped not by corporeal performers themselves but their neurotic (2day maudlin and googlie-eyed, 2morro clean-shaven and devout) intermedia dopples aka personas. Problem being that if you dream long enough, the sandman tends to come. The Label’s stars began succumbing, in this vein, to a doll-like vacancy. It happened in specific locales. Backstage, backwoods, back closet––anywhere a lens or eyeball was not. And if not this, the performer often got stuck. Forgot how to drop the mask entirely. These problems are not new in Hollywoodland––au contraire, they are kernel and symptom of the whole tired machine––nor are they anything the board of directors would give a two-bit stare about, so long as said sad client continued to generate popular interest and rivers-de-cashóla by expressing a self who is outlandish and unique and supra-polished and strange.
Just as an item in a sea of like items must jack up the wattage of its own itemosity to fall into relief and be seen, the standard of avatism required to maintain pop-mega-stardom continually shattered its own glass ceiling, and the viral infection of the soul that the board of directors amusedly referred to as the Idoru Effect developed an unforeseen final stage. The star became so confused, at this terminal point, as to the dimensions of her True Actual Self, she would up and decide––traditionally in her prime, when things are glammy and deluxe––to liquidate the Persona all together and rehome the corporeal self to rehab or Beirut or poetry camp where she tries to install an integrity-based identity in the room of True Actual Self. A tall order indeed as this inner room, sans dopple, is but a dusky wasteland, not unique at all, and found among the most commonplace vain.
After endless attempts to obviate this fiscally grim denouement, what with conscripted therapy throughout fame’s tumultuous rise and a formidable cast of psychiatrists and nutritionists and wantologists and exorcists, each one dispatched upon failure to arrest the process by which client after client died away into privacy’s void, the Turk, who was neither therapist nor life coach nor card-carrying RN, came to the Label’s attention. Having astutely read the climate of the time and diagnosed modernity with a parasocial schizophrenia of the most regressive sort, he created in response his very own brand of therapy. He was a specialist who specialized in helping both the famous and the deluded (read: the-nonfamous-against-their-will) avoid the psychic pain of personality fractionation by staying aware of the divisions between Self and Persona in a monophonic world. He helped define these lines so those whose lives reaped benefit from their Persona might stay emotionally sanitary; or, he helped tenderly massage away the boundaries of personhood to incorporate Self and Persona into one health-giving, integrity-restoring, impregnable coherence; or, in the case of the extremely vapid and deluded, through exposure of existing false and location-less identity factors, the Turk had been known to successfully efface the emptiness- and depression- and paralysis-inducing Persona all together.
His official vocational office (invented by him) was an I.N., or Identity Nurse. Around the label and amongst the clients who were suspected of fractionation and in danger of graduating from doll-like emptiness or total delusion to the dreaded tertiary stage of Idoru and thus impelled to attend sessions, he was known either as the Nurse or––with old timers and very close friends––simply the Turk. Because the Turk could tell almost immediately that Cy had no trouble at all with the management of his Persona and that he was actually mentally very bright and euthymic and secure identity-wise and not vapid at all and just generally rational about his occupation and its limits and its purpose and its meaning, and because his affliction was reality-based and externally located and not more sinister or more complex than his other clients’ internal turmoil but simply sinister and complex in an incommensurate way, he immediately realized that his judgment here would not be whether or not Cy was officially BEYOND HELP and lost in the wasteland of his own dark body world (he clearly was not) but whether or not he, the Turk, felt like personally involving himself, whether he dare leave the safety of his professional and moral echelon to entwine his life with Cy’s own by keeping Cy’s secret and––to save Cy’s life––essentially changing vocational hats for Cy from figure of authority to well basically confidant and friend and report back to the board that Cy yes sadly indeed was officially BEYOND HELP and should thus be released from all obligations and allowed to descend that dark stairwell into nothinghood that the sexton Idoru commanded him descend. The Turk, because he genuinely liked Cy, and because the problem of Sibbilith and the Twins and the blackmail and the imminent kidnapping and torture and death, while not necessarily something the Turk was worried by or sympathized with (he was cool emotion-wise, which is why he made an excellent nurse) was something he frankly just found super fascinating, the Turk decided what the hell, he would go ahead and take the leap and lie to the Label for Cy––refusing even a totally reasonable bribe––and he would become the Loon’s friend. Because he really was a bit of crazy, wacky-ass cat.
Ten years later, alone on the empty set, the Turk still plays Cy’s hero. Not without difficulty does he trace the luciform eye-burst of violet Virgin America light––priming the gibbous desk so hatefully for play––to a steel halo elevated above the studio floor which, upon eyes’ adjustment, he sees are clamped with lamps and staggered monitors. (But how could anyone read a teleprompter in all this light..?.) The platform itself, the Turk notes, is ovoid with a step down to the studio floor. Three large cameras on wheeled pneumatic pedestals gird the stage with a river of snake-fat wires, the last frontier before the bleachers of the Live Studio Audience. The production control room is a glass box to the left of the stage, the right window murdered out so the audience cannot see in––no exit on that side. Backstage is hidden from view by two arcs of faux-wall. One enters and exits the area of live recording through their point of confluence. The only other means of penetration, then, are two aluminum-plated swinging doors at the top of the bleachers and one smaller door to the oval’s right. Both this floor-level door and backstage eventually dovetail in the enormous hallway. As for the swinging doors, the Turk is not sure where they go. He guesses that the swinging doors would be the point of ingress and egress for the Live Studio Audience and that the space beyond the doors is the space where said studio audience undergoes the customary security protocol, in which one is frisked, in which one’s phone is collected in an evidence-style baggy labeled with one’s name, and in which one is fed a complimentary red velvet cupcake.
“Well?” prompts Cy, eyeing him in the mirror as he locks the door.
“I have newfound respect for the vocation,” announces the Turk. “Never actually been invited to set by a patient, if you can believe that. Those lights are positively garish. I no longer see color. The dressing room trembles with rain. Am I normal?”
“Humor me, man.” Cy wipes sweat off his brow and frowns at whitened fingers.
“This preoccupation with security is nonsense. I was barely allowed to stand in the foyer. And I think I saw a vulture in the hall. Or was it a buzzard? I’m not sure there’s a difference. Christ, my eyes!”
“Wrap your turban around them.”
“Like a mummy, eh? I might as well turn off the lights. Can we turn off the lights? I should like to deprive my senses for a spell.” He turns off the lights.
“You aren’t taking this seriously,” mumbles Cy in the darkness.
“Just take a look at the pictures.” The Turk flicks a lighter in front of Cy’s chin and waggles a binder.
Cy recoils. “No, thank you.”
The Turk collapses again on the chaise. “You’re right, I’m not taking it seriously. Because I don’t buy that a man of your intelligence could be so whimsical as to entertain a threat rendered impotent by both an ocean and jail. We have passed the three year anniversary of the twins’ incarceration.” The Turk breaks off to yawn. “This was the magic number, yes? Three years and you’d loose the goose?”
“Don’t see the point in loosing it now that I’m here. Feels like bringing up a corpse.”
“Look at the pictures. I knew you’d resist but I brought them anyway, just in case.”
“No. I already have a migraine.”
“Suit yourself. I’m rather fond of them. The pictures, I mean.” The Turk flicks his lighter again, examining the binder’s contents. “After all you’ve told me, this is the only image I have. The Sibbilith twins in rose-colored jumpsuits beside a friendly Scandinavian lamp.” The Turk smiles benevolently. “They look more like newborns than felons. The cell even has a tiny piano!”
“What are the doors like?”
The Turk twists the binder and squints. “Not doors exactly more like a sliding wall of, well––bars is such a harsh word.”
“The studio. The doors in the studio. The exits.”
“Oh.” The lighter goes out. “Door-like. Door-esque.”
“You are such an asshole sometimes.”
“Say it with me. I am broke and I shall not be kidnapped!”
“I’m not afraid of being kidnapped, I just… It’s been a long time.”
“Since I’ve been, you know.”
“Like this,” huffs Cy. “In front of an audience.”
“You want to know what the doors look like because of the audience?” The Turk’s pause is theatrical. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“I don’t know.” Cy clenches and unclenches his fists. “The stage feels like a hole, or something. Motherfuck––!” The Turk had leapt up in silence and flicked his lighter directly behind Cy’s ear.
He raps on despite Cy’s scowl. “You say the stage is a hole. Meaning, it is both uncomfortable and unstoppable. But what makes a stage? Audience. The question becomes why audience represents something uncomfortable and unstoppable.”
“That’s obvious. The whole thing is humiliating. A dog and pony show for some cash.”
“You are lying,” sings the Turk. “The audience disconcerts you because of who the audience is affirming. The audience does not affirm Cy Stanton. The audience affirms the Loon. And affirmation of the Loon means you have officially taken him back.”
“Which is why I refuse to go out there. I don’t want him anymore. The Loon ruined my life.” Cy catches his face in the mirror and whispers: “You’ve ruined my life,” but the Turk doesn’t hear.
“So what then? You just return to your glass castle, Stockholm Syndrome abode? You’ve never even invited me for dinner, you know. But that’s neither here nor there.”
“This is all I can be, now,” says Cy in monotone. “This is all I have left.”
“Cy Stanton,” cries the Turk, slamming on the lights with such force that in the hall outside, a grip drops something big and steel. Cy identifies with his waterfall of expletives. “You harbor ten years of toxic shame and you are here for a colonoscopy of the soul! Now speak the truth.” The Turk plants himself between Cy’s enormous thighs and grips the man’s shoulders. “Does any part of you believe the twins are here tonight?”
“Well.” Cy swallows. “Jung would say that the twins exist in every––”
The Turk slaps him. “I am the fake psychiatrist, not you! Spit it out, friend. Tell Turky why you are chicken.”
“I am chicken because…” Cy’s voice cracks. His ears ring from the slap, which he is not going to think about too hard. “I am scared,” he strangles out, “because I do not feel like a success.”
“I capitulated,” wails Cy. “And now the whole world will know my fraud!”
“Fraud? No, no. This doesn’t add up.” The Turk releases Cy and perches on the vanity, one arm attempting to rest on the hood. He jerks it back. “What was your goal since you shed the Loon?” He rubs his elbow, assessing the spikes with dismay.
“I don’t understand.”
“You believed you were a success when you left the Label, did you not?”
“Did that opinion change––or did you set a new goal that you failed to achieve?”
“I set no goal.”
“Your opinion changed.”
“No––well, I don’t know. I’m just… a different person, now. I am closer to––”
“Not the twins. I am closer to what I fear.” Cy pauses. “But I don’t fear the twins.”
“You don’t fear the twins.” The Turk paces around Cy’s set chair. “You don’t fear the twins,” he repeats. “The twins have been a psychic cover all along.” The Turk stops, turns slowly to look at the bust in the mirror. “It’s the Loon,” he says, voice glittering with wonder. “You fear the Loon.”
Cy’s face shifts between two modes of intensity. Barely audible: “He lives upstairs.”
The Turk comes in close. “And what does he want from you?”
“I don’t know. I––”
“You sure as shit know.” The Turk frets around to the other side of Cy’s large head. “You created him!”
“This is too much.” Cy is trying to push in the sides of his skull. A braid comes off in his hand. He stares at it, horrified. “I can’t go out there like this. I’ve lost my grip.”
“Cy,” bellows the Turk, popping up between his legs. “Tell us what the Loon wants!”
“I can sell the house,” Cy says, motoring on. “I’ll just sell the house. It’s paid for, it’s why I haven’t taken out a mortgage. This whole thing is ridiculous, far too risky. And look at me. I’ll be a laughing stock.”
“But you haven’t sold the house, don’t you see? A part of you doesn’t want to. Can’t––”
“––can’t sleep in it, that’s for sure,” muses Cy. “Best to sell it. Just get out of the thing. Keep having this horrible dream about it, about the house.”
“Close your eyes for a moment,” says the Turk, casually turning off the lights. “And tell me about this dream.”
A moment passes in darkness. Soundcheck and tinkling laughter and accelerant footfalls light up the world outside the dressing room like a digital map. But in his chair, wrapped tight in leather and darkness, Cy feels safe. “I am watching the house,” he says at last.
“You are watching the house.”
“I am on the side of the mountain watching the house, which is on the side of another mountain. A valley lies between us. A wild valley. It is unpeopled and unkempt. I see dark rivers, glutted with big, sibilant fish. I see insects with teeth, and… and mangoes shaped like giraffes. I know an undertow of whispers. I know of glittering quarries, and bears in a pool, and nocturnal flowers that open all veined…”
“You’re doing wonderfully.”
“It is the rear of the house, somehow, that faces me. As if the façade has been buried into the mountainside. I can clearly see into the living room through the big window at the rear of the house. I am watching myself in the living room. The window is clean and I am backlit. A tiny man at the bottom of a bright, white rectangle…”
“You are perched on the side of a mountain watching yourself who is also perched on the side of a mountain.”
“Yes. Well. It’s wrong to say I am perched. Because really, I am in the house. But for clarity’s sake I will call the me I am watching he and use I as a marker for my point of view in the dream. So I am observing him from the side of a mountain. The TV is on but he has turned the Victorian chair to the window. It is light out still, perhaps dusk. It is not Los Angeles. Or maybe it is just a bright night with many stars, because there is no sun but a lot to see. He does not see me. Only I see him.”
“Yes, I see.”
“His armchair is at a 45˚ angle to the window. The TV in the background is flashing light against the pane. He is not gazing in my direction. The mountains are not directly parallel. You could imagine them as lying on a diagonal line at close proximity. If you plotted my eyes, his eyes and the object of his stare on a map you would have drawn an isosceles right triangle, him being the tip of the right.”
“An isosceles right triangle,” breathes the Turk. “Magnificent.”
“Yes––and I must emphasize that all this time while I’m watching I have no fear of the jungle around me. I am part of the jungle’s flesh. My attention is completely trained on the man in the chair, the he that is me. The man in the chair makes no movements at all. I study him for what feels like hours. I am faintly aware that he is breathing. The look on his face is tired and kind of sad, but mostly he just seems out of it. Like the kind of out of it where you are thinking about really nothing at all and that is what makes you kind of sad.” Cy’s face in this moment is an exact simulation.
“Now, in the dream, do you feel sad?”
“No. I am never ‘inside’ the me that I am watching in the living room so I am not even sure if there is any sadness. I am just telling you how his face looked beneath the television light.”
“Right, yes, of course.”
“Do you know what a morning star is? I’ll tell you. It is a medieval weapon similar to a mace consisting of a wooden club with long spikes at the head. It is called a morning star because the spikes on top and the sides are longest, so the profile of the club crudely resembles the tip of dawn when the sun peeks in from outer space and sets its nose on the earth and light pools along the horizon like open arms. Historically used to kill with blunt-force trauma at close range.”
They both ignore the knock from the hall.
“So I am watching myself in this room and there is a change in the function of the staircase behind me. A warp in the architecture. Something has been delivered unto the stairs but its nature is ineffable. It’s trail over to the man in the chair is known only by ripples in the fabric of the dream, and the murder happens too fast for any facial response. I just see his back arch and his mouth cup with fluid and then I see the top spike of a morning star, this big six-incher, come slowly through his chest like a narwhal horn through ice. The rest of the club follows suit. I assume it has also gone through the back of the Victorian chair.”
Knocks have became pounding.
“It’s come full circle,” exalts the Turk. “Cy wants to retire and the Loon yearns to take his seat. You shuttered the Loon and in confinement he grew so powerful that he threatens to…to…”
“To seep,” says Cy, his manner utterly serene.
“––but you are frightened of the consequences,” continues the Turk. “You are frightened of letting Cy go. You are frightened of being Cy who became the Loon––and yet you know, at the same time, the switcheroo is your only card. It’s the only way to beat them. It’s the only way to reclaim your success, and it always has been. Forget sincerity! Show those flawless Aryan cunts what America does best––”
A red-faced Blair kicks in the door. “Get a move on, Stanton,” he bellows. “You want your check or not?”
The Turk curls up very small in the corner to watch.
In the mirror, Cy watches the dark hole of Blair’s mouth open and close.
“Nice makeup,” he is saying.
Cy stops listening. He pulls a hand over his face, as though removing a mask. When he looks back he knows the man in the mirror will be there, and he is. His jaw shakes with a wanton scream of laughter. Old Cy would’ve rationalized it, would’ve said the laugh was tracked––but nobody else hears, not even the Turk. Nobody but Cy sees how the doubled white heads now stutter into one.
All the Turk hears are two plonks as Cy’s platform boots hit wood, a squeak as his pants straighten. All the Turk sees is Cy putting on the hood with reverence, as if handling a star.
Blair himself is most concerned with the styrofoam cranium. How Cy’s twisted the thing in half and smashed the remains into the carpet. The bodyguard is still looking down at this mess when the Loon’s pronged shadow draws over his frown.
Having finished his comedic monologue, the host saunters over to the palette-shaped throne where he conducts his interviews. This saunter––with his dimpled chin turned humbly away from the light––is purely for the audience. Viewers at home hear the audience’s peaked laughter but this peregrination to the more domestic “other room” they will never see. Viewers at home are disallowed this intimate knowledge of the in-studio space, for the shot from the camera on pneumatic pedestal two (the best angle for the standing comedic monologue) is always snugly capped by a crane-shot of the audience, which crane then appears to fly out of control in its zeal for the entire televisual situation and crash through the studio’s false window. And to the disembodied ruckus of big-band jazz our host’s name is written in aquamarine bubble script over somebody’s idea of a twinkling urban night.
When the host sees the tally light blink he knows they are live and back from Intro and the first brief round of commercial and he introduces tonight’s very special guest. Like all late-night incumbents his voice is a paradox, both warm and facetious: “Ten years ago Cy ‘the Loon’ Stanton retired at the height of his career and broke the hearts of gothic groupies worldwide. Not only did the Loon retire, he flat out disappeared. Many speculated the Loon had actually, well, gone loony. Tonight we set the record straight. That’s right, folks! Cy Stanton is here in the flesh to divulge the truth behind his decision. For the first time in ten years we welcome to the stage the man behind what Rolling Stone called ‘the most brutal musical outfit of all time’. I give you THE LOON!”
Once more the crane goes berserk over the audience, reaching highway speeds, doing loopdy-loops, getting so close that we lose a few fingernails, one impractical hat. At last the crane simmers down. We cut to the camera on pneumatic pedestal one (the best view for watching humans emerge from behind the truncated wall) and millions of hearts fasten themselves to the vacancy beneath the spotlight. They watch it. They wait. They watch it. But the white egg remains severed only by the shadow of the wall’s imbrication. The trumpet does its waggling victory dance for an uncomfortably long term. Eventually the trumpeter’s lungs begin to fail, the big band loses its chutzpah.
Diane in the production control room is not in panic mode, not yet. This has happened before. Standard procedure is to laugh through the lag. Celebrities are unpredictable. Control switches to pedestal three. Viewers at home are comforted by the avuncular face of their host. He looks rich but is giving them all his attention, which is a comforting thing. He makes a show of tossing ‘can you believe this’ looks off-stage to members of Staff and Crew that we cannot see. He looks straight into the camera and taps his watch. He shuffles some papers. He heaves a sigh and rests his head on the desk. This wins a few laughs. Control switches back to pedestal one. Still no Cy. The audience begins to panic now. They don’t want to be embarrassed! They don’t want to be embarrassed because this is Live Television! And they feel that they themselves are on stage, on Live Television! Incipient terror wafts from the production control room and the audience has picked up the scent. The room, contents of which have been prudently concealed from impressionable audience eyes, has degenerated in the past ten minutes from aloof computer technicians taking choreographed sips of coffee to a ragbag of paper and white-collar limbs. And O! the mounting insecurity of their host, whose well-tailored poise has begun to dissolve…
Diane has now crossed the threshold into the preliminary stage of crisis-mode in which she “takes matters into her own hands,” a positive development for all parties for Diane’s hands are capable. She has left production control and is marching toward the dressing rooms. For the fourth time, she pages Blair. No answer. For the fifth time, production control pages Diane to ask if they may please cut to commercial. Not yet, Diane says. Wait. Control switches helplessly back to pedestal three. The host grins apologetically into the sauna darkness and says: “Well just whaaaat is going on here?” Diane swings open the dressing room door to find that strange man (Arab, slight of build) reclining on the chaise lounge with the lights out. He has a green bandage wrapped around his eyes and is smoking a cigar. She turns on the lights. Blair is tied up in the set chair, eyeballs popping and khakis grey with piss.
When the crowd sees the metal tines, they go berserk. Torrential applause is interrupted only by hoots of maverick glory. They don’t let up, even after he takes his seat––so the guest allows himself the indulgence of looking. Dark trellises of audience appear as edenic topology, soft and untouchable. And yet they beg fly into us with violence, as giant dominoes beg for high-velocity men on wire.
“Oh, goodness me,” says the host, taking in the creature before him. “Where do we even begin?”
For guidance, all eyes fix on the guest. His lips are the only flesh visible. He lets them shrink in silence, lets them believe they are deserted––and delivers a freezing cascade of laughter. The noise is piercing and legion, as though sourced from a thousand cells. It disembowels each viewer, the guest’s laughter. It leaves them without compass. He turns to pedestal one, mouth widened into a tunnel. “Oslo, late eighties,” says the Loon. “That’s when our madness began.”
Allison Bulger was the 2015 Axinn Foundation Creative Writing Fellow at NYU. She lives in New York and is currently working on her debut novel.