Monday, November 26, 2007

Chapter Six


He is troubled at night by recurring images running through his head. They're images which should belong to another person. They contradict his public persona. Now, as his brain slips into sleep and the images return, he wonders which "him" is the truth.

He sits not where he wants to sit. He's atop a podium at a judicial tribunal. Long robes cover him. Down below, at a plain wood table on a checkered tile floor, in handcuffs, await the accused. Wait! he wants to cry. I'd rather be down there, with you. Instead his large head carries forward as he signals his fellow jurists to begin the trial.

A man resembling Chief Lopate rises to read the indictment. Next to Lopate sits a dark-haired man with a malignant frown. How did I get mixed up with such as them, the Black-Hatted Man wonders? More, his fellow judges look to him for direction. To him! They work for HIM!

"Crimes Against Established Literature." Lopate in the Robes of Authority angrily points a shaking finger. Members of the ULA in the dock scowl back with reciprocal contempt. The Man in the Black Hat is of two minds about the hostile rebels. One side of him wants them wiped from the earth, banned forever, locked away in some underground literary dungeon never to be heard from again. Yet another part of him wishes he could pose as their savior; could borrow everything they represent, their authenticity, their voices, their cred. But he knows that to save them would be to destroy himself.

The other judges look now to him for direction, with sheeplike faces. It's his turn to speak, to enable the prosecution. His eyes glower with decision as he feels within him the unearned power he draws from his trappings; from his robes, his guards, his peers, and the impressively constructed courtroom festooned with golden symbols. Before the trial can continue he wakes up.

To get the recurring dream out of his head, the Man in the Black Hat journeys outside, warily onto the city's streets, seeking a latte coffee and a donut. There is a meeting of some importance later, he recalls, this afternoon, to discuss something. He has to be there. "He": the Very Important Man in the Black Hat. His falling-apart postmodern mind can't remember exactly what the meeting is to be about.

A homeless man stands threateningly on the sidewalk outside the local Starbucks. The man's features, or maybe just his eyes, resemble those of a prep school classmate from many years ago. The Man in the Black Hat wants to believe this man before him is a self-made failure. Why, once this fellow had been as privileged as himself! To admit there is something wrong with the city which surrounds him, with this civilization, is a conclusion he dare never admit, because it would pull out the foundation from beneath his all-powerful station; that which has fuled his identity, his success, his corrupt decisions these many years. The homeless man points a finger of accusation at him. In response he embraces the man.

"My friend! My former classmate!" he says to the smelly beggar. "You're sick! You're paranoid. It's conspiracy which you believe. Conspiracy! It's not true. Not true! Your eyes of accusation are not true! You need help. Get away from me!"

The Man in the Black Hat is running back down the street the way he came, scampering home, fleeing from himself while very upset at the world because he forgot to buy at Starbucks his coffee and donut.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chapter Five

Rookie patrolwoman Lindsay is called into the office of Chief Lopate at Literature Police headquarters. As Lindsay waits for him to speak, she studies the various certificates and outmoded maxims covering the wall behind him. "Our Mission: Clean and Quiet Streets," she reads on one plaque. On another: "Obedience Before Change."

"Well, Officer!" Chief Lopate says, removing his eyeglasses and leaning back in his rusty seat.

The Chief makes an effort to put an expression of kindliness over his face, the effort a failure. A perpetual glower has hardened onto his features like concrete.

"I've been studying your personnel file, Officer, searching for clues to your behavior. I must confess, I don't know if you're sufficiently loyal to what we're doing. I don't know! As we try to infiltrate the opposition, we must be cautious about infiltrators coming into our ranks. As you know, Officer, we tolerate almost anything in this outfit: nepotism; corruption; incompetence. Everything except insubordination. In an organization like ours-- enforcers of the status quo-- it's the only and greatest crime. We can tolerate no dissent. Ever. Otherwise the entire system will collapse. The realm would descend into chaos."

Chief Lopate knows the weaknesses of the system he works for yet is filled with justification. He worked his way up the ranks, through total obstinate loyalty to the powers-that-be. Drilled into him again and again was the idea that the Literature Police way is the only way. His loyalty is not to ideas, truth, or even literature-- but, as with the pure bureaucrat, to the organization. To protect those who'd given him his tenured position near the top of the ranks he would dissemble and denounce, as he'd publicly denounced from a stage the dreaded underworld literary guerrillas of the ULA. Now he observes the careless tow-headed rookie before him. What does she know of struggle, compromise, and achievement, he thinks? Chief Lopate points to an officer standing at the coffee machine outside his office glass.

"Observe there Officer Green," he announces to Lindsay.

Officer Green, struggling to make a fresh pot of coffee, spills coffee grounds and coffee filters everyplace.

"Green has spent fifteen years in the ranks," Chief Lopate states dramatically. "Fifteen years! No promotion in sight. Yet his obedience is unquestioned. Officer Green remains unswervingly dedicated to what we're doing, which, in the final analysis, beneath the trappings, offices, uniforms, medals and awards, is: Nothing. Never a grumble from the man! He knows he's found his place."

With that the Chief lifts a large rubber stamp in his meaty hand and brings it down onto a sheet of paper with a pronounced "smack!" The entire movie set office shakes. A camera zooms in to read the paper. In large block letters: "TRANSFER." Officer Lindsay gulps as the shot fades.

THE SCENE: Night, in the midst of a dark and chaotic city. The humming machines of a gigantic factory. Rookie patrolperson Lindsay steps along a catwalk near the roof. The sky smells of sulfur, and carries a yellowish cast. The great factory appearing in the darkness like a medieval fortress rumbles and creaks. Its technology is obsolete, she knows (it was state of the art in 1955) yet the plant's managers refuse to change things. Their thinking: if it was fine then, it's fine today. But it's not fine, she realizes. Lindsay sees a huge smokestack belching postmodern cultural pollution into the sky. This factory, which dominates the industry, with its clouds of obscurity prevents any clean message of renewal which might yet save the failing art. Oh, if only they could interest the public again! A quixotic dream. That would take far stronger personalities and voices than those offered by the factory's caretakers.

The young cop proceeds back into the soot-covered building. She carries a round clock, on her way to the next designated key station. She strides with robotic obedience.

"Click!" She inserts a key hanging on a wall chain within the clock and turns it.Everything in this world is monitored and regulated-- her job scrutinized to the minute to ensure that never a stray word of dissent from her will ever escape. Wasn't that what Chief Lopate said? "Ever"? Never!? She no longer remembers, overwhelmed by a sense of disillusion about this field, this art, which should shout to the public with joy, with the cleansing sunlight of day, but instead is content to exist in the shadows of the society.

Lindsay quickens her pace. She watches for saboteurs, which she's been assured are ready to destroy everything. This is the line that's been propagated to her about the ULA. She fully believes it. Would that they existed not to destroy, but to save! Who knows where the truth lies. Pounded into her brain again and again at the Literature Police Academy was the idea that there is no truth, and so no one can know anything. This is the mantra even of the formidable Eggers Gang, supposed Apostles of Change who aren't changing a thing; who dwell at the center of corruption, cronyism, insularity.

As she does every night, Lindsay passes a steel door to a utility closet. She's been given strict instructions to never unlock the door and look inside. On her rigid schedule she never has time-- but tonight she has the time; is one minute ahead of schedule for the next key station. Has she done this deliberately, her conscience asks? "Insubordination!" the authoritarian voice of Chief Lopate reverberates through her mind. In her head she's gone too far in her thought crime to turn back. She struggles with a ring of keys on her belt. Seconds tock away. At last she finds the right round shiny key and as her brain emits a scream of terror, unlocks the door.

It's a utility closet. Nothing more. A long tunnel of mops and pails lead toward the nothingness of mystery. She feels on her face for a quick instant a puff of cool air. Where does the tunnel lead? Underground? Outside? What awaits? What puzzle? What solution?

She has not time to find out as more scarce seconds click away. She slams the door-- wondering if she's relocked it-- and runs in panic toward the next key station as if Chief Lopate himself were watching.

Bounding up a metal stairway, she clicks the key waiting at the top into her clock. "Click!" A pronounced sound shattering her. Only then does she see blazing yellow light in the management office before her, which overlooks the factory floor. A man dressed in black, wearing a wide-brimmed black hat, sits at the steel desk inside, his back to her. He begins to turn around, to reveal his face, as Lindsay runs back the way she came.

NEXT CHAPTER: "The Man in the Black Hat."