October 23, 2007

Paragon’s People (7 of 11)

Thread: Paragon

The door opened an inch and the poet’s eyes peered around the side. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ he said. ‘Cool. This the lady? The more the merrier.’ The student noted the sarcasm; none of the group were particularly happy with him bending the recruitment rules. But all rules are the undoing of man, the student thought, and a rule is a rule is a rule.

The poet opened the door and let the student and his girlfriend into the thinker’s flat. Inside were the rest the group, huddled on the floor around a game of Monopoly – the musician, the cop’s daughter, the athlete and the thinker himself.

He stood up, moving awkwardly beneath his tired and torn beige leather jacket that was far too big for him, and moved to shake hands with the student’s girlfriend. ‘Hello, hello. Welcome to our group of like-minded young Americans.’ The poet coughed. ‘Well, mostly Americans, we’ve been infected with Europeans too. We call ourselves One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’

Each one introduced themselves to her. The thinker said he did nothing for a living, which was how he liked it, jilting the system that was happy to smother him in its bosom. The student still hadn’t the faintest idea how the thinker subsisted.

It was then the musician’s turn. She parked a short denim skirt at the top of her polished and waxed legs, and wore a childish yet playful top with a picture of a smiling rainbow. She explained that she played the piano although her parents wanted her to be a geneticist, so decided to run away from home and play music in the street, in bars, anywhere people would listen to her. Animated and lively, the student loved her positivity.

The cop’s daughter was the musician’s antithesis. Wearing a long, crumpled, grey trench coat, hiding every inch of flesh, her sentences were stiff with tension and flecked with hints of a larger story. She introduced herself as the daughter of a cop and then, after spotting the cross around the student’s girlfriend’s neck, her words stopped dead.

The athlete took up the slack and said he was a lecturer in the meteorology department at the university, and while he looked like a lecturer in his conservative suit and tie, he was hoping to quit soon as he enjoyed running and hurdling much more, especially since all the new regulations and came in trying to turn universities into an ‘extension of church’.

‘The rules,’ the thinker said, ‘are what we’re all about. I formed this group and we continue to get new members all the time. Like your schizoid boyfriend here.’ The student was a little taken aback. ‘Oh come on, don’t give me that, you freak. We don’t know if you’re coming or going. There’s something up with your head, alright.’

‘Hey,’ said the student, ‘I have a lot on my mind. I have to consider whether I’m going to give up on my education.’

‘Oi, stupido,’ shouted the poet from behind them, still acting the doorman. ‘Give up and do what? I’m not quitting my course. Don’t make a grand show of things just for the sake of it. Bloody purpose, that’s what you’re missing, dingbat. The others here have chosen their paths.’

The student’s girlfriend interrupted, pulling at the student’s arm, ‘What do you mean give up on your education? You wouldn’t get finish your degree? Do you know how stupid that is?’

‘Whoa, whoa!’ the student shouted, under siege. ‘I’ve hardly been to any lectures recently. I’ve nearly missed a few of the three tens-’

‘Oooh, big man,’ said the poet, moving past him to sit down at the Monopoly board. ‘I’ve slept through morningten for two months.’

The thinker put his hands out towards both the poet and the student. ‘Now hang on, guys, our lecturer here will back me up on this one. It may seem like happy-go-fuck-lucky days now, but you’re all being observed. Your behaviour is important. That’s why we meet in my flat rather than out in the open.’

‘I think that’s a little paranoid,’ the girlfriend said. The student noticed her eyes glance up with unconcealed disgust at the giant poster on the far wall which he hadn’t seen before. It was a pornographic image in which a sultry model was stretching out her labia, forcing the viewer to look right down her hole, a deep red abyss that was nightmarish rather than sexual. Probably a European import that had been smuggled through the trade restrictions. The model’s name, printed across the bottom in cursive type, was ‘Lady Liberty’.

‘It’s true,’ the athlete said, starting down at the board with disdain. ‘You’re all being monitored. Homeland Security is all over our shit these days. The tens are more than just praise for Mr. MIA up above. They’re using it to isolate aberrations, non-conformance. There are worse rumours coming down the pipe than that, though.’

The student was alarmed, not thinking that more than his peers might be scrutinising his activities or lack of, and the silence that came over the room emphasised the seriousness of what the athlete had just said. Why hadn’t he said something like that before? Maybe he had and the student just hadn’t listened. Your schizoid boyfriend. Pull your head out of your ass!

His girlfriend ended the silence, gesturing towards the board. ‘Are we playing a game here or what?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2013

October 20, 2007

Paragon’s People (6 of 11)

Thread: Paragon

The student stood waiting in the lunch queue at Fifth Column; he was almost inside now. A vast hall filled to the brim with antique tables of all shapes and sizes, the actual food was sold at stalls that lined its walls. Tall, bold windows towered over the proceedings, swelling the hall with natural light. It had the overtones of a Mövenpick Marché restaurant but without the good food. The popularity had nothing to do with the food and everything to do with meeting new people. The spacious interior encouraged the café’s patrons to open up and fill the space with their voices.

He bore his teeth at the queue, tensing his jaw, angry at the slow-moving queue. And his girlfriend hadn’t shown – like she had stood him up. Even though he’d had no intention of putting in an appearance himself, having changed his mind, he couldn’t believe that she hadn’t turned up. She was the one on the firing line right now, not him. If she didn’t turn up in the next five minutes then the plan was off and baby cheeks was history. He didn’t need her.

It was with a sense of irony that the student laughed for allowing himself to be locked into a queue – the epitome of self-oppression – and dependent on someone else to turn up. So much for his own aspirations of freedom. With that, he relaxed and turned around to see his girlfriend standing behind him.

‘Hi,’ his girlfriend said. Her words were drained of emotion, like she expected little good to come from this meeting. ‘You said we could talk at lunch, right?’ She was avoiding his gaze. If he were to catch her eye, he knew that an involuntary, instinctive smile would be pulse across her face, and she would lose her temper with him for making her smile when she didn’t want to smile, bastard. He focussed on her mouth instead; he didn’t want a confrontation right off the bat.

‘Yeah, I did say that. Why are you late?’

The queue ahead lurched forward and the student’s girlfriend filled the gap that had opened up. ‘I thought about not coming,’ she said, with cutting bluntness.

Part of him was excited that she’d pushed back, but his ego was also bruised that she could discard him without a fight. He saw her outlined in black, blotchy ink.

He cocked his head to one side, conciliatory. ‘Well, I’m glad you did come.’

‘What’s up with your head, madman?’ Friendly words, but delivered in harsh monotone. Especially as she wasn’t really looking at him, her busy gaze always shooting past his face as if more important events were going on around them.

‘Trouble brewing.’

That pulled her in; looking straight at him, she said, ‘What kind of trouble?’

‘I can’t explain it,’ –actually, I doubt you would understand the explanation, he thought– ‘but I see things different now. It’s all messed up and I can’t go on as I’ve been taught to. I feel like I’m being smothered by society, a warm pillow on my face, deadening sensation, fading the world to black.’ He paused, tasting the words in his mouth before letting them free. ‘There’s more to life than queues, suppressed tears and formal language. We live lies.’

‘We all want more,’ the student’s girlfriend answered, moving forward again as a new gap yawned open in the queue. ‘What makes you one of God’s special snowflakes?’

The student frowned; she’d gone on the offensive. Bitchy, bitchy. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to reach her if she’d bolstered her defences like this. If only she’d stopped listening to her friends in the herd. ‘I wish I knew, baby cheeks. But I can’t be what I’ve been any more. That means… we can’t be what we’ve been either.’ He noticed his hangover had dissipated and his head was clear.

‘What do you mean? Do you mean you want to split?’ Her steely expression faltered, conceding fear again. The student was elated, but kept his demeanour serious; she was still frightened of losing him.

‘It depends – you might want to come with me.’

‘Come? Come where?’ She seemed completely baffled.

They reached the first stall and the student grabbed a tray, refusing to answer straight away, to build up an air of suspense. A cook, brandishing a large, metal ladle as if she were conducting an orchestra, held point on the other side of the stall; it was covered with brushed metal bowls filled to bursting with uninviting, dull-coloured salads.

The cook grumbled in a tired, weary voice, ‘Lord’s rations, whaddya want?’

The student said to the girlfriend, ‘Please come to a meeting with me tonight.’

The cook tapped a bowl that held greasy pasta with the ladle, panting with impatience. ‘Honey, just go with the boy here so we can get on with our lives already.’

The student’s girlfriend bit her lower lip, blinking nervously, and said, ‘Alright.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2025

October 7, 2007

Paragon’s People (5 of 11)

Thread: Paragon

‘Alright, people, the blessing is over, let’s get on with it.’ The lecturer was a black smear upon the blazing plasma screen array behind her. Someone needed to turn the brilliance control down. The array displayed the lecture title ‘Equilibria?’ and a bullet point list of the slides to come.

The student prepared himself for a powernap of lecture duration: he leant forward, put one hand over his eyes and propped up a pen in his hand as if he were constantly poised to take notes. Beneath his pen lay the crude sketch of a nude woman. The image was passionless. He closed his eyes and entered darkness. His hangover was still with him, its fingers scratching and cleaving along synapses.

‘So we have spoken of the cycle of optimism and cynicism,’ the lecturer began. ‘When a society or culture is optimistic, it reaches out, explores its boundaries, pushes them constantly. The natural progression of this, of course, is to cast aside all rules and an optimistic civilisation will tend towards self-destruction and anarchy. During this period where rules are paid little more than lip-service, the arts and sciences leap forward. So – you pay for progress with societal disintegration.’ She rubbed her hands together in demonstration, pretending they were sticky and said, ‘People just don’t gel anymore. Independence is prized above everything else.’

The student opened his eyes and looked towards the lecturer, over the tired, wooden benches that filled the expanse of the lecture theatre. Around half the seats were vacant; he’d heard a suggestion that universities were having a harder time meeting their budgets due to a decline in numbers. Particularly in foreigners, a well-paying crowd.

On the screen, a swinging pendulum appeared.

‘But there is point when the citizens grow fearful of their own culture. They begin to crave order again, someone to tell people how to behave, someone to force them to roll along well-established grooves. Slowly, freedoms are offered up for sacrifice one by one, until the people are comfortable again. But this process is a pendulum, not a switch, and the culture swings too far in the other direction. It becomes cynical and harkens back to old-fashioned values. The way things used to be, which they never used to be.’

The pendulum slowed as it swept through the nadir of its arc.

He wondered if the lecturer prayed at morningten; the three ten’s were only really imposed on the students. Having missed so many lectures recently, he’d forgotten he liked the lecturer and what she had to say. There was always an element in her lectures that derided American culture, but subtle, easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Too much drinking and late-night sex – too many lectures missed. My God, what was he becoming?

‘Power is donated to the state until the state can take the remainder itself – and finally, the system controls the people instead of the other way around. Now the people are unhappy for a different reason, unable to express themselves, strapped to rules and regulations set by a special few. The pendulum finally starts heading back the other way; sometimes the extreme order will just burn itself out, but violent revolution can also do the job – often throwing the pendulum back into the embracing bosom of anarchy.’

The pendulum turned blood-red and then recoiled sharply from the right-side of the display as if kicked by an invisible foot. The lecturer should have added sound effects, the student thought, it would have been cooler. But Jesus, someone should turn the brightness down, it was hurting his eyes through the hangover haze.

‘And the cycle begins again. So – our question is, are we doomed to repeat this cycle of extremes again and again, or is this process swinging in shorter and shorter arcs, moving us towards a perfect equilibrium where liberty and order are carefully balanced?’

A perfect equilibrium. Could such a thing exist? Certainly the incumbent President resented individuality, but it had been going this way for a long time. The President wasn’t really to blame; he was just the manifestation of the people’s masochistic desire to be controlled and shepherded. The opportunity for the opportunistic had risen. The country needed something to counteract what was going on, an antidote, a neutralising agent. But what form could that agent take?

As the lecturer continued, someone passed the student a note from behind. He opened it, glancing behind to see the poet wink at him. The note said: ‘2nite same time/place. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’ He smiled to himself. New friends.

He then spotted that his nude sketch could be improved if the woman were bound. He scribbled lines around her as if the woman was being restrained by white straps of fabric, something like bandages.

She took on more life, became more alluring, her inked edges teasing and bleeding desire in black blotches across his notebook. He felt movement in his jeans and brand new ideas invade his mind.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1813