WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT 7 page
‘By doze is fide.’
‘He doesn’t want one he said.’
Green’s and Minty’s boots, Treat’s purple plastic shower-thongs. Somebody has on Clearasil, he can smell.
‘Seen some righteous ass-kickings in my past, brother, but —’
Somebody male screams back off to the right.
‘Just don’t try and walk me around,’ Gately grins up.
‘He can’t go in no E.R. with a gunshot,’ Minty says to Lenz, whose shoes keep moving to get himself north of everybody.
‘Somebody turn off the car will you?’
‘I wouldn’t touch nothing.’
Gately focuses at where the Joelle girl’s eyes would be. Her thighs are forked way wide to straddle his arm, which is numb and doesn’t feel like his. She’s bearing down on him. She smells strange but good. She’s got all her weight on her bathrobe’s pad. She weighs roughly nothing. The first threads of pain are starting to radiate out of the shoulder and down the side and into the neck. Gately hasn’t looked down at the shoulder, on purpose, and he tries to wedge his left hand’s finger under the shoulder to see if anything went through. The night’s so clear the stars shine right through people’s heads.
‘I’b dot touchig dothig, dud worry.’
‘Look at his head.’
Her kimono’s shoulders are humped and glassy black in the Montego’s light. Gately’s brain keeps wanting to go away inside himself. When you start to feel deeply cold that’s shock and blood-loss. Gately sort of wills himself to stay right here, looks over past Joelle’s hand at Lenz’s fine shoes. ‘Lenz. You and Green. Get me inside.’
The circle of stars’ heads’ faces above are all faceless from the headlights’ shadows. Some car engines have shut off and some haven’t. One of the cars has a twittering fan-belt. Somebody’s suggesting to call the genuine Finest — Erdedy — which everybody greets with scorn at his naïveté. Gately’s figuring Staff from the Shed or #4 has called them or at least dialed down to Security. By the time he was ten only his pinkie-finger would fit in the dialer’s holes of his mother’s old princess phone; he exerts will to un-cross his eyes and stay right here; he in the worst way does not want to be lying here with a gunshot in shock trying to deal with the Finest.
‘I think one of these guys is, like, expired.’
‘No shit Shylock.’
‘Nobody call.’ Gately yells it up and out. He’s afraid he’s going to vomit when they stand him up. ‘Nobody call nobody til you get me in.’ He can smell Green’s leather jacket overhead. Bits of grass and whatnot drifting down onto him from where Lenz is still brushing off his clothes, and coins of blood on the street from Green’s nose. Joelle tells Lenz if he doesn’t cut something out she’s going to hand him his ass. Gately’s whole right side had gone deadly cold. To Joelle he says, ‘I’m Supervised. I’ll go to jail sure.’
‘You got fucking eyewitnesses out the ass behind you Don man,’ either McDade or Glynn says, but it can’t be Glynn, for some reason he tries to bring up inside him. And it seems like Charlotte T.’s voice saying Ewell’s trying to get in Pat’s office to call but Gately locked Pat’s door.
‘Nobody call anyone!’ Joelle shouts up and out. She smells good.
‘Get him off the phone! Say prank for Christ’s sake! You hear me?’ Her kimono smells good. Her voice has a Staff-like authority. The scene out here has changed: Gately’s down, Madame Psychosis is in charge.
‘We’re going to get him up and we’re going to get him inside,’ she says to the circle. ‘Lenz.’
There’s impending static-crackle and the sound of a serious set of keys. Her voice is that one Madame lady’s voice on no-subscription radio, from out of nowhere he’s all of a sudden sure, is where he heard that odd empty half-accented voice before.
‘Secyotty! Hold it right thaah.’ It’s at least luckily one of the ex-football E.M. Security guys, that spends half his shift down at the Life and then goes up and down the streetlet all night playing with his service baton and singing sea chanties off-key, that’s just impressively qualified to Come In to AA with them.
Joelle: ‘Erdedy — deal with him.’
‘It’s the drunk,’ Gately gets out.
Joelle’s looking up at presumably Ken E. ‘Go over and look high-income and respectable at him. Verbalize at him. Distract him while we get him inside before the real ones come.’
‘How am I supposed to explain all these prone figures draped over cars?’
‘For Christ’s sake Ken he’s not a mental titan — distract him with something shiny or something. Get your thumb out of your ass and move.’
Gately’s smile has reached his eyes. ‘You’re Madame on the FM, is how I knew you.’
Erdedy’s squeaky shoe and the obese guy’s radio and keys. ‘Who hold it? As in desist?’
‘Secyotty I said halt!’
Green and Lenz bending in, white breath all over and Green’s dripping nose the same copper smell as Lenz.
‘I knew I knew you,’ Gately says to Joelle, whose veil remains inscrutable.
‘If I could ask you to specify halt from what.’
‘Get his back up here first,’ Green tells Lenz.
‘Not crazy about all this blood,’ Lenz is saying.
Many hands slide under his back; the shoulder blooms with colorless fire. The sky looks so 3-D you could like dive in. The stars distend and sprout spikes. Joelle’s warm legs shift with her weight to keep pressure on the pad. The squishing sound Gately knows means the robe’s soaked through. He wants somebody to congratulate him for not having thrown up. You can tell some of the stars are nearer and some far, down there. What Gately’s always thought of as the Big Question Mark is really the Big Dipper.
‘I’m oddering desist until who’s in chahge that I can repot the sichation.’ The Security guy’s hammered, his name’s Sidney or Stanley and he wears his Security-hat and baton shopping in the Purity Supreme and always asks Gately how it’s hanging. His shoes’ uppers are blasted along the feet’s insides the way fat men that have to walk a lot’s are; his ex-ballplayer’s collops and big hanging gut are one of Gately’s great motivators for nightly situps. Gately turns his head to throw up a little on both Green and Joelle, who both ignore it.
‘Oh sorry. Oh shit I hate that.’
Joelle v.D. runs a hand down Gately’s wet arm that leaves a warm wake, the hand, and then gently squeezes as much of the wrist as she can get her hand around. ‘And Lo,’ she says softly.
‘Jesus his leg’s all bloody too.’
‘Boy do I know guys loved that show you did.’ A tiny bit more throwing up.
‘Now we’re going to lift him very gently and get the feet under.’
‘Here Green man get over here on the south why don’t you.’
‘I’m oddering the whole sitchation halt it right thaah whey aah.’
Lenz and Green’s shoes coming together and moving apart at either side of Gately, faces coming down in a fish-eye lens, lifting:
Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment: InterLace TelEntertainment, 932/1864 R.I.S.C. power-TPs w/ or w/o console, Pink2, post-Primestar D.S.S. dissemination, menus and icons, pixel-free InterNet Fax, tri- and quad-modems w/ adjustable baud, post-Web Dissemination-Grids, screens so high-def you might as well be there, cost-effective videophonic conferencing, internal Froxx CD-ROM, electronic couture, all-in-one consoles, Yushityu ceramic nanoprocessors, laser chromatography, Virtual-capable media-cards, fiber-optic pulse, digital encoding, killer apps; carpal neuralgia, phosphenic migraine, gluteal hyperadiposity, lumbar stressae. Half of all metro Bostonians now work at home via some digital link. 50% of all public education disseminated through accredited encoded pulses, absorbable at home on couches. Ms. Tawni Kondo’s immensely popular exercise program spontaneously disseminated daily in all three O.N.A.N. time zones at 0700h., a combination of low-impact aerobics, Canadian Air Force calisthenics, and what might be termed ‘cosmetic psychology’ — upwards of 60 million North Americans daily kicking and genuflecting with Tawni Kondo, a mass choreography somewhat similar to those compulsory A.M. tai chi slo-mo exercise assemblies in post-Mao China — except that the Chinese assemble publicly together. One-third of those 50% of metro Bostonians who still leave home to work could work at home if they wished. And (get this) 94% of all O.N.A.N.ite paid entertainment now absorbed at home: pulses, storage cartridges, digital displays, domestic decor — an entertainment-market of sofas and eyes.
Saying this is bad is like saying traffic is bad, or health-care surtaxes, or the hazards of annular fusion: nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without.
But so very much private watching of customized screens behind drawn curtains in the dreamy familiarity of home. A floating no-space world of personal spectation. Whole new millennial era, under Gentle and Lace-Forché. Total freedom, privacy, choice.
Hence the new millennium’s passion for standing live witness to things. A whole sub-rosa schedule of public spectation opportunities, ‘spect-ops,’ the priceless chance to be part of a live crowd, watching. Thus the Gapers’ Blocks at traffic accidents, sewer-gas explosions, muggings, purse-snatchings, the occasional Empire W.D.V. with an incomplete vector splatting into North Shore suburbs and planned communities and people leaving their front doors agape in their rush to get out and mill around and spectate at the circle of impacted waste drawing sober and studious crowds, milling in rings around the impact, earnestly comparing mental notes on just what it is they all see. Hence the apotheosis and intricate pecking-order of Boston street musicians, the best of whom now commute to work in foreign autos. The nightly chance to crank back the drapes and face out into the streets at 0000h., when all street-parked vehicles have to switch sides and everyone goes nuts and mills, either switching or watching. Street fights, supermarket-checkout confrontations, tax-auctions, speeders stopped for ticketing, coprolaliac Touretters on downtown corners, all drawing liquid crowds. The fellowship and anonymous communion of being part of a watching crowd, a mass of eyes all not at home, all out in the world and pointed the same way. Q.v. the crowd-control headaches at crime-scenes, fires, demonstrations, rallies, marches, displays of Canadian insurgency; crowds brought together now so quickly, too quickly even to see them, a kind of visual inversion of watching something melt, the crowds collect and are held tight by an almost seemingly nucleic force, watching together. Almost anything can do it. Street vendors are back. Homeless vets and twisted figures in wheelchairs with hand-lettered signs outlining entitlement. Jugglers, freaks, magicians, mimes, charismatic preachers with portable PAs. Hardcore pan-handlers stem like they’re selling nostrums to small crowds; the best pan-handling now verges on stand-up comedy, and is rewarded by watching crowds. Cultists in saffron with much percussion and laser-jet leaflets. Even some old-style Eurobeggars, black-browed persons in striped leggings, mute and aloof. Even local candidates, activists, advocates and grass-roots aides have returned full-circle to the public stump — the bunting-hung platform, the dumpster-lid, vehicles’ roofs, awnings, anything overhead, anything raised to a crowd-collecting public view: people climb and declaim, drawing crowds.
One top Back Bay public spect-op every November is watching expressionless men in federal white and municipal cadet-blue drain and scrub the Public Gardens’ man-made duck pond for the upcoming winter. They drain it sometime in November every year. It’s publicly unannounced; there’s no fixed schedule; long shiny trucks just all of a sudden appear in a ring at pond’s rim; it’s always a weekday c. mid-November; it’s also always somehow a gray raw sad windy Boston day, gulls cartwheeling in a sky the color of dirty glass, people mufflered and with new gloves on. Not your ideal sylvan-type day for conventional lounging or public spectation. But a massive crowd always collects and thickens in a dense ring along the banks of the Public Gardens’ pond. The pond has ducks. The pond is perfectly round, its surface roughened to elephant skin by the wind, geometrically round and banked with lawn-quality grass and shrubbery in even-spaced clumps, with park-type benches between the shrubs overhung by white-barked willows who’ve now wept their yellow autumn grit onto the green benches and grass banks where an arc of crowd now forms and thickens, watching duly designated authorities commence to drain the pond. Some of the pond’s flightier ducks have already decamped for points south, and more leave on some phylogenic cue just as the shiny trucks pull up, but the main herd remains. Two private planes fly in lazy ellipses just under the cloud-cover overhead, banners strung out behind them advertising four different levels of comfort and protection from Depend. The wind keeps blowing the banners sideways, möbiusizing them and then straightening them back out with the loud pop of flags unfurling. From the ground the engines and banners’ pops are too faint to hear above the crowd-noise and ducks and wind’s mean whistle. The swirling groundwind’s so bad that U.S. Chief of Unspecified Services Rodney Tine, standing with his hands at the small of his back at a window on the eighth floor of the State House Annex on Beacon and Joy Sts., looking southwest and down at the concentric rings of pond and crowd and trucks, can see wind-driven leaves and street-grit swirling right outside and pecking at this very window he stands before, massaging his coccyx.
Dr. James O. Incandenza, filmmaker and almost a scopophile about spect-ops and crowds, never once missed this spectacle, when alive and in town. Hal and Mario have both been to a few. So have several Ennet residents, though some of them weren’t in much of a position to remember. It seems as if everyone in metro Boston’s seen at least one pond-draining. It’s always the same sort of grim windy Northeast November day where if you were at home you’d be eating earth-tone soups in a warm kitchen, listening to the wind and glad of home and hearth. Every year Himself came was the same. The deciduous trees were always skeletal, the pines palsied, the willows wind-whipped and nubbly, the grass dun and crunchy underfoot, the water-rats always seeing the big drainage-picture first and gliding like night to the cement sides to flee. Always a crowd in thickening rings. Always rollerblades on the Gardens’ paths, lovers joined at the hand, Frisbee in the distance on the rim of the Gardens’ other side’s hillside’s slope, which faces away from the pond.
U.S. Office of Unspecified Services Chief Rodney Tine stands at the unclean window for much of the morning, ruminative, his posture a martial at-ease. A stenographer and an aide and a Deputy Mayor and the Director of the Massachusetts Division for Substance Abuse Services, and Unspecified Services Regional Operatives Rodney Tine Jr. 257and Hugh Steeply 258all sit silently in the conference room behind him, the stenographer’s Gregg pen poised in mid-dictation. The eighth-floor window’s purview goes all the way to the ridge of the hillside at the Gardens’ other end. Two Frisbees and what looks like a disembowelled ring of Frisbee float back and forth along this ridge, dreamily floating back and forth, sometimes dipping below the ridge and lost, for a moment, to the specular vision of Tine.
Trying at the same time to give his bad skin some quality UV and a good chill’s chap, the grad-work-study engineer of M.I.T.’s WYYY-109 lies bare-chested on a silvery NASA-souvenir space blanket, supine and cruciform at about the angle of a living-room recliner on the Public Gardens’ far hillside. This is out by Arlington St., in the Gardens’ southwest corner, hidden by its ridge from the pond’s basin and tourism booth and pavilion and the hub of radial paths and the giant verdigrised statues of ducklings in a row commemorating Robert McCloskey’s beloved and timeless Make Way for Ducklings. The Gardens’ only other slope is now the bowl of the former pond. The hillside’s grassy decline, not too steep, runs at a wedge’s angle down toward Arlington St. and is one broad greensward, free of dog droppings because dogs won’t go to the bathroom on inclined terrain. Frisbees float on the ridge behind the engineer’s head, and four lithe boys on the ridge play a game with a small beanbaggy ball and bare blue feet. It is 5° C. The sun has the attenuated autumn quality of seeming to be behind several panes of glass. The wind is bitter and keeps flopping unmoored sections of NASA blanket over parts of the engineer’s body. Goose-pimples and real pimples jostle each other for space on his exposed flesh. The student engineer’s is the hillside’s only metallic space blanket and bare torso. He lies there splayed, wholly open to the weak sun. The WYYY student engineer is one of roughly three dozen human forms scattered over the steep slope, a human collection without pattern or cohesion or anything to bind them, looking rather like firewood before it’s been gathered. Wind-bronzed sooty men in zipperless parkas and mismatched shoes, some of the Gardens’ permanent residents, sleeping or in stupors of various origin. Curled on their sides, knees drawn up, unopen to anything. In other words huddled. From the great height of one of Arlington St.’s office buildings, the forms look like things dumped onto the hillside from a great height. An overhead veteran’d be apt to see a post-battle-battlefield aspect to the array of forms. Except for the WYYY engineer, all the men are textured in urban scuz, unshaven, yellow-fingered and exposure-bronzed. They have coats and bedrolls for blankets and old twine-handle shopping bags and Glad bags for recyclable cans and bottles. Also huge camper’s packs without any color to them. Their clothes and appurtenances are the same color as the men, in other words. A few have steel supermarket-carts filled with possessions and wedged by their owners’ bodies against a downhill roll. One of the cart-owners has vomited in his sleep, and the vomit has assumed a lava-like course toward the huddled form of another man curled just downhill. One of the shopping carts, from upscale Bread & Circus, has an ingeniously convenient little calculator on its handlebar, designed to let shoppers subtotal their groceries as they select them. The men have sepia nails and all somehow look toothless whether they have teeth or not. Every so often a Frisbee lands among them. The loose ball makes a beanbaggy sound against players’ feet above and behind them. Two skinny and knit-capped boys descend very close to the engineer, chanting very softly ‘Smoke,’ ignoring all the other forms, which anyone could tell are undercapitalized for purchasing Smoke. When his eyes are open he’s the only one on the hillside to see the round bellies of ascending ducks pass low overhead, catching a thermal off the hillside and rising to wheel away left, due south. His WYYY-109 T-shirt and inhaler and glasses and M. Fizzy and spine-split copy of Metallurgy of Annular Isotopes are just off the edge of the reflecting blanket. His torso is pale and ribby, his chest covered with tough little buttons of acne scar. The hillside’s grass is still pretty viable. One or two of the scattered fetal forms have black cans of burnt-out Sterno beside them. Bits of the hillside are reflected in Arlington’s storefronts and office windows and the glass of passing cars. An unexceptional white Dodge or Chevy-type van pulls out of Arlington’s traffic and does some pretty impressive parallel parking along the curb at the hillside’s bottom. A man in an ancient NATO-surplus wool greatcoat is up on his hands and knees to the engineer’s lower left, throwing up. Bits of chyme hang from his mouth and refuse to detach. There’s little bloody threads in it. His hunched form looks somehow canine on the uneven slope. The fetal figure wedged unconscious under the front wheels of the shopping cart nearest the engineer has only one shoe, and that shoe’s without laces. The exposed sock is ash-colored. Besides the HANDICAPPED license plate, the only exceptional things about the van now idling at the curb far below are the tinted windows and the fact that the van is spotless and twinkly with wax to about halfway up its panelled side, but above that line dirty and rust-saucered and shamefully neglected-looking. The engineer has been turning his head this way and that, trying to tan evenly along his whole jawline. The curbside van idles at a distant little point between his heels. Some of the hillside’s forms have curled themselves around bottles and pipes. A smell comes off them, rich and agricultural. The student engineer doesn’t usually try to sun and chap his skin at the same time, but chapping-ops have lately been scarce: since Madame Psychosis of ‘60+/−’ took her sudden leave of medical absence, the student engineer hasn’t once had the heart to sit out on the Union’s convoluted roof and monitor the substitute shows.
The engineer moves his upturned face back and forth. First, Madame was replaced by a Mass Comm. graduate student who proved a crushing disappointment as a Miss Diagnosis; then Madame was publicly deemed irreplaceable by management, and the engineer is now paid simply to cue her background music and then sit monitoring a live mike for a noiseless 60 minutes, which means he has to stay in his booth maintaining 0-levels with a live mike and can’t ascend with his receiver and cigarettes even if he wanted to. The station’s student manager’s given the engineer written instructions on just what to say when people phone in during the hour to inquire and wish Psychosis a speedy recovery from whatever might ail her. At once denying and encouraging rumors of suicide, institutionalization, spiritual crisis, silent retreat, pilgrimage to the snow-capped East. The disappearance of someone who’s been only a voice is somehow worse instead of better. A terrible silence now, weeknights. A different silence altogether from the radio-silence-type silence that used to take up over half her nightly show. Silence of presence v. silence of absence, maybe. The silences on the tapes are the worst. Some listeners have actually come in and down through the deep cortex and into the cold pink studio itself, to inquire. Some to allay this firm conviction that Madame was still actually still showing up and sitting there by the mike but not saying anything. Another of the men sleeping nearby keeps punching at the air in his sleep. Almost all the personal wee-hour inquiries are from listeners somehow bent, misshapen, speech-defective, vacantly grinning, damaged in some way. The type whose spectacles have been repaired with electrician’s tape. Shyly inquiring. Apologies for bothering someone they can clearly see is not even there. Before the student manager’s written instructions, the student engineer’d wordlessly directed their attention to Madame’s triptych screen with no silhouette behind it. Another white Dodge van, just as unevenly clean and opaque-windowed, has appeared on the ridge above and behind the hillside’s littered forms. It casts no visible shadow. A Frisbee-ring caroms off the clean grille of its snout. It idles, its panel door facing the declivity and the other white van’s panel door far below. One hideous little inquirer had had a hat with a lens on it and seemed about to fall forward into the engineer’s lap. His attendant wanting some address where they might send something supportive and floral. The NASA blanket’s micronized aluminumoid coating is designed to refract every possible UV ray into the student engineer’s bare skin. The engineer knows about the ambulance and the Brigham and Women’s ICU and five-day rehab ward from the thick swart girl Notkin, the one with the disreputable hat and Film-Dept. I.D. who came down via the Basilar elevator late at night to retrieve some old tapes of the program for the Madame’s personal listening use, she said, and was fortunate enough to know the Madame in private life, she said. The term is Treatment, Madame Psychosis is in long-term Treatment at something the bearded girl in the sooty hat obliquely described as only half a house in some unbelievably unpleasant and low-rent part of the metro-area. This is the precise total of what the WYYY engineer knows. He is shortly to have occasion to wish he knew a great deal more. Q.v. the dimpled steel ramp now protruding from the squeakily opened panel door of the van on the ridge above and behind him. Q.v. the utter darkness inside the idling van down along the Arlington St. curb, whose side panel’s also been slid open from within. The southwest hillside is copless: the Gardens’ platoon of M.D.C. Finest are all in their souped-up golf carts over at the drained pond, throwing curved sections of glazed doughnut into the ducks’ shrubbery and telling a largely-dispersed-already crowd to please move along. The ridge’s Frisbees and hackysackers have abruptly vanished; there’s now an eerie stillness like a reef when a shark cruises through; the ridge’s van’s idling maw open and black, silver-tongued.
Q.v. also the wheelchair that now all of a sudden shoots down the hillside’s van’s ramp as a madly squeaking brass-colored blur, a snowplow-like scoop-type thing welded to it and out front skimming the ground and throwing off chaff from the swath of grass it’s mowing, moving terrifically fast, brakes unapplied, the legless figure up on burly stumps in the chair fleur-de-lis-with-sword-stem-masked and bent far forward for a skier’s pure speed, the huddled fetal hillside figures the speeding chair slaloms, the dim glittered movements of arrangement for reception deep within the curbside van way at the bottom of the steep grade, the engineer arching his neck way out to capture sun on the scarred hollows under his jaw, the shopping cart with the calculator clipped by a squeaking rubberized wheel at an angle and sent clattering off down the hillside, spraying possessions, the homeless shoe to which it had been roped skittering empty behind it and the cart’s now shoeless unconscious owner just waving at the air in front of his face in sleep as if at a bad D.T.-dream of lost shoe and worldly goods, the calculating cart whumping into the side of the hunched man vomiting and flipping over and bouncing several times and the vomiting man rolling and yelping, vulgarities echoing, the WYYY engineer now to be seen hiking himself up on a chill-reddened elbow with a start and starting to turn and look above and behind him up at the ridge just as the speeding wheelchair with the hunched figure reaches him and the chair’s shovel scoops the engineer and his NASA blanket and shirt and book up and runs over the glasses and bottle of M. Fizzy with one wheel and bears the engineer in the scoop up and away and down the steep grade toward the idling van at the bottom, a van whose own angled ramp now slides out like a tongue or Autoteller’s transaction-receipt, the NASA blanket blowing away from the scooped engineer’s flailing form about halfway down and suddenly aloft in a hillside thermal and blown far out over Arlington St. traffic by the keen November wind, the madly squeaking wheelchair aloft over hillside moguls and coming back down and up again, the snatched engineer in the chair’s scoop appearing to the hillside’s roused figures mostly as a hallucinatory waggle of bare limbs and strangely wheezy shrieks for Help or at least to Look Out Below, all as the modified chair squeaks frantically straight down the hillside’s most efficient downward line toward the van with the ramp now idling in gear, its pipe’s exhaust beating the street in high-rpm idle, the NASA blanket twisting coruscant in the air high above the street, and the shriek-roused figures on the hillside lying there still bent in and barely moving, stiff with cold and general woe, except for the hunched man, the unwell man who’d been hit by the dislodged cart, who’s rolled to a stop and is thrashing, holding the parts that were hit.